KCET is celebrating its 50th anniversary year with a series of stories, reflections, and flashbacks, like this throwback below. For more and to participate in our next 50 years, join us at kcet.org/50.
KCET has had a proud news history of reporting news. My personal knowledge goes back only to "28 Tonight," but this tradition went all the way back to the start. KCET has always taken news very seriously and continues to do so under our current president, Al Jerome. As a matter of fact, our new season of "SoCal Connected" is gearing up as I write this post, so I thought I'd take a look back at a few of those shows, many of which have featured Val Zavala, KCET's Vice President of News & Public Affairs as well as the longtime anchor of "SoCal Connected," in integral roles.
In the late 70s, KCET had "28 Tonight," which lasted from around 1976 until 1981. I think they may have shot the remote pieces on film, until we finally got some video remote cameras in the late 70s. Because I wasn't working at the station at that point, it is hard for me to pinpoint when we did the switch over to tape. What I do know is I saw reels and reels of news footage in our vaults when I arrived. As with most news shows that we do, "28 Tonight" was usually a hybrid between a live in-studio segment and the remote taped pieces. Clete Roberts was a part of that studio team for "28 Tonight," as I mentioned in my post on The Flying Wing story.
"KCET Newsbeat with Clete Roberts"
1981 brought along a huge increase in production funding, and so "KCET Newsbeat with Clete Roberts" was created. It lasted until June 1982, when it was canceled due to the financial disaster and a lack of funds. It was live five days a week and then on Fridays, we also shot a show called "L.A. Week in Review" that caught viewers up on the news of the week. Reporter Jeffrey Kaye was one of the studio reporters and he went on to do other shows for us and eventually to join the "MacNeil/Lehrer Newshour" as their L.A. reporter.
Huell Howser's Videologs
At a get-together we had after the death of Huell Howser, former KCET station manager Stephen Kulczycki said he came to Los Angeles to begin rebuilding our news presence after the financial disaster. He arrived in 1983 and began to look for things he could do with a small budget. One of the first things he did was hire Huell Howser, who had wanted to move on from KNXT, where he was shooting little "Happy News" pieces. He brought his idea to KCET and Stephen hired him in 1985, to make the now-famous Videolog fillers. These aired throughout our schedule, to give us an inexpensive local presence. (Read more about the Videologs here.)
Stephen created a quarterly news show called "KCET Journal" that did one-hour, in-depth documentaries about subjects of interest. During the mid-80s we produced "Turning Points," in which we followed someone at a critical point in their life. One installment profiled a young mother deciding whether to keep her baby or give it up for adoption. It was a novel concept. Jon Wilkman, the producer of "Turning Points," also worked on a three-year history series called "The Los Angeles History Project." William Mulholland, Central Avenue and Harris Newmark's Los Angeles were among the subjects covered. KCET produced a total of 12 episodes.
"California Stories" and "7:30" came along in 1988. "California Stories" was a half-hour show that dealt with a wide range of subjects, including arts and science stories. Roger Bingham, Teya Ryan, Peter Graumann, were some of the producer/reporters who worked on shows. "7:30," meanwhile, gave us back a five-minute nightly news presence at 7:30 p.m. each evening.
In July of 1989 "California Stories" ended and morphed into little daily pieces called "Take Five." There were Take Five Arts" and "Take Five Science," and Huell Howser's shorts became "Take Five Videolog." This addition gave Videolog a set time to air, which helped Huell get more regular viewership and ratings for the first time. I am sure it helped him get traction with his idea for a show that he pitched to the other California stations later on that year. That show would be "California's Gold".
"By the Year 2000"
The late 80s brought about a novel idea for a news show. "By the Year 2000" was news, but it was news that was designed to show things that would be issues in the new millennium: for example, population growth, housing prices, demographic changes, air quality. All the things that Southern California would be facing, over the next decade. Val Zavala and Eric Burns were the hosts of the show. Shortly thereafter, Eric Burns left and Joseph Benti came on board and what a great addition to the team, he was. Joseph Benti was a wonderful person, and I remember him with great fondness.
As I am going back through the years, it's the people who I have worked with and the ones I work with now who are the reason why I come here every day. I have personally had the pleasure of working with some of the absolute best in the business and I wouldn't trade it for anything.
I'll cover the rest of KCET's news history in a follow-up to this piece. I hope you stick around, as I bring you our longest-running news program, "Life & Times," and more!
This is another in a series of posts in which Cathy Bower, KCET's broadcast operations coordinator, looks back at some interesting moments and events during the station's 50 years on the air. Read more entries here.