News Before Rick
A breathless Rick Sanchez flop-sweating into the camera as he delivers another compelling report. A sober Sally Fitz earnestly stumbling over simple words and becoming the, er, butt of local urban legend. The snarky duo of Belkys Nerey and Lynn Martinez smart-alecking their way through another frothy installment of Deco Drive. Seems as if Channel 7 has always been the highly charged messenger of all that is sensational. Not so. Back in 1956 Channel 7 was local NBC affiliate WCKT, a somewhat sedate operation with a news team that produced hard-hitting reports. The most popular personalities on the station back then? Dark-haired, sonorous-voiced anchor Wayne Fariss and clunky Toby the Robot, whose popular Sunday-morning TV show featuring a reading of the Miami Herald's comics section riveted kiddies all over town.
In 1983 WCKT metamorphosed into WSVN. Six years later, when the station lost its NBC link and became a FOX affiliate, its dizzying ascent as the prime purveyor of newsamuse began. The journalistic Dr. Frankenstein in charge of its transformation: bigwig Joel Cheatwood. Making the staid nightly broadcast entertaining was his mission.
The first step: constructing the Newsplex, a high-tech temple dedicated to frenzied information gathering. The capper was figuring out the formula: steady diet of crime, violence, and gossipy stories dished out at a breakneck pace. The plan succeeded wildly and engendered copycatting by independent stations all over the nation.
Cheatwood left town in 1997, but his diabolical legacy remains. As newscasts send viewers' collective blood pressure skyrocketing, few realize that a little piece of Heaven (aside from changing the channel) is available to them. Seven Heaven to be exact. Last week the Louis Wolfson II Media History Center launched a series of screenings titled Seven Heaven,highlighting Channel 7's former incarnation. "Once upon a time things were different, just in terms of the way television news was covered," says Steven Davidson, the center's director, citing major distinctions in delivery, graphics, pacing, and style.
Among the programs already shown in prevideotape kinescope format: a retrospective of President Kennedy's life and reaction to news of his death broadcast on the day he was assassinated in 1963; and a reel featuring the station's work from the mid-Sixties compiled to impress the prestigious Peabody Awards committee. This Thursday a presentation celebrates the station's ten-year anniversary on the air in 1966 with local and international news stories from the decade. A series of year-end specials documenting events from 1963 through 1965 also will unspool. Tuesday offers a look back at the destructive 1961 Hurricane Donna and a variety of reports about Cuba, including footage of Castro and company parading through Havana after the fall of Batista and a live broadcast of the arrival of flight 422 that shuttled Bay of Pigs prisoners back to Miami in 1962.
Ditzy Sally Fitz is long gone. Sultan of smarm Rick Sanchez has decamped to MSNBC's afternoon news. Deco Drive loses its punch daily. Perhaps one day we'll look back fondly at the fevered style of news reporting in all its flash and splash furnished by our friends at WSVN in Seven Heaven, the Sequel. Perhaps one day Hell will freeze over.
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