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The idiosyncratic anchor

Hal Fishman, who died Tuesday, was one of the last of a vanishing breed of local TV newscaster.

August 08, 2007

Hot, orange flames were ripping a seam down the south-facing hills of Griffith Park, threatening the newly refurbished observatory and hundreds of posh hillside homes. As always, Hal Fishman was on the air, simultaneously directing coverage and ad-libbing his way through yet another live catastrophe. A Los Feliz resident was patched through by cellphone to describe the scene. "This is Hal Fishman," KTLA-TV Channel 5's anchorman said. "I know who you are," came the reply.

We all knew who Hal Fishman was, whether we watched the "News @ Ten" or not. He was our Kent Brockman, the coiffed local news broadcaster on "The Simpsons" (as voiced by Angeleno Harry Shearer), committed to delivering items about bears in Monrovia with the same gravitas as the latest bombings in Iraq. He was a more accurate version of himself in movies such as "Spider-Man 3" and "Crocodile Dundee in Los Angeles," trying to make scripted sense out of the highly improbable. Most of all, he was the model for what you see on almost every local TV newscast -- the father-figure anchor, steadfastly keeping his dignity in not-always-dignified circumstances, exuding a technical mastery of the process for covering any late-breaking disasters.

Fishman anchored at KTLA (which is owned by Tribune Co., the same company that publishes this newspaper) for almost 40 years, during which time his persona evolved from cutting edge to quaint. As a pilot and aviation enthusiast -- with several highly specialized speed records under his belt -- he was one of the first TV newscasters to fully understand the value of aerial photography in covering fire and crime. In his later years, he may have been most appreciated for his anachronistic flourishes, such as having the clout to insist that just about any news story involving a small plane made the broadcast, and delivering his winningly cranky 90-second commentaries at least once a week on topics as far-ranging as runaway gas prices and the "Islamization of Europe." In an era of heavily consulted, cookie-cutter local TV news, Fishman's idiosyncrasies were a welcome aberration that will likely follow him to the grave.

With the death of Hal Fishman, and before him newscaster Jerry Dunphy and Hall of Fame basketball broadcaster Chick Hearn, the generation of radio and TV personalities that helped knit together sprawling postwar Southern California is drawing ever to a close. We will be poorer with its passing.

So a tip of the cap to those, such as Dodgers' legend Vin Scully, who still grace us with talents that will never be replicated, and a moment of thanks to a KTLA anchor who made a region of 17 million people feel like a small town.

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