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That’s What They Call ‘Action’ News

Television newsrooms are like cages full of bunnies who can read teleprompters. The hook-up opportunities they offer should rank as a workplace benefit in job postings.

That mix of ego, libido and proximity causes TV newsers to often come off much hotter than they are, especially to each other. Among its many industry contributions, L.A.’s KCBS allegedly introduced the now-standard observation windows into edit booths because … well, figure it out.

But while love (or lust) is rampant in TV newsrooms, it’s their PR people who get screwed. They’re stuck fielding inquiries following co-anchor spottings at remote B&Bs. Organizing bridal showers and shepherding photographers while co-workers are doing the hora. And diffusing the leaks about bullpen shouting matches, icy on-air staredowns and keyed Beemers, all good indicators that the blush is off the rose.

So send some love today to the CNN flacks managing mounting rumors of a hot romance between anchors John Roberts and Kyra Phillips.  

Roberts, onetime Rather-in-Waiting at CBS, is the umpteenth host of "American Morning."  Midday host Phillips is best-known for her inadvertent live remote from a restroom, when she cut into CNN’s airing of a 2006 Bush speech to tell a stallmate and the world that her then-husband was "a passionate, compassionate, great, great human being" and her sister-in-law was "a control freak."

Since Phillips and her new great, great human being were caught cozy in Toronto recently, details of the relationship’s time line and hotness have started trickling out. Followed by the surefire confirmation:  CNN publicists refusing to comment on the personal lives of staff.

But TV news is one business where publicists should be urged to comment, early and often, on talents’ personal lives. In fact, they should be required to dictate their off-air habits since there are probably no TV personalities for whom public/private consistency is more important to maintaining ratings and Q Scores. Except maybe Paula Abdul. 

News flacks should ensure that the audience never sees Robin Meade in a hoodie, Rachel Maddow stocking up at Kitson or Steve Doocy reading.

Of course, TV newsers find trouble on their own (see: Richard Quest). But in-house hook-ups are much more interesting, since they’re often played out at soap operatic levels. Admit it:  You saw Bill O’Reilly in a whole different light when he was accused of phone sex by his producer.  

You also wondered what was in her Fox News job description.

But there are so many other classics. The fiery anchor wife determined to run down her philandering anchor husband in the company garage, leaving tread marks enjoyed by colleagues for months. The correspondent notorious for telling each of his many co-worker conquests in his Substitute Anchor voice, "Thank you. That was very pleasant."  

The investigative reporter who never figured out that the office next door was occupied daily by two otherwise-married anchors. The world’s most uncomfortable production unit: the anchor, his longtime producer/wife and the assistant he knocked up. (And a private aside to the anchor who called crazy-ass drunk with a great idea at 2:43 a.m.: I saved your voice mail.)

On behalf of TV news publicists everywhere, who never asked to be in a threesome, let me offer some advice to our on-air friends:

* Just confess to us. There’s nothing more annoying than having to go all Lennie Briscoe on you with evidence.  

* And then, shut up. No matter how interested the more sycophantic media are, resist the urge to reveal pet names, favorite getaways and how each other smells like summertime. It’s really hard to take you seriously after that, unless you’re just the weatherperson.

* Please don’t consider us your sounding boards, counselors or co-conspirators. We’re not paid enough.

* Make sure they’re not interns. 

* No sex at work. No sex during work. But since budgets are tight, if you’re going to have sex while on assignment, don’t make the company pay for an unused room.  

* If it’s just a one-night stand, move the car that's staying.

* Finally, repeat after me: no police.

So John and Kyra, best wishes as you embark together on one of broadcasting’s finest traditions. And send your flacks some flowers today.

Flackback will explore the art and artifice of entertainment PR.  The author has 25 years' corporate experience and has finessed everything from a celebrity's drunken surprise marriage to his best friend's 16-year-old daughter to a 20-minute advance warning that her company's president was being fired. And she sees little difference between these scenarios.  She's chosen candor over a byline.