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Tuesday, December 30, 2008

So This Is New Years...

(Push the button on the lower left to play the video)

There were dozens of people who made The Ten O’Clock News happen, but on most nights, only the producer and director received on-air credit. Once a week, we would remedy that situation with a credit roll, listing each and every person who worked on the newscast that week (plus the “regulars” who were on vacation).

What you see here is an interesting variation on the credit roll. On December 31, 1981, we sent cameraman George Buigas around the building to shoot film of all the behind-the-scenes folks who were stuck working on New Year’s Eve. We then edited the film, did some preproduction (supers, but not music) and bumped it to tape. The audio track ran live (off of a "cart") and unfortunately sounds sour, but that’s the way it aired, so that’s the way it’s being preserved.

A few interesting points about this credit roll:

1. Note the blackboard behind producer Arlene Ross. In those days the producer put the rundown of the show on a board, and it was everybody’s job to copy down the information.
2. Even Guy Thompson, the custodian, received credit that night. I’m sure it was the only time he was publicly acknowledged.
3. Several of the people in this credit roll are no longer with us, including Bob Hammerly, Ed Rehm, and Jerry Fisher. (Fisher was not acknowledged by name, since she was working as a reporter that night, and had an on-screen presence during the newscast. She can be sitting at her desk, behind Guy Thompson.)
4. The on-air team that night was Larry Klaas, John Loesing (sports), and Dave Corey (weather, substituting for Don Franklin). Corey was normally a booth announcer at the station.
5. It’s good to see Larry Wallenstein (Larry #3) in his role as assignment editor. He would exit in January 1984, only to return a few years later as news director.
6. Was that a space ship, or a news set? Beam me up!
7. I sure needed a haircut.

I hope you enjoyed viewing this rare artifact. Leave me some positive comments and bribes, and perhaps I can be persuaded to post some more clips from my Channel 6 archives. Send the bribes care of J. DeLaTorre (bad inside joke). Have a happy and safe 2009!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

But The Levy Was Dry

I briefly mentioned Harlan Levy, our unforgettable assistant news director (who doubled as an on-air reporter). The tension between Levy and anchor Larry Klaas was a constant presence in the WCIX newsroom back in 1980. Levy wasn’t the sharpest pencil in the box, and never was that more apparent than during the Liberty City riots of May 1980. A jury had found a group of white police officers not guilty of killing Arthur McDuffie, an unarmed black businessman. For days, racial tensions boiled over, with fires, gunshots, and looting. Through it all, Channel 6 reporters were out in the field, phoning in their eyewitness accounts of what they saw. By May 20, things were still tense, but starting to calm down. It was on that night that Harlan Levy delivered our nightly news update.

Before filing his report, Levy asked reporter Marianne Murciano what she was seeing. He also asked the same of Jill Beach, who had stepped out of the curfew area to grab a bite to eat. This would become important.

From Levy’s script, and subsequent broadcast:

(Click images to view them full-screen)

“Marianne Murciano is out in the field at this hour. A few minutes ago she reported in from 62nd Street and NW 7th Avenue, where National Guard officials say 2 vehicles were just burned off the expressway, and that a group of 25 black males have gathered near that locale.”

Oh My God! 25 black males have gathered! Everyone run for your lives!

“There are reports that at 175th Street and NW 32nd Avenue, a U-Totem was blown up.”

Huh? Ever hear of checking your sources? A U-Totem was WHAT??

Oh, but there’s more.

“Two units are responding to NW 27th Avenue, where Big Mack’s is located.”

Ha ha ha! One of our photographers mentioned “Big Mack’s”, which is what he called McDonald’s. Harlan never asked for any clarification, and went ahead and put the phrase “Big Mack’s” on the air!

And the pièce de résistance:

“Jill Beach was at Coral Way and 27th Avenue moments ago. She reports no activity there.”

Of course not! Coral Way and 27th Avenue was nowhere near the curfew area. It was east of Coral Gables! As previously mentioned, Jill was at that location… eating dinner!
That, in a nutshell, was our assistant news director. It’s no surprise why Larry Klaas so often would go around saying “I’ve had it with Levy”. It’s no surprise that in a few months, Larry would have his job (in addition to anchoring the news). It’s no surprise that The Ten O’Clock News would have to fight even harder for viewers, for credibility, for respectability.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Chain Chain Chain

Just ten days after being named “news managing editor”, Larry Klaas decided to show us all who’s boss. Presenting: the infamous “chain of command” memo.

I know what Larry was trying to do. He was sending a message to the producer, assignment editor, and director that what he said GOES. He urged all members of the news staff to keep a copy of this chain of command on file for reference. Disagree with Larry? Unless you happened to be the news director, you didn’t stand a prayer. It’s right there, on an 8 ½” by 11” piece of paper.

The producers hated this! Not because of having to answer to Larry, but because in the Klaas command chain, they had no more authority than the assignment editor, and the nebulous “other”. The directors hated this, because under Larry’s law, they were equal to the assistant directors… the assistant producers… and, ahem… INTERNS!

None of that mattered to Larry. The moral of the story was “I am above all of you, and you will listen to me!” But in a newsroom where the producer had to have SOME authority over the assignment desk, and the directors had to call the technical shots during the show, this demonstrated a lack of understanding on several levels. After just ten days, hard feelings were already starting to form. It didn’t mean people didn’t like or respect Larry. They just wanted a little respect in return. By stating they wielded the same power as interns, the implication was the assistant producers, assistant directors, and even the directors were just bit players in the news operation. Of course Larry didn’t really feel that way, but this sure made it look that way, and did nothing for unity, morale, or inspiration in a news operation that needed it badly.