PRESENTS
PROFILE:
WFAA-TV's "NEWS 8 ETC..."
SKIP TO PART 2 - TRIBUTES TO DON HARRIS AND GENE THOMAS HERE
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1971 hosts (L-R):  Gene Thomas, Suzie Humphreys, Don Harris
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"News 8 etc..." was a bold undertaking in the history of local television.  The show was a live, local morning program produced for and shown exclusively on WFAA-Channel 8 in Dallas.  It was on the air for 1 1/2 hours each weekday from January 12, 1970 to May 3, 1974 (it continued as "The AM Show" thereafter until 1975.)  The original hosts, Don Harris and Suzie Humphreys, were also the producers, editors and writers, and worked without cue cards or even a TelePrompTer.  In an exclusive interview with webmaster Mike Shannon, Suzie Humphreys shared her reflections about the show and the emotional experience that it became...from being the best job she ever had, to becoming a revolving door of co-hosts, and dealing with the untimely deaths of her friends and co-hosts Gene Thomas and Don Harris.
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L:  Comedian Pat Paulsen advertises the coming of "News 8 etc..."  C:  Suzie and Don on the show's premiere,  R:  Newspaper ad, 1971
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"Channel 8 wanted to do a different kind of morning show," explained Suzie in a 1989 interview for the 40th anniversary of WFAA-TV.  "There was only one at the time, the 'Today Show.'  They wanted to do something on a local level, but yet geared nationally.  In other words, if there was something national breaking in the news, we would be there.  We would have guests live on the show as well...people like George Bush, or on the lighter side, we would have John Wayne or Clint Eastwood, or any of those wonderful stars."  Suzie recalls today that, "Anytime there was an actor or production coming to town, we were right there, lining them up for an appearance on 'News 8 etc...'"  In fact, the show kicked off its premiere episode on January 12, 1970, with Dallas Cowboys star Lance Rentzel and his wife, actress and singer Joey Heatherton.  (This appearance was long before Rentzel was tagged with indecency charges.)

But the program was not afraid of controversy.  In April, 1970, Don and Suzie queried viewers about the possibility of legalized abortions (which were still illegal at that time, but certainly a hot-button topic.)  Dallas Morning News TV writer Harry Bowman wrote, "Almost before it signed off the air (that day,) the switchboard at WFAA-TV had taken over 40 calls, and the next day's mail was loaded with letters from viewers who were reacting...Most of the writers took a stern, negative view toward liberalizing the abortion laws."


The Dallas Morning News announced the arrival of "News 8 etc..." in a December 20, 1969 article.
The "Mr. Peppermint" show was relegated to weekends after "etc..." premiered, after a nice nine-year weekday run on WFAA.

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THE CELEBRITIES...
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L:  The late actor/singer Richard Harris with Suzie.  "Lying on the carpet was a bond-with-
the-audience technique Harris was using in his stage show at the time," Suzie explains.
C:  Presidential candidate George McGovern with Gene, August 17, 1971.
R:  Suzie with the late actor and swimming champion Buster Crabbe, September 24, 1970.
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L:  Don with Egyptian actor Omar Sharif ("Lawrence of Arabia,") February 11, 1970.
C:  Suzie with the late actor Yul Brynner, October 11, 1971.
R: The late actress and Maxim Coffee spokesperson Patricia Neal with Suzie.
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L:  Suzie with actor and football great Jim Brown.  C:  The late singer Robert Goulet, early 1970.  R:  Suzie, the late Alvin "Junior" Samples of "Hee Haw," Gene.
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THE LIGHTER SIDE....
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L:  Suzie watches Don deal with a leaky cup of coffee.
R:  Suzie celebrates hitting Don with a surprise pie-in-the-face on his last day on the show!
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Suzie described how the show came together: "I met a man that was going to produce the show and was in charge of it, by the name of Don Harris."  Don had just started working for Channel 8 in their news department a month earlier, in December, 1969, and shared anchor duties with Murphy Martin and Bob Gooding.  While WFAA's program director George Milner devised the show's concept, Don was responsible for creating the 'homey' feeling of the show's set, and came up with the idea of the round oak table that was the centerpiece of the show.  (The Spanish arches in the background were no doubt inspired by "The Tonight Show"s late 1960s set.)  Suzie fondly recalls the magical chemistry between her and Don that made the show special to her, and to the viewers.  Suzie and Don held down hosting duties for the first 20 months of the show.
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Gene Thomas was the newscaster assigned to "News 8 etc..." later in 1970.  "Then there was a three-way chemistry now that took place, because we were all different in our own ways," Suzie explained in 1989.  "Each one of us had something different to bring to the show...and what a show it really was."
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"And our relationship was that it was strictly on the air, and so it was fresh...it wasn't 'Ken and Barbie'...these were real people."
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Surprise!  Gene shows up on stage, unaware that he'll be wrestling a 700-pound tiger that day!
Gene said afterwards, "It's not a wrestling match, it's an execution!"
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In one of the most hilarious segments aired on "News 8 etc...," Gene Thomas wrestled a tiger.  Suzie explained:  "Gene marches into the studio, live on television, and there is a 700-pound Bengal tiger lying there, and he went, 'Whaaat???'  Don started laughing, and I started laughing, and Don says, 'You're going to wrestle the tiger!'
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"It was one of the funniest bits, because it was live, he didn't know anything about it, and that's the way he was, he just went with it...that's the way all of us did."

