A news junkie at heart
Murphy worked his way from the body-bag beat to the national scene
By Steve McClellan -- Broadcasting & Cable, 10/6/2002 8:00:00 PM
As a teenager in Queens, N.Y., Jim Murphy dreamed of entering the diplomatic corps. But, when he was a senior in high school, an internship at WPIX-TV New York got him hooked on the TV business.
The career could have gone either way, he recalls, and was basically decided by the extra $1 per hour compared with a clerkship at the UN. That extra buck was a lot of money for a working-class kid in the '70s. "That's how I ended up in television," the executive producer of CBS Evening News says with a laugh.
Murphy has been going to college—on and off—for some 20 years. He regrets never getting a degree—but not much. After all, he got the best television education achievable right in his own backyard: working at three New York stations in his teens and 20s.
After his internship, WPIX-TV hired him full-time. Within six months, he was writing copy and shooting stories in the field. At PIX, he says, that wasn't unusual: Many of the writers and producers were in their teens and early 20s. "It was a place where, if you had any aptitude and willingness to learn, you moved around fast."
At 21, Murphy was hired away by WABC-TV and, within a year, was producing the 6 p.m. news. Four years after that, it was on to WCBS-TV and that station's 6 p.m. news.
After a couple of years there and a decade in the business, the thrill of local TV news began to wear thin. Bottom line, Murphy was tired of the body-bag beat. He wanted to be in network news, covering big national stories: "I was really sort of lost."
Then, in early 1988, he and movie critic Gene Siskel were stranded at the airport trying to get a flight to Chicago. They didn't know each other but struck up a conversation. Turned out Siskel's wife was a veteran of the New York TV-news wars. The upshot: Murphy was hired as a producer on Siskel & Ebert at the Movies.
It wasn't exactly network news. But the pay was good, and it was a ticket out of local news. "It was a cushy job," says Murphy. But he learned a lot about TV production. He had been "the young idealistic news boy. There, I learned that television and the way it's presented is really important to television viewers."
Deep down, though, Murphy is a news junkie at heart, and Siskel & Ebert proved frustrating. Meanwhile, he and his wife, Adrienne, had been told by doctors that they couldn't have kids. So they decided to head back to New York to make a fresh start. On Murphy's last day at the Siskel & Ebert show, however, they learned they were going to be parents.
They might have stayed in Chicago, Murphy says, but he had landed his dreamed-of network gig—sort of.
CBS had offered him a job as segment producer on CBS This Morning. It wasn't exactly what he had in mind, but then-CBS News President Eric Ober convinced him it would lead to other opportunities. A year later, he was named executive producer. For three-plus years, he worked hard trying to turn the broadcast around, like legions of producers before him.
In 1997, Murphy shifted to 48 Hours and, in May 1999, became a supervising producer at the flagship Evening News broadcast. Eight months later, he was named executive producer, a job he never thought he'd get because he wasn't a "lifer" working his way up through the Evening News ranks.
He has extended his contract to 2006. After that, who knows? He's convinced that the network "is in the best shape it's been in in my adult life." It's just a matter of time, he believes, before the stations give the Evening News the lead-in it needs to be competitive in the ratings.
He says he wants to be executive producer of Evening News as long as Dan Rather is in the anchor seat. And Rather is only 70, a spring chicken by CBS standards.
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