Anchorman: I LIVED That Movie!
Actor Will Ferrell says the inspiration for the movie Anchorman came from a real news team in the 1970s: Mort Crim and Jessica Savitch at KYW-TV in Philadelphia. But anyone who was in TV news in the late 70s can relate — including me.
When Savitch lit up the screen as Philadelphia’s first female anchor, I was working in my first job out of college as a newspaper reporter for the Trenton Times in New Jersey. KYW was looking for a new anchor woman when Jessica was hired to be a network anchor at NBC, and I somewhat resembled her. They asked me to come in for an audition. I probably sucked, but it didn’t matter. I was a print reporter and not interested. About a year later, I had moved on to cover the state legislature for UPI in Providence, RI. During the summer, I covered Ted Turner’s yachting win at the America’s Cup. I was 23 and the only woman in the press corps. Ted noticed. He asked me to join a new venture he was dreaming up called CNN. No thanks, I said. I was a wire service reporter. A short while later, UPI reporters went on strike, and a local station asked me to give TV a try. This time, I said yes for $90 per week.
My first week on the job was the Blizzard of 1978. The station was still shooting news stories on film, and a standup on a frozen interstate is the only snippet of my first TV reporting job that survived on 2-inch video tape. I learned a great deal at WPRI from Ernie Anastos, who went on to become a famous news anchor in New York City. The station had no female anchor, but as a reporter I got to cruise around in a news car and trash-talk with the competing news teams over the two-way radio. We didn’t have a rumble in an alleyway like the Anchorman guys, but we duked it out verbally and over many drinks.
Just about every station in the country had at least ONE female reporter, but few had women in anchor positions and they all seemed to be looking for the next Jessica. I got my chance at WCHS-TV in Charleston, WV. My news director and 6 pm co-anchor, Jim Reader, was a solid journalist and a real gentleman. The Ron Burgundy stuff happened off camera with people like the sales manager who signed me up to promote the station at a wet t-shirt contest. (I called in sick that day!) They also wanted me to wear a crown as “Miss Eyewitness News” on the float the TV station would enter in local parades.
This was my first anchor job, and since I didn’t know what else to do, I developed the ability to mimic Jessica Savitch when I read the news. The station sent me off to a talent coach in Atlanta, who cut my college-girl hair and gave me a Jessica Savitch hairdo, but told me it was okay to sound like myself. Whew! Talent coaching was pretty cool, I thought.
Next stop was WTVJ in Miami, where the management felt it was time to pair legendary anchor Ralph Renick with a female co-anchor for the first time. They hired me, but didn’t tell Ralph. On my first day, he took one look at the 24-year-old Terry Anzur and bellowed, “I won’t work with her. She’ll make me look like an old man.” I did the morning cut-ins and weekends in Miami until WSB in Atlanta offered a job reporting and anchoring weekends as a backup for their star anchorwoman Monica Kaufman. A male anchor welcomed me to the newsroom with a warm handshake and a question: “Do you want to see my dick?” This was not dialog from a comic movie; this actually happened and no one sued or got fired. Sometime later I poured a beer over the guy’s head at the bar where the news team would go for drinks after the 11 pm. Even the news director thought this was hilarious.
Two years later, I made it to Chicago where female reporters were no longer a novelty. Carol Marin was a star on WMAQ, but Bill and Walter ruled on WBBM. I paid my dues as a reporter and fill-in anchor, discovered my love of teaching on a Benton Fellowship at the University of Chicago, and moved on to Washington DC in the mid-1980s. The sexual harassment I encountered on that job would definitely not be tolerated today, and it derailed my hopes of becoming an NBC network correspondent. I went back to local news in Houston, where one of the stagehands noticed that I looked like Jessica Savitch, who had started her TV career at KPRC before going to Philadelphia. I did my Jessica voice and got a big laugh.
Today, I coach a major market all-woman morning anchor team. Journalism school enrollment has been more than two-thirds women for a couple of decades. Because most of the guys in j-school want to do sports, TV news reporting has become a mostly pink-collar profession. It’s fun to laugh at the antics of Anchorman‘s fictional news team and I plan to watch Ron Burgundy and friends move up to a cable news network in Anchorman 2 . I co-anchored a cable news show with MSNBC’s Chris Matthews so I probably lived that movie as well.