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23 Years and Sept. 11: 'NBR' Adapts

January 26, 2002|ALLAN JOHNSON | CHICAGO TRIBUNE

Viewers of PBS' "Nightly Business Report" wouldn't know by looking at it, but it's probably the only broadcast on television that has been affected physically by the events of Sept. 11. That the on-camera product hasn't suffered is something of a testament to a series that Tuesday celebrated its 23rd year of operation.

"I can't believe how well these people performed under such trying conditions," says Paul Kangas, who has anchored "Nightly Business Report" since it was a 15-minute financial news update show in Miami 23 years ago.

When the World Trade Center was destroyed more than four months ago, it caused damage to the building that houses "NBR's" New York bureau (its home base is in Miami, with bureaus in Chicago and Washington), which was two blocks away. Water damage, as well as the area around the former towers becoming a crime scene, caused production to be moved to other locations.

"There was very limited entry just to check on the equipment to see what was what," says executive editor Linda O'Bryon, who helped found "NBR" in 1979.

The show is now based in a building a few miles from its former home, but in the first few days following Sept. 11, production moved from New York-based co-host Susie Gharib's home to hotel space. Broadcast equipment had to be rented, and the show's tape library was inaccessible.

The one on-air change is that instead of Gharib anchoring the show from a New York studio, she is now originating reports from the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.

"My day-to-day reporting is in Midtown, with the rest of the team in our temporary newsroom. And we're still very much in a temporary situation," says Gharib, a veteran business news reporter in print and on TV who has been with "NBR" since 1998.

"We don't know yet what the plans are--if we're going to go back down to the Wall Street area to our original offices, or if we are going to relocate elsewhere."

But even without the facilities they had before, "we still have the same level of coverage, the same interviews," O'Bryon says. "It kind of expands your horizons in a sense. I think the look of the show is terrific with Susie right there at the center of things at the NYSE. It's just we've had to become more flexible, more adaptable in terms of how we do things."

That's a point that bears out in the ratings. Because "NBR" is on public TV, and such business contemporaries as CNN's "Lou Dobbs Moneyline" and CNBC's "Business Center" are on cable, audience measures are skewed, since Nielsen uses different methods to measure viewing on cable.

But while "Moneyline" was seen during the fourth quarter of last year in 841,000 households, "NBR" isn't too far off that mark nationally.

"It just shows me the staying power of the crew and the capabilities," Kangas says. "A lot of people that were with us originally are still here. And it just shows me that the staying power and the ability to respond to tough conditions is part of our whole makeup."

Allan Johnson covers television for the Chicago Tribune, a Tribune company.

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