July 3, 2019

The CBS Evening News with Arnold Zenker

Back in 2013, when I was writing about the TV Guide issue of April 15, 1967, I tried very hard to find a picture or video or something showing Arnold Zenker anchoring The CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite. Perhaps I didn't look hard enough, or maybe there really wasn't anything out there yet; at any rate, last week I stumbled across this while I was looking for something else, and even though it's a couple of years old, I'm not about to pass up the opportunity now that I have it.

Arnold Zenker, for the uninitiated, was the 28-year-old CBS executive who, with no television experience, was forced into temporary duty as the substitute for Walter Cronkite during the AFTRA strike in April of 1967. While Chet Huntley (who famously said he was "a newsman, not a performer"), Frank McGee and Ray Scherer, continued to work at NBC, and producers Daryl Griffin and William Sheehan carried the load at ABC, there was something about Zenker that captured the public's fancy. He became something of a cult hit during the 13 days of the strike, getting more than 3,000 fan letters from the public. He even became the answer to a Jeopardy! question. Scott Pelley interviewed Zenker on the 50th anniversary of his famous stint as an anchor; you can read about it, and see Zenker in action, here.

No wonder the execs worried!
As soon as the strike was over, of course, back behind the camera he went. (Cronkite's opening line upon his return: "This is Walter Cronkite substituting for Arnold Zenker. It's good to be back.") "They laughed and they said 'you're not a journalist, you're a fraud who sat in front of the camera,' and that's when I decided to go to Boston and do the news," he said. Of course, I have my own theory about that; I think that the success of someone like Zenker was a threat to the establishment—it suggested that anyone who was young and reasonably good-looking and could put a couple of sentences together could, with a little training, read the nightly news. That couldn't be allowed, of course. Of course, considering the amount of turnover on the CBS Evening News since Dan Rather left, there might be something to that. What with Bob Schieffer, Katie Couric, Scott Pelley, Anthony Mason, Jeff Glor, and now Norah O'Donnell, they might just as well have called Arnold Zenker. After all, he already has experience. TV  

1 comment:

Thanks for writing! Drive safely!