Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The Last Staff Announcer

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.


Peter O'Connell said...

I couldn't agree more.

I posted my problem with the choice here: http://audioconnell.com/blog/?p=296

And my solution to the problem here: http://audioconnell.com/blog/?p=300

I hope you'll join in the vote, here: http://audioconnell.com/blog/?p=304

Unknown said...

This kind of thing has been going on for too long; NBC was stupid enough to listen to an Agent....rather than listening to a voice.

Agents sell the name of the talent.....not the talent itself. I'm the voice of the Global Television National Network here in Canada; there's three networks here, Global, CBC and CTV.

I spoke to a CTV staffer the other day about their choice to use Donal Sutherland as their voice for the Olympics in 2010. I commented to him about how flat and boring the reads were on their current promos. He agreed. He went on to say that some agent convinced CTV that hiring a big "name" was the way to go.

What did CTV pay for? They paid too much for a Prima-Donna (apparently he can't voice a promo without seeing the visuals...idiot) who couldn't read his way out of a wet paper bag.

Lifeless and banal, Mr. Sutherland (much like his son) - A Canuck I might add, would be better served getting some coaching on how to read copy without seeing the pictures and quit being a baby.

As for Micheal Douglas, he's out of his league, as are many actors who've decided to jump on the VO bandwagon. Voiceover is an aquired skill; a craft honed and shaped over many years by reading aloud pretty much everything....most of the copy pretty poorly written - non-sensical fluff you'll never hear coming out of anyone's mouth other than a broadcaster.

To all you actors out there who want to get into VO....here's what I say.....

"Quit cutting my freakin' grass....!"

Todd Schick

Unknown said...

My name is Howard Malley and I feel blessed to have worked with all of these great and want to add Roger Tuttle and Bill McCord. Each man had great talent. I worked closely with Howard Reig and he was a true gentle man! I last made it to NYC in the mid '90's. I tracked down Howard and we were instantly connected as if we were still working together daily. I asked if he was going to retire and his answer wad why would I? I think of him often!

Unknown said...

Mr. Reig (along with Don Pardo and others) were the last links to the days when virtually all broadcasts were live, and there was a great demand for announcers who could handle anything from commercials to variety and game shows and even newscasts. Your colleagues at NBC were among the most talented of a very elite group--broadcast pros that never received the credit they deserved.

I've listened several times to Don Pardo's "read" of the initial JFK bulletins, and it's still an impressive bit of work, even after 50+ years. He had to fill the gap while NBC (literally) waited for their lights and cameras to warm up so they could put Chet Huntley, Bill Ryan and Frank McGee on the air. An editor thrust the first bulletins into Mr. Pardo's hands and told him he would be on the air in a matter of seconds. He delivered the devastating news in calm, professional manner, strking exactly the right tone for such a tragic situation. Compare that to the frenzy you see on TV today during even a minor breaking news story.

If I'm not mistaken, the only surviving member of that legendary NBC announcing staff is Roger Tuttle. As of last year, he was living in the Washington, NC area where he settled after retiring from NBC. A friend of mine in the area tells me that Mr. Tuttle has been active in civic affairs for a number of years and was Grand Marshal of the city's annual Christmas Boat parade back in 2010.