Is This Man Ready For A “Forgiving” American Audience?

By Chris Ariens 

Gail Shister
TVNewser Columnist

Yanks say anchor. Brits say presenter.

What’s the bloody difference, Matt Frei?

“If I went to the pub and told my friends I was an anchorman, they’d think of the Will Ferrell movie. If I told my American friends I was a presenter, they’d say, ‘Presenter of what? Dog shows?'”

Frei was named Wednesday as anchor of “BBC World News America,” to launch Oct. 1 at 7pm. A BBC correspondent for 21 years — the last five based in Washington — the 43-year-old newsman understands the culture clash between England and the colonies.

Presenting seems like the more obvious word, but maybe we’re too literal in Britain,” says Frei (pronounced “fry.”) “Anchor is slightly more daunting. If an anchor fails, the ship goes adrift.”

Look for Frei to drift over to the late night circuit, where his speed-of-light wit may provide some competition for NBC’s Brian Williams.

On whether he got a raise with his promotion: “I’m so devoted to the program, I took a 50 percent cut. I was also given BBC bookends.”

On joining the BBC at 22 as an opera and theatre critic for its German radio service: “Basically, they were desperate for a young, underpaid member of the slave class. I was the obvious choice.”

On whether he’d rather be President or Prime Minister: “Obviously, president. You get the big plane, the flashy car, the nice chopper.

“When Gerald Ford keeled over, his funeral on cable TV would have made Winston Churchill blanch with embarrassment. He won the second world war and was voted out of office. We’re brutal with prime ministers. You Americans tend to be very forgiving.”

In his new position, Frei says he won’t over-play the humor card.

“I won’t try to be a standup comedian, but cheekiness is part of my DNA. I think it’s important to use your personal voice. In my case, it’s mildly ironic and irreverent.”

Frei was born in Essen, West Germany, a city that “makes Cleveland look like Venice.” (So much for mildly ironic.) Both his parents were German; his father was a correspondent for German radio. The family moved to London when he was 10.

Married to painter Penny Quested, the couple has four children. The youngest, three-year-old Alice, was born in the U.S. “We’re training her to run for president,” Frei says.