Rising Stars

04.17.12

Chelsea Clinton: Not Yet Ready for Prime Time

BuzzFeed gets the behind-the-scenes reasons that Chelsea Clinton hasn't been on TV very much despite having a new job at NBC. It turns out she is not great in front of the camera and that the staff which follows her is not making the job any easier:

Even high ranking company officials within NBC, according to sources at 30 Rock, weren’t that impressed with her. One senior staffer told colleagues after multiple meetings that Chelsea was going to be simply “terrible” on television. Upon her arrival, Chelsea was given a welcome bag, filled with NBC swag, 30 Rockers tell me. NBC’s David Gregory responded by jokingly asking: “Where’s my welcome bag?”

Gregory’s joke hints at the unprecedented level of special treatment Chelsea receives: she didn’t do live shots on her Rock Center debut; she gets chauffeured everywhere in a town car while others her age strap hang with the suckers in Gotham’s sewers; she has her own personal spokesperson; and she has her own chief-of-staff, Bari Lurie. (Lurie is to Chelsea what Huma Abedin is to Hillary: a fiercely loyal female aide and confidante, who logged over 7,000 miles with her during the 2008 campaign.) Other top talent at the network noticed that luxury: Lester Holt, Hoda Kotb, Natalie Morales, and Savannah Guthrie all share a single assistant. (An NBC spokesperson says, however, that Chelsea pays for her own chief of staff.)

Not to mention how all the kids in NBC reacted. “The message was, ‘You didn’t waste your journalism degree,’” says one NBC news staffer. “There’s resentment.” The critical reception of her debut on Rock Center wasn’t great, either: the Washington Post described her as “one of the most boring people of her era.” And, NBC sources say, for her debut, they pre-taped her intro interview with Brian Williams at least twice (they ended up using the first taping,) an unusual move for what’s presented as a spontaneous interview.

Chelsea just renewed her original three-month contract, but there isn’t much to show for it. “Almost nothing,” is how one well-placed industry observer describes her tenure at NBC. The industry observer, who has had dealings with Team Chelsea, continues:

“Certainly she’s not operating as a reporter. You need a regular presence to become established and break through. Yes, she has world wide name recognition at a young age, but you still have to do the work and show up on screen.” So far, she’s only done three Making A Difference segments in five months, according to Lexis/Nexis, while juggling other roles as corporate board member and in the Clinton Global Initiative.

There may be one story that Clinton can tell which TV executives want to hear, but she is not interested in telling it:

Almost everyone I spoke to for this story—from within NBC and at other networks as well—agree that that problem is that she won’t talk about the one thing that makes her undeniably compelling. How did it feel to be Chelsea Clinton during the Monica years? In the past, she’s responded angrily to that question. “It’s none of your business,” she told an audience after being questioned about it on the 2008 campaign trail.

That line doesn’t play anymore, now that she’s entered the family business of living in public. “What’s she giving us?” one NBC executive, who sees Chelsea regularly, asks. “There’s that wall that needs to be torn down. She sounds like a smart and intelligent woman, but there are lots of smart and intelligent women.” Until she’s willing to answer the Monica question, or any real question—to finally open her soul to public view, paying the required tribute to the media gods, to have her Oprah moment —it’s unlikely she’ll be given a warm public embrace. “Is she just boring,” wonders the NBC exec. “Or can she come out of her shell?”

The days of Chelsea having it both ways are over. It’s one thing to want your total privacy, and stay totally private; it’s another thing to want your total privacy while reaping all the rewards and privileges that contemporary celebrity has to offer.