The latest news from the TV beat -- NBC's ''Exposed,'' ''Fox Files,'' and Barbara Walters interview with Monica Lewinsky

By Joe Flint
December 04, 1998 at 05:00 AM EST

If You Can’t Beat ‘Em
NBC, whose execs used to publicly mock Fox’s reality specials (West Coast prez Don Ohlmeyer compared one cheating-death special to a snuff film), has jumped on the bandwagon. In addition to its recent Exposed: Pro Wrestling’s Greatest Secrets special, the Peacock fully milked its premiere of Twister last week. Not only did Dateline do a segment on dangerous tornadoes, the net also ran Caught on Tape deadly twister footage interstitially throughout the movie. Now NBC is signing a 13-episode deal with up-and-coming reality-fare guru Bruce Nash, producer of their wrestling special, plus Fox’s When Good Pets Go Bad and the upcoming Cheating Spouses: Caught on Tape.

The folks at Fox understand why NBC would want to follow their lead. Noting the success of Pets, one Fox exec said, ”Given the choice of watching a bad Veronica’s Closet or a donkey kick someone 30 yards, most people would rather watch the donkey.”

Breaking News
When it comes to news, the words Fox Broadcasting don’t exactly make people start scrambling for a Peabody award. But Fox News chairman Roger Ailes is looking to change that perception, starting with the net’s fledgling Fox Files. The net has ordered 22 episodes of the Catherine Crier-Jon Scott-anchored newsmag and plans to place it in that black hole known as 9-10 p.m. Thursday.

Ailes claims he isn’t worried, even though he’s stuck with ”the worst time slot in television.” Nor is he concerned with the glut of similar fare on competitive networks. ”We think the Fox brand will pull in younger viewers who are not watching any newsmagazine,” says Ailes. And he cites network research as proof: During Fox Files‘ limited summer run, the median age of its viewers was 36, compared with 46 for NBC’s Dateline, 48 for ABC’s 20/20, and 61 for CBS’ 60 Minutes.

But younger viewers aren’t the only thing setting Files apart, says Ailes. Shunning an in-studio set (one way of saving money), the show will use New York City’s newly refurbished Grand Central Station as home base: ”That’s a $200 million set, and we can’t improve on that.” Files also plans to take a ”keep it real” approach. ”Dateline has exhausted the[scandalous] Current Affair-type stories, and we won’t go back over those.” Instead, he says, viewers will find more urban-oriented reports (drugs, crime), as well as celebrity interviews.

Expect the on-air talent (including lead correspondents Chris Cuomo and Arthel Neville) to keep it real, too; there will be no prima donna behavior, promises Ailes. ”Between [NBC’s] Brian Williams and Stone Phillips, there are no more stiff-collared shirts left in New York, so we can’t do that,” quips Ailes. ”And our reporters won’t arrive to the studios in a limo.”

The Full Monica
How did Barbara Walters snag the Monica Lewinsky interview without paying the cash-strapped intern? ABC News gave up overseas rights to Lewinsky’s 20/20 chat, which means the scandal queen can sell her story — i.e., fresh interviews — to foreign news outlets. ”It’s not out of the norm,” says an ABC News spokeswoman of the arrangement. In fact, last year ABC struck a similar deal with Mob hitman Sammy ”The Bull” Gravano, allowing him to make a killing abroad.

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