“We won’t be signing off until the world ends. We’ll be on, we’ll be covering it live, and that will be our last, last event.”
-Ted Turner, June 1, 1980
The sand has shifted again beneath our feet. Bob Simon was killed in a car accident this week. He was the senior foreign correspondent for 60 Minutes. He also covered Viet Nam, Tiananmen Square, and the Persian Gulf for CBS News. It was an impressive career.
And after 17 years John Stewart is leaving the Daily Show. I’m sympathetic to the people that like his show because they’re really in lament. I don’t dislike the Daily Show, in fact when it comes right down to it I would say I like it. I’ve only ever seen about three hours of the Daily Show in the past 17 years. One of those hours happened on March 30, 2000. I was in New York and saw the taping of that day’s episode. Jimmy Smits was the guest. The studio was really small and you could really tell how much make up Stewart and Smits were wearing.
If that weren’t enough, NBC has suspended Brian Williams for saying that he was in a helicopter that got hit with a rocket-propelled grenade in 2003, when in fact, no such thing happened. That seems like the lie of a clumsy beginner, and it’s definitely lame. Count Trumpula says Williams is “irrelevant,” but Charlie Sheen says he’s a “hero.” I’ve seen fewer hours of Brian Williams than John Stewart but I think the answer is somewhere in the middle.
From this vantage point, there hasn’t been this much hue-and-cry in broadcast journalism since Flip Spiceland left CNN. He was a weather anchor going back to the Nixon administration, and he was on the air within the first 30 minutes of CNN’s first broadcast in 1980. The day was a living nightmare, as excruciating as it was historic. Spiceland had to do what all broadcast media professionals are called upon to do from time to time. He stood in the mud and took abuse from Ted Turner.
“I remember being very tired,” Spiceland said in 2000. “We had facilities with mud floors, bad lighting and no bathrooms!” Chatting with the celebrities was also forbidden and the rule was ruthlessly and mercilessly enforced. He kept his footing and gave a fearless weathercast. Witnesses, out there in the mud and those watching on television, could from that day forward say that they had seen a man stand and deliver.
At CNN he was a pace-maker and a trend setter, and as such he knew when to jump. In 2001, maybe because of all the mud, Spiceland moved from CNN to an NBC affiliate in Atlanta. He employed an image consultant, hit the gym, and switched to mineral powder makeup. Everything looked so good nobody could have predicted the end.
One night in late February 2008, the lights when out in Georgia. Flip Spiceland gave his final forecast and retired. It rained that night, if only in the hearts of the people. Now he pokes light, breezy fun at his whole persona on Adult Swim, a cable channel owned by Turner Broadcasting System. He’s back in the fold in a whole new way, trading on his legend. It’s a good move. If you’ve learned nothing else from REO Speedwagon you should know you’ve got to roll with the changes.
Spiceland always had comedy in his blood. On a good night, he had the instinct and timing of Carson. Such as the time the lights in the studio failed during Flip’s weathercast. He was plunged into sudden and terrible darkness. Without missing a beat he ad-libbed, “The forecast for tonight is dark, very dark.” The tape found it’s way onto a blooper show hosted by Dick Clark. Spiceland won himself $1,500 and he still gets royalties.
Johnny Mountain just has to be satisfied with being “one of the most recognizable faces — and names — in local TV news.” That’s how it was put by the LA Times upon his retirement in 2010. For the past 32 years he had been a local weather anchor in Los Angeles. He worked for KABC and then KCBS. He left there amid staff cuts and “restructuring.” The poignancy of his exit was overshadowed by talk of a conspiracy to fill his spot and others with attractive young women. These allegations were made by meteorologist and self-described “Southern California Weather Expert” Kyle Hunter who wanted Mountain’s job and didn’t get it. It went to attractive young woman, Jackie Johnson. In 2012, Hunter sued KCBS and KCAL for age and sex discrimination. The trial court ruled in his favor but the higher Court of Appeal reversed the decision, ruling that CBS can hire whoever they want under the protection of the First Amendment. The case was remanded back to the Superior Court where it remains, somehow rebranded as a free speech issue. He would stand more of chance with a more dynamic name. There are so many things you could put with Hunter. He’s halfway there.
This week I helped my neighbor, Dusty Darrell, move some heavy boxes of oily metal into his garage.
“What is this stuff?” I said.
“Parts for the 74. That’s a clutch. These are Hi-flow pinion shaft bushings. This here’s a pressure plate,” he said. He looked through a box and withdrew and held up a gear, “This’ll help keep the train nice and light. I’m gonna need that because I’m putting in light valve collars and pushrods.”
“The pushrods are light?” I asked.
He was looking through boxes and putting engine parts next to a gutted Harley-Davidson. He didn’t answer but that was fine with me. I didn’t know what he was talking about anyway. He turned on the radio and lit a cigarette preparing to work. “Still the One” by Orleans was on.
“This is a cool song,” he said.
I agreed and left Dusty Darrell bent over his bike, a lifeless hulk like Frankenstein’s monster before the lightning.
“Still the One” reached number 5 in 1976. ABC adapted it for their TV spots promoting the 1977-1978 and the 1979-1980 televisions seasons. I don’t know what the royalty situation is but I’m sure everyone went away happy. There were a lot of good shows to look forward to.