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'KTLA Morning News' celebrates its 20th anniversary

As one of the nation's first local morning newscasts, original staff members including Carlos Amezcua and Barbara Beck look back.

July 07, 2011|By Greg Braxton, Los Angeles Times
  • Current and former "KTLA Morning News" personalities Michelle Ruiz, Jennifer York, Mark Kriski, Barbara Beck, Sam Rubin, Carlos Amezcua and Eric Spillman celebrate the newscast's 20th anniversary.
Current and former "KTLA Morning News" personalities Michelle… (KTLA )

The first several months of the "KTLA Morning News," one of the nation's first local morning newscasts, were so shaky that its producers, reporters and anchors were sure it was doomed. Two decades ago, broadcasting a local morning news program that actually focused on local news was considered a bold experiment.

Said then-executive producer Joel Tator: "There were more people watching in the control room than at home."

Those rough days seem like a distant memory for the KTLA Morning News, which will celebrate its 20th anniversary Friday with recollections and vintage clips. A special commemorating the milestone will air Thursday at 8 p.m.

Executives at KTLA-TV Channel 5, which like the Los Angeles Times is owned by the Tribune Co., believe their morning show recipe, which blended hard news, easy banter and entertainment reports, served as a model for other local stations across the country.

"I can't believe it's actually been that long," said Carlos Amezcua, one of the original anchors of the newscast, who left the station in 2007 and is now anchoring the 10 p.m. newscast at KTTV-TV Fox 11. "When it started, it was such a scary time, we were sure it was going to be a short-term gig."

Amezcua recently reunited with several members of the original news team, which included co-anchor Barbara Beck, weatherman Mark Kriski, traffic reporter Jennifer York and reporter Eric Spillman. Kriski and Spillman are still at the station, along with entertainment reporter Sam Rubin, who joined the newscast three months after it premiered.

Rubin said ratings were so dismal for the newscast at first "that we were pretty sure we wouldn't last more than a year."

"There was just this sense that no one was watching," he added. "What we were doing maybe didn't merit watching. There was this tremendous freedom in letting go. Our boss Joel Tator told us we were all going to get fired anyway, so we might as well do what we want."

The station said it was difficult to get audiences to give up their habit of tuning into the national network shows such as NBC's "Today" and ABC's "Good Morning America."

A pivotal moment for "KTLA Morning News" came in February 1992 during a flood that swept away a Ventura trailer park. Viewers tuned in for its live coverage of the disaster, a trend that continued and included the Northridge earthquake in 1994.

The breezy, good-natured chemistry among anchors and reporters seemed to endear them to audiences. "The audience loved our craziness, and we enjoyed each other," said Beck, who left in 2001, and recently earned an advanced degree in healthcare policy. "We're lifelong friends."

News director Jason R. Ball said the newscast is one of the most important aspects of the station. The show, which originally ran from 7 to 9 a.m., is now three hours and lasts till 10 a.m. The top stories of the day are blended with contests, celebrity guests and musical performances. It recently expanded into Saturday and Sunday editions.

"It's a good mix of news and entertainment that we're extremely proud of," said Ball.

greg.braxton@latimes.com

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