Sauter, Corvo stand behind ‘Front Page’

In a relaxed afternoon press conference Monday, Fox News president Van Gordon Sauter, along with “Front Page” correspondents Ron Reagan Jr., Josh Mankiewicz and the program’s executive producer, David Corvo, fielded questions about the fledgling newsmag.

Both Sauter and Corvo acknowledged that their fast-paced show may not have been a favorite of critics, but they were pleased with the quantity of viewers who had tuned in on its first three outings.

Not to please critics

Sauter was quick to point out that he would have been appalled had the show received positive notices, considering it was not designed to please critics. Corvo summed up his younger-looking and younger-skewing program by suggesting that he would run a story about “Michael Douglas before Kirk Douglas.”

After some initial discussion concerning the proliferation of newsmagazines scheduled for the network airwaves this fall, several critics asked Reagan and Mankiewicz questions about their famous Hollywood ancestors, despite both correspondents’ strong TV resumes.

Mankiewicz was nominated for two local Emmy Awards when he was a political reporter at KCAL-TV. Prior to that, he was a correspondent for WCBS-TV in New York and ABC News in Miami. Aside from hosting his own latenight talk show, Reagan has worked as a special correspondent for “Good Morning America.” He also produced and hosted a series of documentaries for E! Entertainment.

Sauter pointed out that one reason so much of TV news has a prefabricated feel to it is that too many reporters and producers come from journalism schools. He felt the profession would benefit from an influx of journalists who were not trained in such a narrow fashion.

Conflict of interest?

The news sachem was also asked whether a potential run for the California Statehouse by his wife, Kathleen Brown, would create a conflict of interest for Fox News. Sauter stressed it would not be a problem, since he does not directly oversee any of the Fox local newscasts.

Following the Fox News session, Robert Townsend outlined some specifics about his weekly hourlong variety show scheduled to debut Sept. 12 at 7 p.m. Aside from taped pieces that spoof current TV franchises, like “Six Minutes,” which will star “Ike Wallace,” Townsend plans to do large, live production numbers like “Rodney King: The Musical.” He also hopes to include a regular segment called “Recasting the Classics,” which would feature bits like Bill Cosby in the Marlon Brando role from “The Godfather.”

Avoiding the hits

In terms of musical guests, Townsend said he would encourage performers to avoid their top-40 hits and instead perform cover versions of other artists’ material. For example, he plans to have Gladys Knight offer herrendition of Eric Clapton’s “Tears in Heaven.”

Townsend spoke fondly of all the classic TV he watched as a child and mentioned that he owed a great debt to performers like Sid Cesar, Red Skelton and Danny Kaye. He also stressed that his portrayal of blacks would not fall into a stereotypical category like many shows on TV, which he dubbed “coonarama.”

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