Hal Fishman, R.I.P.

hal-fishman.jpgHal Fishman, the anchor for KTLA’s News at 10 for decades, died today, just a few days after a collapse sent him to the hospital, and to a diagnosis of colon and liver cancer.

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.


4 thoughts on “Hal Fishman, R.I.P.

  1. Oh No!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    Actual tears formed and fell this morning when it became
    apparant that my childhood was punctured. Hal Fishman went away? How? What?
    The disblelief of that moment was powerful. He was a fixture. A perminent part of our lives in Los Angeles…. Those of us – the rare – LA borns – are the ones who feel this the most.
    What now? Where will the “Old School” journalists come from?
    Not just Hal Fishman is gone. A whole generation of style and substance wisked away with his passing.
    I’m sad today. Hopefully he will leave a legacy behind for the “new school” of journalists to learn from.
    Bye Hal. Thanks for being part of so many lives.
    We will most certainly miss you.
    Your fan,

  2. I decided to look up Hal Fishman on a whim and found your blog. My dad LOVED Hal Fishman and KTLA’s News at Ten. I remember many a night watching News at Ten with my dad, who wouldn’t miss it for the world. Your description of Hal Fishman was spot on! It’s been over 10 years since you wrote this and since Hal left us, but he is not forgotten. Thanks for sharing your memories of him.

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