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Star Power, Unusual Election Attract TV Networks

News anchors, celebrity journalists converge on state. Schwarzenegger steps up his television interviews with a prime-time appearance.

October 06, 2003|Elizabeth Jensen | Times Staff Writer

After weeks of channeling his message largely through scripted campaign events and the prism of entertainment television, Arnold Schwarzenegger began actively courting the major TV news organizations in the end days of a campaign in which news and celebrity journalism were mingled as never before.

In the only broadcast network prime-time interview he's granted during the campaign, Schwarzenegger, who is facing several potentially damaging late-in-the-campaign press reports, carved out 30 minutes Sunday afternoon on his campaign bus to talk to NBC's Tom Brokaw. The report, in the works since at least Thursday, aired on the prime-time newsmagazine "Dateline."

It's not a surprise that NBC scored the interview, because as Brokaw acknowledged in his report, he is an old personal friend of the actor and his wife, Maria Shriver, a "Dateline" correspondent now on leave. He also played a role in introducing the couple in 1977.

Despite pointed questioning from Brokaw about allegations that he had groped women on movie sets and elsewhere, Schwarzenegger stuck largely to the same message he has given in recent days, acknowledging past "crazy" behavior but declining to go into specifics.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday October 07, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 2 inches; 90 words Type of Material: Correction
TV exit polling -- A story in Monday's Section A about media coverage of California's recall election said the TV networks are using a recall exit poll as a test run of their new system for the 2004 presidential election and primaries. In fact, the poll, which also was commissioned by some local TV stations and newspapers, will not use the new method that is being developed for 2004, although some executives said they consider some other aspects of the exit poll process a test run for the presidential race.

Schwarzenegger was also seeking an even bigger audience. Late Friday night, his staff approached CBS' newsmagazine "60 Minutes" -- which airs opposite "Dateline" and routinely attracts more viewers -- and asked if producers wanted a Sunday interview. After discussions on Saturday, in which CBS officials expressed a desire for an exclusive interview, the Schwarzenegger campaign called back and said they had changed their minds, a CBS News spokeswoman said.

Also Saturday, ABC's Peter Jennings, who like Brokaw is in California from New York, interviewed Schwarzenegger on his bus for about 30 minutes as they rode from Modesto to Pleasanton. An ABC News spokeswoman said that interview had been arranged Sept. 26, well before the women's charges were made public. Portions aired Sunday on "This Week with George Stephanopoulos" and more will be seen on tonight's "World News Tonight."

In addition, MSNBC's Chris Matthews got an interview with Schwarzenegger on Thursday, after a week of requests to his campaign staff. After a Costa Mesa campaign event at the Orange County Fairgrounds, Matthews and his crew were shuttled 500 yards away from the surging crowd of reporters to a deserted area, where the "Hardball" anchor interviewed the candidate for about five minutes.

The major networks all have had reporters on the California recall beat for months. But the recent arrival of the major players in the East Coast media corps has swelled the already bulging journalist pack. What's more, the 70-camera gridlock at some campaign events has another component -- the entertainment journalists who, like the rest of the media, have been attracted to the recall race for its irresistible mix of celebrity and political precedent.

So at the same time Schwarzenegger was talking to ABC, "Access Hollywood" was touting its own "exclusive" interview with him, while "Entertainment Tonight" made plans to broadcast Tuesday from his campaign plane.

Arianna Huffington bowed out of the race on CNN's "Larry King Live," but Pat O'Brien of "Access Hollywood" had the first interview with Schwarzenegger after he announced he was entering the race on NBC's "Tonight Show with Jay Leno." In mid-September, Oprah Winfrey scored a major interview with Schwarzenegger and Shriver. Until recent days, Schwarzenegger's only major news interview had been with King.

Competing with O'Brien for interviews is just "characteristic of the strangeness of it all," said Jennings, relaxing briefly Friday after anchoring the news for East Coast viewers from ABC News' tiny set in Los Feliz.

Nonetheless, "we are covering this exactly the same as if it were a presidential campaign" in terms of staffing and logistics, said Mark Halperin, ABC News' political director. So much so that a new five-network exit polling system will get its first test run Tuesday, a tryout for the 2004 presidential election. The old setup was scrapped after it failed in 2000 and Al Gore was prematurely -- and incorrectly -- called the victor.

On both local and national TV outlets, the recall news will be extensive. NBC sent so many of its star anchors -- Brokaw, Matthews, Tim Russert, Brian Williams, Katie Couric, Campbell Brown -- that it ran out of studio space in Burbank and had to repaint a conference room so Russert could squeeze in. The confluence of media worlds made for some odd moments last week.

There was Bo Derek, sharing a makeup room with candidate Tom McClintock on the set of "Hardball" Tuesday.

"I like to think [the media] are all here because it's an important issue and not just because of Arnold Schwarzenegger," said Derek, just before slipping into the guest chair. She doubts it, however.

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