10 Plus 1: Zooming In On Eric Shapiro

This week we spoke to veteran director Eric Shapiro, who presently serves as the director of the CBS "Evening News" and special events.
Shapiro has had quite a run at CBS News: He helped launch and directed "48 Hours" and has directed the "Morning News," "Sunday Morning" and "Face the Nation," and has directed CBS' convention coverage for the past four presidential elections and all election night coverage since 1992. Here's your chance to get to know him.

So, what do you do for a living?

As director, I'm responsible for the overall look of our broadcast. I am involved in set design and music selection. I oversee the creation of the day-to-day graphics and animations used to support news stories. During our broadcast, I work in the control room. I call camera shots, both in the studio and on our live remotes. I cue the on-air people when to speak, and call up the tapes for playback.
What is not being covered enough at CBS News?
China, with its tremendous economic growth and social change. Also, I wish we had more time to put many of the foreign stories we cover in historical perspective. And I would like to see us devote more time to covering technology, and how it's influencing the way we live our daily lives. So many of the devices we rely on every day didn't even exist a few years ago.
What's the strangest thing that has ever happened to you on the job?
We were in Washington, D.C. covering Mikhail Gorbachev's visit. We had built an anchor booth on the Mall, overlooking the south lawn of the White House. The booth was totally enclosed, and weatherproof (or so we thought) with a huge plate-glass window behind the anchor desk. It was raining heavily on the last night of the summit. Just before our primetime special, the roof sprung a leak—directly over the anchorman's head! Our Production Manager, Joe Peterson, ran outside, commandeered a ladder and scrambled up top. He lay across the roof, creating a dam, which diverted the water over to the side. Joe stayed up there for the entire half hour. When he finally climbed down, he was soaked to the skin. But the studio stayed dry, and Joe had saved the show. For years afterward, we good-naturedly referred to Joe as "the human sponge."
If you had 10 broken fingers and no gas in the car, which colleague would you want to be there?
The human sponge.
If you were not in news, what would you be doing?
Either an airline pilot or a radio Deejay. I did radio in college, and loved every minute of it. I have a private pilot's license, and I often dreamed of flying big jets.
What is the biggest change at CBS during the time you've been here?
The miniaturization of equipment, coupled with the introduction of satellites and the internet have changed the way we work. We can now broadcast live from almost anywhere in the world, on very short notice. A live remote from even across town used to take a huge amount of planning and a busload of people and equipment.

Secondly, the advancements in computers in recent years make it possible for us to do amazing things with graphics and animations. You see the results of this on election night broadcasts, when our computers can instantly render 3D maps of red & blue states, and pie charts & bar graphs of voter trends. One of my first jobs at CBS in the 60s was to help manually change and update the numbers on the hundreds of election boards, which lined the studio walls. These days all of that is done automatically, the instant the results come in, and the electronic displays are called up on computer workstations in the control room.

What are the last three books you've read or the last three movies you've seen?
Books: "Made in America," by Bill Bryson; "The World Is Flat," by Thomas L. Friedman; Movie: "Good Night And Good Luck."
What is your first memory of TV News?
I can remember sitting with my parents watching John Cameron Swayze and "The Camel News Caravan" on our 12-inch black and white Dumont television set.
Would you want your child to go into the news business?
My son and my daughter often visited me at work when they were growing up. They had the opportunity to see how live news broadcasts are produced. Both now have successful careers. My daughter is an investment banker, and my son is a financial analyst. Hmmm….
Who is the most fascinating person you've covered and who is the biggest jerk?
I won't single out one person. In 1999, I directed a series of six broadcasts, which CBS News produced in partnership with Time Magazine. Its purpose was to identify the 100 most influential people of the 20th century, and to name the "Person of the Century." People were from all categories—the arts, medicine, science, industry, sports, politics--from Marilyn Monroe to Albert Einstein. In preparation for these programs, I helped review the accomplishments of the some of the greatest people of our time. It was fascinating to look back at this group of great achievers and to see how they touched the lives of just about everyone on this planet.

As for the biggest jerk—sorry, I'll never tell.

Lastly, a question sent in by J.S.: To what extent do CBS News directors establish the 'look and feel' of the programs to which they are assigned?
When designing a new broadcast, usually the Executive Producer will give the director an idea of their vision for the program. Directors then work with scenic designers, art directors, graphic designers, animators and music composers to come up with plan. The director has a lot of input during this creative process. When an overall production design is complete, we will present it to the Executive Producer for approval. The director will work on any necessary revisions, and then ultimately we will present the plan to news division management for final approval.

Once a broadcast is established on the air, it is the job of the director to make sure that any new elements or segments brought into the production remain faithful to the original design.