|Aug. 3, 2003
- . . . That's what everybody used to call the show (This Week with David Brinkley). Inside ABC people and soon outside people too. The full title was too long to say. Just Brinkley was enough.
- The first program was November 15, 1981. David sat on a stool from the working newsroom at the ABC News bureau in Washington, wearing a huge IFB (Interrupted Feedback) earpiece in his right lobe. (They got smaller.)
- He used to pre-tape his Open Page on Saturdays at 1:30. He'd come down from his fourth floor office to level B-2, first to Makeup and then to the Studio B newsroom to do the on-camera portion of it. Later that copy would be covered with tape footage, animation, music, head shots of the guests and Roundtable participants and other video needed, ending with the animation again. The music would button - end up on a final note rather than fading out. It ran about 1:10 or so.
- . . . "All here on our Sunday morning program. That's how each Open would end."
- Because of the pre-taping of the Open, Brinkley on Sundays had to wear the same clothes he'd worn on Saturdays. He always did.
- Everybody thought the Brinkley theme was the best of the ABC lot. It was a variation on the generic trumpet fanfare theme that was used on other ABC News programs. But his one sounded the classiest.
- After the Open played, the top of the show always had David live from the newsroom giving the news. "First a little news since the Sunday morning papers," he always said. It usually wasn't much but sometimes it was.
- MAN OF FEW WORDS. On a slow news morning one time, he said, "First the news since the Sunday morning papers. There isn't any." And they went to a commercial.
- After the news segment was done, Brinkley would high-tail out of Studio B and walk through a cluttered narrow passageway to Studio A where the interview part of the show took place. It was a quick change and usually the stage manager would walk with him through inner sanctum. The first commercial in the program was a short break and he often only had a minute to do it, so everyone was sort of on edge until they knew he was seated and miked up. He always made it.
- There was a long background piece - often five minutes or more back then - which usually was in the second segment of the show to set up the topic and issues to be discussed on the program. Brinkley always referred to it as "Some background from our man Jim Wooten (another good writer), or Jack Smith (son of Howard K. Smith who had the same sounding voice as his father) or John Martin, also a good writer newsman."
- . . . That piece was a prestige one to do for the producer and correspondent. Often both were up all night into the wee hours of Sunday morning.
- The guest segments then followed. Brinkley was always cordial and welcomed everyone, no matter how much hot water they might have gotten into that week. "Nice to have you here. Thank you for coming." "You look pretty spiffy in that blue suit. How's the weather down there," he asked one guest who was in Miami.
- At the end of each segment of the show, his outcue was always, "... in a moment."
- Then came the Roundtable which was also called a Free For All in the script lineup.
- . . . "Coming next, our discussion here, perhaps at times loose-jointed and rambling ... free and unfiltered ... suitable for family viewing ... our verbal quilting bee ... about one thing or another - don't know which - ... in a moment," were some of the ways he described the upcoming Roundtable segment at various times through the years.
- . . . The Roundtable was a popular segment(s) of the show. There used to be guests on it and over the years some were Hodding Carter, Jody Powell, Ben Bradlee, David Gergen, Karen Elliot House, Tom Wicker, Mary Ann Dolan, Barry Schweid, Michel McQueen, Bob Maynard, Martin Nolan, Jonathan Alter, R.W. Apple, Jr. , Morton Kondracke, Ellen Goodman, William Safire, Clifford May, Georgianne Geiger, until it finally boiled down to George Will, Sam Donaldson and Cokie Roberts.
- . . . When it was time for Brinkley to end this segment and go to a commercial and when the discussion was a lively one with the Roundtablers really going at it, Brinkley the referee would sometimes hold up his hands like a traffic cop and say something like, "Okay, okay. I've got to interrupt. Thank you all. Thank you very much. The time is up." Then he'd plug his upcoming commentary or homily which it was called inside ABC and which was often about an odd piece of news, a letter he got, some blunder on Capitol Hill or just something quirky like this, "We'll be back with a word about some people ... this is true (LAUGHS) ... some people who watch this program stark naked. In a moment." Everyone looked forward to it, whatever it might be about.
- . . . He'd deliver it and sometimes break himself up and laugh out loud. And when he did, his shoulders moved up and down and more than once you'd hear Cokie or Sam or George in the background laughing too.
- And that was the show. It ran 58 minutes and 29 seconds, including commercials. There were two feeds of it - 10:30 and 11:30 - offerred to the ABC affiliates.
- During Brinkley's reign, he did 780 shows and had on 2595 guests.
