Curtis’s blend of unthreatening affability and shrewdly provocative questions were evident in his recent interviews with Kennedy and former Massachusetts governor Paul Cellucci. When Kennedy rambles on about the “politics of personal destruction” in Washington, Curtis counters by citing the fruitless Democratic assault on Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito. “Did that accomplish anything?” he asks. “That vitriol, again?”
When the Cellucci conversation alights on the subject of the state’s string of Republican governors, Curtis notes that “apparently, Republican governors get bored easily and want to move on to new jobs,” making it very clear that that description includes present company.
Cellucci and Kennedy appeared on the Chet Curtis Report in a six-show span that also featured Governor Mitt Romney, BSO conductor James Levine, Boston mayor Tom Menino, and cultural critic Camille Paglia. That’s an impressive list of big-time “gets” for an interviewer who has also landed the only Boston TV sit-downs with Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, Congressman Jack Murtha, and White House chief of staff Andy Card, as well as the only joint interview with the short-lived Democratic gubernatorial team of Tom Reilly and Marie St. Fleur.
Some of the credit for that roster has to go to Curtis’s aggressive and talented producer Jack Gray. But the host is himself a major drawing card. “He doesn’t insult the guest. He isn’t Bill O’Reilly,” says Thistle. “You don’t watch Chet to get upset.” Adds NECN vice-president of news Charles Kravetz: “They know he’s going to be fair. He doesn’t have a political agenda. It’s not edgy, but it’s substantive.”
When Curtis interviews a bigwig, Kravetz adds, it’s a case of “icon on icon.”
The good old days
The end game for Curtis at Channel 5 wasn’t very pretty. After the July 2000 announcement that he and Jacobson — who had announced the break-up of their marriage in late 1999 — were being split up on the air, Curtis was exiled to the Sunday newscasts in a diminished role.
“Paul [La Camera] didn’t want me there anymore,” he recalls. “Phil and Charlie came to the rescue.”
It was NECN president Phil Balboni and Kravetz — both Channel 5 alums — who pulled off the major coup of bringing Curtis to an outlet that now reaches 3.6 million homes but at the time desperately needed star power. Curtis recalls telling them: “I’m delighted. I don’t give a shit. Whatever you want me to do, I’ll do.” When he arrived at NECN in 2001, Curtis was initially teamed with former Channel 7 anchor Margie Reedy and later with Braude. Last year, as part of a major NECN retooling, that duo was broken up, a move that made sense since Braude’s snappy pace didn’t mesh with Curtis’s more leisurely approach. “I couldn’t match his rapid-fire speech pattern,” Curtis admits.
Now anchoring NECN’s five-o’clock news as well as the prime-time show, Curtis — whose contract expires in August — shows no signs of wanting out. “We’re happy with him and he’s happy with us,” says Kravetz. “If Chet has an ego, I’m not aware of it. He’s clearly not doing this for the money.”