Monday, July 20, 2009

574 Walter & Sligo

574 Walter And Sligo

CBS treated us to a Cronkite tribute last evening, and it probably was the best piece of journalism out of that shop since Walter left the Evening News anchor desk in 1981, though a bit heavy on the Robin Williams and Brian Williams and Katie Couric interviews. Yeah, Walter was the greatest since Murrow. Yeah, he was the most trusted man in America. Yeah, we'll miss him, even though most of us have not seen much of him these last few decades. Yeah, he brought the Kennedy assassination and the King assassination and the Vietnam war and the moon landing into our living rooms. And for this we'll be forever grateful. It's the kind of reporting no one does any more.

But Walter the Anchorman wasn't alone. We get that impression from looking at pictures and movies of all the stiffs around him while he prepared and then delivered his nightly broadcast.

But this isn't about Walter, this is about Satellite Sligo (which rhymes with Eye-Go.")

Sligo didn't work for CBS, he worked for NBC. And he didn't work all that much during the Cronkite era at CBS, only later. Sligo was in charge of the morning satellite feeds coming into and going out. And one day during the company's seemingly endless rounds of staff reductions, Sligo got fired.

This was proof that the people at NBC who did the hiring and firing didn't know what Sligo did or how he did it. Turns out, neither did anyone else. Sligo had a lot of stuff in his head. So when they fired him, he went home to Queens and sat around waiting for the phone call from World Headquarters. This was on a Wednesday. By Friday, the call came. "We made a mistake firing you, Sligo, please come back to work."

Translation: Satellite Sligo knew a lot of stuff no one else either knew or could figure out. So Sligo told his caller "Sure... I'll come back. How about two weeks from Monday. As a consultant. At a rate nearly twice what they were paying him when the fired him.

No hesitation on the part of the caller. "Can you come back, like next Monday? Please? Pretty please?"

"Two weeks from Monday."

This is an NBC story, but it well could have happened anywhere else and in any other line of work.

All of which goes to show you how complicated TV can be.

NBC's morning satellite feeds looked like an explosion in a spinach factory for two weeks. Then Sligo came back to work and most everything went right. Well, maybe not entirely right. But righter than when he wasn't there.

Cronkite had his own Sligos. Writers, producers, editors, film guys, tape guys, satellite guys, researchers, script carriers, lighting people, stage hands, directors, technical directors, unit managers, desk assistants, receptionists, coaches, pitchmen, lunch wagon pilots, camera and audio operators, makeup artists, stage managers, hangers on and the like. And sure he was the best (or maybe the second best after St. Murrow,) in the business.

But he wasn't alone. And we should remember that.


--It was my great privilege to work, briefly, with John Chancellor, NBC's attempt to dethrone CBS's Cronkite, something that never happened. John was every bit as good as Walter, but the then-recently MIA Huntley and Brinkley were a miserably hard act to follow. Walter won in the ratings and in our hearts, leaving John in the most un-enviable position ever in TV news.

I'm Wes Richards. My opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.®
©WJR 2009

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