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Monday, November 23, 2009

J.D.'s Power

He looks so confident, reporting for Fox News, with the world watching and listening to his every word. But that’s not the John Roberts that I knew. In fact, the guy I used to work with at WCIX wasn’t “John Roberts” at all. He was J.D. Roberts, formerly of Canada’s version of MTV. When CBS brought him in to anchor the news in Miami in April 1989, he was in a position of having to prove himself. Of having to show that the once long-haired Rick Springfield look-a-like could write, deliver, and understand hard news. It would not be easy.

(J.D. Roberts, rock 'n roller, in a video from 1987)

Critics liked to point out his youthful appearance. One even stated that Barbara Sloan looked more like his mother than his co-anchor, a statement that was both cruel and unfair. CBS had high hopes for the new hire, who was promoted incessantly on-air in a way that his predecessor, Jim Dyer, never was. It was clear this was a new age, and behind the scenes there was some kind of master plan for the young, upstart anchor. He just needed to get some experience, and learn what it takes to convince the public that behind the looks was someone who could be trusted to deliver important information. To deliver the truth. And to deliver good Arbitron numbers, of course.

Roberts had two huge things going for him: he both looked and sounded good. There were times he’d slip into Canada-speak, a la Peter Jennings. (It was Roberts’ misfortune that a turret explosion onboard the Navy battleship U.S.S. Iowa happened right after his arrival. His pronunciation – “Iowaww” – would have surely gained the approval of SCTV’s fictitious Canadian Corner hosts Bob and Doug McKenzie.) But if Jennings could say “shed-jule” instead of “schedule” and the public didn’t care, why should we humble 6’ers mind? Take off, eh.

We found out immediately that Roberts was smart, and not afraid to work. He was also a very fast learner. Hey, maybe this is going to pay off, after all! Unfortunately, he and his wife fell into a trap that awaits many newbies in Miami. The couple bought a house in Southwest Miami-Dade County, either in or very close to Richmond Heights. It was an area that looked real good, especially for the money, from the route that the realtor chose to take. What the couple didn’t see were the pockets of poverty very close to that enticing neighborhood. They did not see the blight and the street crime that most would feel was way too close for comfort. After falling victim to Miami’s mean streets, Roberts’ wife quickly soured on South Florida, putting a strain on the couple’s marriage. By the end of 1989, Roberts was seeing another woman – a Channel 6 employee – and the pair emerged from the shadows for that year’s Emmy Awards ceremony. To say it was a tough time in the young anchorman’s life would be putting it mildly.

I don’t remember the exact circumstances, but I have a vague recollection of Roberts having to visit the emergency room of a local hospital, while we were working on the news series Heart Disease: Beating The Odds (which also featured reports by Healthwatch reporter Dr. Steve Greenberg). At one point I had the choice of postponing some interviews for the series, or going out and doing them myself – which is what I wound up doing (considering our time constraints). Roberts felt bad that his involvement in the series was less than what he had hoped. After the final installment of the series aired on Channel 6 Action News, Roberts read his on-camera tag, without thanking his hard-working producer (me), which was standard operating procedure at the conclusion of a news series. He later realized the oversight, and wrote me a note, which I’m about to share. It was a classy gesture. I let him know that I wasn’t angry. I got all the thanks I needed when the series won a Suncoast Regional Emmy Award, one year later, in December 1990.

A personal note from John "J.D." Roberts. Click image to view it full size.

Emmy award for the news series "Heart Disease: Beating The Odds". Roberts was not there to collect his award, having left the station a few months earlier. Click image to view it full size.

J.D. announces that he's leaving. Click image to view it full size.

Having reconciled with his wife, and understanding her concerns, J.D. Roberts put in his notice in July 1990. By September he was back in Toronto, and it seemed the network’s master plan had been foiled – or had it? After anchoring CTV’s morning newscast for a couple of years, it was off to CBS’ crown jewel – WCBS – and then on to the network’s evening newscast, serving as a medical reporter, chief White House correspondent, and—it was believed—the heir apparent to Dan Rather. OK, so that never happened, but Roberts was the back-up anchor of choice for several years, heading up the network’s coverage of Hurricane Katrina, the death of Pope John Paul II, and many other historic moments. Interviews with three presidents and live reports from all over the globe highlighted his time with the network. He’d come a long way from our little series about heart attacks that had caused so much trepidation nearly two decades earlier.

Roberts exited CBS, and joined CNN in February 2006, before finally landing at Fox News in 2011 as the network's senior national correspondent.  Anyone with even the slightest knowledge of network news knows the name John Roberts. But for those of us who lived and worked in Miami, there will always be a soft spot for the guy we came to know as J.D. I’ll always remember his reports from Hurricane Hugo, especially the “here I am blowing in the wind” shot that must have aired 100 or more times. Roberts is a bona fide Channel 6 success story, and I’d like to think that the experience and knowledge he gained while working in Miami has played a role in that success. If I helped him get there, even a little, then the hard work was definitely worth it.

November 1989: Roberts introduces a segment from our town hall meeting, “Abortion: The Bitter Controversy”, live from the auditorium at FIU. Click the button to play.


Anonymous said...

Great post, I am almost 100% in agreement with you

0814ma said...

This is really interesting. Thanks for sharing.

John Roberts was a prominent face at CBS for a long time.

I have watched the CBS Evening News (on WCIX-Ch. 6 and later WFOR-Ch. 4) for many years. At one point, I was certain John would replace Dan Rather.

He co-anchored CTV's Canada A.M. with Pamela Wallin from 1990 to 1992.

On Monday, August 3, 1992, he co-anchored his first CBS News broadcast - the CBS Morning News. (In those days, it aired at 6:30 a.m. in most markets; nowadays, it airs at 4:30.) His co-anchor was none other than Meredith Vieira.

He made his first appearance on the CBS Evening News on Thursday, August 27, 1992, when he reported from Miami on the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew.

(The area near his former home was devastated by the storm.)

On Monday, April 19, 1993, he anchored CBS's live coverage of the fire at the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas.

Exactly two years later, on a day when Dan Rather was in Texas and Connie Chung was in California, he anchored CBS's live coverage of the Oklahoma City bombing.

And four years and one day after the Oklahoma City bombing, he anchored CBS's coverage of the Columbine massacre.

(The day before that massacre, WFOR revamped its newscasts with new graphics and theme music, in what many interpreted as an explicit attempt to make WFOR more like WSVN.)

From June 1994 to March 1995, John co-anchored the 5 and 11 p.m. newscasts on WCBS in New York.

Upon his return to the network in mid-March 1995, he was named anchor of the Sunday edition of the CBS Evening News.

He anchored that broadcast until he left CBS at the end of January 2006.

From 1995 to 1999, he served as CBS's medical correspondent.

In August 1999, he replaced Scott Pelley as CBS's White House correspondent. He served in that role during the rest of his tenure at CBS.

He reported from Yugoslavia during the bombing campaign in 1999, from Iraq during the U.S. invasion in 2003, from Rome after the Pope died in 2005, from New Orleans after Katrina, and from numerous other locations.

On Wednesday, February 1, 2006, amid a flood of rumors about Katie Couric, he bolted to CNN.

(His last CBS appearance had been during live coverage of the State of the Union the night before.)

He co-anchored American Morning from Monday, April 16, 2007 to Friday, December 24, 2010.

In January 2011, he joined Fox News Channel.

Anonymous said...

Please review the Fox news date. Did you mean 2011 or 2001?