October 24, 2006 8:34 PM
"Tom Brokaw, Brian Williams & Steve Capus," says the invitation, "Invite You To Attend a Celebration in Honor of the 50th Anniversary of ‘The Huntley-Brinkley Report’ & Remembering Reuven Frank, Friday, the 3rd of November, 2006, at 11 o'clock a.m., Studio 8H, 30 Rockefeller Plaza, New York City. Space is limited & on a first come, first serve basis."
Of course, ironies abound—a celebration of NBC News coming just as parsimonious General Electric lowers the boom on hundreds of employees at NBC, dozens of them within the news division itself, and even though Brian Williams is deservedly No. 1 in the three-way nightly anchor race. He may not have the phenomenal dominance enjoyed by Chet Huntley and David Brinkley in the days when they reigned supreme, but he is soundly defeating Katie Couric, even after all those millions CBS spent on ballyhooing her ascendancy to the "Evening News" anchor throne.
(Personal blog to Mr. Williams: "Could you please stop saying, 'Thank you for THAT' to correspondents at the ends of their reports? It's, like, soooo irritating. A simple 'Thank you' would suffice. Or maybe compromise and limit the 'for THAT's' to one per newscast—okay? Thank you for that.)
More sad than ironic is the fact that Reuven Frank, who put Huntley and Brinkley together, didn't live to attend this tribute, though he came so very close, having died earlier this year.
Reuven Frank was one of the most important and also most under-honored gentlemen in the news business, though he used to laugh about the low regard in which TV news was held back in its earliest days when he first signed up. A network news department was about as coveted a place of employment as the rowers' galley aboard the battle ships in "Ben-Hur."
Reuven invented the Huntley-Brinkley report and with it the pair's famous sign off "Good night, Chet" and "Good night, David." Reuven recalled not too long before his death that both anchors hated it as a way of ending the show, with Huntley protesting that it made the men sound like lover boys. Frank challenged them to come up with a better sign-off. They didn't, and history was made.
Here's how different those days were from 2006: The closing theme for "The Huntley-Brinkley Report" was an extract from Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. Beethoven yet! (I hope I got that right. It might have been the Fifth. No, the Ninth. Hey, it's a blog, so correct me if I'm wrong, okay?).
Maybe we'll all get lucky and the layoffs at NBC News will come entirely from the staff of "Dateline," thus shutting down the show. Of course that means that pedophiles will be free once more to run rampant through the highways and byways of the nation with no vigilante news posses chasing after (and entrapping) them. It's a risk we'll just have to take.
Maybe some of those who speak at the Huntley-Brinkley 50th anniversary celebration will have a few words to say about "Dateline." We can only imagine what Brinkley would have thought of it—but then he'd left NBC long before his career was over and quickly began a new one with Roone Arledge at ABC. The reason Brinkley bolted was simple: He couldn't stand NBC News President Bill Small. I didn't hear that second-hand, either; Brinkley told me himself.
He also said—bravely—in that interview that if he had to characterize his own political philosophy he would use the word "liberal." But Rush Limbaugh needn't get his panties in a bunch. Brinkley never would have dreamed of letting his own political notions color anything he reported on the air, and in fact he laughed and scoffed at almost all politicians of both parties (and any new independent parties that came and went over the years).
The Huntley-Brinkley celebration comes a few months after Shirley Wershba, a longtime CBS News producer, made a fool of herself on a PBS documentary about Walter Cronkite by denigrating the "Huntley-Brinkley Report" as a "Tweedle-dum and Tweedle-dee" effort. She didn't say it in good humor—just in bad taste, and inexcusably bad manners. Meanwhile, her friend Cronkite was more of a cartoon on the air than Huntley or Brinkley ever were. For that matter, "Good night, Chet" and "Good night, David" is a heckuva lot less corny than Uncle Walter's pompous bye-bye: "And that's the way it is."
And that's the way it really is.