Dan Rather 'energized' as new show debuts
Dan Rather says he hasn't been this pumped since his high school football team played for the Houston championship in 1949.
That's a long time between touchdowns, Cap'n Dan.
"Dan Rather Reports," a weekly documentary series on HDNet, launches at 8 p.m. EST Tuesday. Rather's been out of the game since June, when CBS pushed him out after 44 years.
As HDNet's global correspondent, Rather has been on the road almost constantly for 2 ½ months, hitting Mexico, England, the Far East and Alaska, among many other states.
At 75, he's beginning to feel it in his bones.
"I cannot keep up the pace. I'm a hoss for work. I love to work more than I can say grace over, but I'm going to have to delegate some work. Right now, I'm the only on-air person on this broadcast."
Despite the load, Rather insists he's not tired. A self-described child of the road, he paces himself.
"I'm energized. I'm high-energy all the time. Fortunately, I only need four hours sleep. I sleep on airplanes, which is a good thing. I'm asleep before the plane takes off and stay asleep until the wheels touch down."
HDNet, owned by Dallas Mavericks zillionaire Mark Cuban, reaches about 4 million homes on satellite and cable. That's a hiccup, by any measure.
Rather and his staff of 19 are holed up in an eighth-floor office near New York's Bryant Park. The former prince of CBS News found the space, ordered the phones and computers, even arranged for the furniture.
"It's not just a different planet, it's a different cosmos," he says, "but we have what we need."
At "60 Minutes," his final gig at CBS after 24 years anchoring "CBS Evening News," Rather had "an expansive, million-dollar view of the Hudson." Now, "I see the bricks in the next building."
Not that Rather's complaining. Cuban "has been unbelievable to me," he says. "I know that nobody will believe me. He's an absolute fanatic about quality. And he wants me to be fearless."
Unlike at CBS, where he had to answer to several layers of suits, Rather says he has "complete, total and absolute creative and editorial control."
He calls it "Dan Rather's kind of journalism. Not everybody will like that, God do I ever understand that.
"In journalism, you are what your record is. I have a record not everybody likes. I certainly haven't been perfect." (The "Memogate" scandal forced Rather from the anchor chair.)
Back to that `49 game: Rather played defensive end for the John H. Reagan Bulldogs.
"We played on a Friday night in front of 30,000 people," he remembers. "I can recite every down in that game. For a 17-year-old, that's as big as it got."
Speaking of Texas high school football -- a perfect segue! -- NBC has ordered a full season's 22 episodes of "Friday Night Lights," the network said Monday.
The freshman "Lights" stars Kyle Chandler as a coach in a small Texas town. It's based on the 1990 book by former Philadelphia Inquirer staffer Buzz Bissinger.
The acclaimed "Lights" has failed to generate heat at 8 p.m. Tuesdays, where it fights ABC's monster "Dancing With the Stars" and CBS's "NCIS." After five episodes, "Lights" averages just 6.5 million total viewers, ranking 77th.
"I give NBC a hell of a lot of credit," Bissinger says. "If they can find the right time slot, the audience will grow."
Don't be surprised if "Lights" moves to 10 p.m. Mondays, occupied by a fellow struggling frosh, Aaron Sorkin's "Studio 60." In a shot there Oct. 30, "Lights" gained two million viewers.
NBC last week picked up "Studio 60" for a full season. That leaves just one NBC newbie on the bubble: "30 Rock," from "Saturday Night Live" vet Tina Fey.
As part of NBC Universal cutbacks, more than 17 "Dateline" staffers based in New York, Washington and Chicago were pink-slipped.