R.I.P. Jim Cummins

Jim CumminsMy old colleague and friend Jim Cummins has died, and I am sad. Jim and I were part of an amazing team at WTMJ-TV in the early and mid 70s and had stayed in touch. Like my other friend who died this year, Pete Wilson, Jim was a big early influence.

I use a story about Jim whenever I speak with budding journalists. When he came to WTMJ-TV from Grand Rapids, he was that station’s top reporter. I ran the desk, and Jim didn’t like that he had to wait in the wings while all the tenured reporters at the station got all the good assignments. Hey, that’s life.

One day, he came to me and asked, “What time do you get to work?”

“7 o’clock,” I replied.

“Tell you what,” he said, “if I have a story idea for you at 7 a.m., would you consider giving me a shooter instead of waiting until you’ve set up the day?”

What AE would disagree with that?

His first piece was on a local toy company that had stopped making a certain toy, because the manufacturer couldn’t get the petroleum necessary to make the thing. The year was 1973. The first line in the piece was this: “The Birdie Ball has gone the way of the energy crisis.” It was an outstanding piece, and it wasn’t but a few weeks until Jim was our top dog reporter. Nobody was surprised when he went to NBC Nightly News.

He loved the resources of the network. I remember a call from him while covering a tornado in rural Missouri. He arrived on a chartered plane at the local landing strip known as the airport, only to discover they had no car rental place. The guy who ran the joint had an old beater, though, so Jim (er, NBC) bought it.

I loved Jim Cummins. He was an amazing storyteller, a great husband and father, and my dear old friend.

Farewell, Jim.

Tom Synder R.I.P.

Tom Synder and me at the Milwaukee Press Club in 1979What’s with all these old friends and acquaintances passing away?

Today, it’s Tom Synder, host of NBC’s “Tomorrow” show, which came on after Carson in the 70s. The picture at the right was taken at the Milwaukee Press Club’s annual dinner in 1979. I was chairman of the event, and I arranged for Tom to get the “Sacred Cat” award, a high journalism honor in the community. Tom grew up there and was most appreciative of the award, thanking me in a note especially for how happy the event had made his mother.

His career began in news in Milwaukee, and he eventually anchored in Philadelphia and Los Angeles before leaving the news business to do “Tomorrow” in 1972. He was, in many ways, the prototypical news anchor of the 70s, but he was an extremely intelligent and witty man.

No comments about my appearance, please.

Tom died this weekend of complications from leukemia. Tom Synder, gone at the age of 77 but not forgotten.

R.I.P. Pete Wilson

My dear old friend Pete Wilson, a television legend in San Francisco, has passed away, and I am sad. He was only 62, and died of a massive heart attack during surgery for a hip replacement.

Pete and I were best friends during the 70s, when we both worked the morning shift at WTMJ-TV. I can honestly say I’ve never been closer to a man in my life than I was with Pete back then. We were inseparable, and since we were on the same schedule, our private lives were intertwined as well. Some weeks, we’d leave after the noon show and play golf Monday through Friday.

Pete was a terrific and passionate golfer. Big and strong, he could hit the ball a friggin’ mile and we were always competitive. I remember one round when I had him by a shot going to the last hole. He kept trying to psych me out, but I hit a great drive. We walked and laughed, and Pete seemed resigned to the fact that I was going to beat him. My ball was up the left side of the fairway, about 20 yards in front of a big bunker and 120 yards from the pin. He walked with me and then headed to his ball 20 to my right. As he left, he said, “Don’t hit it in the bunker,” which I then proceeded to do. I bogied the hole. He made birdie and beat me by a stroke. Damn.

I also remember a Christmas morning when we were both working. Cognizant of the reality that nobody was watching the 6am news on Christmas day, Pete brought his famous holiday egg nog. It was mighty tasty at 4am, but it also went straight to the brain on an empty stomach. I’ll never know how he got through the newscast.

Pete, I love you and I pray that God is holding you now in His everlasting arms. May you rest in peace, my dear friend.

Don Fitzpatrick R.I.P.

Word is in from Rick Gevers that Don Fitzpatrick has passed away. Don is a legend in local broadcasting, the original headhunter. He was always on the side of the workers in the industry, creating the first newsletter, Rumorville, that was faxed to stations every day. That became ShopTalk, and the rest is history.

Here’s what Rick had to say in an email:

Don died over the weekend in Alexandria, LA. Details are sketchy, but he apparently had been in the hospital for tests and was released on Friday.

For many years, Don operated Don Fitzpatrick Associates, a head hunting firm for broadcasters, from offices in downtown San Francisco. He also began one of the first online newsletters, originally called Rumorville, which later became Shoptalk.

Don closed DFA in late 1999 to concentrate on Shoptalk and a website, tvspy.com.

Like many people, I loved Don Fitzpatrick. A fixture at the annual RTNDA gatherings, he could always be counted on to have a good thing to say.May he rest in peace.

R.I.P. Don Knotts

Let me join my voice with others in mourning the passing of a comic legend, Don Knotts. While he’s best remembered as Barney Fife, his original comedy on The Steve Allen Show was what rocketed him to stardom, and those who’ve never seen his bits have missed some real comic genius. Here’s a graph about the show from The Museum of Television Communications:

And on the new show, Allen’s man in the street interview segments launched the careers of comedians Bill Dana, Pat Harrington, Louis Nye, Tom Poston and Don Knotts. Dana played the timid Hispanic Jose’ Jiminez, and Harrington the suave Italian golfer Guido Panzino.

Characters created by Nye, Poston and Knotts were the best known of the group. Nye portrayed the effete and cosmopolitan Gordon Hathaway whose cry “Hi Ho Steverino” became a trademark of the program. Tom Poston was the sympathetic and innocent guy who would candidly answer any question but who could never remember his name. Probably the best remembered character was the nervous Mr. Morrison portrayed by Don Knotts. Often Morrison’s initials were related to his occupation. On one segment he was introduced as K.B. Morrison whose job in a munitions factory was to place the pins in hand grenades. When asked what the initials stood for, Knotts replied, “Kaa Boom!” Invariably Allen would ask Knotts if he was nervous and always got the quick one word reply, “No!!!” Allen characterized the cast as the “happiest, most relaxed professional family in television.”

I remember these segments vividly and also how our whole family would roar with laughter, especially over Knotts’ character.

I will also fondly remember Don Knotts in The Incredible Mr. Limpett, a silly 1964 film in which Knotts’ character gets his wish to become a fish. It still brings a smile to my face.

Rest in peace, Don Knotts. You are remembered with much love.

Dr. Gene Scott R.I.P.

Dr. Gene Scott, the eccentric televangelist who smoked cigars, wore odd headgear and used profanity, has died in California at age 75 after suffering a stroke. Scott was the anti-televangelist, and I have many fond memories of watching him in the wee hours of the morning while taking care of my daughter Brittany during the mid 80s. The son of a former leader of the Assemblies of God denomination, he was a rising star in the Charismatic Christian firmament until an affair allegedly got the best of him. He retreated to a place of television, religion, aliens, pyramids and Atlantis. He was a hoot on-the-air and could talk for hours.

He had a band that was constantly being asked by his cult following to play an original version of Amazing Grace. He was a brilliant manipulator and would hold off playing the tune until a certain number of people called and pledged money. But you never knew what was going to happen with Gene. He’d deliberately and slowly take a drag off a cigar while directing the camera to zoom in for a close-up. He’d inhale, exhale and then look directly in the camera and say, “Don’t you Christians wish you could do that?”

His brand of religion was, to say the least, unusual. May he rest in peace.

Here’s a backgrounder. Here’s his Website.