One of the really good guys is leaving the TV beat.Critic's NotebookDusty Saunders:Seeing stars was part of the job for 53 years
By Dusty Saunders (Denver) Rocky Mountain News
May 31, 2007
In my 53 years as a reporter and columnist, I've written numerous stories about records being set.
Some records were important, others forgettable.
I realized a couple of months ago that I've set a record - no one in the history of the Rocky Mountain News has pounded out more words on an old-fashioned typewriter or a modern-day computer than I have.
Important? Forgettable? Probably somewhere in between. I've won a few awards. I've never been sued or attacked in a parking lot, although I've received my share of nasty phone calls, letters and e-mails.
But as Brandon Tartikoff, the late former entertainment president of NBC, said in his autobiography: "It's been a great ride."
As you may have heard, I'm leaving the Rocky under a voluntary separation agreement. However, I'll remain an occasional contributor in Spotlight.
Ironically, my first year here had nothing to do with words. My "journalistic" world consisted of picking up coffee, sharpening pencils and hauling newspapers from the presses to the editorial room. I was a copy boy, a profession that has gone the way of the whooping crane and newspaper typesetters.
My first chore on that initial day was getting coffee from the Rocky snack bar for the late Leonard Cahn, a sportswriter I'd revered while attending the University of Colorado.
In fact, my admiration produced something I remain proficient at - spilling liquids. As he mopped up his coffee with a napkin, he growled, "That's OK, Red," acknowledging my abundant freckles and bright red hair.
I went on to cover the police beat and city government and to write entertainment features before becoming feature-entertainment editor.
In May 1963, I was introduced to broadcasting. Editor Jack Foster had received a somewhat patronizing letter from NBC, saying that while the Rocky was a growing daily publication, it had one major drawback: little, if any, television coverage.
In those days newspapers, noting that TV was a growing rival in news coverage and advertising revenue, operated under a weird theory: Just ignore TV, it may go away.
The letter invited Foster or someone he designated to fly to New York for four days (at NBC's expense; yes, a freeload) to meet the network's stars and executives. Foster sent me with the caveat that I not file a story while at the event.
The first person I met at a cocktail party was a relatively shy Johnny Carson, who, six months earlier, had taken over as host of The Tonight Show. I borrowed pen and paper from a bartender and interviewed Carson in the corner of the noisy room.
Upon returning to Denver, I convinced Foster I should write something about the trip. While my printed interview with Carson was anything but an award-winner, I had found my professional niche. The "no television" edict was gradually erased, and by the early '70s I was writing about TV and radio on a full-time basis.
One of my proudest contributions was being a founding member of the Television Critics Association, which, down through the years, has increased the profile of TV columnists and made us all more professional. The organization was founded in 1980, and I was honored to be its third president.
Any departure column should contain a "state-of-the-art" assessment, but it would be foolhardy in this space to attempt to pinpoint all the changes, pluses and minuses of the broadcasting industry.
It is worth noting, however, that network television, because of competition from various sources, is far less creative today in storytelling than it was 25 years ago. Obviously, the miracles of electronics have been an on-the-screen plus. Meanwhile, original cable production continues to grow, often showing more creativity than the broadcast networks.
Local news, following a national trend, continues to drift toward more fluff-oriented material. Still, our local news is higher in quality than what is aired in most of the top 25 markets, thanks in part to the early standards set by the late Hugh B. Terry and Al Flanagan and, more recently, Roger Ogden.
Talk radio? While becoming a legitimate media force, it's moved from conversation to confrontation. Too often hosts, with entrenched points of view, dare callers to disagree so they can shout them down.
Because television is such a personal medium, I'm regularly asked: "Have you met . . . ?" or "Do you know . . . ?" I've interviewed hundreds of actors, writers, newsmen and TV executives. Some I know personally as well as professionally. Certainly, the passings of Peter Jennings and Ed Bradley were somewhat personal losses.
Several years ago the late Jerry Orbach, during a Hollywood press conference about Law & Order, was being bombarded with questions about his character, Detective Lennie Brisco. I was aware Orbach, a former Broadway musical star, was an original cast member in The Fantastiks, the off-Broadway hit that set a longevity record.
So I asked Orbach to reflect on those days, which he did in delightful, newsworthy style. Later at an NBC party, Orbach sought me out to thank me for bringing up The Fantastiks, which reminded the press that his career consisted of much more than being a TV cop. Thus, I also felt a personal loss when Orbach died in 2004.
That's part of my sentimental personality, also exemplified by the late Gene Amole, who claimed he cried at Kmart ribbon-cuttings.
So be it.
I once played Bill Cosby, an exceptional athlete in his younger years, in a Denver charity tennis match. He beat me 6-1. (Actually, he let me win one game.)
As we were sitting courtside after the match, sipping champagne, I told Cosby I was a better writer than a tennis player. Cosby winked, laughed and said: "I don't know, Dusty, I've read some of your stuff."
For readers who have followed me through the years, thank you for reading "some of my stuff."http://www.rockymountainnews.com/drm...562844,00.html