Monday, September 23, 2013

This Week in Television History: September 2013 PART IV

Listen to me on TV CONFIDENTIAL:

As always, the further we go back in Hollywood history, the more that fact and legend become intertwined. It's hard to say where the truth really lies.

September 24, 1963  
Petticoat Junction first aired.
Set just outside the rural town of Hooterville, the show followed the goings-on at The Shady Rest Hotel, of which Kate Bradley (Benaderet) was the proprietor. Her lazy Uncle Joe Carson (Edgar Buchanan), who was the great uncle to Kate's three daughters, helped her in the day-to-day running of the business while she served as a mediator in the various minor crises that befell her daughters Betty Jo (redhead), Bobbie Jo (brunette), and Billie Jo (blonde). The actresses portraying Billie Jo and Bobbie Jo changed over the years, whereas Betty Jo was portrayed by Linda Kaye, the daughter of Paul Henning, for the entire run.

September 29, 1948

Bryant Charles Gumbel is born. The television journalist, sportscaster, newscaster, television personality and sports anchor is best known for his 15 years as co-host of NBC's The Today Show. He is the younger brother of sportscaster Greg Gumbel. He began his television career in October 1972, when he was made a sportscaster for KNBC-TV Los Angeles.

NBC Sports

Gumbel was hired by NBC Sports in the fall of 1975 as co-host of its National Football League pre-game show GrandStand with Jack Buck. From 1975 until January 1982 (when he left to do The Today Show) Gumbel hosted numerous sporting events for NBC including Major League Baseball, college basketball and the National Football League. Gumbel returned to sportscasting for NBC when he hosted the prime time coverage of the 1988 Summer Olympics from Seoul and the PGA Tour in 1990.

One of Gumbel's more memorable moments during his time at NBC Sports occurred in 1982, when he was on-site for the "Epic in Miami" NFL playoff game between the San Diego Chargers and Miami Dolphins. At the end of the game, Gumbel told the viewing audience "If you didn't like this football game then you don't like football!"


Gumbel began his affiliation with Today as the program's chief sports reporter contributing twice-weekly features to the program, including a regular series entitled "Sportsman of the Week," featuring up-and-coming athletes. In June 1981, NBC announced that Tom Brokaw would depart Today to anchor the NBC Nightly News with Roger Mudd beginning in the spring of 1982. The search for Brokaw's replacement was on, and the initial candidates were all NBC News correspondents, including John Palmer, Chris Wallace, Bob Kur, Bob Jamieson, and Jessica Savitch. The candidates auditioned for Brokaw's job throughout the summer of 1981 when Brokaw was on vacation. Gumbel became a candidate for the job just by chance when he served as a last-minute substitute for Today co-anchor Jane Pauley in August 1981. Gumbel so impressed executive producer Steve Friedman and other NBC executives that he quickly became a top contender for the Today anchor position.

While Friedman and other NBC executives favored Gumbel as Brokaw's replacement, another contingent within the NBC News division felt strongly that Brokaw should be replaced by a fellow news correspondent, not a sports reporter. Chris Wallace was the favored candidate of then-NBC News president Bill Small. NBC News decided to split the difference, selecting Gumbel as the program's anchor and Wallace as the Washington-based anchor. Jane Pauley would remain co-anchor in New York. Brokaw signed off of Today on December 18, 1981, and Gumbel replaced Brokaw on January 4, 1982.
The Gumbel-Pauley-Wallace arrangement, known internally as the "Mod Squad," lasted only nine months. It was an arrangement that proved intriguing on paper but unwieldy on television. Gumbel served as the show's traffic cop, opening and closing the program and conducting New York-based interviews, but Pauley and Wallace handled newsreading duties, and Wallace conducted all Washington-based hard news interviews. With ABC's Good Morning America in first place and expanding its lead, NBC News made Gumbel the principal anchor of Today beginning September 27, 1982, with Jane Pauley as his co-anchor. Wallace became chief White House correspondent covering President Reagan, and John Palmer, previously a White House correspondent, became Today's New York-based news anchor.
Gumbel and Pauley had a challenging first two years together as Today anchors as they sought to find a rhythm as a team. Good Morning America solidified its lead over Today in the ratings during the summer of 1983, and Pauley's departure for maternity leave sent Today into a ratings tailspin. But when Pauley returned in February 1984, she and Gumbel began to work well together as a team. NBC took Today on the road in the fall of '84, sending Gumbel to the Soviet Union for an unprecedented series of live broadcasts from Moscow. Gumbel won plaudits for his performance in Moscow, erasing any doubts about his hard-news capabilities. That Moscow trip began a whirlwind period of travel for Today. Remote broadcasts from Vietnam, Vatican City, Europe, South America, and much of the United States followed between 1984 and 1989. Today began to regain its old ratings dominance against Good Morning America throughout 1985, and by early 1986, the NBC program was once again atop the ratings.
In 1989, Gumbel, who was already known for his strong management style as Today anchor, wrote a memo to Today executive producer Marty Ryan, on Ryan's request, critiquing the program and identifying its shortcomings. Many of Gumbel's criticisms were directed at fellow Today staffers. This memo was leaked to the press. In the memo, Gumbel commented that Willard Scott, "holds the show hostage to his assortment of whims, wishes, birthdays and bad taste...This guy is killing us and no one's even trying to rein him in". He commented that Gene Shalit's movie reviews "are often late and his interviews aren't very good."
There was enough negative backlash in regard to Gumbel's comments toward Scott, that Gumbel was shown making up with Scott on Today.

Following Jane Pauley's departure from Today in December 1989, Gumbel was joined by Deborah Norville in a short-lived partnership that lasted just over a year. Today dropped to second place in the ratings during this period as a result of intensely negative publicity surrounding Norville's replacement of Pauley, and Gumbel's feud with Scott. Norville was replaced by Katie Couric in April 1991, and the Gumbel-Couric team helped refocus Today as the morning news program on public affairs during the 1992 presidential campaign. The program returned to first place in the ratings in December 1995.
Gumbel's work on Today earned him several Emmys and a large group of fans. He is the second longest serving co-host of Today, serving two months less than Couric. Gumbel stepped down from the show on January 3, 1997 after 15 years.

The Early Show

After leaving the Today Show and Dateline NBC in 1997, Gumbel moved to CBS, where he hosted various shows before becoming co-host of the network's morning show The Early Show on November 1, 1999. Gumbel left The Early Show (and CBS that same year) in May 2002.

He returned to his morning television roots when, in the spring and summer of 2010, he served as special guest moderator of ABC's "The View" for multiple days.

Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel

Gumbel has concentrated most of his energy recently on his duties as host of HBO's acclaimed investigative series Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel (a show that he has hosted since 1995).

HBO's web page claims that Real Sports has been described as "flat out TV's best sports program" by the Los Angeles Times. Also according to HBO, Real Sports has earned 15 sports Emmys, and a 2006 Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Award for broadcast journalism, the first time in the award's history that it was given to a sports program. The award was for a story called "The Sport of Sheikhs", an investigation into the exploitation of children as camel jockeys in the United Arab Emirates.

To quote the Bicentennial Minute, "And that's the way it was".

Stay Tuned

Tony Figueroa
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