Rick Kaplan: his career as a network television producer, his thoughts on journalism today

By Marissa Dearing:

On Monday, January 30, in front of an SML International Room audience, Mr. Rick Kaplan, master sculptor of narrative, did something more than entertain the crowd with career stories.  The renowned network television producer (and winner of about 44 more Emmys than the next guy) had no trouble keeping the crowd’s attention. Even more important than his skillful storytelling was the seasoned earnestness (and refreshingly deadpan, self-deprecating asides) with which Kaplan spoke.  Such gravitas and belief in the network’s journalistic duty recalled a time before much of the media became synonymous with partisan bickering.

Rick Kaplan, network television producer extraordinaire. (Dearing/TYG)

Kaplan began his journalism career in his twenties, and for the 42 years he’s been in the business, covering everything from reporting on the Korean War to prepping a Palin interview with Katie Couric, he’s exemplified a thoughtful, even-keeled approach.  As Kaplan detailed, the news is quite different than it was four decades ago: too often, the pursuit of ratings has reduced arguments to “two alpha dogs shouting at each other.”  Somewhere down the road, Kaplan lamented, “looking back at this evil period of time, we’ll see the impact this all had on political campaigns.”  For Kaplan, what’s changed is that “there’s a coarseness that’s come into our society and the political dialogue…[and] a lot of it is fed by what’s on cable networks.”  For Kaplan, the network, with its unique resources and ability to inform, has a responsibility to go beyond entertainment, to uplift society.  As Kaplan admitted, there have been “times when I have wondered about whether my industry was going in the same direction I was.”  But something has always restored his faith in the news, so as long as that possibility “to do something, to grow something” through journalism remains, so will he.

Asked about the Daily Show, Mr. Kaplan said, “I love it…I love their satire and their skill…but it’s not the news.  What we do is the news.”  And in the end, “I think we do God’s work.”

Marissa Dearling is a sophmore in Berkeley College. Contact her at marissa.dearing@yale.edu.