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CNN RELIABLE SOURCES
Spotlight on the Shutdown; "Breaking Bad" Ends Tonight; The Recipe behind The Food Network; Questions over Disclosure
Aired September 29, 2013 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BRIAN STELTER, HOST: It's a perfect storm for the media -- a showdown in Washington over a government shutdown, a debt ceiling crisis and the future of Obamacare.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
WOLF BLITZER, CNN: The other breaking story we're following, the looming government shutdown here in Washington, raising tons on both sides.
BRET BAIER, FOX NEWS: The rhetoric is pretty much off the charts up on Capitol Hill behind us. Ahead of a possible government shutdown, the clock is ticking.
CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC: The stakes are set and for the U.S. economy, they could not be higher.
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
STELTER: All that and a fake filibuster by a potential 2016 GOP presidential candidate. But do snap judgments by pundits and politicians obscure the bigger picture?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I am not in danger, Skyler. I am the danger. A guy opens his door and gets shot and you think that of me? No. I am the one who knocks.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STELTER: Is Walter White about to die? The finale of AMC's "Breaking Bad" airs in a few hours. I'll talk to the head of the network about the show and what comes next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SETH MEYERS, SNL: I'm Seth Myers.
CECILY STRONG, SNL: I'm Cecily Strong.
MEYERS: Welcome, Cecily.
(APPLAUSE) MEYERS: Here are tonight's top stories.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STELTER: It is the longest running fake newscast on TV, and it's got a new co-host. We'll review last night's weekend update.
Plus, a look behind the scenes of the Food Network and a controversy involving CNN's own "CROSSFIRE."
I'm Brian Stelter and this is RELIABLE SOURCES.
STELTER: Welcome to Washington.
It's weeks like this that I thank the cable gods for C-Span. It's must-see TV, as the government shutdown looms for the first time in 17 years.
On other channels, reporters and commentators have left little doubt about where they stand.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS: House Republicans are pushing yet another new way to derail the Obamacare train wreck.
VAN JONES, CNN: You might say Obamacare is not popular. You know what's really not popular? Shutting down America's government. That's not popular.
LAWRENCE O'DONNELL, MSNBC: OK, FOX News, listen up. No one is making everyone get Obamacare health insurance.
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
STELTER: While overnight, the odds of a shutdown rose. Republican controlled House passed a bill to keep funding the government but with a big condition -- a one-year delay of the Democrats health care overhaul.
The Democrat-controlled Senate is not going to support that. So, stalemate is likely to be the top story for weeks to come.
Joining me here in Washington to discuss, Manu Raju, senior congressional reporter for "Politico", Ana Marie Cox of "The Guardian", and Ryan Lizza, the Washington correspondent for "The New Yorker" and a CNN commentator.
Manu, what are the latest odds as of this morning about a possible shutdown?
MANU RAJU, POLITICO: Very high. I mean, by the moment, it increases. I mean, what's probably going to happen is that the Senate is going to come back tomorrow and vote to kill the Obamacare -- anti- Obamacare provisions that the House added in yesterday. At that point, it's going to go back to the House and they're going to add even more things to take aim at Obamacare. Just hours before a shutdown and Democrats in Senate are absolutely not going to accept that.
So the question will be, whether the House does something to avoid that deadline at midnight tomorrow or whether there's going to be a shutdown for days and weeks to come.
STELTER: How much of you slept the last few days by the way?
RAJU: Not a whole lot.
STELTER: The makeup is covering up the eyes and all that.
RAJU: That's right.
STELTER: And do you expect to sleep much in the next two days?
RAJU: Not really, especially as we get closer to the bigger deadline October 17th to raise the national debt limit. Really, we're facing a fall full of fiscal crises that there's really no way out of at this point.
STELTER: We should mention, these are manufactured crises.
RAJU: You know, that's certainly the criticism. There's certainly, particularly on this stopgap spending measure, there was a clear way out of this. Both sides saw how you can get -- avoid this shutdown but when you get to the debt limit increase, the two sides are on completely different universes and there's hardly a clear sign of whether they can actually come together on that which could be even more devastating to the economy.
STELTER: Ana, you are here with us in Washington but you live in Minnesota. So, you're going to represent the American people for a second.
ANA MARIE COX, THE GUARDIAN: I speak for America.
STELTER: A Pew poll about a week ago, we'll put up on the screen, that showed most people aren't paying close attention. Maybe that changed in the last week or so. Do you sense the public is tuned in on this?
COX: Well, I can't speak for all of America or all of Minnesota. I can sort of speak anecdotally which is I think that people do have a sense of what a shutdown means and I can think that what I've seen and sort of talked to in my local grocery store, coffee shop, that kind of thing, has been along the lines of like, yes, I don't like Obamacare. There's a lot of people who don't like Obamacare. Minnesota care, they're OK with.
