Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Roger Mudd


courtesy:  History Channel
Roger Mudd, who died yesterday, always bothered me, not personally or professionally, but situationally.  I'll explain in a moment.

No one knew Washington better, and he was Walter Cronkite's main fill in on CBS for years.  When Cronkite retired, CBS chose Dan Rather for the anchor chair, to keep him from jumping to ABC.  Mudd, angry and hurt according to his book, resigned and went to NBC.

Here's what bothers me.  NBC management promised the "NBC Nightly News" anchor to chair to Mudd when John Chancellor retired, but a new set of managers wanted Tom Brokaw.  They agreed on a co-anchor format.  Brokaw in New York.  Mudd in Washington.  Perfect.  Brokaw was a star, coming off a successful stint at the "Today" show.  Mudd was the Washington expert, a hugely valuable resource.  In interviews that you can see on YouTube, both Mudd and Brokaw admit it was a poorly produced broadcast.  As a news producer myself, that's the part that really, really, really bothers me.  How do you screw that up?  This is network television.  You have two exceptionally competent individuals, and the broadcast founders. This could have worked, and it should have worked.   Mudd was dumped as co-anchor after 17 months.  He handled some other assignments at the network, including a forgettable magazine show called "1986,"  before going to PBS and the History Channel, teaching, and then retiring.

Roger Mudd might have been the right person at the wrong time.  In Brokaw's interview, he said Mudd was content to be the anchor welded to the desk, but the job was changing.  New technology allowed anchors to get in to the field more, and Mudd wasn't interested in that.  It had to be a big strike against him. He also seemed to eschew the showbizzy parts of television news, and that was a plus in my book.  Emphasize the pictures and the words.

You have to give the man his due-- a calm, steady and reassuring presence behind the anchor desk, and if there was a Washington story, Roger Mudd was the guy you wanted to do it.  He knew where the bodies were buried, and who threw the dirt on them.

I have to touch on Mudd's interview with then presidential candidate Ted Kennedy.  Mudd asked the simple question, "Why do you want to be president?"  Kennedy botched it badly, and his presidential campaign unraveled.  Note to young people and interviewers:  the basic questions are the best.

When the history of 60's, 70's, and 80's television is written, I fear Roger Mudd won't get enough space.  He deserves to be up there with the giants.

Roger Mudd was 93.