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Boston News Anchors Will Be Right Back After This Breakup

National Perspective | MEDIA

Partners in life--and on the air--Chet-and-Nat are headed to divorce court.

December 15, 1999|ELIZABETH MEHREN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

BOSTON — They're a homey pair. He has gray hair and, in recent years, a double chin. She wears sensible--OK, borderline frumpy--clothes and is not afraid to let her wrinkles show. When he talks about sports, she rolls her eyes. When she talks about family issues, he tries hard to look fascinated.

Partners on local television since 1972, Chet-and-Nat (everybody calls them by their first names) made news of their own this week when they announced they were calling it quits--not as colleagues on WCVB-TV but as a couple. The statement they issued did not indicate whether they would seek a divorce; they said they remain best friends and that they will continue to work together "as news anchors and professionals."

The Split Is Talk of an Un-Gossipy Town

The off-air split of husband-and-wife co-anchors Chet Curtis, 60, and Natalie Jacobson, 56, fast became the talk of a notoriously un-gossipy town. The city's two newspapers were filled with details, treating the couple's separation after almost 25 years of marriage as a local tragedy. Talk radio exploded with nothing but Chet-and-Nat.

"It was all a part of our shared history," said PBS journalist Gail Harris, formerly an anchor for several Boston TV stations. The fact that Boston was reacting so strongly to the split "underscores how people on TV become part of your extended family. You really do feel as if you knew them."

Ed Siegel, the television critic at the Boston Globe, was also reflective.

"They have been the perfect anchor team for the times," he wrote. "No matter how bad things were at home, we could always bask in the glow of the warmth of our fully functional electronic families."

Boston is a city that loathes artifice and disdains the trappings of celebrity. Big stars here tend to have PhDs and specialize in DNA or obscure Carpathian folk tunes. Boston likes its people and its products to be predictable, like good clam chowder. That boxy Brooks Brothers suit was good enough for your grandfather. Why not just keep wearing one like it yourself?

In this vein, R.D. Sahl, an anchor at New England Cable News, said the long-term success of Curtis and Jacobson reflected an unusual quality about Boston television. "Maybe this is a city where if you have some competence you are permitted to age on television," Sahl said.

In Boston, agreed Sally Jackson, a public relations executive, "we really don't need the newest model in TV anchors."

The station Chet-and-Nat anchor holds the ratings lead in the 6 p.m. slot but trails at 11 p.m. behind glitzy Channel 7, which features bold graphics and revolving blonds.

Meanwhile, over at Channel 5, there were Chet-and-Nat: falling in love on air, getting married on air (the second time for each), thinking about having a family on air and, when Nat got pregnant with Lindsay, now 18, holding up a pair of baby booties on air.

The familial feelings for Curtis and Jacobson, who have chosen not to comment beyond a statement issued Monday, were augmented by their regular presence on the city's cultural and philanthropic scenes. Big boosters of the Boston Symphony, they also were hosts of telethons and anchors at the Boston Marathon.

"It's like the charity and philanthropic merry-go-round," said Emily Rooney, host of "Greater Boston," a public television show here. "All the horses go round and round and Chet and Natalie are always on them."

Rose Through Ranks of Local Television

Both Curtis and Jacobson rose through the ranks of local television. Jacobson began as the stunning young host of a public affairs show, known for her thorough research. Curtis was a seasoned, industrious street reporter before turning to the anchor desk. Along with their comfortable-shoe quality, both were acclaimed for their calm and polished news deliveries.

Jacobson raised eyebrows when she abruptly announced this summer that she was taking a four-month leave of absence. She insisted that she was tired and wanted to spend the summer at the couple's house on Nantucket Island. She returned in time to co-anchor her station's coverage of the Worcester, Mass., warehouse fire 10 days ago that claimed the lives of six firefighters.

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