But they say, like, why are we shutting down the government in order to stop it? Which also in and of itself is good sense although mistakes the actual case which is shutting down the government won't stop Obamacare. I wonder if that's the piece of information that people aren't really getting now which is that they don't want to shut down the government.
They also not want Obamacare. They're not willing to do both but they don't realize this whole hostage taking situation -- if the hostage is fine.
If the hostage is Obamacare, the hostage is off and walking down the street.
STELTER: They're going to shot that hostage.
COX: The hostage is out the building. The hostages are really taking is the rest of the government.
STELTER: So the countdown clocks we see on all the cable news channels, they're only about the government shutdown. They're not about Obamacare.
COX: That's right.
STELTER: Ryan, what do you make of these countdown clocks we're seeing everywhere?
RYAN LIZZA, THE NEW YORKER: You know, I think there's a bit of a spectacle to it. That's the job of the press is, seriously, is to dramatize when the government gets really dysfunctional. And, you know, countdown clock might be a little -- seem a little silly, but one of our jobs is a certain shaming function when folks in Washington are not doing their very, very -- most rudimentary job, which is funding the government, putting up a countdown clock to show people in X number of minutes your government isn't going to -- most of your government isn't going to be funded.
I don't think there's anything wrong with that. I think that's what we should be doing.
COX: There's shaming being done quite frankly. I mean, I think that they are just turning cameras on to Ted Cruz and reporting he's doing this is different than like, I appreciated C-Span's coverage, by the way.
LIZZA: No countdown clock there.
COX: No countdown clock there.
But even C-Span, when Ted Cruz was doing his filibuster, had underneath it -- this is not a filibuster, like --
LIZZA: Which actually technically got very controversial because some Senate historians argued that the filibuster is a loose term than it was. That's the whole --
STELTER: Sometimes labels help, though. Labels like that.
I want to put up a tweet that you put up on Twitter, while the Cruz filibuster or not was going on.
LIZZA: I take it back.
STELTER: I really liked this. This Cruz speech should be taught in history classes decades from now to show how crazy and dysfunctional our democracy became. And yet, isn't he just doing what his constituents want him to do back home?
LIZZA: I think that's true, but what I was trying to say with that tweet was, that -- look, the whole bunch of structural issues that are kind of messing things up in Washington all came to a head in this one moment, the filibuster, right, this anti-democratic tool used astronomical more than has in the past, right? Then you had added absurdity of he was filibustering a bill that he actually promoted in the House. The bill itself he was filibustering was one he wanted to pass.
And then, finally, the end result of this process that he was in the middle of was this government shutdown -- this whole three-year history of brinkmanship between the two parties and within the Republican Party. And so, it just all to me came to a head with this one moment of Ted Cruz filibustering his own bill to precipitate a government shutdown.
COX: In a way, it was also just in keeping with Senate rules, because they have negotiated or the tradition of gentlemanly compromise because he negotiated this so-called filibuster. I mean, like, it was a weird play with the rules. All it accomplished was to get Ted Cruz on television which is what Ted Cruz wanted. I don't know if that's what his constituents wanted, to get him on television. But that's definitely what he wanted. And it's working, right?
If you talk about dark horses or not so dark horses for 2016, he sprung to the top of the list but I don't -- but not necessarily because people are in love with what he has to say but just because his name is out there now.
RAJU: I think the Republicans -- you know he's playing for two different audiences. One his playing with his conservative base who now love him for taking on his party, and you know, but also what he did in the dome -- under the dome in the Capitol, that he alienated himself from a lot of his colleagues by singling them out and attacking them for being squishes on Obamacare when the whole party opposes Obamacare.
This is a very interesting moment for Ted Cruz. You have seen him sort of elevate and distinguish himself from the rest of his colleagues who are presumably running for the 2016 presidential nomination but it hurt him internally in Washington but maybe he doesn't care because that's not the base he's playing for.
STELTER: I'm glad at the top, you mentioned the debt limit deadline, because that fundamentally, it's most important here.
Let me put up on the screen what Rupert Murdoch tweeted yesterday. He said, "Are Republicans self-destructing just when Obama is at its weakest? Partial government shutdown is a small issue compared to a possible default."
That is true, isn't it, Ryan?
LIZZA: Yes. And I think as we get closer to the issue of the default, that will come more into focus. But the government shutdown, at least if you talk to an economist -- the difference between the government shutdown and defaulting is huge. It's a quantum leap. In the worst case scenario, people are talking about global economic catastrophe.
But Rupert Murdoch's point here is important. And I think this is really hard for we in the media to wrap our heads around. What we are witnessing in Washington to a large extent is an internal fight within the Republican Party because the Republican -- one wing of the Republican Party has moved very far to the right, further to the right than anyone on the Democrats and House have moved to the left.
