Hugh Downs

Anchor/ Host


The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Foundation Presents

02:26

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About
About this interview

In his three-and-a-half hour Archive interview, Hugh Downs discusses his 50-plus years in television. He talks of his career in radio and transitioning to television in the Chicago market. He recalls announcing for the popular children's show Kukla Fran & Ollie. He speaks of moving to New York to be the announcer for The Home Show, and talks of working as the announcer and sometimes guest on Sid Caesar's Caesar's Hour. Downs tells of announcing and guest-hosting for The Jack Paar Show (aka The Tonight Show) and details Paar's infamous walk out on the program in February 1960. He talks of hosting one of the longest-running game shows, NBC's Concentration, and fondly recalls his days as host of Today. He shares stories from some of his most memorable interviews, including those with Bobby Fischer, Martin Luther King, Jr., and King Hassan of Morocco. Downs also speaks about his work on the news show, 20/20. Bill Tynan conducted the interview on October 22, 1997 in New York City.

"I thought TV was a gimmick like 3-D movies and it would just go away. I had no idea that the tail would eventually wag the dog, and treat me much kinder than radio did."

Interviewee(s)
Highlights
Hugh Downs on being offered the role of host of Today
Hugh Downs on Jack Paar's famous walk out on The Tonight Show on February 11, 1960
Hugh Downs on announcing for Kukla, Fran & Ollie
Hugh Downs on the origin of 20/20 (contd.) and Roone Arledge's improvements to the show (including asking Downs to anchor the program)
Hugh Downs on his longevity in television
Full Interview

Chapter 1

On his early years and influences; on his start in radio and having stage fright behind the microphone
On moving from Lima to Detroit radio; on getting drafted into the Army during World War II; on moving to Chicago and working for NBC network radio; on his role as a staff announcer (often for soap operas)
On transitioning from radio to television in Chicago; on experimental television

Chapter 2

On working in Chicago radio and television; on announcing for the soap opera Hawkins Falls
On announcing for Kukla, Fran & Ollie; on Burr Tillstrom and interviewing a young Jim Henson; on live radio and television mishaps
On moving to New York and concentrating on television; on Chicago's role in broadcasting innovation; on NBC President Pat Weaver

Chapter 3

On hosting NBC's The Home Show in New York; on on-camera announcing for Caesar's Hour
On his involvement with scientific programming; on hosting Today and Concentration
On his role on The Tonight Show with Jack Paar

Chapter 4

On working with Jack Paar on The Tonight Show; on Paar's strengths and weaknesses
On Jack Paar's famous walk out on The Tonight Show on February 11, 1960; on Paar's comeback and memorable guests on the program

Chapter 5

On politicians appearing on The Tonight Show; on racial tensions and booking diverse guests on The Tonight Show; on The Hollywood Blacklist
On hosting the popular game show Concentration; on security on the show during the Quiz Show Scandals
On hosting Today; on differences between live and taped television programs and how they impact moral obligations; on the influence of advertisers

Chapter 6

On his preparations for hosting Today; on memorable interviews on the show and leaving the program in 1971
On "The Today Girl" on Today and bringing Barbara Walters on-screen; on Barbara Walters' talent and his working relationship with her; on his attempts at retirement
On returning to broadcasting, this time at PBS; on the disastrous start of 20/20

Chapter 7

On the origin of 20/20 (contd.); on the types of stories he enjoys; on working with Geraldo Rivera on the program
On his 1985 Guinness Book of World Record for all time most hours of television; on his longevity in television and thoughts on people with whom he's worked over the years
On what he considers the best of television; on the future of the medium
Shows

20/20

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Hugh Downs on the disastrous start of 20/20
Hugh Downs on the origin of 20/20 (contd.) and Roone Arledge's improvements to the show (including asking Downs to anchor the program)
Hugh Downs on differences between 20/20 and 60 Minutes
Hugh Downs on the stories he's enjoyed most on 20/20
Hugh Downs on Geraldo Rivera's work on 20/20 and after
Hugh Downs on doing two nights of 20/20 per week

60 Minutes

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Hugh Downs on differences between 20/20 and 60 Minutes

Aldrich Family, The

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Hugh Downs on subbing for a character on The Aldrich Family

Caesar's Hour

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Hugh Downs on on-camera announcing for Caesar's Hour

Concentration

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Hugh Downs on hosting Today and Concentration
Hugh Downs on hosting the popular game show Concentration and security on the show during the Quiz Show Scandals
Hugh Downs on the success of Concentration; on the prizes on the show

Hawkins Falls

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Hugh Downs on announcing for the soap opera Hawkins Falls
Hugh Downs on an actor's demands and the writers' response to them on the soap opera Hawkins Falls

