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Surviving The News Wars

January 21, 1986|JUDITH MICHAELSON | Times Staff Writer

At 20 minutes to midnight Wednesday, still feeling a charge of excitement from the day, the chief anchor--and managing editor--of Metromedia's Channel 11 news walked briskly down the back steps of the station to her new snappy red Honda Prelude.

Suddenly, Marcia Brandwynne, virtually the only woman who holds that dual role in a major media market, knew what she was going to tell the Southern California chapter of American Women in Radio and Television, which honors her at a special luncheon today.

"When I started out in this business, they said a woman would never be a producer, would never run things. Never, never, never! But I'm bringing them with me," Brandwynne said of her team, "the producer of the 8 o'clock (Debbie Biringer), the producer of the 11 o'clock (Alyce Luft) and the executive producer (Dana Milliken). . . . I'm going to point to them and say, 'And now look.' "

And look at Brandwynne--the survivor.

After a most unceremonious firing 3 1/2 years ago by Channel 2, after all the speculation and innuendoes (from unnamed sources) that she didn't quite fit the Southern California glamour-girl image, after two former agents said she would never make it to a network because, well, she's "too ethnic," Brandwynne has come back--she says so herself--"stronger."

She has a new agent, Ed Hookstratten, whose roster includes Tom Brokaw and Bryant Gumbel; there is, on Hookstratten's orders, a new hairdo that heart-shapes her face as well as a host of new blouses and jackets in hot pinks and other neon brights, instead of the drab earth tones she used to favor.

Now, she insists, even the lighting's better. "I no longer look like an Iranian hostage. . . ."

At 42, Brandwynne, a thinking-person's anchor, retains a sense of humor and a keen sense of herself--as well as a vision of the kind of news she wants (and doesn't want) to present. "I don't want car accidents on my news, I don't want gratuitious violence. . . ." She readily reveals her age, but not her salary because "that starts a thing that makes for craziness, but it is ample . I could no more complain about salaries in this business," said the Brooklyn-bred woman who had to work her way through San Francisco State over an eight-year period.

Now, a year and a half into her position at Metromedia, she maintains she's relaxed. The other night she worried, is she too relaxed? Her fiance, Jud Taylor, a director of television movies ("Tailgunner Joe" about the late Sen. Joseph R. McCarthy; "Out of Darkness" about the Son of Sam serial murderer), had told her that "I didn't have the kind of crisp energy that's needed on the air . . . an actor's edge."

At his urging, Brandwynne looked at her tapes, breaking one of her "real rules. I don't (usually) go look at myself," she says, "because I never like what I see. I always think I don't look very pretty. I always think my mouth moves funny. And I never want to inhibit myself from being natural."

As it was, she had enough to worry about. Last week was the first week of the two half-hour newscasts--the 8 o'clock as well as the new 11 o'clock, designed to bracket a two-hour movie. Agreeing with her director's critique, Brandwynne "decided to pull it (her energy level) up, to feel it from within."

Brandwynne needn't have worried. After more than a decade of anchoring, beginning at a small independent station in Oakland, going on to the ABC affiliate in San Francisco before coming to Los Angeles in 1979, she still speaks of "the edge of discomfort" that being on television brings, no matter how comfortable she gets physically in the anchor booth, even to the point of slipping off her shoes and reading barefoot.

"It's not pleasant," she explains. "It's the fear of making a fool of yourself. The fear is, my own personal fear is, that my brain will simply stop operating, that I will go to sleep, or that my brain will simply leave me, and maybe I won't speak English. If you're looking into crazy fantasies, when you're interviewing somebody to simply lose all notion of where you're going, that's the greatest fear, that you're brain won't snap-to when you need it to.

"I think that's the mild discomfort that you're on the edge of a little bit of danger when you're on television."

But don't read her wrong. She will also tell you that she thinks she's "interesting looking" with "lively eyes." "You have to have a decent image of yourself, because esentially you're looking into a black hole, and what comes back at you is really how you think people are looking at you, what they're seeing. So essentially you have to feel they're seeing something very valuable and very good and smart. . . ."

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