Hal Fishman was old school. So much so that he sometimes came off as an anachronism in today’s hyperbolic celeb-centric tabloid-y TV news environment. Hal was so much a part of the fabric of local news in the nation’s second-largest TV market that we took him for granted. (For the details on his life and death Tuesday morning of colon cancer, read this very good obit by Variety’s Michael Schneider.)
Hal was there every weeknight at 10 p.m. on KTLA-TV, the mighty channel 5, the local titan (“broadcasting from high atop Mt. Washington”) that was known for its breaking news, local sports and event coverage, and of course, Gene Autry Show reruns first thing in the a.m. (It was always said that former owner Autry was an early riser and liked to watch himself first thing in morning.)
For most of my lifetime, Hal delivered the headlines, and shaped the 10 p.m. broadcast as managing editor, in a sober and sonorous style that was once the norm across the dial. The only time you saw Hal really get animated was, famously, when there was a big aviation story breaking. Not that he’d party on the news of a plane crash, but he was very good, in a manner befitting a former college professor, in explaining in lay terms what went wrong with an aircraft, or why a particular air-travel issue was important, etc.
When other newsmen of Hal’s ilk passed on — KCBS’ (KNXT to some of us) Bill Stout and Ralph Story, KTLA’s Larry McCormick and yes, even Jerry Dunphy — I felt the loss a little more immediately (I still miss Bill Stout’s furrowed brow.) I think Hal Fishman was the kind of industry stalwart that a lot of us never took the time to appreciate — until he’s replaced by a plunging neckline. In fairness, however, while KTLA’s current management (and several regimes past) may have wrestled with a desire to segue to a younger-skewing lead anchor, they never did sack Hal. So here’s to giving the brass the benefit of the doubt that Hal’s successor will be someone (KTLA’s long-serving morning anchor Carlos Amezcua has certainly earned it) who reflects at least most of the good-newsman qualities that Hal brought to the airwaves every night.