A month later,
Trigg assigned me to WINGDING. Based on HULLABALOO and SHINDIG, network programs
featuring rock music and disco girls dancing in cages, WINGDING featured three
musical groups including Chad and Jeremy from Great Britain. Trigg chose Bob Hale,
a WLS disc jockey, to MC the program. This was Hale's first TV appearance, and
my first big project at WMAQ-TV. We had great expectations. The lights of New
York and glamour of Hollywood were just around the corner. This was going to be
"our ticket out of here" - it nearly was. The program was a disaster. The show
was shot in color. We had to make one videotape edit using the primitive microscope
method of physically cutting, splicing and joining the scenes with adhesive tape.
A was quite busy in the late ‘60s and '70s. The engineering department provided
three crews (Actually four if you count the weekends). Two crews covered the morning
and evening news in E. The third crew floated between studios A, A-1, D
and studio E, as needed.
Gallichio and the NBC Orchestra taped ARTIST'S SHOWCASE, a weekly program
hosted by Louis Sudler. These were presented on a sustaining (no commercials)
basis. The musician's contract required more money for commercial shows. These
fees were greater than the monies a local TV program could generate. The show
opened with the orchestra framed through the harp. Alberto Salvi plucked the strings
and the camera dollied back to reveal the entire group. The harp introduced Rachmaninoff's
"Concerto Number Two in C Minor." What a thrill to be enveloped by this music!
I could tell that I was a witness to the final vestiges of an era.
czar James C. Petrillo's nephews Joe and Bobbie worked for the station. Both started
as turntable operators. Joe became a TV director and directed Floyd
Kalber's 10:00 News. Bobbie became a recording engineer at WMAQ radio. When
it was sold to Westinghouse, he transferred to television.
Collins recalls setting up an ice rink, for an ice show, at the south end in 1963.
A blown circuit breaker stopped the refrigeration and the ice melted. Fortunately,
they were able to get it up and frozen by show time.
Local talk shows
found their homes in Studio A. They included THE JACK EIGEN SHOW, Irv Kupcinet's
KUP'S CORNER, and Quiz shows IT'S ACADEMIC, with Ed
Grennan and EVERYTHING'S RELATIVE, a program hosted by St. Paul's Jim Hutton
and syndicated to the NBC owned and operated stations.
The News department
used A for election night coverage. One end of the studio housed the large boards
that listed the races and candidates. The vote count was displayed by electric/mechanical
numbers that were operated by the stagehands. All of this has now been replaced
by electronic graphics.
This large studio
was used also for specials such as THE NEW PERFORMERS. Mandy Patinkin appeared
in the 1968 production. Patinkin's vocal partner, Britta Ebert, became a producer
of children's programs and teleplays at Channel Five. Today, Britta and her husband
Mike Fayette own and operate Post Effects, one of Chicago's most advanced and
successful production-editing houses.
programs were also staged in Studio A. Often two programs were set up - one at
Frances" Horwich started DING DONG SCHOOL in Chicago. The show later
moved to New York where Frances worked in a studio next door to the PERRY COMO
SHOW. She told me that Como's relaxed persona was betrayed by Perry's insistence
that he always had his Priest nearby. Another story involved commercials on her
show. "Miss Frances" contract gave her control of sponsors and commercial
content. The network asked her to broadcast a commercial for B-B-Guns. Frances
refused to do a commercial on guns. No less than Bobby Sarnoff, son of NBC's founder
and president, told "Miss Frances" that she had to allow these commercials,
or the show would be canceled. Frances didn't and Sarnoff did. The time slot was
filled with a program that was more conducive to adult commercials - the TODAY
In 1970, Frances
came to Harry Trigg with a problem. She was two quarters short of being vested
in AFTRA's (American Federation of Television and Radio Artists') pension plan.
Trigg agreed to "help her out." He contracted "Miss Frances" to host
a number of local specials. Harry assigned me to produce and direct these programs.
Studio A served
as home base. One program was titled SEEING THE WORLD FROM THREE FEET HIGH. I
placed a camera on a crane dolly and started with a high shot shooting down at
"Miss Frances" sitting at a desk. Slowly, as Frances described a child's
perspective, the camera boomed down to the height of three feet.
Using a single
camera Video Tape Mobile Unit called a VTMU (VIT-MOO). The camera was again set
at three feet. We followed two children playing at home, on a trip to the zoo
and helping Mom shop in a supermarket.
My favorite "Miss
Frances" story goes back to her first appearance on DING DONG SCHOOL. The
crew didn't know she could read lips. As the show started, she saw lighting director
Gene Breese, just behind the camera, utter, "If this show doesn’t lay an egg,
nothing will." In 1973, I hosted a farewell party for Frances and Harvey
Horwich. They moved to Arizona.
(In March 1998,
I visited friends, John and Mae Wasylik, at their Scottsdale, Arizona condominium.