Home Show, The

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Hugh Downs on the daytime program The Home Show
Hugh Downs on announcing for NBC's The Home Show in New York
Hugh Downs on unusual techniques used and humorous mishaps on NBC's The Home Show
Hugh Downs on the end of The Home Show

Kukla, Fran & Ollie

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Hugh Downs on announcing for Kukla, Fran & Ollie

One Life to Live

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Hugh Downs on playing himself on One Life to Live

Studs' Place

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Hugh Downs on the charm of Studs' Place

Today

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Hugh Downs on Dave Garroway's style on Today
Hugh Downs on being offered the role of host of Today
Hugh Downs on hosting Today and turning down other television offers
Hugh Downs on why he was drawn to hosting Today
Hugh Downs on his versatility and changes to the format on Today
Hugh Downs on his preparations for hosting Today
Hugh Downs on memorable interviews he conducted on Today
Hugh Downs on leaving Today in 1971
Hugh Downs on how Today evolved during his tenure on the program
Hugh Downs on "The Today Girl" on Today

Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, The

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Hugh Downs on not being offered the Tonight Show despite having substituted for Jack Paar the most

Tonight Show, The (1962)

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Hugh Downs on not being offered the Tonight Show despite having substituted for Jack Paar the most [although Downs served as one of the 1962 interim hosts]

Tonight Starring Jack Paar aka The Jack Paar Show

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Hugh Downs on his role on The Tonight Show with Jack Paar
Hugh Downs on Jack Paar's famous walk out on The Tonight Show on February 11, 1960
Hugh Downs on Jack Paar's comeback after his famous walk out on The Tonight Show on February 11, 1960
Hugh Downs on memorable guests on The Tonight Show while he was announcer
Hugh Downs on politicians appearing on The Tonight Show
Hugh Downs on racial tensions and booking diverse guests on The Tonight Show
Hugh Downs on The Tonight Show moving from live to taped, and the role of advertisers
Topics

1939-40 World's Fair

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Hugh Downs on seeing television for the first time at the 1939 World's Fair

Advertising and Sponsorship

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Hugh Downs on the role of advertisers on The Tonight Show

Bloopers

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Hugh Downs on a live radio slip-up and the lesson he learned from it
Hugh Downs on a live television slip-up and breaking up on primetime TV; on breaking up on radio and television

Censorship / Standards & Practices

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Hugh Downs on Jack Paar's famous walk out on The Tonight Show on February 11, 1960 and the censored joke that provoked it

Creative Influences and Inspiration

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Hugh Downs on his Emmy wins

Diversity in Television

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Hugh Downs on racial tensions and booking diverse guests on The Tonight Show

Historic Events and Social Change

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Hugh Downs on seeing television for the first time at the 1939 World's Fair
Hugh Downs on hosting the first television program on space "The First Step Into Space" and his interest in scientific programming
Hugh Downs on racial tensions and booking diverse guests on The Tonight Show

Hollywood Blacklist

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Hugh Downs on The Hollywood Blacklist not affecting booking guests on The Tonight Show

Industry Crossroads

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Hugh Downs on The Hollywood Blacklist not affecting booking guests on The Tonight Show
Hugh Downs on hosting the popular game show Concentration and security on the show during the Quiz Show Scandals

Minorities

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Hugh Downs on racial tensions and booking diverse guests on The Tonight Show

Quiz Show Scandals

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Hugh Downs on hosting the popular game show Concentration and security on the show during the Quiz Show Scandals

Technological Innovation

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Hugh Downs on differences between live and taped television programs and how they impact moral obligations
Hugh Downs on how Today evolved during his tenure on the program
Hugh Downs on how color television affected Today (and how his colorblindness affects his job)

Television Industry

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Hugh Downs on Jack Paar's famous walk out on The Tonight Show on February 11, 1960 and the censored joke that provoked it
Hugh Downs on the role of advertisers on The Tonight Show
Hugh Downs on what he considers the best of television
Hugh Downs on the future of television

War

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Hugh Downs on getting drafted into the Army during World War II

World War II

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Hugh Downs on getting drafted into the Army during World War II
Professions

Hosts

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Hugh Downs on interviewing Frank Lloyd Wright and what he learned about interviewing

Interviewer

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Hugh Downs on interviewing Frank Lloyd Wright and what he learned about interviewing
Genres

Children's Programming

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Hugh Downs on announcing for Kukla, Fran & Ollie

Game Shows

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Hugh Downs on hosting the popular game show Concentration and security on the show during the Quiz Show Scandals

Late Night

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Hugh Downs on being on The Tonight Show with Jack Paar; on Paar's wit
Hugh Downs on Jack Paar's famous walk out on The Tonight Show on February 11, 1960
Hugh Downs on politicians and diverse guests appearing on The Tonight Show

News and Documentary

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Hugh Downs on announcing for NBC's The Home Show in New York
Hugh Downs on his work on 20/20 (contd.)

