"NEWS 8 ETC..."
PART 2 - TRIBUTES TO DON HARRIS AND GENE THOMAS HERE
(L-R): Gene Thomas, Suzie Humphreys, Don Harris
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-workers Gene Thomas and
Comedian Pat Paulsen advertises the coming of "News 8 etc..." C:
Suzie and Don on the show's premiere, R: Newspaper ad, 1971
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
Morning News announced the arrival of "News 8 etc..." in a December 20,
Peppermint" show was relegated to weekends after "etc..." premiered, after
a nice nine-year weekday run on WFAA.
The late actor/singer Richard Harris with Suzie. "Lying on the carpet
was a bond-with-
technique Harris was using in his stage show at the time," Suzie explains.
Presidential candidate George McGovern with Gene, August 17, 1971.
Suzie with the late actor and swimming champion Buster Crabbe, September
Don with Egyptian actor Omar Sharif ("Lawrence of Arabia,") February 11,
Suzie with the late actor Yul Brynner, October 11, 1971.
R: The late
actress and Maxim Coffee spokesperson Patricia Neal with Suzie.
Suzie with actor and football great Jim Brown. C: The late
singer Robert Goulet. R: Suzie, the late Alvin "Junior" Samples
of "Hee Haw," Gene.
Suzie watches Don deal with a leaky cup of coffee.
Suzie celebrates hitting Don with a surprise pie-in-the-face on his last
day on the show!
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.
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
relationship was that it was strictly on the air, and so it was fresh...it
wasn't 'Ken and Barbie'...these were real people."
Gene shows up on stage, unaware that he'll be wrestling a 700-pound tiger
afterwards, "It's not a wrestling match, it's an execution!"
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!'
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."
reservations about wrestling the tiger were correct: Suzie found
out a few weeks later that the same tiger had mauled his trainer.
Suzie shocks Gene and Don by taking off her skirt on camera!
Suzie and Don get made-up as clowns for the "Greatest Show on Earth" in
Doug Freeman is on the left.
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!"
Suzie and the gang share a laugh.
Still reeling after the pie-in-the-face, the show breaks for a commercial.
A visitor promotes the "Sell America" event's forthcoming tour through
Dallas in February, 1970, starring Art Linkletter.
The crew of "etc..." gathers for a photo.
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 in spring, 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."
John Criswell in a promotional shot for the "etc..."
"The AM Show," in May, 1974. The new show kicked
first week with big-name guests like former Texas governor
and singer Peggy Lee
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
Thomas' death in October, 1971, the show became a revolving door of co-hosts
Travis Linn (L,) Jerry Park (C,) and Rosser McDonald (R)...
Later co-hosts included Rene Castilla (L) and a young John Criswell (R.)
Suzie is in the center.
Some of the "etc..." cast and crew with guest: From left, Bob Cardenas
(floor crew chief; retired in 2006 as production manager at WFAA,)
(production manager,) the late Don Easterwood (audio engineer,) Suzie,
Shirley Spitler (assistant to Don Harris; was later station manager,)
(floor crew; standing, with vest,) Bob Steele (show guest; was a former
B-western cowboy star,) John Sparks (floor crew; later the executive
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.")
(R): Ed Hogan, and special thanks to John Sparks for identifying
for a western play. She is aided by the late Jim Pratt (R,) longtime
co-host with Mike Shapiro
"Let Me Speak to the Manager"/"Inside Television."
A name change
from "News 8 etc..." to "The AM Show" on May 4, 1974, didn't help matters
for Suzie or the show; she was fired from the program in November, 1974.
The show ran only two more months before being canceled in favor of ABC's
"AM America" (later entitled, "Good Morning America.") With Suzie's
departure, the show floundered. 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.
It was too late to save the show, however, and it quietly expired on Friday,
January 3, 1975.
format was later resurrected by WFAA on October 18, 1976 as "AM," hosted
by "etc..." ex John Criswell, along with Roberta Hammond, Doug Fox, Bill
O'Reilly (yes, the same conservative talker of today,) Michael Brown, Troy
Dungan, Byron Harris, Bud Buschardt, Bob Brown (now of "20/20,") and Gary
Schwitzer. After experimenting with "AM" and other similar successors,
Channel 8 could never recapture the magic of "etc..." 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.
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.
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
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.
Suzie and her famous "KVIL-o-Van" (pronounced, "K-V-I-Yellow Van") in a
Suzie with former longtime KVIL morning show host Ron Chapman, R:
Suzie with webmaster Mike Shannon
latest book! Find out more about "News 8 etc..." and her long career
and television, and enjoy her unique take on life! Order your copy
TO DON HARRIS AND GENE THOMAS
ON THEIR OWN PAGE!
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.
1988-2011 Mike Shannon. 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.
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