Call them the Women of Tabloid Television, and they won't call back.
Maureen O'Boyle of "A Current Affair," Terry Murphy of "Hard Copy," Rolanda Watts of "Inside Edition" and Nancy Glass of "American Journal" may be rivals in a brutally competitive business, but they're allied on one thing:
They just hate the T-word.
"Advocacy journalism," "general interest news magazine" or simply "good storytelling" are the words they choose to describe their shows.
"The publicity office didn't even want me to do this interview," Ms. Glass says. "They don't want me to be associated with tabloid television. But if you want to label me, go ahead. I don't mind, as long as you like what I do."
Ms. Glass, 37, a former correspondent for "Inside Edition," anchors "American Journal," the newest addition to a crowded field in a television genre that came into existence seven years ago with the launching of "A Current Affair," then anchored by Maury Povich.
Ms. Murphy, who like the others got her start in local TV news, would probably earn the dubious prize for co-anchoring (with Barry Nolan) the raunchiest show of its type.
"Initially, we did a lot of things to get notice. We peppered the show with T and A. It really was a show I wasn't always proud of," she says.
That may be why one critic suggested Ms. Murphy looked as if she were sitting on a cattle prod.
Predictably, the move away from the tabloidism of the early days began when advertisers balked at seeing their commercials run alongside shows featuring segments on such burning issues as fashion models who posed in the nude, a Florida controversy over girls who sported thong bikinis, strip joints that catered to minors -- and, of course, Amy Fisher.
The people at "Inside Edition," of which "American Journal" is a spin-off, like to boast that they were in on the ground floor of the upscale trend.
They point to the show's No. 1 spot in the ratings -- and its profits -- as proof that their move into the mainstream has paid off.
King World Productions, which produces "Inside Edition," earns an estimated $22.8 million annually on the show.
Paramount Domestic Television takes in about $18 million for "Hard Copy," and 20th Domestic Television rakes in $24.7 million for "A Current Affair."
"American Journal," launched in September, is still too young to post profits.
The claim that these programs have gone upscale might be a little harder to make at "A Current Affair," which recently aired topless pictures of Hollywood madam Heidi Fleiss, and "Hard Copy," which last week dug up a skin flick starring supermodel Kate Moss, who was 16 at the time.
But Ms. O'Boyle of "A Current Affair" said the worst days of sexploitation are over.
"Those haven't been on the air in a long time. It wasn't what I wanted, but this isn't the Maureen O'Boyle show," she says.
All four women came to nationally syndicated TV news from the local stations.
Ms. O'Boyle, who was 25 when she replaced Mr. Povich on the show, cut her teeth doing local news in Little Washington, N.C.
She got fired from her first job, when she promoted a show on a different channel.
Ms. Watts had been weekend anchor and correspondent at WABC-TV (Channel 7) in New York.
"I used to think the word 'travel' meant to Brooklyn or the Bronx," Ms. Watts says.
The opening of "Inside Edition" captures its frenetic pace -- slam-bam music, reporters yelling "let's go" and rushing out to cover the latest disaster.
Ms. Glass' "American Journal" has a softer opening, suggesting purple mountains' majesty and amber waves of grain.
Ms. Glass distinguishes the show as one "that goes where the news is."
To live up to that promise, she travels several days each week to an
chor on location.
With the travel comes a heavy price.
En route from covering the Amtrak train wreck in Mobile, Ala., Ms. Glass suffered a broken jaw when the car she was riding in slammed into a bus.
Ms. Glass has two children, Max, 6, and Sloane, 15 months. She and her husband, Mark Snyder, an oral surgeon, live in Philadelphia. From there she travels to the New York studio every day.
Ms. Watts, who is divorced, lives in a New York suburb with her two cats, Twist and Shout, where she said her social life "would make a very short story."
Ms. O'Boyle, also single, spends about 75 percent of her time working and about 25 percent "trying to have a normal life."
She said she learned early on how to get attention by "telling a good story and getting the floor" over her seven brothers and two sisters when she was growing up in an Irish Catholic family in Connecticut.
Two years ago, she went public with her experience of surviving a rape, a revelation that drew some criticism from competitors.
She said she chose to discuss the incident, which appeared in People magazine, because "someone else had done a very inaccurate article about how I was haunted by it. That's not true. I'm a rape survivor, not a rape victim."
Ms. Murphy is the only anchor based in Los Angeles, where she lives with her husband and two young sons.
She said "Hard Copy" is making an effort to break out of the tabloid mold and that has made her days longer.
"But the good news is the show is finally the way I originally envisioned it," she says.