But Gene's reservations about wrestling the tiger were correct:  Suzie found out a few weeks later that the same tiger had mauled his trainer.

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L:  Suzie shocks Gene and Don by taking off her skirt on camera!
R:  Suzie and Don get made-up as clowns for the "Greatest Show on Earth" in 1971.
Show photographer Doug Freeman is on the left.

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"I dropped my skirt on television, in front of Don Harris," Suzie gleefully recalled.  She was doing a feature on fashions, and apparently Don had complained about the current floor-dragging length of women's skirts.  During the feature, Suzie tells Don to check out the "only length you have not griped about," and removes her long skirt to reveal a pair of very short shorts!  The hosts break up into uncontrollable laughter.  "You set me up!" Don exclaimed, "You dirty dogs!"
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L:  Suzie and the gang share a laugh.
R:  Still reeling after the pie-in-the-face, the show breaks for a commercial.
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CHANGES...
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L:  A visitor promotes the "Sell America" event's forthcoming tour through Dallas in February, 1970, starring Art Linkletter.
R:  The crew of "etc..." gathers for a photo.
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Sadly, co-host Gene Thomas was killed on October 16, 1971, in a race car accident while producing a feature for the show (see link at bottom of page for a tribute to Thomas.)  He had recently been promoted from the show's newscaster to a co-host, having just completed his second month in that capacity on "etc..."  Don Harris had departed the show on August 6, 1971, to head the anchor desk for Channel 8 News, and noon news anchor Malcolm Landess became the show's newscaster when Gene was promoted to co-host.  Suzie was then paired with several co-hosts over the next two-plus years, including Travis Linn (former Channel 8 newscaster who passed away on January 17, 2003, and had most recently been a revered journalism professor for the University of Nevada at Reno,) Jerry Park, Rosser McDonald (who was the permanent replacement for Gene Thomas; began November 29, 1971; he recently retired from the FamilyNet TV network,) Rene Castilla (later a political activist and journalism instructor in Irving, TX) and John Criswell (who began on April 23, 1973; longtime WFAA and KDFW-TV news anchor who currently heads a video production company.)  Suzie never felt the same on-air chemistry with her later co-hosts as she did with Don and Gene...the fun and satisfaction she attained in working 12-hour days preparing and producing the show were losing their luster amidst the changes.  Even Criswell candidly quoted to the Dallas Morning News in 1975 that, "Suzie...was tired and had become unreliable."


