Capus Thrives on TV News' Trial by Fire
From local to network, he likes the edge to live television
By Steve McClellan -- Broadcasting & Cable, 1/19/2003 7:00:00 PM
It's funny how things work out sometimes. NBC Nightly News Executive Producer Steve Capus had been on the job a very short time in the summer of 2001. And, all summer long, it seemed an endless struggle to come up with a meaningful story to lead the broadcast each night. Let's face it, shark attacks have limited appeal, even on the two coasts.
It was the summer of Gary Condit and Chandra Levi, a second-rate Washington sex scandal certainly by comparison with that of the previous administration. It was the summer that lead anchor Tom Brokaw took 10 weeks off to ponder his future.
Then came 9/11. The slow news cycle ended. For a solid week, Capus lived at the NBC News studios in New York, producing nonstop news coverage of the tragedy and its aftermath.
One week after the disaster and the first night he had been home since it occurred, another transforming event took place: Capus's wife, former Today show producer Sofia Faskianos, gave birth to their second child, Xan.
So much for a good night's sleep. But the blessed event was just the life-affirming shot in the arm that anyone could have used at that point, let alone someone as close to the tragedy as Capus was. "It was the best thing that could have happened from a purely selfish standpoint to have that little piece of love come into our lives at that time," he says.
Capus's first six months on the job were capped off by the anthrax attack that hit NBC News studios in October 2001, just about a month after the World Trade Center attack.
Indeed, his first half-year on the job was a trial by fire if there ever was one.
But that's how much of Capus's fast-track career in TV news has gone.
He cut his teeth in TV news in the Philadelphia market in the 1980s, first at WCAU(TV) as a freelance writer and then at KYW-TV (then the NBC affiliate), where he went from writer to executive producer of the station's key newscasts in five years.
Trial by fire is just how Capus describes working at KYW-TV. "There, you were viewed as valuable if you figured out how to do your job without a lot of resources." But he thrived in the environment. "I've always loved live television. There's an edge to it where you're constantly making quick decisions and, hopefully, making the right calls."
By 1992, he was ready for a change; the grind of local news has that effect on a lot of people. He landed a senior-producer spot at Nightside, the overnight newscast produced out of Charlotte, N.C., where NBC News Channel is based.
The job had its good points and bad, says Capus. "You're holding down the network airwaves and protecting it from a special-event point of view." He recalls initiating the network's coverage of the FBI siege of a religious sect in Waco, Texas (which ended badly as you might recall).
But the downside of Nightside was this: "It's 3 a.m., and you're sitting in Charlotte desperate for a Krispy Kreme doughnut to stay awake." A breaking story would help, but often there were none. And forget about normal sleep patterns.
In 1994, a producer job at News at Sunrise opened in New York, and Capus got it. Shortly after that, Jeff Zucker, then the executive producer of Today, asked him to join the show as a supervising producer.
In 1996, Capus was enlisted to help launch MSNBC, the cable news channel. A year later, he began producing the channel's signature prime time newscast with anchor Brian Williams. That gig lasted until May 2001, when he was tapped for the Nightly News job.
Capus first met Williams in Philadelphia, where they both worked at KYW. Something else the pair has in common: They're both nuts about NASCAR racing. In some ways, it's like live TV: Quick decisions and right calls are a must.
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