I think if you're not incorporating that into your analysis of the situation, you're doing it wrong. That is what we're witnessing here. This is not a Democratic Republican fight we watched last week. This was an internal Republican struggle of a kind we haven't really seen in American politics in quite a long time.
I think it's hard for mainstream reporters to sort of say that because we want most issues to be nice and tidy. Democrats and Republicans are equal to blame.
STELTER: Maybe we should have two countdown clocks on the screen -- one for this and one for the debt limit.
Let's take a break. Coming up, what Obamacare has in common with a very popular social network.
STELTER: Welcome back.
Yesterday, "Politico" asked a question that I'm afraid we already know the answer to. Here it is. Can the media avoid rush judgment on Obamacare?
Back with me here in Washington to discuss, Manu Raju, senior congressional reporter for "Politico", Ana Marie Cox of "The Guardian", and Ryan Lizza of "The New Yorker".
Ana, what's the answer to that question?
COX: Can they? Yes. Will they? No.
STELTER: So, what can we in the media do about it?
COX: Well, I think that one thing specifically on Obamacare is report the problems that are happening some of which are due to Republican obstructionism. I mean, some of its problems with the rollout has to do with states doing everything they can to keep it from being a smooth rollout. That's one thing we can do.
The other one, though, is a little less sexy which is it's hard to report on something that's going OK. Plane landed safely. Bad headline, you know? I'm curious what other people think and want to say.
LIZZA: Well, look, the rollout is going to happen. I think any of the hiccups that are going to go along with the beginning of Obamacare are going to be magnified pretty heavily, because frankly the administration has not been in their interest to point out that things are not going to be smooth and it's our job to point out where a big controversial law that two parties are still arguing over is not working.
So, I think early coverage of anything that goes wrong with Obamacare will be magnified. Now, as we all know, the final judgment of a major policy like this is in the span of months, years, not days.
RAJU: That's the hard thing, because we're in a minute by minute news cycle and this is the most complex piece of policy that's been implemented in a generation. This law was enacted if 2010 and we're at 2014 is when the actual individual mandate will start to take effect and then we'll start to see the effects in the next several months.
And even on Tuesday when folks can start to enroll in this, the online marketplace, the exchanges, that's a six-month process. We probably aren't going to see a whole lot of folks enroll right away. So, being able to judge its effectiveness right when it kicks off on Tuesday will be very difficult.
LIZZA: It's just harder now to pass that law than say Johnson's law in passing Medicare. I mean, Johnson didn't have a CBO. He's just kind of made up the numbers. Didn't have intensity of the reporting, which we had in Obamacare where every deal and everything that made the law look bad was reported in real-time. We never implemented a law of this scale in, obviously, the modern media environment.
So, it's going to be a huge test for the administration.
COX: All that said, it's a huge scale law, but I think some people will be disappointed about how little it changes their every day lives. I think some people are hearing about socialized health care and they're Obamacare and people are thinking like Obama will then take care of your health care, like this will be a government run health care system.
STELTER: Send your bill to the White House.
COX: Exactly, it's going to be a series of private plans. You know, I mean, it's not going to be socialized medicine or anything like it. Those of us who favor socialized medicine are incredibly disappointed in this bill.
So, I think that a lot of people might not see sort of the -- there's going to be hiccups be people who enroll in plans that are being run out of state exchanges, but for most people there won't be as much of a change as they are being warned about.
STELTER: But since we live in this world of immediate opinions, the most important journalism are the follow-ups. I'm thinking about Facebook, you know, which is now about $50 a share.
Last year when it opened as an IPO, it's around $37, $38, it had a hard time for about a year. People said Facebook was dead. They wrote it off. Now, it's up above 50. I'm not hearing as much about that.
But it goes to show the most important journalism is the follow- up.
LIZZA: It's the follow-up and most stuff does not get followed up. I mean, look at May -- in May, the Obama administration was under siege by three scandals: Benghazi, "The A.P." phone records scandal and the IRS. And there was a lot off commentary about how this was going to destroy his second term.
Now, there are other things that may destroy his second term, but we sort of moved on from that sort of barrage of snap judgments about how his second term was over. That's a small example --
STELTER: And the news ones are about the shutdown and about debt limit.
STELTER: Well, Ryan, Manu, and Ana, thank you all for joining us. I appreciate it.
LIZZA: Thanks, Brian.
Coming up on RELIABLE SOURCES: one of the most anticipated show finales in recent memory. We'll take a spoiler free look at the "Breaking Bad" phenomenon, next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And the Emmy goes to -- "Breaking Bad."
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STELTER: AMC had waited five years to hear those words. "Breaking Bad" finally earned the Emmy for Best Drama last Sunday and the timing couldn't have been better. The very same night, the show's second to last second episode drew a record 6.6 million viewers.
