New York Tab Seeks TV Viewers

By: Jennifer Saba

It was a year in the making, but on July 24 armchair media critics will finally get an inside look at newsgathering when the Bravo channel debuts Tabloid Wars, the documentary/reality show about New York’s Daily News.

Call it the real-life version of NBC’s 2000 series Deadline, starring Oliver Platt as a hard-boiled New York tab journo.

The six week, one-hour series produced by Hearst Entertainment for Bravo, shadows reporters around New York City as they try to scoop their cross-town archenemy, the New York Post.

The concept suggests static shots of pasty reporters, phones glued to their ears ? and TV already boasts too many reality shows. But Tabloid Wars, at least the pilot screened by E&P, is quick-paced and provides a glimpse behind the scenes at a Gotham daily.

One of the subjects is city reporter Kerry Burke, whom the camera loves. He’s a gumshoe reporter who pounds the pavement, rides the subways, and fearlessly knocks on the doors of unsuspecting New Yorkers. Viewers first meet him after he’s been dispatched to fetch tabloid gold: Robert De Niro’s nanny was accused of stealing from the star and his wife ? including a pair of earrings said to be worth $100,000.

“I’ll go anywhere, anytime, to cover any story and I will bring it back,” Burke tells the TV audience. But once he learns he must travel to Middle Village, Queens, his response is, “Jesus, deliver me!”

Then there’s gossip columnist George Rush, who’s seen chomping on gum while musing on a particularly enjoyable part of his job: “Occasionally you can squeeze the genitalia of powerful people in New York and make them yell or threaten to sue you ? and that’s kind of a kick!”

Tony Sclafani, an affable 28-year-old police reporter, is trying desperately to get out of the office so he can go get married. But at the last minute, actor Christian Slater is arrested for groping a woman’s backside. Sclafani’s last task before he leaves to get hitched is to stand outside the Broadway theater where Slater is performing, and try to get a comment.

Then something strange happens: A tubby man with a voice more “Aflac” than Affleck starts screaming at the reporter. “This is not news! News is thousands of people getting killed in Iraq because Bush lied!” he shrieks. And then: “May Rupert Murdoch drop dead and die!”

Of course, Murdoch actually publishes the rival Post.

Bravo Senior Vice President/Programming and Production Frances Berwick says the cable network “jumped at the chance” to do a show about the inner workings of the Daily News when Hearst Entertainment approached the cable network with the idea. “I think what we have done is show a broad spectrum of how the newspaper comes together,” she adds.

Tabloid Wars also shows how much care goes into the reporting process. In one scene, Deputy Metro Editor Greg Gittrich receives a call about a potential hate crime in Howard Beach, Queens, a town with a history of racial tension. A young black man, the paper soon learns, was savagely beaten there by white teens.

At first the motive is unclear ? and the show details how Gittrich, Burke, and other reporters deftly get to the bottom of the incident. Burke heads out to find family members of the victim and the men who were charged. Many in the community clam up. He keeps at it, noting, “You put the wrong thing in the paper, you’re going to get riots in the streets.” Back at Daily News headquarters, editors painstakingly go over the front-page headline.

Berwick says her crew filmed at the paper for three months last summer. They shot test videos of reporters and editors, some of whom were persuaded to participate. But no staffers were paid for it. “I had no desire to put myself out in front of the news,” says Gittrich, a stylish 31-year-old whose language is regularly bleeped. “I was concerned about it becoming a manufactured reality show.” He also didn’t want producers to accidentally reveal his sources.

Sclafani had the same reservations. He was worried about how he would be portrayed and any impact it might have on his career. “I came to the realization that it would be a great opportunity to be part of something,” he says. “At the same time, it gives New Yorkers and people around the country a window into how the stories were created, and it’s not easy.”

Gittrich has only seen rough cuts so far. “I think it’s fair,” he says of how the show portrays the paper, but he doesn’t plan to watch the series as it airs. “Maybe after several decades,” he concedes.

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