"The most successful women in this business are the ones who have no shame, who are pushy -- and at the same time reserve a little 'feminine.' The guys are a lot easier to figure out -- they're what they appear, they're aggressive, they're snakes, whatever. But the women have to be all things to all people. Trot out the sexiness when they need it. Trot out the cattiness when they need that. They're much more interesting. And you don't have this career without being a little off-kilter. People who want to succeed in the public spotlight night after night -- 'Look at me! I'm significant! But I'm also fun and human!' If there's a spectrum from Asperger's to normalcy, well, somewhere in the middle is network TV anchor."
So says a network executive producer in Sheila Weller's daring, dashing new book titled "The News Sorority." (Maybe you can order it early. It's not coming out till the fall.)
That producer wasn't named, though I have a pretty fair guess who she is, but men have a lot to say -- about how, in the '50s and '60s, it was never a possibility that a woman could be a news anchor.
So said Walter Cronkite's own producer Sandy Socolow ... And NBC's Reuven Frank noted that audiences were less prepared to get news from a woman's voice ... Av Westin wouldn't send women to Vietnam -- "I thought I was protecting them!"
On the other hand in Ms. Weller's preface, she offers 20-second teasers -- "An arc of a story in Eight Sound bites" -- and one of them is former NBC exec Don Browne, who notes: "Isn't it fascinating? Everybody said women have a short, short TV life, but these three are all outlasting the guys."
Sheila Weller has written "the" book of the year on TV broadcasting, a thing that may be a dying, rapidly changing art form, but it's definitely still going to need voices and faces and intelligence giving out the news no matter how much our socially gadget-manipulated changing world changes. There will always be stars and TV has had them in spades.
The three that author Weller chose to write about are Diane Sawyer, Katie Couric and Christiane Amanpour and in her title, she includes and notes "the ongoing, imperfect, complicated triumph of women in TV News." (This book, by the way, is going to be a runaway hit for the Penguin Press.)
When author Weller called me not too long ago, she wanted my help on the background, and secrets she thought I had. Maybe she thought I was important enough to help her "get to" her subjects.
I had admired her last book "Girls Like Us: Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon -- and the Journey of a Generation." But I wasn't much help to Sheila Weller -- and she decided she didn't need much help.
I told her that I knew Christiane Amanpour socially and admired her immensely but didn't really know her. ... I had known Katie Couric casually for ages and since she dominated the "Today" show, but had never written much about her. (Though once she called me up and shamed me for discussing her hair style, saying, "It's always about the hair, isn't it, Liz?") I saw her liberated point and never wrote about women's hair again! ... And I felt I was real friends with Diane Sawyer, so didn't feel I could be quoted or discuss her without her permission, which I knew she wouldn't give.
Sheila Weller had already had some discussions with Ms. Amanpour but then she got so many turn downs and "blind sources" that she decided to say: "As for why I did not interview Diane, Katie and Christiane, basically I was not able to. ... I decided not to request an interview ... negotiating for prized interviews sometimes involves ceding a certain amount of control." Weller decided for objectivity! (This is why I always advise the famous to give interviews, but I see the journalistic beauty in behaving otherwise!)
Anyway, I spent all of last weekend reading and underlining in Ms. Weller's book. It is almost, in part, a history of broadcasting itself, a look at the hardships of the women's liberation movement, a not so divine look at some of our most cherished male idols of the airwaves. But I'm not going to tell you what Sheila Weller wrote about our three female superwomen.
She has analyzed, quoted, gone to great lengths, researched and picked apart this important subtext of television. She knows it is on its last legs, as it has been from the beginning, that its changes are coming, have already come, in fact, and she analyzes our three women with sympathy and reserve.
They won't think so, no doubt. They are here, fighting for their lives. And many of their sister heroines are here too, mentioned briefly but just to pique your interest. I'll say that two of the unscathed and greatest are -- Lesley Stahl and Connie Chung.
I was left feeling that idiots (mostly male) run the networks with a minimum of ethical behavior, guesswork and prejudice. I didn't find too many negatives in Ms. Weller's work to discredit. Even the aggrieved get their turn at bat.
This is a terrific book. I marked mine so many times, it is virtually unreadable. Believe me, if you like history and gossip and believe, like I do, that gossip IS history -- you will love reading about the big three.
(E-mail Liz Smith at MES3838@aol.com.)
(c)2014 TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.
Sheila Weller's book, 'The News Sorority,' highlights women in broadcasting
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