At AMC's big party after the Emmys, the buzz was all about how big the ratings would be for tonight's finale will be. Though I couldn't anyone to predict an actual number, I'm guessing another record, 8 million. Now, unless you have been living under a rock in the New Mexico desert, you'll know that "Breaking Bad" tells the story of Walter White, and his transformation from high school chemistry teacher to crystal meth kingpin.
I sat down with AMC's President Charlie Collier to talk about "Breaking Bad's" success and what the future holds for his network.
STELTER: Charlie, thanks for being here.
CHARLIE COLLIER, AMC PRESIDENT: Thank you for having me.
STELTER: So, what can you tell us about the finale tonight?
COLLIER: I'll tell you everything you want to know. What do you want to know?
STELTER: Probably nothing. Don't want to spoil it.
You've been doing a marathon of these episodes straight through for several days now, right?
COLLIER: That's right. You know, we started on Wednesday and we've been airing every episode from season one to the lead in tonight will be last week's episode.
STELTER: That's a perfect lead up to the finale.
COLLIER: Yes, the idea was to create the perfect "Breaking Bad" experience, totally immersive experience and give those true fans the way to watch from sign on to sign off. So, actually, if there's been people out of work since Wednesday, hopefully we were part of the reason.
And this show started small. I remember ratings being 1 million, maybe 2 million viewers in the beginning and then it slowly built into what it is now, which feels like a television phenomenon, the likes of which we haven't seen since "The Sopranos" ended on HBO maybe six years ago.
What do you think are the reasons why it's been able to build like that so steadily?
COLLIER: Well, that's an incredibly flattering comparison. I think it has been a show that has built each year. In fact, over the last five years, we've really worked to not just get people to come to the series but to give them ways to stay current and catch up so we really are clicking on all cylinders starting with the day after premiere we'll put it on our cable and satellite and telco partners and there's EST and, you know, all the Apple and Amazon --
STELTER: That means renting on iTunes -- COLLIER: That's right. Electronic sell through and obviously the DVD window, and throughout on AMC, we'll be running marathons. And then a few weeks before the next season, Netflix kicks in.
So, it really is a full ecosystem where we drive to what I'm so passionate about which is the water cooler event, the live television event, and for those who want to watch again or those who missed it, we really try to keep them current.
STELTER: I keep hearing about people watching on Netflix trying to catch up in advance of the finale. But your point is that there's lots of other ways people are catching up, not just Netflix.
COLLIER: Absolutely. I mean, actually the marathons on air each year are their events. We really try to curate them and elevate the show in that way. Those worked. And, again, our cable video and demand partners said the streaming has been -- not streaming -- the catch up has never been stronger and DVD sales and all the other aspects of the show has just been firing on all cylinders.
STELTER: It's never been so easy to catch up on a series and now people feel almost this compulsion to catch up before it's over.
COLLIER: Well, yes, we've seen, word of mouth is still a great thing. I was talking to someone earlier about how they used to buy box sets of things like "Twin Peaks" and that phenomenon existed. But like you say, it's just so much easier today to catch up.
STELTER: It's not that long ago that AMC was only known for movies. I think some people still think to themselves why is AMC have original shows, why has History and non-history program? And al these channels that have evolved over the years have gone to people's attention in cable.
What is AMC's strategy nowadays? It's not just movies but it still has movies.
COLLIER: Well, that's right. Now, movies are at our core. So, often we'll take some of the finest movies of all time. In fact, we are still the largest, most widely distributed movie network in the country.
But what we've done is created high end content. We always used to say we're premium television but on basic cable. And could we create series, original series that not only could stand the test of time but can stand side by side with some of the greatest movies of all time.
So, actually, you know, you look at "Breaking Bad", we had done a month of anti-hero films and we called it "March Madness" and that led into the original "Breaking Bad" series. So often when we're at our best, we take best movies and pair it with original series that now have garnered critical acclaim of their own as recently as Sunday.
STELTER: All right. The critic -- television critics were an important part of elevating "Breaking Bad" in the beginning, weren't they?
COLLIER: That's right. Yes, the critics were the first on. I mean, truly they saw the potential on breaking bad from the start and you said, it started small from a ratings perspective. Well, the critics -- they were vociferous from the start and they have been a great aide to the show. But after the critics, viewers came and as viewers came they became more passionate and spread the word and as I said, we've worked with the ecosystem to really try to continue to give people opportunities to catch up and then come back to the live event on AMC.
STELTER: Are you bracing for hate mail if viewers don't like the finale tonight?
COLLIER: You know, I think and writers will tell you, you can't please all of the people all the time. They've done a great job.