Talk Shows

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Hugh Downs on why he was drawn to hosting Today
Hugh Downs on his preparation for hosting Today; on memorable interviews on the show and leaving the program in 1971
People

Woody Allen

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Hugh Downs on memorable guests on The Tonight Show while he was announcer - Woody Allen

Steve Allen

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Hugh Downs on differences between Steve Allen and Jack Paar on The Tonight Show

Roone Arledge

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Hugh Downs on the origin of 20/20 (contd.) and Roone Arledge's improvements to the show (including asking Downs to anchor the program)
Hugh Downs on working with Roone Arledge

Desi Arnaz

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Hugh Downs on announcing dance band remotes featuring Desi Arnaz

Carol Burnett

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Hugh Downs on Carol Burnett's appearance on The Tonight Show with Jack Paar (singing "I Made a Fool of Myself Over John Foster Dulles")

Sid Caesar

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Hugh Downs on on-camera announcing for Caesar's Hour

Johnny Carson

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Hugh Downs on working with Johnny Carson

John Chancellor

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Hugh Downs on working with John Chancellor in Chicago radio

Bill Cosby

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Hugh Downs on memorable guests on The Tonight Show while he was announcer - Bill Cosby

Errol Flynn

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Hugh Downs on Errol Flynn appearing on The Tonight Show with Jack Paar

Redd Foxx

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Hugh Downs on memorable guests on Today - Redd Foxx

Arlene Francis

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Hugh Downs on announcing for NBC's The Home Show with host Arlene Francis in New York

Dave Garroway

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Hugh Downs on Dave Garroway's style on Today

Lawrence K. Grossman

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Hugh Downs on working with Lawrence K. Grossman

Hugh Hefner

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Hugh Downs on interviewing a young Hugh Hefner

Jim Henson

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Hugh Downs on interviewing a young Jim Henson

John F. Kennedy

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Hugh Downs on the importance of appearances on The Tonight Show to JFK's election win

Robert F. Kennedy

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Hugh Downs on RFK's appearance on The Tonight Show after JFK's assassination
Hugh Downs on RFK discussing Jimmy Hoffa on The Tonight Show

Martin Luther King, Jr.

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Hugh Downs on interviewing Martin Luther King, Jr.

Jack Lescoulie

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Hugh Downs on working with Jack Lescoulie

Elaine May

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Hugh Downs on memorable guests on The Tonight Show while he was announcer - Mike Nichols and Elaine May

Ed McMahon

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Hugh Downs on working with Ed McMahon

Al Morgan

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Hugh Downs on working with producer Al Morgan

Mike Nichols

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Hugh Downs on memorable guests on The Tonight Show while he was announcer - Mike Nichols and Elaine May

Jack Paar

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Hugh Downs on his role on The Tonight Show with Jack Paar; on Paar's wit
Announcer Hugh Downs on Jack Paar's famous walk out on The Tonight Show on February 11, 1960
Hugh Downs on differences between Steve Allen and Jack Paar on The Tonight Show
Hugh Downs on working with Jack Paar on The Tonight Show; on Paar's nervousness
Hugh Downs on Jack Paar's strengths and weaknesses; on his interviewing skills and his ability to discover new talent
Hugh Downs on politicians appearing on The Tonight Show
Hugh Downs on working with Jack Paar

Geraldo Rivera

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Hugh Downs on Geraldo Rivera's work on 20/20 and after; on why Geraldo left the show

David Sarnoff

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Hugh Downs on David Sarnoff's view of competition and Sarnoff's interest in broadcasting
Hugh Downs on meeting David Sarnoff

Adlai Stevenson

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Hugh Downs on interviewing then-United Nations Ambassador Adlai Stevenson

Burr Tillstrom

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Hugh Downs on Burr Tillstrom's ad-libbing on Kukla, Fran & Ollie
Hugh Downs on Kukla, Fran & Ollie creator Burr Tillstrom doing portable puppet shows and his celebrity

Barbara Walters

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Hugh Downs on "The Today Girl" on Today and bringing Barbara Walters on-screen
Hugh Downs on his working relationship with Barbara Walters; on her success

Sylvester L. "Pat" Weaver

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Hugh Downs on NBC's Pat Weaver and his television innovations

Av Westin

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Hugh Downs on working with producer Av Westin

Frank Lloyd Wright

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Hugh Downs on interviewing Frank Lloyd Wright and what he learned about interviewing

All Interviews

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