Sunday, March 19, 2006

"Good luck, and be well" Bill Beutel

One of the great gentlemen of broadcast news has passed. Bill Beutel holds the record for longest anchor run in the city. His smooth as silk delivery was but one of his many considerable gifts. Bill and Roger Grimsby, once co-anchors of the #1 rated Eyewitness News, were bigger-than-life personalities, genuine New York media celebrities. Bill added something special to each newscast he played on, however, the chemistry between he, Roger and the other players on the Eyewitness News programs of the early seventies remain without equal.

Al Primo invented the ground-breaking Eyewitness News concept in the mid sixties while ND at KYW in Philly. Al was the first to have reporters, rather than anchors, tell the story and the EWN pov was born. Al was the WABC ND who introduced his EWN concept to New York and the first to add "personalities" to the local newscasts. Al cast Bill as Roger's co-anchor - a brilliant move. Consumer writers often described the difference in the revolutionary EWN format as "happy talk" or banter between readers - they were wrong. As were the hundreds of copy cat local news shows that pushed their readers to "talk among yourselves." The magic of Al's WABC EWN presentation came from the introduction of very distinctive news "personalties." During the early seventies Bill and Roger mixed it up with a great "cast" including Tex Antoine (perhaps the first weatherman with an attitude), Geraldo Rivera (who brought the Mike Wallace ambush interview to local news), Howard Cosell, and Roseanne Scamardella (the subject of parody by SNL's Gilda Radner). Bill and Roger were outstanding on their own, with the other players they proved to be unbeatable.

From his use of Lalo Schifrin's music (Cool Hand Luke's "Tar Sequence"), to hiring Bob Giraldi to create some of the best news promos ever broadcast, to his uber-cool soft "stories" about cast members, Al Primo created one of the most enduring and copied news franchises in broadcasting history. Bill Beutel and his fellow news personalities brought the programs to life giving them an edge, a look and a feel like no other. Watching in the early seventies I made certain never to miss the Friday shows when wild off-the-wall horse play could and more often than not did happen. They gave you the news and they also gave you a good humored, playful attitude, they included you in the joke. Al had a deep understanding of the importance of creating contrast - the other stations were dull and lifeless by any comparision. Later, in the mid eighties, Bill Applegate of WLS fame was brought in to refresh the casts and did an excellent and very effective job of putting WABC back in first place.

WABC's tribute to Bill is here