Again, Vince came to us years ago and said, we're going to take Mr. Chips, the mild mannered chemistry teacher and turn him into scar face and I think for anyone up to speed on the series, he's a bad guy and it's going to end in an incredibly fitting way.
STELTER: Charlie, thanks for joining us.
COLLIER: It's great to be here. Good to be with you.
STELTER: And joining us now for a good talk about "Breaking Bad", in Chicago, Maureen Ryan, a television critic for "The Huffington Post". And in New York, James Poniewozik, "TIME" magazine television critic.
Maureen, the finale is in nine hours. "The Wall Street Journal" labeled tonight, "The greatest night ever in the history of TV."
Do you think they're right?
MAUREEN RYAN, THE HUFFINGTON POST: I think they could be. We won't know and the very question makes they think of Vince Gilligan, the creator of "Breaking Bad" recoiling in horror.
It's one of the many things that "Breaking Bad" has going for it is that Vince Gilligan is the most modest guy in the whole entire Western half of the Americas. He's just not at all someone who's prone to boasting or, you know, sort of getting really in people's face about his show.
I think it's definitely going to be exciting. I've been nervous about it all weekend. I don't know about you. But I'm like -- I feel like I'm sort of trembling and waiting to see how they resolve everything.
STELTER: James, are you feeling the same way? It's on the same way. JAMES PONIEWOZIK, TIME MAGAZINE: I'm feeling tense. I don't know if you noticed, they ratcheted up the tension a bit on "Breaking Bad."
STELTER: Oh, they have.
PONIEWOZIK: You know, it's a mixture of anticipation and excitement and the dread of potentially seeing a terrible thing -- maybe a great terrible thing unfold before my very eyes. So, yes, my blood pressure is up.
STELTER: Maureen, you called this the most disciplined show on TV in a long, long time. What do you mean by that?
RYAN: I think it's a really rigorous show. I think you didn't have a middle three seasons of remember those wacky things that the guys got up in the meth RV or in the super lab? I don't think it's a show that really wanted to overstay its welcome. And I think it's a very big temptation for show creators, the cast and networks for sure, anyone who's making content these days wants that content to be something that people keep on using and making money for everyone.
But I think "Breaking Bad" is one of those rare shows you can sit there and look at that show and say, every single piece of that mattered. Maybe not every single piece but every single piece of it led to something else.
They were incredibly disciplined how they got rid of things that other shows would have milked for two or three seasons. And I think for that very reason, it's so laudable how they didn't really try to overstay their welcome. It's both pleasing in that rigorous way but also I think in a moral sense, you know, we're hyped up about "Breaking Bad" and the finale.
I think I've been through this with other finales and probably James has been to with "Lost", with "The Sopranos", where everyone gets really amped up. And you're getting pitches in your e-mail inbox 20 an hour and it's that kind of thing. Everyone is excited.
To me, what really the lasting legacy of "Breaking Bad" is moral rigor of it. This is something about -- it's about something important. You know, how do we define morality? When is someone a rule breaker and allowed to have consequences come to him? How do we define what is breaking bad?
So, I think that's the part of it that's really serious and important and has been a real benefit to television.
STELTER: For television business, it seems to me it's proof that a good, smart, serialized show can work.
James, are there lessons we can take away about the television business from the success of the show?
PONIEWOZIK: I think that there are a few things. I think the key is smart and good without the quality of the show, the success that followed would not necessarily have followed. But I think that "Breaking Bad" has shown we used to have a thing in television way back in the days of three networks, where you aired least objectionable programming, where the idea was you try to give as many people as few reasons as possible to change the channel.
And "Breaking Bad," I think, is an example of successful kind of show that can be good by being intense, by not necessarily being for everybody, but for the people who are into this, you know, intensely dramatic, unsparingly searing moral examination. It's tremendously satisfying.
Therefore, it finds a way to create an audience with -- rather than a very broad audience that cares a little bit about the show.
STELTER: Right, it's not for everybody.
PONIEWOZIK: It cultivates a deeper audience that cares a lot about the show.
STELTER: A viewer named Don (ph) pointed out on Twitter during the segment that Michael J. Fox's premiere on NBC got more viewers than "Breaking Bad" last week.
Are we in the media giving the show too much attention?
PONIEWOZIK: You know, I think that -- I'm not necessarily sure that we're giving it -- well, we tend to give everything too much attention when things get really exciting toward (inaudible), because I was in the position of writing about the show like Maureen, I'm sure, several years ago when it was hard to interest people in the show, even though it was very good then because it wasn't sexy. It wasn't like "Mad Men" or whatnot.
But I do think that there -- it's worthwhile in media to -- like I was saying, to do coverage that reflects the intensity and not just the breadth of interest in something.
