With his passing, another news voice with whom Los Angeles grew up vanishes. If you’re my age, you might remember he was the “sidekick” to George Putnam–the bombastic right-wing model for Ted Baxter–during Putnam’s two stints at KTLA. Next to Putnam’s theatrics, Fishman was the sober junior professor who seemed to share Putnam’s black-and-white view of the world, but was willing to let the facts speak, dryly, for themselves.
After Putnam left KTLA for good, Fishman stayed on and honed his straightforward, no-nonsense style. Putnam had a feature called “One Reporter’s Opinion,” and Fishman continued the tradition of commentaries that were, as I recall, right-leaning but lacking in the demagoguery of his former boss.
The Channel 5 broadcast reflected Fishman’s stodgy insistence on delivering news in a plain, brown wrapper. Fishman was a record-breaking pilot, and he treated the news like a pilot treats reports to air-traffic controllers: Matter-of-fact, but life-or-death. His co-anchors — Larry McCormick, Jann Carl, Marta Waller, Ed Arnold, Stu Nahan, to name but a few — adopted the same style: Eyes riveted to the camera, no detectable facial expression or vocal inflection, no glamour, no humor, just straight news reading. It was as if KTLA and Fishman had internalized former Vice President Spiro Agnew’s criticism of media bias, and were determined, at least on this one broadcast, to eradicate any trace of it, not even a raised eyebrow. Amid all the happy-talk sangria of its rivals, Fishman and his colleagues poured it straight and knocked it back.
KTLA got good ratings but eventually Fishman’s style must have struck someone as dated. KTLA’s Morning Show was meta-happy-talk, the news with a comic beat, with the anchors’ and reporters’ charm as the point of the show. A little bit of that feeling crept into the nightly broadcast over which Fishman continued to preside. And he did fine! He loosened up, smiling frequently, enjoying the teasing from his younger co-anchors. The underlying ethic was not changed significantly; his show was still the most serious and straightforward of all LA’s local news shows. He added just enough spice.
Fishman never seemed to age. Obviously, he was very sick at the end, but apparently didn’t know it and certainly didn’t show it. So I’m shocked at losing him, even though he was 75 and has been broadcasting continually since 1960. You could say he was the last of his breed, but it’s hard to think of anyone else who was so good at being unexciting.