- OTHER THINGS:
- Sam Donaldson said, in recalling David shortly after his death, that at NBC all the correspondents took to imitating David's way of talking. It was the thing to do. And everybody across the country did it too. This started way back when he was with Chet Huntley on the Huntley-Brinkley Report. And when he arrived at ABC, people did it there too.
- The New York Times reported that in his 1995 memoir, David Brinkley: 11 Presidents, 4 Wars, 22 Political Conventions, 1 Moon Landing, 3 Assassinations, 2,000 Weeks of News and Other Stuff on Televison and 18 Years of Growing Up in North Carolina, he explained how he came to talk like he did: In World War II he used to underline words in his radio scripts in order to give the right emphasis and it developed into his sort of jerky, emphasized style.
- HE LIKED PETS. He and his family had a small black toy poodle named Sophie and he'd sometimes bring her to work at ABC. Pets weren't allowed in the bureau but she made it in. She grew to an old age and everybody in his family was fond of her. And in his memoir he recalled the dog he grew up with and wrote about " ... the ineradicable memory of Shep, the collie of my childhood, sailing over the fence with such ease, grace and suavity that he seemed to ignore gravity."
- He drove a Grand Cherokee to work and parked in the PMI lot next to the Washington bureau. One day he saw the show's production secretary walking down DeSales St. and drove up on the sidewalk just to scare her.
- He liked hotdogs and other fast food for lunch and often his assistant would go upstairs to the seventh floor vending machines and pull out one or two and bring ‘em down for him.
- He hated chicken. Never ate it, couldn't stand the way they looked and thought they were the ugliest animals on earth.
- Brinkley used well-prepared notebooks for reference during political convention coverage and always had them right there with him on the set.
- He and his wife Susan often went to a yearly rodeo in Houston and he was fascinated by the pig races.
- There's another Brinkley book coming out called Brinkley's Beat: People, Places and Events That Shaped My Time. In it he talks about television anchors being famous, but "not for their influence to change the political order or to elect or defeat a candidate. So what are we famous for," he asks. "We are famous for being famous."
- The Brinkley show killed the competition. The show regularly got ratings of 4.6 and 15 shares and was the leader of the Sunday talk show pack.
- ORGANIZED. He was a record collector and liked jazz and music from the swing era. (He and Ella Fitzgerald were friends for a period of time.) All LPs (long-playing records, as they used to call them Vinyl now). He had all of them - over 1000 albums/11,000 titles - catalogued in three big 3-ring binders, alphabetically by performer. Easy to find.
- He apologized to Clinton for calling him a bore on election night. "It was impolite and unfair and I'm sorry. I regret it," he told the president at the White House during a taped interview the next week's show. At the end he said, "Thank you very much for being with us. Pleased to have you. Good luck to you."
- He did carpentry work and built cabinets and other things at home. He liked talking about it.
- He was born in Wilmington, N.C. and when he was a kid he worked at the Lumina pavilion at Wrightsville Beach. He was a soda jerk, light bulb changer and ticket taker. That's where he got interested in music. They had big bands every night for dancing that would come in from out of town. "I like music and I listen to it and learned a little bit about it, but my real interest was in the news business and that's all I ever wanted to do and all I've ever done."
- Brinkley was on the cover of TV Guide seven times through the years - with and without Chet Huntley.
- DIDN'T KNOW THAT. He and Chet Huntley's and John Chancellor's pictures are in the opening animation for the NBC Nightly News, and are seen at the top of the screen. But you've gotta look for them to know they're there.
- Often at Christmastime, Brinkley often did on-camera greetings/promos for some of the ABC affiliate stations. They were written in New York and faxed down to the show. He'd go to the newsroom one day during the week and tape them. They were all pretty much the regular holiday greetings people use and were customized for the particular affiliate each one was for: WXYZ in Detroit, KABC in LA, WABC in New York, WPLG in Florida, etc. So he was knocking ‘em off pretty fast but he came to one that said, "Seasons Greetings, etc.,. etc." His reaction? A huffy one. "People don't say that. They put that on cards. Hallmark. I'm not saying it." And he didn't.
- When he was a young boy in Wilmington, N. C. his mother ("Mama") thought electric lights attracted mosquitoes and she told him to go out and sit on the curb and read under the streetlight, which he often did. Years later he took a nostalgic trip home to see the house he grew up in. It was gone, replaced by "a small, hideous one-story brick building with a sign on the front saying something stupid and infuriating about insurance. The streetlight was still there, the only physical fragment left from a rich and pungent family life, " he wrote in his 1995 memoir.
© Rocci Fisch/Random Thoughts
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