PONIEWOZIK: A ton of people watch "Wheel of Fortune" every night. It doesn't mean that they necessarily care as intensely about "Wheel of Fortune" the way they do about the finale of "Breaking Bad."
STELTER: And it's right for television critics to try to elevate what they believe are the best shows.
Well, James and Maureen, stick around.
So what's your bet about how "Breaking Bad" ends? Join the conversation on Twitter, tweet me @BrianStelter or use the #reliable.
Up next, live from New York, it's time for "Weekend Update," and there's a new face at the anchor desk.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHEVY CHASE, "SNL": Good evening. I'm Chevy Chase and you're not.
JANE CURTIN, "SNL": Good evening. I'm Jane Curtin. Our top story tonight...
KEVIN NEALON, "SNL": I'M Kevin Nealon, and that's news to me.
JIMMY FALLON, "SNL": "Weekend Update," I'm Jimmy Fallon.
TINA FEY, "SNL": I'm Tina Fey. Good night. And have a pleasant tomorrow.
SETH MYERS, "SNL": For "Weekend Update," I'm Seth Myers.
AMY POEHLER, "SNL": I'm Amy Poehler.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STELTER: Boy, they make it look easy, don't they?
There's a look at "Saturday Night Live's" trademark "Weekend Update" newscast through the years. "SNL" kicked off its 39th season this weekend -- 39th -- welcoming cast member Cecily Strong to the anchor desk. She will continue co-hosting alongside Seth Myers. Part of the show's transition as Myers prepares to move over to "Late Night" on NBC beginning early next year.
Tina Fey was on hand last night to give her some tips.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FEY: You're going to be great. Would you mind if I just gave you a couple little pieces of advice, though.
CECILY STRONG, "SNL": I would love it.
FEY: OK, great. Here's what it is. Keep your head down. You do your time. On the first day you go up to the biggest guy in the yard and punch him in the face.
FEY: (Inaudible). Don't mess with Texas. Keep your feet on the ground. Keep reaching for the stars. Believe in your nightmares. See this man here, this man don't own you.
FEY: You do you. You in charge.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STELTER: Let's see if our guests are laughing. Back with us now, James Poniewozik and Maureen Ryan.
James, might she be the next Tina Fey or the next Amy Poehler?
PONIEWOZIK: Well, when you look at the lineup of people who have been on "Weekend Update," you sort of have to be, well, how could she not be? It's been such an effective launching platform. You either end up with a sitcom or hosting a late-night show for Lorne Michaels on NBC.
So it's a tremendous platform. I think the challenge with Cecily Strong is that she's somebody who, in her short-term on "SNL," has been really, really good at doing characters and on "Weekend Update," you don't do a character so much as you are developing a persona.
And I think that she and the writers are still trying to figure out how to translate her character work like girl that you wish you hadn't started a conversation with at a party into a persona for "Weekend Update."
And I just think that's going to take a bit of a while. It's a different journey for her than it was for, say, Tina Fey, who, like the show had a little bit of fun with last night, didn't -- wasn't known for doing a ton of characters before she started "Weekend Update." She had been a writer and then stepped into that.
So I think it's sort of using a bit of a different comedic muscle, and that is going to take a while.
STELTER: Let's take a look at a clip from last night from the actual fake newscast.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STRONG: In an interview this week, Iran's new president Hassan Rouhani distanced himself from his predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and acknowledged that the Holocaust was real, which I believe is the very definition of the least you could do.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STELTER: Now like it or not, Maureen, some people get real news from these fake newscasts, don't they?
RYAN: Yes, I think that there's -- people are always looking for that spin on the news and that comedic persona to come at it from a different perspective. And I agree with James. I think that Cecily Strong made a big impression last year. She had a few characters that kind of took off. I wish the girl you wish hadn't talked to at the party was coming back. I wish there was a way that they could have her on "Update."
But I think she's really to my mind in the Amy Poehler tradition really, ultimately could be a very key player going forward. We'll have to see. But Amy Poehler was like Cecily Strong; you could pretty much throw her into any kind of sketch and she would either elevate it, even make it a little bit better than it was.
So she has got that ability. I do wonder if they're going to miss that in the regular rotation of sketches if she's taking up a lot with "Weekend Update" because after the middle of the season, allegedly, there's a possibility that Seth Myers will be gone to prep for his new show. I mean, I'm sure they'd love him to stick around the whole season. So this is an enormous transition year in a lot of ways with a lot of new cast members and a lot of people who have left in the last year or two.
So Cecily Strong I think has the potential to be the next Amy Poehler performer, "Update" hybrid, but I wish her every success because she's done well so far, I think. I think she's acquitted herself admirably, put it that way.
STELTER: One week down. Many to go. Well, Maureen Ryan, James Poniewozik, thanks for joining us.
PONIEWOZIK: Thank you.
