TV Execs Vie For Old Astronauts

Seattle Seahawks tight end Itula Mili (88) sits with receivers Ryan Hannam (83) and D.J. Hackett (18) during Super Bowl XL Media Day at Ford Field in Detroit on Jan. 31, 2006.
AP
If John Glenn weren't so busy next week, he could enjoy an electronic reunion with his old astronaut buddies by watching TV.

The TV networks were so eager to have former astronauts provide commentary on Glenn's return to space that bidding wars broke out. Even the Home Shopping Network wanted to talk to the space pioneers.


If you had the right stuff, you stood a good chance of getting some green stuff next week.

"This is a free country," said former Apollo astronaut James Lovell, who is working for Fox News Channel. "We worked hard for the space program. We did a lot. We've got to make a living."

Lovell, who was portrayed by Tom Hanks in a movie about his ill-fated Apollo 13 mission, wouldn't discuss his deal with Fox. Two broadcast executives said privately that NBC had also been interested in Lovell.

Both ABC and CBS went after Walter Schirra, the only man to fly in the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo space projects. Schirra will appear on ABC's special report on Glenn's launch on Oct. 29.

ABC locked up some members of its team, which also includes former Apollo astronaut Gene Cernan, six months ago.

"With three 24-hour cable channels plus the broadcast networks, it's a larger market than it used to be," said Bob Murphy, ABC senior vice president for hard news.

Consultants' fees can vary widely, but most astronauts can expect to make thousands of dollars for their television work.

Glenn's three surviving colleagues among the original seven Mercury astronauts were the biggest prizes for the networks. In addition to Schirra, Scott Carpenter is working for NBC and its cable partners, and Gordon Cooper is working for CBS.

"They can talk about what it was like from a first-hand vantage point," said Lane Venardos, CBS executive producer for special events. "It's not just someone who saw history unfold on television, but someone who was actually there."

In Carpenter, NBC has Glenn's backup for the first American manned orbit of Earth in 1962. He is also the man who came up with the memorable phrase, "Godspeed, John Glenn," as the astronaut lifted off.

CNN locked up Walter Cronkite for its Glenn coverage and will also bring in former astronauts like Apollo 11's Buzz Aldrin for interviews. But the network decided not to pay any astronauts to work as part of the CNN team, spokesman Andy Mitchell said.

"We didn't want to get involved with the bidding wars," he said.

Home Shopping Network, which plans to hawk space-related items like a commemorative plaque of Glenn's launch, will bring in Carpenter and Apollo astronaut Alan Bean for interviews. The network isn't paying the astronauts, who agreed to the interviews in return for Home Shopping Network donating some proceeds to the Astronaut Hall of Fame, a spokesman said.

Written By David Bauder