Suzie and John Criswell in a promotional shot for "etc..."'s
successor, "The AM Show," in May, 1974.  The new show kicked
off its first week with big-name guests like former Texas governor
John Connally and singer Peggy Lee

One "News 8 etc..." feature developed after Don's departure was what later became John Criswell's popular "Wednesday's Child" segment on News 8.  "It was our project before it was John Criswell's," Suzie explained.  "While we didn't dedicate the segment to a certain day of the week, it had essentially the same purpose...to feature children in need of adoption."  The children were typically living in foster homes, and adoptions were coordinated through the local Department of Human Services.  Criswell began his own feature on Channel 8 in 1977, as part of another live morning program that he hosted, entitled "AM," and "Wednesday's Child" was introduced as a weekly feature on WFAA's newscasts in September, 1980.  The effort was successful:  In a published, October, 1988 interview with webmaster Mike Shannon, Criswell stated that the "Wednesday's Child" program had placed over 450 featured children since 1980, with over 1,700 other children being placed due to the excess of families that called in on a specific featured child.  "Wednesday's Child" continues at WFAA today, produced by anchor Gloria Campos since 1989 when Criswell departed the station for KDFW-Channel 4.
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After Gene Thomas' death in October, 1971, the show became a revolving door of co-hosts
for Suzie:  Travis Linn (L,) Jerry Park (C,) and Rosser McDonald (R)...
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Left:  Later co-hosts included Rene Castilla (L) and a young John Criswell (R.)  Suzie is in the center.
Right:  Some of the "etc..." cast and crew with guest:  From left, Bob Cardenas (floor crew chief; retired in 2006 as production manager at WFAA,)
Clyde Chappell (production manager,) the late Don Easterwood (audio engineer,) Suzie, Shirley Spitler (assistant to Don Harris; was later station manager,)
Murray Campbell (floor crew; standing, with vest,) Bob Steele (show guest; was a former B-western cowboy star,) John Sparks (floor crew; later the executive
producer for investigations and political coverage with KTVT-TV,) the late Jack Van Roy (weatherman) and the late Ed Hogan (staff announcer and host of
"Dialing for Dollars.")  Not pictured: publicist Camille Keith
Photo credit (R):  Ed Hogan, and special thanks to John Sparks for identifying everyone!

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(L) Suzie prepares for a western play, to be presented on "etc..."  She is aided by the late Jim Pratt (C,) longtime co-host with Mike Shapiro
on WFAA's "Let Me Speak to the Manager"/"Inside Television. (R) The new "AM Show" set.  Roberta Hammond had already taken
over co-hosting duties in this photo

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A name change from "News 8 etc..." to "The AM Show" on May 4, 1974, didn't help matters for Suzie; she was fired from the program the following November.  A public talent search immediately began, with several local women stepping in as trial co-hosts during November and December, 1974.  Eventually, Houston's Roberta Hammond was chosen.  Although ABC began to offer its own newsmagazine, "AM America" (later entitled, "Good Morning America") starting January 6, 1975, WFAA chose to not carry it (and didn't begin broadcasting it until March 1, 1976.)  Unlike "etc...," "The AM Show" contained numerous, regular features each day, filed by newsroom employees Doug Fox, Bill O'Reilly (yes, the same conservative talker of today,) Michael Brown, Troy Dungan, Byron Harris, Bud Buschardt, Bob Brown (later of "20/20,") and Gary Schwitzer.  The show adopted an abbreviated name on November 1, 1976, and became known simply as, "AM."  But after a respectable three-and-a-half year run, Channel 8 could never recapture the magic and popularity of "etc...," and canceled "AM" on January 20, 1978.  (The vacant timeslot was swallowed up by an expanded "Good Morning America," along with ABC rearranging its daytime schedule to make room for hour-long soap operas.)

During the 1980s, the station programmed a local morning newscast before "Good Morning America," and followed it with a syndicated newsmagazine ("Hour Magazine," for one) instead.

On September 12, 1994, WFAA introduced "Good Morning Texas," perhaps the closest attempt at re-creating "News 8 etc..."  A local, live, hour-long program, the show features a newsmagazine format, complete with a living room-styled interview area, kitchen and general approach.  It continues today and has featured hosts such as Scott Sams, Deborah Duncan, Debbie Denmon, Todd Whitthorne, Amy Vanderof, Michael Rey, Brenda Teele, Phillip Wilburn, Rob McCollum and the late Paula McClure.  In 2007, the show abandoned its living room environs for new digs at Channel 8's Victory Park studios, using many of the same sets and fixtures seen on WFAA's daily newscasts.  As the years passed, "GMT" evolved into what amounts to a paid infomercial, hosting multiple daily guests who pay a fee in order to hawk their wares or services on the show, while the show itself remains under the guise of a newsmagazine.

