and Chet Huntley debuted NBC's The Huntley--Brinkley Report
in October 1956. A few months earlier NBC producer Reuven Frank
had put them together as a team to anchor the network's television
coverage of the Democratic and Republican presidential nominating
conventions. Network news would never be the same. Nor would Sunday
mornings a quarter of a century later when Brinkley introduced on
ABC, This Week With David Brinkley. Since the mid-1950s Brinkley
has not only reported the news; he has also helped to shape the
industry of television news. His renowned wit, his singular delivery,
and his superb TV news writing style have made him an institution
in broadcast journalism.
is as interesting as any he has ever covered. It begins in a small
North Carolina town in 1920, and takes him to the pinnacle of media
stardom, a solid journalist with enormous credibility who has also
been so famous that he was once more recognizable than John Wayne
and the Beatles. And the media world has informally named him one
of the "Magnificent Seven" (which also includes Barbara Walters,
Peter Jennings, Sam Donaldson, Hugh Downs, Ted Koppel, and Diane
Sawyer--all of ABC).
was no star when he first went to NBC Radio in 1943. His talent
for strong and clear writing became evident as he continually struggled
to write for announcers who read only the words and seemed to miss
the meaning. He also began to gain experience as a newscaster when
he did ten-minute newscasts for the network. Nor was he famous when
he became the Washington reporter for John Cameron Swayze's Camel
News Caravan, NBC's early TV news effort. But as the 1956 political
conventions came into focus for the U.S. TV audience, they came
to see, hear, and to know Brinkley as a new breed of TV journalist.
one of the first journalists to be absolutely comfortable with this
new medium of TV. As his boss at NBC Reuven Frank has often said,
Brinkley had wit, style, intelligence, and perhaps most importantly,
a lean writing style filled with powerful declarative sentences
which is very effective in TV news. And Brinkley was aware that
TV was made up of pictures and corresponding sounds. He understood
that the reporter had to stop talking and let the news footage tell
the story. "Brinkley writes silence better than anyone else I know,"
says Frank. And when this natural TV journalist was teamed with
the California reporter Chet Huntley, they literally took TV audiences
TV news before
Huntley and Brinkley was a combination of dull film reports, similar
to movie theater newsreels of the 1940s, and a radio reporting style
similar to the World War II era. But Huntley and Brinkley took TV
news into a new age of electronic journalism. According to one of
their main competitors, Don Hewitt of CBS who produced Walter Cronkite
and later 60 Minutes; "They came at us like an express train."
When Huntley spoke, it was clear the story was a global story. When
Brinkley spoke, it was clear it was a story about Washington. They
began with a 15-minute newscast, and in 1963 increased to 30-minutes
per night. Audiences in the 1990s take for granted seeing different
journalists in different cities talking to each other on TV But
it was The Huntley-Brinkley Report that began such techniques.
And this switching back and forth between Huntley in New York and
Brinkley in Washington, created the now famous final exchange e
from every newscast "Good night, David...Good night, Chet." The
order of the exchange alternated night by night--until their last
newscast together in 1970 when Huntley's "Good night, David" brought
the response, "...Good bye, Chet."
In that year
Huntley retired to a Montana ranch, and Brinkley became progressively
restless at NBC. His important role in the Huntley-Brinkley Report
could not be matched, and he did not continue producing the excellent
documentaries on David Brinkley's Journal. He became known
as the grumpy older newsman in the NBC family. He did a series of
programs for NBC, including NBC Nightly News and NBC Magazine
with David Brinkley. But he hated to go to New York to do the
news, since he saw his news beat as Washington. Finally, in 1981
Roone Arledge hired Brinkley for ABC. All the years with The
Huntley-Brinkley Report had made Brinkley into the absolute
Washington insider. When ABC gave him the Sunday program This
Week With David Brinkley, he and his guests could talk among
themselves and with all the other Washington insiders about the
week's news event.
his friend George Will to join him on This Week With David Brinkley.
ABC reporter Sam Donaldson joined as the resident "liberal" to confront
Will's avowed "conservative" stance. Besides the guests who were
interviewed every week, other reporters such as NPR's Cokie Roberts
have joined Brinkley, Will, and Donaldson. By some critics the program
has been deemed opinionated, referred to as ABC's Op-Ed page. But
there has traditionally been very little interpretation of news
on U.S. TV, and This Week With David Brinkley seems to have
partially filled the void. Because of Brinkley's strong Washington
ties, the show has at times appeared to be one group of Washingtonians
talking to another. But criticisms aside, with ABC's This Week
With David Brinkley, Brinkley's enormous talents and his many
decades of TV news experience have been riven free reign.
received many awards, most notably the Presidential Medal of Freedom
by President George Bush. But when asked what he thought his legacy
to TV news would be, Brinkley told Broadcasting Magazine,
"(E)very news program on the air looks essentially as we started
it (with The Huntley-Brinkley Report). We more or less set
the form for broadcasting news on television which is still used.
No one has been able to think of a better way to do it."
Photo courtesy of ABC
BRINKLEY. Born in Wilmington, North Carolina, U.S., 10 July
1920. Attended New Hanover High School, Wilmington. Special student
in English at University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, 1939-40;
special student in English at Emory and Vanderbilt universities,
1941-43. Married: 1) Ann Fischer, 1946 (divorced) ; children: Alan,
Joel, and John; 2) Susan Melanie Benfer, 1972; children: Alexis.
Served in U.S. Army, 1941-43. Reporter at Wilmington, North Carolina
Star-News, 1938-41; reporter, bureau manager, United Press
news service (later United Press International), various southern
cities, 1941-43; joined NBC as radio news writer and non-broadcast
reporter in Washington, D.C., 1943; NBC-TV, from 1946; Washington
correspondent, NBC, 1951-81; co-anchor, with Chet Huntley, The
Huntley-Brinkley Report, 1956-70; correspondent, commentator,
NBC Nightly News, 1971-76; co-anchor, NBC Nightly News,
1976-79; anchor, ABC's This Week with David Brinkley, from
1981. Member: Cosmos Club, Washington; National Press Club, Washington;
trustee, Colonial Williamsburg. Recipient: DuPont Award, 1958; Golden
Key Award, 1964; Peabody Award, 1961; Emmy Award, 1963; Scholastic
Bell Award; Presidential Medal of Freedom, 1992. Address: ABC News,
1717 DeSales St., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20036-4407.
Camel News Caravan (correspondent)
1956-70 NBC News/The Huntley-Brinkley Report (show won Emmies,
1959 & 1960)
1961-63 David Brinkley's Journal
1971-76 NBC Nightly News (commentator only)
1976-79 NBC Nightly News (co-anchor)
1980-81 NBC Magazine with David Brinkley
1981-98 This Week with David Brinkley
1981-98 ABC's World News Tonight (commentator)
Brinkley: a Memoir. New York: Knopf, 1995.
P., D. Gomery, and L. Lichty, editors. The Future of News: Television-Newspapers-Wire
Services- Newsmagazines. Washington, D.C.: The Woodrow Wilson
Center Press, 1992.
R. Out of Thin Air: The Brief Wonderful Life of Network News.
New York: Simon and Schuster, 1991.
M. The House that Roone Built: The Inside Story of ABC News.
Boston: Little, Brown, 1994. "Pull the Plug." (editorial), The New
Republic (Washington, D.C.), 7 May 1990.
also Anchor; Huntley,