Authors In The Media With Jeffrey Diamond

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Authors In The Media Q&A With Jeffrey Diamond 

Late last year I did a Q&A with the talented and fabulous Jeffrey Diamond. In this edition of Authors In The Media we will go more in depth discussing his forty year career of being an award-winning producer in television news and him creating Dateline! 

Q: Jeffrey, I think it’s impressive that you’ve produced hundreds of stories & worked at Special Events, Weekend News & World News Tonight. What exactly do producers & executive producers do? 

A: Good question! There is a world of difference between a producer and an executive producer. On a television newsmagazine like 20/20 where I spent most of my career, I worked as a producer on individual stories, and in my day, that meant programming about one third of the show. My job was telling the stories, and I was totally responsible for every aspect of the production—the research, budgeting, camera crews, field direction, interviews, writing, and editing. But I was only responsible for producing, maybe, five or six stories a year. As the executive producer of Dateline NBC, the responsibilities were far more demanding. I was responsible for every aspect of the entire show—the content of fifty-two weeks of programming, a staff of one hundred and fifty people, the vision of the show, all the stories that my staff produced (for a year that’s roughly one hundred and fifty different stories—remember, as a producer I only worked on five or six stories), the budget for a year’s worth of programming, and all the marketing and promotion. So to simplify, a producer is responsible for the stories and an executive producer is like the CEO of a company who manages the entire broadcast.

Q: What made you want to pursue a career in being a producer? 

A: I was kind of born into television journalism. My father was a live TV director for CBS News, so I got my first taste of production when I was just a little boy. I used to watch my father in a TV News control room direct shows like the CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite, election night coverage, convention coverage, the Miss America Pageant, the Miss Universe Pageant the Thanksgiving Day Parade, the Rose Bowl Parade, and countless space shots from Cape Canaveral during the1960s. As a kid I was just gob smacked by the energy and the excitement of the business. The rest was history. I began working as a producer, director, and writer as soon as I graduated from college. I guess you could say that I was a second generation journalist.  

Q: For anyone wanting to pursue a career in producing like you did, would you advise them to go to college for a degree and for how long?

A: This is another great question. In my view, everybody takes their own path to success—even in television news. Peter Jennings, for example, was one of the most well-respected journalists in history but never went to college and never got a degree. He was brilliant, driven, dedicated, hard-working, and was able to polish his skills as a reporter and become the face of ABC News as the anchorman of World News Tonight. But Peter Jennings’ path to success is rare. I would recommend that anybody who wants to pursue a career in television news should go to college and study writing and critical thinking and learn how to tell a story. That was my path, and I don’t think I would have succeeded and achieved the success that I did without earning my bachelor’s degree at Lehigh University.

Q: You told me in our Q&A late last year, that your career as a producer & executive producer influenced the character of Ethan Benson and his novels. Would you ever return to being a producer & executive producer again? Or will you solely focus on just writing Ethan Bensons stories down?

A: I would love to return to producing and running a television show, but I am well past that point in my life. I worked for over forty years in broadcasting and loved every minute of it, but when I retired, it was time for me to move on and begin the next phase of my life. I still occasionally produce a short film, and I lecture about my career, but I am now a full-time writer and live vicariously in the world of television news through the eyes of Ethan Benson, the protagonist in my novels, as he produces stories for a fictional television news magazine, solves crimes, and pursues the truth. 

 Q: You mentioned your experience working with the late & great Barbara Walters. Did you help her produce The View? If you did, what was that like? 

A: Barbara Walters was a legend in broadcasting, the creator and one of the original hosts of The View. I often watched her prepare for episodes of her show and knew most of the producers, but I never worked on The View and only worked with Barbara as a producer on 20/20. I spent twenty-five years telling stories with Barbara, and she was the consummate professional. Like Peter Jennings, she was brilliant, hardworking, driven, a perfectionist, and the best interviewer in the business. Barbara had a photographic memory, read voraciously, spent hours writing questions and preparing for interviews, and then working with me and my team writing and editing our stories. She didn’t deviate from this approach on any of the stories she worked on, even for The View, or for any of the other television shows she was anchoring. She worked around the clock. Twenty-four seven. That’s what made her so special. That’s what made her Barbara Walters. 

Q: What was it like collaborating with Deborah Roberts? She seems like such a lovely person to work with. 

A: Lovely is the right word to describe Deborah Roberts. I first started working with Deborah when she was one of my correspondents at Dateline NBC back in the 1990s. I then worked with her again when I returned to producing at 20/20 in 1998, and she was one of the show’s reporters. Like Barbara Walters, she is the consummate professional, and this quality is one of the main reasons she is now co-anchoring 20/20 with David Muir, because you don’t get to the very top of the business unless your are the best of the best. To me what makes Deborah Roberts so special is her even keel, her down to earth approach to life, and her warm and giving personality. There was never a moment of stress producing with Deborah. She was good, damn good, and one of the nicest people I’ve ever worked with. So lovely is really the right way to describe her. 

Q: What were the most interesting interviews and television news specials that you set up? 

A: This is a very difficult question to answer. I produced hundreds of stories and hundreds of television shows during the course of my career. Picking the most interesting is virtually impossible, because every story and every news special left its own unique mark on my life. But along the way, I met dozens of fascinating people who all make up the person who I am today—from President Donald Trump and Vice President Al Gore, to Pete Rose, Lou Pinella, Justin Timberlake, and Paul McCartney. Getting a glimpse into the lives of these kinds of people was probably the most interesting part of my career—though it’s difficult not to admit that covering breaking news events like political conventions, election night coverage, space shots, and even rock concerts wasn’t thrilling.

Q: How long did it take to create Dateline? 

A: I joined NBC News in November of 1991, and if my memory serves me correctly, we went on the air in March of 1992. That’s five months from start to finish—from getting the assignment, building a budget, creating the vision, assembling a staff, setting up the operation and the production systems, and getting the show on the air. But the truth is, I was preparing for this challenge my entire life, from the moment I started working in television news back in 1972, right up until the moment I was given the opportunity by the senior management of NBC. For me, it was the thrill of a lifetime, everything I had dreamed of from the time I was just a little boy watching my father directing his television shows at CBS News.