Suzie, of course, went on to enormous popularity as Ron Chapman's longtime "girl about town" on KVIL-FM's morning show from June, 1976, until 1995.  Suzie was initially an airborne reporter, but was later given her trademark "KVIL-o-Van" (bearing the vanity plate, "SOOZIE.")  Suzie once narrowly escaped certain death on May 20, 1977, when the KVIL helicopter, a Bell 47, which had just dropped her off at the Northpark Inn helipad only minutes earlier, ran out of gas halfway back to Love Field.  It crashed upside-down behind 4029 Colgate in University Park, killing substitute pilot Elliott Cohn.   Suzie, who was pregnant at the time with son Joshua (born the following August,) complained of nausea and had the chopper land at Northpark.  Cohn, who had only been with the company for two weeks, was filling in for his boss, Ken Montgomery, who normally piloted the KVIL aircraft.  With a change in helicopter vendors early the next year, Ken and Suzie grounded themselves for good on March 24, 1978, with Suzie taking to the van permanently thereafter.  (Ken resumed flying for other traffic services later; he most recently transported WBAP's Laura Houston.)


Suzie Humphreys, today

Suzie has acted in stage productions of "Last of the Red Hot Lovers," "Perils of Pecos" (with Donald O'Connor,) and at Dallas' Crystal Palace in "I Do, I Do;" and in the movies "Crisis at Central High," "Return of Josey Wales" and "Deep in the Heart."  Currently, Suzie has taken her exceptional gift of gab to a new level as a motivational speaker.  She now resides in Fredericksburg, Texas, but still visits the Metroplex quite often for presentations and to see family.  Check out her website at www.suziehumphreys.com.  And see Suzie on morning television once again...as she co-hosts "The Broadcast" over KTXD-Channel 47 in DFW and across Texas!

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L:  Suzie and her famous "KVIL-o-Van" (pronounced, "K-V-I-Yellow Van") in a station ad.
C:  Suzie with former longtime KVIL morning show host Ron Chapman, R:  Suzie with webmaster Mike Shannon


Suzie's latest book!  Find out more about "News 8 etc..." and her long career
in radio and television, and enjoy her unique take on life!  Order your copy at www.suziehumphreys.com


TRIBUTES TO DON HARRIS AND GENE THOMAS
ARE NOW ON THEIR OWN PAGE!
CLICK HERE

Special thanks to Suzie Humphreys for supplying numerous rare photographs and for sharing her personal stories.  Thanks as well to Linda Alred (Gene's wife) and Monica Theis (Gene's daughter) for their reflections, information and clarifications; and to former KVIL pilot Ken Montgomery and former WFAA employees Murphy Martin and Ralph Gould for their personal remembrances.

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This entire website and its contents are copyright 1984-2014 Mike Shannon. Images are copyright of their respective owners: All black-and-white photos are courtesy of Suzie Humphreys, except the final photo of Don Harris, which is credited to NBC and the late Bob Brown.  Color 'snappies' are credited to WFAA-TV, Dallas.  Obituaries and news reports are credited to the Dallas Times Herald, the Dallas Morning News and the Eastfield (College) EtCetera.  KVIL photos are credited to Infinity Broadcasting, Inc.  Print ad reproduction is credited to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.  If you feel your copyright is being infringed upon by its appearance in this website, please email me and it will be removed or credited properly.  I am not responsible for errors, omissions, incomplete information, misrepresentations or dead links.  Information was gleaned from newspapers, broadcasting yearbooks, magazines, personal recollection, recollections of others and the like.  Copying of any or all information or images for use on other websites, in print or for other purposes, is prohibited without permission.  Links are provided for the user's convenience; I claim no responsibility for the contents, accuracy or relevance of other sites that may be linked to from this site.  This entire website is considered a not-for-profit "fan site," to be enjoyed for entertainment and informational purposes only. Usage of this site and/or any sites, sub-sites or pages or images contained within, however accessed, constitutes your agreement to these Terms and Conditions.  If you do not agree to these Terms and Conditions, click here and you will be taken elsewhere.  Proceeds from advertising & duplication services are directly used for site maintenance, hosting fees and research costs.