In this week’s issue… Remembering a TV news giant – NE broadcasters survive Florida storm – NJBA, WQED heads step down – Canadian stations mark anniversaries
By SCOTT FYBUSH
Jump to: ME – NH – VT – MA – RI – CT – NY – NJ – PA – Canada
*If you’ve watched local TV news at any time in the last 50 years, there’s one man more than any other who deserves the credit for the structure and feel of those newscasts.
Al Primo’s invention of the “Eyewitness News” format transformed what had been a staid recitation of headlines into a dynamic show that – when done right – reflected much more of the color and spirit of the community it covered.
Primo, who died Thursday, started his career in his native Pittsburgh, where he graduate from the University of Pittsburgh and went to work at DuMont’s WDTV (later KDKA-TV), moving up through the ranks from news writer to producer to assistant news director.
Westinghouse moved him across the state to KYW-TV (Channel 3) in Philadelphia when it took that station back from NBC in 1965. Charged with building a newsroom there, he introduced the earliest version of “Eyewitness News,” making his field reporters into storytellers charged with doing more than just filing dry film reports. Primo created the beat system, sending his reporters out to dig up stories that TV news hadn’t covered in its early years of news conferences and staged events.
In 1968, Primo’s success taking KYW to first place led him to a bigger challenge, taking over the newsroom at New York’s moribund third-place WABC-TV (Channel 7). In New York, Primo studied the characters he saw on the city’s sidewalks every morning, diversifying the faces on Channel 7 to begin trying to better reflect the market. That included hires such as Geraldo Rivera, Rose Ann Scamardella and Melba Tolliver, who went on to become the first Black woman to anchor a network newscast.
Primo also helped create the concept of an anchor team, pairing Roger Grimsby with Bill Beutel to shake up what had always been a single-anchor newscast. And he introduced dynamic theme music to local news, snipping a portion of the “Cool Hand Luke” movie soundtrack to provide a propulsive opening that came to define what “news” sounded like.
Primo rose to a network VP position before leaving ABC in 1975 to become a consultant. He remained active in the industry for decades, launching an early streaming news service in 1999 and then creating “Teen Kids News” in 2001, training a generation of high school students to create newscasts that were distributed commercial-free to schools and syndicated to broadcast TV.
He was still actively working well into his eighties, working out of a home base in southern CONNECTICUT, meeting regularly with old colleagues and keeping tabs on the industry he loved until cancer slowed him down this year. Primo was 87.
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If you have already ordered your calendar, make sure you check out the other items in the store, too!