Magazine article Variety

Can NBC's Savvy Brit Wake Up Today

Magazine article Variety

Can NBC's Savvy Brit Wake Up Today

Article excerpt

CLEAN SLATE

Peacock's incoming news wing prexy impressed in U.K. by helping ITN stay above the scandal fray

ABOUT 25 YEARS AGO, Deborah Turness was working in Paris as an intern for the British Channel 4 News show when she secured a scoop that helped kick-start her TV career.

It was election time and anchor Jon Snow had asked Turness, a U. of France graduate, to nab an interview with French president Jacques Chirac.

Not only did the enterprising Turness land the interview the same day, she persuaded the haughty French leader to speak in English for the camera.

"It was quite a coup," recalls Stewart Purvis, Turness' former boss at U.K. news provider ITN.

The Chirac interview was an early example of the resourcefulness and quick thinking that helped Turness rise to the top of Britain's broadcast journalism sector and attract the attention of NBCUniversal execs across the Pond. Turness, 46, was named prexy of NBC News on May 20. She will become the first woman to run a major network news division in the U.S. when she starts the job in August.

Rumors that the British high-flyer was leaving London for New York had been rife at ITN's newsroom for weeks. Yet when colleagues were officially told she was quitting ITN, some of them found it difficult to hold back tears.

"Deborah is someone who makes an immediate impression," Purvis says.

Turness is well known in British media circles for her charisma and self-confidence. She's not afraid to be ruthless when the occasion demands, colleagues say. But she's moving to NBC at a time of turmoil inside the Peacock's news division in particular and the biz in general.

Job one for Turness undoubtedly will be righting the ship at NBC's profitable ayemcast Today, which has been rattled by a deluge of stories about behind-the-scenes strife involving Matt Lauer.

Turness is not a complete stranger to NBC News execs. The Peacock and ITN, which in the U.K. produces news for terrestrial webs ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5, have had a content-sharing pact for several years. During the 2011 royal wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton, NBC's coverage orginated from ITN's HQ in central London.

She will oversee all breaking news, investigative and enterprise reporting, plus the division's digital properties, which include NBCNews.com, and the Peacock Prods, shingle. Unlike her predecessor, Steve Capus, she will not have responsibility over siblings the cablers MSNBC and CNBC.

Turness' appointment is a milestone for femme journos in the U.S., and even more notable that she reports to a female boss, NBCUniversal News Group chairman Patricia Fili-Krushel. …

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