Huntley-Brinkley Report

The Huntley-Brinkley Report (sometimes known as the Texaco Huntley-Brinkley Report, for one of its early sponsors) was the NBC television network's flagship evening news program from October 29, 1956 until July 31, 1970. It was anchored by Chet Huntley in New York City, and David Brinkley in Washington, D.C. It succeeded the Camel News Caravan, anchored by John Cameron Swayze.

The news show began as a 15-minute program, but expanded to 30 minutes in 1963, about midway through the program's run. NBC producer Reuven Frank took credit for development of the show; he derived the idea of having two individuals anchor a news broadcast from the practice of a local NBC affiliate, WSAZ-TV in Huntington, West Virginia. Huntley, who had previously been based in Los Angeles, and Brinkley, in Washington, were first put together as a team to host coverage of the 1956 political conventions. When the time came to replace Swayze, NBC News management argued over possible successors. Frank, in his memoir, Out of Thin Air, claimed that he suggested the combination. Frank also authored the broadcast's closing line, "Good night, Chet." "Good night, David. And good night, for NBC News (or the sponsor's name in the newscast's early years)." This exchange became one of television's most famous catchphrases although both Huntley and Brinkley disliked it.

The lead-in music for the broadcast was the second movement (scherzo) of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, from the 1952 studio recording with Arturo Toscanini conducting the NBC Symphony Orchestra.

Initially, the program struggled to attain viewership against its chief competition, the CBS Evening News, anchored by Douglas Edwards and directed by the legendary Don Hewitt. Texaco saved the program after its initial run by purchasing advertising on the program for an entire year.

Eventually, Huntley and Brinkley developed a strong chemistry. Along with Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite, critics considered Huntley to have possessed one of the best broadcast voices ever heard. Further, Brinkley's dry, often witty, newswriting presented viewers a contrast to the often sober output from CBS News. The program soon had more viewers than the CBS Evening News, and maintained higher viewership levels throughout most of the 1960s.

Huntley handled the bulk of the news most nights, with Brinkley specializing in Washington (i.e., the White House, U.S. Congress, the Pentagon) news. Having two anchors also helped during vacation periods; one could handle the full show if necessary, leaving viewers with a familiar anchor, instead of a little-known substitute such as a field reporter.

The impact of the Huntley-Brinkley Report on popular culture of the 1960s can be illustrated by a verse from the 1965 song "So Long, Mom (A Song for World War III)" by the satirist Tom Lehrer:

While we're attacking frontally,
Watch Brink-a-ley and Hunt-a-ley
Describing contrapuntally
The cities we have lost...

The newscast stayed atop the ratings until Huntley's retirement in 1970, although it started to slip as CBS's Walter Cronkite gained fame for his coverage of the space program, a field neither Huntley nor Brinkley had much interest in. Some contemporary observers at NBC felt the program began to slip after a 1967 strike by members of AFTRA. Brinkley honored the picket lines but Huntley, who viewed himself as "a newsman, not a performer" did not, remaining at the anchor desk.

This split puzzled viewers, who had come to admire them for their teamwork. Unbeknownst to most viewers, that relationship was fairly limited—Huntley and Brinkley operated from different cities and rarely met in person, except for live coverage of events. However, each would hand off to the other by saying the other's name. Actually, that was merely a signal for network technicians to switch the long-distance transmission lines, going from New York to Washington, in the other direction, so that the other anchor could be seen.

Huntley-Brinkley Report originally only broadcast Mondays through Fridays; the network premiered a Saturday evening report in January 1969, anchored at first by Huntley and Brinkley, on alternating weeks. Later, after the report failed to garner sufficient ratings to justify major talent, veteran correspondent Frank McGee took over as anchor, with Sander Vanocur substituting; the broadcast took the name NBC Saturday News. And it was not until two days after Huntley's retirement in summer 1970 that a half-hour Sunday evening newscast began. Both weekend newscasts replaced The Frank McGee Report, a documentary-oriented program.

Huntley and Brinkley concluded their final newscast together, after 14 years, with the following parting words:

Chet Huntley: So, this difficult moment is here. In leaving this post after almost 14 years, I reccomend to you The NBC Nightly News, which begins tomorrow. It will be in the most capable hands of David, John Chancellor and Frank McGee. I'll be watching, with interest and affection. I might also remind you that American journalism, always, is is the best anywhere in the world. I want to thank the entire staff of NBC, for this nightly broadcast has not been an individual effort by any means. And as for you out there, I thank you first for your patience, then for your many kindnesses and the flattering things you have said and written. More difficult to take, to be sure, has been your criticism, but that, too, has been helpful, and, in most cases, valid. But you have bolsted my conviction that this land contains incredible quality and quantity of good, common sense, and it's in no danger of being led down a primrose path by a journalist. At the risk of sounding presumptuous, I would say to all of you: be patient and have courage, for there will be better and happier news one day, if we work at it. And David, thanks for these years of happy association, and for being such an easy colleague to work with, and for all the kindnesses.
David Brinkley: Chet, I, too, would like to thank all of those who tuned us in and put up with us, particularly including those who write the nasty letters! McGee and Chancellor and I will be here every night, and we will miss you. Last night, NBC has a dinner for Chet and gave all of us a chance to say goodbye to him, and as a farewell gift, NBC gave him a horse. So Chet, when you ride away to the West to Montana on your new horse, I will have to admit to at least a mile envy, and when you're out there under clear skies and clean air, maybe once in a while you will think of those of us still here, fighting the traffic, the transportation breakdowns, stress, pollution, and wondering what is left as we can eat, drink, smoke or breathe that will not kill us, and wondering what horror will be visited upon us next. In these years I have often been stopped in public by a cop who was polite who knew I was either Huntley or Brinkley, but weren't sure which and so they have asked, so from now on, when somebody stops me in the street and says, "Aren't you Chet Huntley?", I have an answer: it is "No, ma'am, he is the one out West on a horse!" I really don't want to say it, but the time has come, and so, for the last time, good luck...and good night, Chet.
Chet Huntley: Good luck, David, and good night, for NBC News.

Upon Huntley's retirement, the network renamed the program NBC Nightly News. At first, NBC decided to use a platoon of three anchors: Brinkley, John Chancellor, and McGee. The arrangement, however, did not attract viewers, and one year later, the network named Chancellor solo anchor of the program. From 1971 to 1976, Brinkley appeared on pre-taped commentary segments titled David Brinkley's Journal and occasionally filled in for Chancellor; for three years after that, NBC resinstituted the old dual-anchor format. During that stint, Chancellor and Brinkley initially both reported from New York, but Brinkley subsequently moved back to Washington and anchored from there. Still, none of NBC's moves managed to impede Walter Cronkite and the CBS Evening News from building a strong viewership lead, which it would maintain until Cronkite retired in 1981.

That same year, Brinkley defected from NBC to rival ABC to host its Sunday interview show, This Week with David Brinkley, a spot he held until his retirement in 1996; he died seven years later.

Chet Huntley retired from broadcasting in August 1970 and spent the remaining few years of his life as a land developer in his native Montana, founding the Big Sky Resort. Huntley died of cancer at his Big Sky home in March 1974 at the age of 62.

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