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Sunday, December 18, 2011


Tucked away in the corner of the business section of a recent edition of The Los Angeles Times was a small piece attributed to Reuters entitled “FCC to erase 83 outdated media rules.” The article contained the following: “Among the rules being eliminated are Fairness Doctrine Regulations that were intended to promote honest, balanced discussion on controversial issues, when introduced in 1945.” 

The rationale for its elimination is the proliferation of both Broadcast and Cablecast channels, which have provided the diversity of viewpoints that the FCC sought to ensure.  Clearly FOX News and MSNBC are great examples of this spectrum. It is both comforting and disconcerting that the polarized spectrum of our political debate is manifest in each, without overt public disclosure. Neither outlet is “fair and balanced”, in spite of claims made to be otherwise.

Television news was not without its bias and opinions from the early days of broadcast news. Growing up in the 60’s in Suburban New Jersey I can still remember the station managers of the local network affiliates (NBC, ABC and CBS at the time) doing editorials and rebuttals as part of the daily programming mix -- each time with the disclaimer that the opinion expressed did not necessarily reflect the opinion of the employees and management of the station.  I’m not even sure that I truly understood the full content or context but these singular opinion makers were my heroes in those days. I was always interested in hearing what they had to say.  We had no “critical” or editorial reading in school and no newspaper delivered to our home with any consistency or with parents suggesting I might actually read one.

Most memorable of these broadcasters was one Kenneth H. McQueen, manager of the ABC (Channel 7) station in the New York Market.  (The network outlets in the New York, Chicago and Los Angeles markets were O&O’s, or owned and operated by the corporate entities since these were and still are the largest markets or the ones with the most Television Households vs. affiliated stations in smaller markets.)

Mr. McQueen appeared on the screen one evening wearing a big red fireman’s helmet and I recall he spoke about something related to the New York City Fireman’s union demands and how they should be supported.  I’m sure I barely understood the context but his beautiful diction and impassioned language made a lasting impression. 

Fast forward many years and I had to occasion to meet and work with Mr. McQueen on his inevitable descent down the corporate ladder, a victim of alcohol abuse and age. He was still the handsome articulate man I remembered from my childhood and I told him so. He was, after all, the station manager during the tenure of my greatest news hero of all times, the unrepentant and incontrovertible Roger Grimsby.

If there had never been a Roger Grimsby, there would never have been a Chevy Chase doing the news on Saturday Night Live and certainly no John Stewart. Grimsby begot Chevy who begot John.

I started watching Grimsby in 1970 when he was paired with the charming Bill Beutel. WABC Eyewitness News was my go-to news spot for the next 15 years.  Every evening he began the show with “ Good Evening, I’m Roger Grimsby, here now the news” and ended with, "Hoping your news is good news, I'm Roger Grimsby."  In between, his broadcasts were frequently filled with wisecracks delivered with a deadpan delivery, later mimicked by Chevy Chase on SNL, and he had an on-air running feud with Howard Cosell, Jerry “Geraldo” Rivera and Gossip queen Rona Barrett.

He once segued from a report on a garbage strike to a Rona Barrett gossip report: "Speaking of garbage, here's Rona with the latest . .

Another time, after a series of scandals had been reported in Newark politics he quipped, ” If Diogenes were to visit Newark these days, he’d put out his lamp.”

Introducing Howard Cosell for a sports report one night, Mr. Grimsby said, "And now let's go to the president of the Howard Cosell Fan Club."  Howard had a huge ego and after days of snide comments exchanged on camera, Cosell launched into a nasal diatribe and over the top attack on Grimsby. When he finally finished, the camera cut to Roger is sitting there, eyes closed and snoring, pretending to be asleep.

His quips were legendary but he was sensitive. He was the ONLY American news anchor in1977 to visit and report on South Africa's racial and political strife, following the tumultuous summer of 1976.  In "Adoption: Who Are My Parents?" Grimsby, himself an adoptee, focused on the search of adoptees for their real parents. Both shows earned him Emmys.

Roger Grimsby made several movies including Woody Allen's Bananas, Ghostbusters, The Exterminator and Nothing But Trouble. He also had a bit part in the move The China Syndrome.

My personal favorite Grimsby tale - After a studio wide-shot caught his colleague Mara Wolynski using an extended middle finger as she finished an argument with someone off-screen, Grimsby, with a straight face, looked into the camera and quipped, "Well . . . as Mara Wolynski would say -- 'We're number one.'"

And indeed they were. Eyewitness News changed the personality of News forever and Roger will always be numero Uno with me.

ABC fired Grimsby on April 16, 1986 after 18 years on the air in the largest television market in the country, most as the leading evening news show. No one has come close since.