'Insider' Drops Out

Seemingly unstoppable, Pat O'Brien seeks help for alcohol problem

As co-host of syndicated entertainment-news show The Insider, Pat O'Brien often has been called on to report about troubled celebrities' “trips” to rehab and the mortifying incidents that often precede such visits. Now O'Brien, 57, has himself become fodder for that sort of coverage. A statement he issued on March 20 said, “I have had a problem with alcohol. I have decided to take action by checking myself into an intensive recovery program.”

That was just the beginning of a weeklong free-for-all online and in gossip columns as speculation flew about what might have precipitated the sudden announcement. Lewd voicemails purportedly left by O'Brien circulated on the Internet, and the New York Post reported the possible existence of an embarrassing photograph.

It isn't clear when O'Brien will resume his duties for the Paramount Domestic Television spinoff of Entertainment Tonight that is this season's highest-rated freshman in syndication. “We support Pat's decision to seek treatment and look forward to welcoming him back on the air at the appropriate time,” says a Paramount spokesman. O'Brien's Manhattan-based co-host, Lara Spencer, is anchoring the show solo.

When the former CBS Sports reporter and co-host of Access Hollywood launched The Insider last fall, he spoke to B&C about the stress of his new job. He noted that Mike Wallace of 60 Minutes had advised him, “You're screwed when you're known as 'The Insider.'” O'Brien agreed that the designation presented a challenge: “There is a lot of pressure to get the right interview at the right time.”

Colleagues said that O'Brien threw himself into the challenge. “Pat has been driving it pretty hard,” Linda Bell Blue, ET and The Insider's executive producer, said at the time. “But he sleeps well on planes.”

O'Brien insisted that he thrived on the pace. “Look, we're not curing cancer. We're reporting on celebrities,” he said. “I can walk home every night, look in the mirror and say, 'I did a great job today.' I didn't make a fool of myself or anybody else.”

The question now is, given the fact O'Brien seems to have behaved foolishly away from the set, what impact that will have on The Insider's prospects.