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35 Years on the Air Is a Very Long Ride : KTLA News Anchor Hal Fishman Savors Independent Route

June 20, 1995|RICK DU BROW | TIMES TELEVISION WRITER

In the fickle field of local TV news, the one operation that has most resisted the ongoing game of musical chairs has been the independent station KTLA-TV Channel 5, where the 10-11 p.m. roundup anchored by Hal Fishman has long been dominant.

The obvious reason is clear each night. As Fishman says, "We probably have the longest-tenured [on-air] personnel of any station in town"--meaning such household Los Angeles television names as Stan Chambers, Fishman and Larry McCormick, who have been with KTLA for several decades.

Fishman, in fact, this week is marking his 35th year on local TV--all with non-network, independent stations.

For many of those years, the independent channels were not really able to match the world and national visual coverage of the local network stations, which could draw on the news resources of their parent companies--ABC, CBS and NBC.

But a major turning point for the independents, says Fishman, was the spread of satellite technology in the 1980s.

"Previously," he says, "if you wanted to get what I like to call the full meal, the news of the day, independent channels could not do that--prior to arrangements, for example, with CNN, where we take [news reports] from them and they take them from us."

With this new, fuller capability to compete, independents KTLA, KCAL-TV Channel 9, KCOP-TV Channel 13 and KTTV-TV Channel 11--now owned by Fox--were given the potential to become more formidable competitors against KABC-TV Channel 7, KNBC-TV Channel 4 and KCBS-TV Channel 2.

So is the 11 p.m. news on local network stations really necessary anymore for those who are at home earlier and are seeking more complete reports?

"Not after you watch the 10 o'clock news," says Fishman, who made the move into broadcasting in 1960 when he was an assistant professor of government at California State College in Los Angeles.

There is, in fact, more than just KTLA's 10 p.m. newscast in a growing local force. KCAL offers a three-hour, prime-time block of news each night. And KTTV, fronted by anchor John Beard, is looking stronger at 10 p.m.--helped in part by the lead-in of Fox's prime-time network lineup.

KTTV made a solid run at KTLA during the May ratings sweeps--which help determine station advertising prices along with the other major competitive months of November and February.

"It is true that very often they will come close to us," Fishman says. But, citing uncertain broadcast times for his newscast because of KTLA's Dodger and Angel games, plus fill-ins and preempted shows, Fishman adds: "Let me be very blunt. When there's a level playing field, nobody comes near us." There were also admittedly weak lead-in shows from the station's new WB (Warner Bros.) network.

The baseball commitment provided KTLA with a related and embarrassing headache Thursday. Its live daytime coverage of the O.J. Simpson trial was cut short by the start of a Dodger-Pittsburgh game that caused the station to cut away at the dramatic moment when Simpson tried to pull on the gloves that are a centerpiece of the double murder he is accused of committing.

KTTV news director Jose Rios, acknowledging the success of KTLA's nightly 10-11 p.m. broadcast and tipping his hat to Fishman--"It's rare that people are here for five years, let alone 35"--nonetheless says of his own 10 p.m. newscast: "I think they have competition now. Anybody can say they'll do well 'if you give us all the best players.'

"I'd beg to differ a little on [lead-ins]. Over time, they've done well with good movies before their news. They have off-nights. Well, so do we. It's really what you're doing in the time allocated to news."

Beard says KTLA has set high standards, and he agrees with Fishman that other factors have come into play in the competition: "If we beat them, it's not going to mean anything unless we beat them for a couple of years. We haven't beat them yet."

According to Fishman, management goals to keep his newscast on solid footing during baseball season are as follows: If the news begins at around 10:15, it will run until 11; if it starts around 10:30, the hopes are to continue until 11:30. But there is no doubt that Fox's lead-ins can be a big help for KTTV.

Sitting in his office at KTLA in Hollywood, wearing gray slacks, a pin-stripe shirt and a conservative patterned tie, Fishman quips of the KTTV competition: "Will they love you in November as they do in May? They [KTTV] may be catching us in May, but they won't be catching us in November and February, when we're on the air [without being preempted by baseball]."

Fishman, 63, a longtime aviation buff, sometimes covers stories from his plane. Only days before, he had returned from setting his 11th world record for speed and altitude in a Los Angeles-to-Paris flight on a business jet with a group of people, including four pilots. He is clearly proud of his long run on television: "I haven't been off the air in 35 years."

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