Sheehan Gets a Positive Review

Dec 22, 2003  •  Post A Comment

After his last broadcast as entertainment editor of KCBS-TV in Los Angeles two weeks ago, David Sheehan had little time to contemplate a key turning point in his landmark 33-year career as one of the premier entertainment reporters and reviewers in television history. He had a special to syndicate, a public service announcement to finish for the Los Angeles Mission, and about 1,600 high school students to meet.
Some of the students had read the book “Lord of the Rings: The Return of The King,” and written an essay in a contest that included a chance to be among the first to see the hit movie and to meet Mr. Sheehan.
Over two days Mr. Sheehan talked to L.A. County students assembled in a movie theater auditorium in Norwalk, Calif . He taught them how to write a movie review and invented a game he called “Siskel & Ebert,” in which the students got to stand in front of their peers and pretend they were the reviewers. It didn’t make him a dime, but he loved it.
“It was just so satisfying,” said Mr. Sheehan. “I had never done anything like that before.”
Still relatively youthful-looking at age 65, Mr. Sheehan is looking forward to even more new experiences. He said his somewhat abrupt departure from Channel 2 in L.A. did not mean he was retiring. “Not a chance,” he said with a laugh.
Mike Nelson, spokesman for KCBS, did not rule out Mr. Sheehan working with the station in the future and said: “We have a high level of respect for him and wish him the best.”
Mr. Sheehan still has an infectious enthusiasm about show business, the stars he has known and all the doors that his career has opened. He remains busy producing three or four annual specials, which he has been syndicating through his own company, Hollywood Close Ups, for the past five years. His “Holiday Movie Magic” just finished airing nationwide, and his ninth annual “Academy Awards Preview” is being readied to play in 125 markets covering more than 84 percent of the United States in the two weeks leading up to the Oscars in February. His shows are now also distributed in the international market by Fremantle Corp.
As always, his Oscars special will be loaded with the biggest stars, including Julia Roberts, Tom Cruise and Jack Nicholson, who has given Mr. Sheehan a series of rare exclusive interviews over the years.
He has also made commitments to a number of nonprofit organizations, including the Los Angeles Mission (where he can be found on holidays serving meals to the homeless), the Children of the Night charity, which helps get young women off the streets, and Deepak Chopra’s Alliance for a New Humanity, -which was the subject of his final report for KCBS-TV.
“As I saw this change of life with CBS coming,” said Mr. Sheehan, “I saw an opportunity to help raise awareness and funds for a number of charities, many of whom I have been giving money to for years.”
Whatever he does, Mr. Sheehan leaves behind a rich legacy in broadcasting.
He began his career in his hometown, Columbus, Ohio, working as floor director and cameraman at several local TV stations. He continued working part-time when he attended Notre Dame, where he traded in his childhood dream of becoming a priest for a career in TV, and later, at UCLA.
He never did graduate, because he became too busy working as a reporter and a reviewer for a local paper in L.A. while running a successful little playhouse on the side.
It was while promoting a play by Edward Albee that Mr. Sheehan became frustrated by the lack of entertainment news on local TV. In 1970 he approached all three network affiliates in L.A. and pitched them on adding “an entertainment page to the news, just like a newspaper,” he recalled.
He landed at the CBS affiliate, then called KNXT, which featured “The Big News.” Over the next decade, Mr. Sheehan became the first regularly scheduled local reviewer and entertainment reporter in the United States. In those days he was often the only local reporter at movie premieres, at a time the medium still required cumbersome 16 mm cameras that recorded pictures on film and sound on a magnetic stripe.
Entertainment reporting exploded in the 1980s with the arrival of shows such as “Entertainment Tonight” and “Access Hollywood.” By the early ’90s almost every TV station had its own reviewer or reporter. A decade later, most of those local broadcasters are gone. “They pick up stuff from syndicated sources or rely on [entertainment] shows to satisfy the need,” Mr. Sheehan said. “And there are some stations who don’t think it’s worth doing.”
He left broadcasting for a few years to produce TV shows, including HBO’s first regular series, “Backstage in Hollywood.” He also produced the first Broadway play shot live on video, a $3 million production of “Pippin,” directed by Bob Fosse.
During the 1980s Mr. Sheehan moved to KNBC-TV under a deal that included specials on the NBC network. He returned to CBS in 1994 and began doing his annual specials, which include “Summer Movie Magic.”
He looks forward to spending more time with his three children, all grown, and his fourth wife, whom he married two years ago. He doesn’t rule out returning to reviewing, but he won’t miss sitting through some of today’s movies.
“I have a real love for movies with a positive message, a positive vibration, a positive story,” Mr. Sheehan said. “And I have a prejudice against violence. I do try to take into account that there is an audience out there that loves these so-called action movies, loaded with violence. I always take the audience into account and never try to force anybody to agree with my opinion.”
It’s my opinion that David Sheehan has been a real pioneer in TV entertainment news, and for that reason wherever he lands, he deserves two thumbs up for a life and career well lived.