Flipping through the channels last night, we caught the end of NBC Nightly News, where anchor Brian Williams was revealing the new "mystery" voice who will now provide the introduction for his nightly newscast.
And the new "announcer"...err, voice talent is (drum roll please):
Michael Douglas. The Academy Award-winning actor and producer will now introduce Mr. Williams each evening, through the magic of digital recording.
Call us underwhelmed, and we wonder about the logic that led the Peacock Network to hire Mr. Douglas as the "voice" of its flagship evening newscast. We're guessing that Douglas doesn't work cheap, and based on what we heard last night, NBC should demand a refund of his talent fee. Douglas's intro--which was proudly replayed at the end of Monday night's broadcast--was flat and lifeless, at best. His "read" certainly didn't convey the urgency and gravitas that you'd normally associate--or attempt to associate--with a nightly network newscast.
Yes, we realize it's only TV news, but NBC's selection of Mr. Douglas as the new "voice" for its evening newscast is another reminder of how much the business has changed--and not for the better. For the record, Michael Douglas replaced a man named Howard Reig, who worked as an NBC staff announcer for more than 50 years, providing the introduction for "Nightly News," "Meet the Press" and special events coverage, among other programs. Mr. Reig retired in 2005, but NBC kept using his introduction for Brian Williams' newscast, largely because they couldn't find the "right" voice to take his place. At least, that is, until someone hit on the idea of hiring Mr. Douglas.
Not too many years ago, the notion of going outside the network for the "right voice" would have been unthinkable. For decades, NBC employed a legendary team of staff announcers, including Wayne Howell, Bill Wendell, Jerry Damon, Bill Hanrahan, Fred Facey, Don Pardo, Arthur Gary, Mel Brandt, and of course, Mr. Reig. As network announcers, they handled everything from news broadcasts and music programs, to soap operas and game shows. Their voices became a part of TV lore, even if their names--with the exception of Mr. Pardo--remained largely unknown.
However, the network recognized their talent and skills, rewarding them with life-time contracts--deals that were normally reserved for superstars like Bob Hope. In return, NBC had a staff of superb announcers that could handle any assignment, even the terrible news of a national tragedy.
On the afternoon of November 22, 1963, the first reports of the JFK assassination were broadcast not by Walter Cronkite, Chet Huntley or David Brinkley, but rather by Don Pardo, on duty in the NBC announcer's booth. Mr. Pardo, calmly reading news bulletins off camera, held down the fort until NBC's news division could go on the air. By the time he became an pop icon on Saturday Night Live, Pardo had been an NBC announcer for 31 years. In 2004, he celebrated his 60th anniversary with the network.
Fred Facey, Bill Hanrahan and Howard Reig--the three announcers most closely associated with NBC News--enjoyed similar, storied careers. But, with the advent of videotape, state-of-the-art audio recording and free-lance voice talent, there was no longer a need for a network announcing staff. At the time of his retirement, Howard Reig was the last full-time announcer on the staff at NBC. The rest of the network's voice talent--including Don Pardo on SNL--were hired as free-lancers.
Sadly, most of NBC's legendary announcers have retired or passed on, along with their counterparts at CBS and ABC. Today, voice talents contract for a specific job, record the spot or announcement at their home studio, and feed it to the client over an ISDN line. It's cheaper (for the networks) and performers like Joe Cipriano can earn seven-figure incomes, voicing everything from promotional announcements to game shows. Mr. Cipriano currently works for at least four networks; it's almost impossible to watch TV for more than an hour and not hear his voice--a far cry from the days when announcers were identified with only one network, or specific shows on the schedule.
Which brings us to Mr. Douglas and his new gig on Nightly News. In replacing Mr. Reig (who introduced the network's evening newscasts for more than three decades), NBC was looking for a voice that was distinctive and might generate a little buzz. Mr. Douglas certainly satisfied that latter goal, but as an announcer, he's an absolute bust. NBC was looking for Mr. Reig's replacement, but they hired an actor instead. No wonder the network is in such sad shape.
Memo to NBC. Dump Douglas, and bring back Mr. Reig. If nothing else, he knows how to "intro" a newscast, and he's a reminder of what network news once was.
ADDENDUM: NBC isn't the only network to hire a "high-profile" voice to billboard their nightly newscasts. Since her debut on CBS, Katie Couric has been introduced by none other than Walter Cronkite. The only network that still uses a staff announcer is ABC; the "voice" of World News with Charles Gibson is a man named Bill Rice, who's been at the network for five decades.