STELTER: What's cooking at The Food Network? A new book provides a behind-the-scenes look and we have the author's first TV interview. That's next.
STELTER: Start with a television network, mix in a list of food celebrities, add a dash of tabloid scandal and you have got a great recipe for a book about one of the best known channels on television.
Fans of The Food Network are salivating. You like that, salivating? I crack myself up.
Over Allen Salkin's newest work, out Tuesday. Its title is "From Scratch: Inside The Food Network."
Earlier I spoke with the author, who weighed in on the Paula Deen scandal and the network's responsibility to its audience.
STELTER: Allen, thanks for being here.
ALLEN SALKIN, AUTHOR: My pleasure, Brian.
STELTER: You interviewed pretty much every Food Network star for this book. Ina Garten (ph) and Alton Brown (ph) were the two that declined.
What have you learned from all those stars?
SALKIN: Well, it's really a great American business story. It's something started from nothing and grew into a multibillion dollar company, but also something that is built on the reputations and skills of a bunch of interesting people and with a lot of fascinating backgrounds. So it's both this great business story and a human and cultural story about America's love affair with food over the last 20 years.
STELTER: When I was reading it, I was reminded that this was originally for chefs by chefs for foodies. Now it's much more popular and it's not really that anymore, is it?
SALKIN: That's true, but it was always a business play. It's just that when it started, that's who they had. It was really taking what existed in the celebrity chef culture of the '80s in a few urban places, California and downtown Manhattan, and using those small stars and turning them into big stars. And eventually as they got smarter and attracted more households, they started perfecting the recipe.
STELTER: And after 9/11, you write, it became a comfort food network.
SALKIN: Right. What they realized was that people were not connecting with chefs personally and Rachael Ray was the first star who showed the way after 9/11. Her show actually debuted in November of that year.
Once she was a giant hit, they started bringing in what are now the wonder women of the network, Paula Deen, Ina Garten (ph), Jihada Dilorentis (ph) and so on. The people who were really the stars that people could connect to as if they were their neighbors, grandma, sister or, in Jihada's (ph) case, probably the girlfriend you always wish you had.
STELTER: I was struck by the fact that what they're cooking on these shows oftentimes is not what we should probably be eating. A lot of people struggle with weight. I was obese many years ago; I lost a lot of weight and I became more aware of media images.
All of that makes me wonder if The Food Network tries to encourage overeating or indulges too much in unhealthy habits.
Did you come away feeling that way?
SALKIN: Your Twitter diet is something everybody should copy. But well, there are many people out there and many great chefs out there who did learn how to cook arugula and kale and a lot of great food like ceviche from watching The Food Network. And some of those shows are still there.
But the network is in the business of getting people to watch more food TV. It's not in the business of teaching us how to eat healthy or how to use a knife exactly properly. But that said, even Guy Fieri sometimes goes to a diner, drive-in or dive that serves kale.
STELTER: Well, that show is sort of the icon of the network now, along with a couple of others. It's not about dumping things into a pot and stirring anymore. It's about competition.
Are they able to reinvent themselves every few years the way cable channels have to, or have they fallen on harder times lately? SALKIN: They are clearly on hard times now. The company is making more money than they ever did, but that's by expanding internationally. They haven't made a new star since Guy Fieri in 2007. All these great stars who we know who are on cover of my book, most of them were made either in the mid '90s or right after 9/11, up to about 2003, 2004.
The network is now -- isn't even making cooking shows of its own anymore. It's just farmed out to outside production companies and it's just sitting there like every other TV network, hoping a good idea walks in the door. And it's a little bit depressing, having studied the network and seeing all the great things they added to our culture -- not "Top Chef," but "Iron Chef," "Good Eats," great shows like that and seeing that they are a little bit bereft of ideas at this point and just throwing stuff at the wall.
STELTER: So they're betting on format over personality. But that requires you have to have great ideas for great formats, right?
SALKIN: That's right. And if you watch "Chopped," which is this great competition show that's on every night about five times, they have now made six different versions of it, "Cupcake Wars" --
SALKIN: -- (inaudible) -- yes, they chopped it up. Good, Brian.
STELTER: I couldn't resist that.
SALKIN: I had to resist so many food metaphors writing this book.
STELTER: I would imagine.
Before I let you go, I have to ask about Paula Deen, because you had to rewrite the ending of the book when Paula Deen was dropped by The Food Network.
What did you learn from that?
SALKIN: Well, ultimately, Paula Deen had caused herself trouble a year earlier with that diabetes deal she made, the queen of butter and sugar endorsing a diabetes drug.
And The Food Network's media strategy was to hire a crisis communications person, who advised them to distance themselves from Paula. So they were already calling reporters on background and saying, well, she did this without telling us. We have nothing to do with it.