In the lobby, I saw the name F. Horwich" on the building’s directory.
Could it possibly be? John checked it out, and indeed, it was our "Miss Frances."
Frances and I had
an extended telephone conversation. She had just celebrated her 90th birthday.
Frances’ mind is still razor sharp and she corrected several errors in my report.
Unfortunately "Miss Frances" suffers from severe arthritis.)
In the early 70's,
Bill Heitz and Bob Smith put together a show called SORTING IT OUT. This was among
the first, if not the first, magazine-type show. Bob auditioned a number of co-hosts
before settling on Shelly Long. The features were shot on film by Charlie Boyle
and edited by John Martin. The set was made of a number of ramps and futuristic
monitors set on pedestals. Bob and Shelly walked from one area to another to transition
between film features. After Heitz left the station, I directed the studio portion.
I have a tape of Bob and Shelly interviewing the "behind the camera" workers including
The big studio
was also used for large commercial sets. An entire supermarket bakery department
was set up for a Burney Bros. commercial. Former Bears' football coach Abe Gibron
and starlet Melody Rogers hawked the goodness of Ford automobiles, from the window
doors of a LAUGH IN-type set.
In 1974, I produced
and directed THE NEW ARTHUR MURRAY DANCE SHOW. I brought in Bob Hale as host and
actress Sandy Denis as guest star. This was going to be "another ticket out of
here." The only journey went to the executive producer who owned a Loop Arthur
Murray dance franchise. Apparently he got into some trouble with the government
and as rumor had it, received a trip "up the river."
News moved into
studio A in 1977. The entire studio was transformed in a gigantic STARSHIP set.
An anchor desk with a rear screen for newsmakers' photos was set at the south
end of the studio. Near the center, a discussion pit area was defined by two counters
with TV monitors and phony buttons and dials. The stars of this galaxy included
Maury Povich, newspaper columnist Ron Powers, Tim Weigel, a young Jerry Taft and
Hunter was an insecure
individual trying to show his best side on television. Many performers claim that
if they are shot at a certain angle, the audience will see the "right" side of
their face. Ron's "right" side was his right side, and he would literally turn
his entire body when the director switched to a new camera angle. I felt sorry
for Hunter. One day he confided that he had a very craggy, rough complexion. Ron
asked if I could help him with special lighting or camera angles. I pulled out
a trick from my commercial experience. I asked the video engineer to pull out
the electronic contours, or enhancers, in the camera. This resulted in a soft
or less defined picture. Hunter was happy, but video engineers, such as John Wayne,
were very unhappy with my suggestion. They looked at good video as being the sharpest,
brightest picture possible.
A similar effect
in the film business was called the "Doris Day shot." The story came from Hollywood:
a glass plate smeared with Vaseline was put in front of the camera to blur the
picture and eliminate "expression lines." One early morning, Lillian Gish appeared
on TODAY IN CHICAGO to promote her book "D.W. Griffith and I." As director of
the show I walked into the studio and, perhaps in a somewhat condescending manner,
asked if we could do anything special in the way of lighting or camera angles.
Miss Gish, perhaps in her 80's, looked up at me and said, "Honey, I have no bad
A January 1996,
Associated Press story from Mandeville, LA, reports that Ron Hunter was arrested
[on December 28, 1995] for allegedly stealing food from his next door neighbor's
home. The article related that Hunter, living on food stamps, needed the food
to feed his two children.
Robert Feder, in
a Chicago Sun Times column dated January 17, 1996, reported that Hunter's
former colleagues at Channel 5 have set up a fund for Ron and his children. Perhaps
there are a few bright moments in what once was called Camelot.
However, a March
8, 1996-story in the Chicago Tribune, "An Anchor Hits Bottom," chronicles
Hunter's demise and the suicide of his wife. A sidebar, "Hunter's Old Colleagues
Remember Him, Uh, Well," quotes an unnamed veteran news reporter as saying, "Hunter
was a jerk, perhaps the most arrogant and vain TV personality Chicago's ever known."
I still feel sorry for him. (Ron Hunter was acquitted May 9, 1996 of trespassing
and stealing $3.98 worth of food.)
One day to shoot
a news promotional announcement, we gathered all the on-camera anchors and reporters
in the anchor area. News director Shelly Hoffman took me aside and asked me to
place Tim Weigel on the outside of the group, and then cut him out of the picture.
Shell told me that he was going to fire Weigel the following day.
Studio A was the
home of News (for the most part), between 1977 and 1987 when news production returned
to E for the last time. I qualify the above statement because the News moved back
and forth, on several occasions, between A and E when new sets were constructed.
(For those of us
who have been watching the game from the dugout for many years, it has always
been amusing to witness the arrival of a new general manager, or news director,
and the building of a new News set. A new set was a guaranteed remedy to sagging
ratings. Predictably, the ratings usually declined with the new set.)
Studio E and Floyd Kalber...