Tuned In to the NewsProducer tirelessly leads 'NBC Nightly News'— and wouldn’t have it any other way 2/07/2011 12:01:00 AM Eastern
Bob Epstein’s morning ritual, unsurprisingly, is all
about the news. While preparing to leave his New
York City home, he’ll catch the first half-hour of the Today show, listen to news radio, read
the newspaper and scroll his iPad, all
at the same time.
By 8:30 a.m., he’s at the NBC Nightly
News offices at 30 Rock, where he’s
been executive producer since December
2008. He often doesn’t leave until
9:30 p.m., when the last nightly feed
goes out to the West Coast. “Nothing
gets by him,” says Steve Capus, president
of NBC News. “He’s kind of got
a scanner built into his brain—he always
seems to know when something’s
Epstein, 58, is a 35-year veteran of
television news. During his last two
years at the University of Illinois, he
got his first taste of the medium as a
campus reporter for WCIA in Champaign.
After working in radio for several
years after college, he made the
transition to television when he was
hired as a news writer at WBBM Chicago,
a CBS O&O, in 1978.
Epstein joined the industry as it was
in the midst of a technological transition
from film to tape, allowing TV to
be live everywhere, and as local stations
were expanding their news coverage
from 30-minute newscasts to
larger afternoon and morning blocks.
“The networks had seen the value of
expanding their local identity by expanding
their local news operations,”
After Epstein’s four years of rising
through the ranks at WBBM, Eric
Ober, then president of CBS News,
moved him to New York to be executive
producer of WCBS’ 11 p.m. newscast.
It was a homecoming of sorts for
the Brooklyn-born Epstein, who, despite
growing up in the Milwaukee and
Chicago suburbs and lacking an accent,
considers himself a New Yorker.
And he’s stayed on the hard news
side of television ever since. After an
18-year tenure at CBS, he went on to
run the dayside operation at the newly
launched MSNBC in 1996 (where he
hired his current boss Capus as his
deputy). From there, Epstein produced
specials at NBC News for a year
before moving to the weekend edition
of Nightly News, where his resourcefulness
with a smaller staff eventually
landed him the top job at Nightly News
With Brian Williams.
“A lot of us thought, well, if Bob can
do that with weekend kind of staffing,
let’s see what he can do with the weekday
organization,” Capus says. Since Epstein inherited the EP role at the nation’s
top-rated evening newscast, his
goal has been to grow on that success.
In leading coverage of numerous major
stories over the past two years, Epstein
is most proud of his team’s work
reporting on the Gulf oil spill and the
earthquake in Haiti—not just for their
breaking news coverage, but in the
breadth of stories they told.
“Bob is devoted to the news,” Williams,
anchor and managing editor of
Nightly News, says via email. “He tends
to be a little bit like the search engine
commercial—the one where people
recite their direct recall of facts, many
completely unrelated. I don’t think he
finishes a complete sentence for days
on end—perhaps weeks at a time. He
lives a fact-based life, and while it’s not
for everybody, it’s the way he is.”
Epstein describes himself and Williams
as having that same string of
DNA—both came from local news—
that has kept him chasing stories for
so many years. And while he has considered
moving to long-form programs
such as Dateline or 60 Minutes, Epstein
doesn’t believe the format is in his nature.
“There is a bit of me that likes
to clean the desk off at the end of the
day and just start fresh and see what
tomorrow brings,” Epstein says.
It’s a lifestyle that doesn’t allow for
much free time, but Epstein tries to
read mystery novels when he can and
travels every summer to places such
as Canada or Greece, although he admits
he can never completely escape.
“Nowhere is disconnected anymore,”
he says. “I’m looking forward to this
summer to see if the iPad works everywhere.
I’m sure it will.”