This summer, we’re putting a spotlight on the industry’s top producers; getting the inside story about their shows, how they got to where they are, and advice they have for future TV journalists.
After 20 years at 30 Rock, which saw him rise from producer, to executive producer to president of NBC News, Steve Capus took a break from the business last year. Not long after entering the world of academia, Capus was pulled back in to TV news signing on as EP of the “CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley.”
Capus, who is one of only a few people to have overseen flagship newscasts on two networks, says the evening news is alive and well: “I’m so sick of seeing articles written about how these broadcasts are going to die off,” he tells us.
TVNewser: You’ve been in the TV news business for almost 30 years. What are the biggest changes you’ve seen?
Capus: There are a number of changes and yet the more things change, the more they stay the same. The technological changes are obvious and the ease that our audiences can consume our content has obviously been the biggest change. On the technological side, it’s so much easier these days to do a broadcast from a place like Iraq [where Scott Pelley reported from this week]. And yet, the reason I say things stay the same, what still comes into play is the fundamentals: a commitment to outstanding journalism, enterprise reporting, investigative reporting, strong storytelling; those things will never go out of fashion. If anything, the people who make those commitments to all of of those things are going to continue to stay relevant to the audience in a world where so much news information is commoditized. Making those commitments to doing those things in a unique manner is how you end up standing out from the crowd.
TVNewser: You were President of NBC News in your last 8 years there. What made you want to return to the business an an EP?
Capus: David Rhodes and Jeff Fager made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. They talked about how they’re remaking this division and what they were really looking for was someone who knew how to produce and lead a broadcast but could also take full advantage of the resources all around the organization. My previous job, that’s exactly how I viewed the role; to look at the overall strength of the place and make sure that collectively we have a unified purpose. I think CBS has a lot of room to grow in that area and that David and Jeff are committed to growing in that matter. It was a wonderful opportunity to return to the newsroom, return to the control room, and produce a broadcast again, but also to do it in a way that the experience I have gained through the years also comes into play.
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TVNewser: Do you feel you can have same impact as EP of the “Evening News” as you could being president of an entire news division?
Capus: I’m not one of these guys who begins the day thinking about what kind of an impact I can have. I instead think about it as what kind of work are we going to do today, how can we make the broadcast better, how can we work as a team, how can we draw on the resources of CBS overall and use them to make the Evening News that much stronger. That’s really what we’re doing. And remember, I spent many years producing an evening news broadcast before, and it was great fun doing it. That’s why I wanted to come back here. CBS right now is the place with a great deal of positive momentum and my role in all of this is to help drive that momentum, not kind of be along for the ride. I want to help marshal the incredible resources that this place has all around the world and work with some really talented journalists like Scott Pelley to really make the Evening News as strong as it can be. That’s the gig.
TVNewser: Have you seen differences in resources and culture between CBS News and NBC News?
Capus: Every place is going to be different. This is a place that’s built around outstanding journalism and storytelling. We don’t have a 24-hour cable channel which means the resources are going to be different. But, we’re set up in such a good way. Think about “60 Minutes,” think about “Face the Nation,” think about the run that “CBS This Morning” is on, think about the run that “CBS Sunday Morning” is on right now. Each one of those broadcasts is having incredible success right now, as is the Evening News. I really like the momentum that is going on here and in all honesty that’s what drew me here in the first place.
TVNewser: You have a close relationship with Brian Williams. What was it like telling him you were headed to his competition?
Capus: Look, I’ve got some good friends at NBC, I spent 20 years there. Tom Brokaw is a good friend, Brian Williams is a good friend, people who are behind the scenes are good friends. I think in all cases everybody was very happy to hear me say I was going to get back into the game, and get back into this one in particular. Brian and I joked about it and we also talked about, ‘you know what? this is a good thing for our business.’ If each of these broadcasts, the four of them [the three networks and PBS] are strong, that’s good for our profession. I’m so sick of seeing articles written about how these broadcasts are going to die off. The way we make sure that doesn’t happen is by all of us making commitments to outstanding programming and journalism and storytelling. I think these programs are national treasurers, and I want to keep them as such. NBC’s in good shape, ABC’s in good shape, CBS is, but you know what, each of them are doing their own broadcasts that play to their strengths, and I’m very, very happy to have this be my professional home these days.
TVNewser: The evening newscasts are given 22 minutes to report on the world. What’s your advice to up and comers for developing strong editorial judgment as to what makes the show and what gets left out?
Capus: The one skill that comes into play more often than not is being an outstanding writer. I always encourage people in the early parts of their career to focus on writing. If you can communicate clearly, if you can articulate a thought, if you can write a great story, then you’re going to be successful. Out of that, when you’re trying to make a decision on what’s in and what’s out, in many cases the story that’s written well with great journalism and outstanding characters; those are the pieces that might win out when it’s a jump ball on what’s in and what’s out.
TVNewser: You’ve covered war, terror attacks, natural disasters, high-profile deaths. Any story stick out to you?
Capus: Especially this week, it’s hard to think about anything other than 9/11. You prepare an entire career for moments like that where all of your decision-making skills come into play. Really, what that day in particular points out about a job like mine is it’s about being a part of an outstanding team. And all of the broadcasts I’ve done that stand out over the years is when a wonderful team effort is showcased. And the best thing I can do on days like that is let the talented people all around do what they do best. There’s no such thing as leading that kind of coverage as much as helping to give shape to an effort but really letting a team showcase its incredible strengths. That’s what we did on 9/11. That’s what we did on my first week producing the broadcast here at CBS, when the plane was shot out of the sky in Ukraine, when Gaza was in the midst of the fighting between Hamas and Israel, and we had unbelievable reporting, and Scott Pelley that week pulled it altogether with a remarkable essay talking about innocent victims simply because they were sitting on an aircraft flying over a war zone, or sitting on a beach in Gaza. That broadcast was something I was very proud of, but it’s the same thing; it’s a strong team that I can help give some direction to, but the best thing I can do is stay out of the way and let that team demonstrate what it can do.
TVNewser: You mentioned not being the leader per say, but the buck does stop with you. On days like 9/11, is it hard to separate your human emotions with making the right editorial call?
Capus: There is always going to be a human reaction to some of the things that you see. Scott Pelley’s essay that day [when Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down] brought into focus what I think a lot of us where feeling; forget about the politics of the story, forget about what took place and why; in the skilled hands of a Scott Pelley that night, or in the skilled hands of a Tom Brokaw on September 11, I think we can convey those types of human emotions at the same time we’re guiding coverage.
TVNewser: Your anchors always get the attention. What should people know about you outside of the business?
Capus: You can take the boy out of Philly, but not the Philly out of the boy. It shapes my world view. It was a great place to grow up. I’m still an avid Philadelphia sports fan. Phillies, Flyers, Eagles, Sixers, which means I’m a long suffering fan! I still watch NASCAR races. I love playing the bass guitar. My favorite band is Yes. They are all phenomenal musicians, and yes, this means I’m subject to ridicule from co-workers and occasionally from my wife, three kids and even our Labradoodle pup.