So when her contract came up, which, unfortunately for her, was exactly the time this N word thing hit, the network -- she already had two strikes against her and the network did not want to wait around for a third. Luckily for me, I was in the process of copy editing the book and we still had about a week where I could call all my sources and quickly put a cap on her story. And we also put her on the cover of the book at that point because people are interested.
STELTER: She's now attempting a resurrection. But I've got to imagine that will be a lot harder without The Food Network by her side.
SALKIN: She will never be back on The Food Network. The Food Network is now expanding, said, into Asia, Africa. These are not places that they can be associated with somebody who is associated with racism.
So is Paula Deen going to be able to go on tour, do cooking demos, have adoring fans? Probably yes. She may even get onto another network. But her brand will never be this billion-dollar brand that her agents thought t would. They thought she was going to be the next Betty Crocker. And that is not going to happen anymore.
STELTER: Allen ,thanks for joining us and best of luck with the book.
SALKIN: Thank you, Brian. I really appreciate it.
STELTER: Up next, why CNN's program "CROSSFIRE" is coming under fire from media critics and what CNN should do about it.
STELTER: Finally today, something you should know about the new CNN show, "CROSSFIRE. " When news networks like CNN employ reporters, they expect those reporters to stay out of politics. That means no signatures on petitions and definitely no donations to politicians.
But when news networks employ politicians or campaign strategists or commentators with strong political opinions, those rules sometimes don't apply.
In 2010, for instance, Sean Hannity gave money to Michele Bachmann without telling viewers. FOX News said it was OK because everyone knows he's a conservative.
That same year, Keith Olbermann gave money to three Democrats, also without telling viewers. MSNBC briefly suspended him, saying that he violated a policy that prohibits political contributions without advance approval.
When Olbermann came back to work, he said the policy needs to be adapted to the realities of 21st century journalism.
This network is in a similar situation now. Since you're watching CNN, you probably know that "CROSSFIRE" came back this month after an eight-year absence. According to CNN, "CROSSFIRE" pundits have never been prohibited from giving money to politicians, including the ones they interview.
But should they have to tell viewers who they give money to? Should they have to disclose? That's what the liberal media monitoring group Media Matters wanted to know a few weeks ago. It brought up one of the group's frequent targets, Newt Gingrich, who is a co-host of "CROSSFIRE" while also co-chairing a political action committee or PAC, that gives money to other Republicans.
CNN executive Rick Davis told Media Matters this, "If Newt is helping fund a candidate and that candidate is on the show or being discussed on the show, of course, he will disclose that. Disclosure is important when it's relevant."
Now, this is the kind of policy that media critics love. Employing political pundits is a choice, after all. News networks don't have to do it. It's a lot easier when they don't. But if they're going to employ political pundits, networks should bend over backwards, even flip over to make sure viewers know what those pundits are up to.
And there are lots of people in this building who try to do that every day. But in the case of "CROSSFIRE," the policy has changed. This week, "Mother Jones" reported that Newt's PAC has raised a ton of money, $1.4 million in this election cycle. Now it's only donated about 1 percent of that money to politicians, which "Mother Jones" found odd.
But one of the politicians that has benefited is Senator Rand Paul, who was a guest on the very first episode of "CROSSFIRE." Gingrich did not disclose the donation on air. So much for CNN's policy.
On Friday, CNN said this, "We are clarifying the policy and making it clear that Newt Gingrich is not in violation. The policy, if a 'CROSSFIRE' co-host has made a financial contribution to a politician who appears on the program or is the focus of the program, disclosure is not required during the show, since the co-host's political support is obvious by his or her point of view expressed on the program."
STELTER: Now this statement was widely criticized. It was mocked all over the place. Media Matters called it moving the goalposts. Eric Wemple of "The Washington Post" wrote, "Everyone already knows that Gingrich is a conservative. That's no disclosure at all. The fact that he might have a cash relationship with guests, that's disclosure. Nothing corrupts like cash."
To be fair, Newt Gingrich is not a reporter, that's true. And "CROSSFIRE" is not a news show. That's true, too. But it's on a news network, where the standards are high and the employees strive for excellence. So you, the viewer, should know what Gingrich and Stephanie Cutter and Van Jones and S.E. Cupp are up to, just like you should know what Sean Hannity is up to.
CNN can do better than this. It can start by debating its very issue of disclosure on "CROSSFIRE." That's it for this edition of RELIABLE SOURCES. Thanks for joining me today. I'll be chatting after the show on Twitter, so tweet me. The handle is @BrianStelter or use the #reliable. By the way, if you missed anything, you can catch all of today's conversations on CNN.com, or go to iTunes and check out our podcasts, and make sure to join us next Sunday morning right here at 11:00 am Eastern.
"STATE OF THE UNION" with Candy Crowley begins right now.