News vets get scandalous boost

Chung, Rivera see ratings uptick over Levy scandal

Boosted by public interest in the story of missing intern Chandra Levy, Geraldo Rivera and Connie Chung — two veteran newsies whose careers have been checkered with controversy — have seen their profiles raised in recent days.

The question is: How long will that last?

In landing the first interview with California Rep. Gary Condit — who has admitted to having an affair with Levy — last week, Chung scored the biggest “get” since Barbara Walters nabbed Monica Lewinsky in 1999. Not only did she beat out the other news competish, Chung also outdid her ABC News’ colleagues Diane Sawyer and Walters.

Likewise, Rivera has ridden the mystery of the missing intern to Nielsen pay dirt. Compared with the previous July, “Rivera Live” saw a 66% uptick in households (from 279,000 to 462,000) — some of his best numbers since the O.J. Simpson saga.

The Condit interview marks a big comeback for Chung, who has had her fair share of career setbacks. Since joining ABC in 1997 two years after being fired from CBS, Chung has largely seen her star eclipsed by Sawyer and Walters.

Meanwhile, even with his strong summer numbers, NBC’s $30 million, six-year bet on Rivera in 1997 isn’t paying off the way the company probably had hoped.

One NBC exec noted that in spite of the Condit bump, Rivera is trailing his cable competish.

For 2001 to date, “Rivera Live” has averaged 324,000 households — a dramatic dip from the heady days of 1998 when he averaged 705,000 households. Even during Levy-fueled July, CNN’s “Larry King Live” (942,000 households) and “Hannity & Colmes” on Fox News (558,000 households) easily topped Rivera in the time period.

It’s unlikely NBC will be willing to keep footing Rivera’s annual $5 million bill when his current deal expires next year. After all, even Bill O’Reilly’s “The O’Reilly Factor,” which has driven ratings at Fox News through the roof, isn’t raking in that much dough.

Rivera himself is said to be ambivalent about continuing his daily gig on CNBC.

On the record, NBC execs were adamant that they’re still thrilled with him.

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