Looking Inside INdTV

Al Gore and ex-Stanford prof Joel Hyatt say their S.F.-based cable news channel for twentysomethings won't be ideological. But do the Democratic moneymen behind the venture know that?

"For someone not used to anything but success, that defeat bugged him a lot," says Dale Butland, who helped manage the '94 campaign. It didn't prevent party honchos from trying to recruit Hyatt to run for the Senate again, and later for Ohio secretary of state, even after he came to Stanford in 1996. But Hyatt's interests were elsewhere. As an entrepreneur teaching entrepreneurialism in Silicon Valley during the tech boom, he had found his niche. Besides, he says, "my wife and sons immediately fell in love with the Bay Area." In 1997, he sold his interest in the legal business he co-founded. (The company is now a subsidiary of Metropolitan Life.) In 1999, the family moved to a five-bedroom home in Atherton for which the Hyatts paid $5.5 million, real estate records show.

That summer, Gov. Gray Davis appointed Hyatt to the California Public Utilities Commission. But he resigned after barely six months on the job, unable to stomach the prospect of spending the remaining 5 1/2 years of his term buried in regulatory trench work. A few days later, investment banker and Gore confidant Peter Knight called, inquiring as to Hyatt's availability to assume the fund-raising role for Gore during the 2000 campaign.

As a finance chair for the Democratic National Committee, Hyatt presided over a record haul for the party in previously infertile Silicon Valley. Even with Bill Clinton as a popular incumbent, the DNC had raised only $1 million from among the valley's mostly apathetic titans of technology in 1996. Under Hyatt, that sum zoomed to $18 million during the Gore campaign. A single reception for Gore at the Hyatt home in April 2000 raked in $2.6 million.

CEO Joel Hyatt says there's nothing unusual about the 
cable channel's involving so many Democratic heavy 
hitters: "We went out to our friends."
Paolo Vescia
CEO Joel Hyatt says there's nothing unusual about the cable channel's involving so many Democratic heavy hitters: "We went out to our friends."

Now, instead of raising money for Gore, Hyatt has set out to build a franchise together with the former vice president.

"They're very close; very fraternal. They share a common view of this thing," says Schell, the INdTV director. "Joel is the practical one, running the nuts and bolts. Gore is dealing more with external relations, moving the external furniture around. They're truly like Jack Spratt and his wife. They need each other. Together they can lick the platter clean."

Although Hyatt is as guarded about who has been recruited to help get the cable channel up and running as he is about its planned content, there's at least a hint that politicos may also be involved at the operational level.

The day Hyatt and Gore announced the Newsworld acquisition, the domain INdTV.net was registered by San Francisco resident James (aka Jamie) Daves, 31, a former graduate student of Hyatt at Stanford. Daves was the first research assistant hired when Hyatt and Gore decided to enter the TV biz. Before pursuing an MBA at Stanford, Daves was special assistant to William Kennard when he chaired the Federal Communications Commission and was student coordinator for the 1992 Clinton-Gore campaign.

Asked about Daves, Hyatt retreats to the "I'd rather not say" mantra that characterizes his response to many questions about the new channel. Other questions, such as the matter of CalPERS's involvement, he deflects entirely. "You'd have to ask them," he says of the pension fund investment. "That's their analysis, not mine." Indeed, Al Gore's partner sees nothing unusual in the venture's attracting the involvement of so many Democratic heavy hitters. "We went out to our friends. It's only a natural thing to do," he says. "We have wonderful friends."

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