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."

Highlights
Hugh Downs on being offered the role of host of Today
00:49
Hugh Downs on Jack Paar's famous walk out on The Tonight Show on February 11, 1960
08:43
Hugh Downs on announcing for Kukla, Fran & Ollie
05:44
Hugh Downs on the origin of 20/20 (contd.) and Roone Arledge's improvements to the show (including asking Downs to anchor the program)
04:30
Hugh Downs on his longevity in television
00:48
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

View Show Page
Hugh Downs on the disastrous start of 20/20
01:37
Hugh Downs on the origin of 20/20 (contd.) and Roone Arledge's improvements to the show (including asking Downs to anchor the program)
04:30
Hugh Downs on differences between 20/20 and 60 Minutes
00:45
Hugh Downs on the stories he's enjoyed most on 20/20
01:37
Hugh Downs on Geraldo Rivera's work on 20/20 and after
03:10
Hugh Downs on doing two nights of 20/20 per week
00:54

60 Minutes

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Hugh Downs on differences between 20/20 and 60 Minutes
05:15

Aldrich Family, The

View Show Page
Hugh Downs on subbing for a character on The Aldrich Family
01:08

Caesar's Hour

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Hugh Downs on on-camera announcing for Caesar's Hour
03:54

Concentration

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Hugh Downs on hosting Today and Concentration
00:27
Hugh Downs on hosting the popular game show Concentration and security on the show during the Quiz Show Scandals
03:56
Hugh Downs on the success of Concentration; on the prizes on the show
01:45

Hawkins Falls

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Hugh Downs on announcing for the soap opera Hawkins Falls
00:41
Hugh Downs on an actor's demands and the writers' response to them on the soap opera Hawkins Falls
01:46

Home Show, The

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Hugh Downs on the daytime program The Home Show
01:02
Hugh Downs on announcing for NBC's The Home Show in New York
04:47
Hugh Downs on unusual techniques used and humorous mishaps on NBC's The Home Show
02:50
Hugh Downs on the end of The Home Show
02:37

Kukla, Fran & Ollie

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Hugh Downs on announcing for Kukla, Fran & Ollie
05:44

One Life to Live

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Hugh Downs on playing himself on One Life to Live
01:18

Studs' Place

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Hugh Downs on the charm of Studs' Place
00:57

Today

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Hugh Downs on Dave Garroway's style on Today
01:04
Hugh Downs on being offered the role of host of Today
00:49
Hugh Downs on hosting Today and turning down other television offers
01:58
Hugh Downs on why he was drawn to hosting Today
01:17
Hugh Downs on his versatility and changes to the format on Today
01:57
Hugh Downs on his preparations for hosting Today
02:55
Hugh Downs on memorable interviews he conducted on Today
09:05
Hugh Downs on leaving Today in 1971
01:18
Hugh Downs on how Today evolved during his tenure on the program
02:49
Hugh Downs on "The Today Girl" on Today
02:05

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
00:49

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]
00:49

Tonight Starring Jack Paar aka The Jack Paar Show

View Show Page
Hugh Downs on his role on The Tonight Show with Jack Paar
05:46
Hugh Downs on Jack Paar's famous walk out on The Tonight Show on February 11, 1960
08:43
Hugh Downs on Jack Paar's comeback after his famous walk out on The Tonight Show on February 11, 1960
01:52
Hugh Downs on memorable guests on The Tonight Show while he was announcer
03:03
Hugh Downs on politicians appearing on The Tonight Show
05:18
Hugh Downs on racial tensions and booking diverse guests on The Tonight Show
02:30
Hugh Downs on The Tonight Show moving from live to taped, and the role of advertisers
02:20
Topics

1939-40 World's Fair

View Topic
Hugh Downs on seeing television for the first time at the 1939 World's Fair
01:04

Advertising and Sponsorship

View Topic
Hugh Downs on the role of advertisers on The Tonight Show
00:34

Bloopers

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Hugh Downs on a live radio slip-up and the lesson he learned from it
01:33
Hugh Downs on a live television slip-up and breaking up on primetime TV; on breaking up on radio and television
03:08

Censorship / Standards & Practices

View Topic
Hugh Downs on Jack Paar's famous walk out on The Tonight Show on February 11, 1960 and the censored joke that provoked it
07:18

Creative Influences and Inspiration

View Topic
Hugh Downs on his Emmy wins
01:07

Diversity in Television

View Topic
Hugh Downs on racial tensions and booking diverse guests on The Tonight Show
02:30

Historic Events and Social Change

View Topic
Hugh Downs on seeing television for the first time at the 1939 World's Fair
01:04
Hugh Downs on hosting the first television program on space "The First Step Into Space" and his interest in scientific programming
02:59
Hugh Downs on racial tensions and booking diverse guests on The Tonight Show
02:30

Hollywood Blacklist

View Topic
Hugh Downs on The Hollywood Blacklist not affecting booking guests on The Tonight Show
02:11

Industry Crossroads

View Topic
Hugh Downs on The Hollywood Blacklist not affecting booking guests on The Tonight Show
02:11
Hugh Downs on hosting the popular game show Concentration and security on the show during the Quiz Show Scandals
02:52

Minorities

View Topic
Hugh Downs on racial tensions and booking diverse guests on The Tonight Show
02:30

Quiz Show Scandals

View Topic
Hugh Downs on hosting the popular game show Concentration and security on the show during the Quiz Show Scandals
02:52

Technological Innovation

View Topic
Hugh Downs on differences between live and taped television programs and how they impact moral obligations
01:51
Hugh Downs on how Today evolved during his tenure on the program
00:41
Hugh Downs on how color television affected Today (and how his colorblindness affects his job)
01:30

Television Industry

View Topic
Hugh Downs on Jack Paar's famous walk out on The Tonight Show on February 11, 1960 and the censored joke that provoked it
07:18
Hugh Downs on the role of advertisers on The Tonight Show
00:33
Hugh Downs on what he considers the best of television
00:33
Hugh Downs on the future of television
00:35

War

View Topic
Hugh Downs on getting drafted into the Army during World War II
03:04

World War II

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Hugh Downs on getting drafted into the Army during World War II
03:04
Professions

Hosts

View Profession
Hugh Downs on interviewing Frank Lloyd Wright and what he learned about interviewing
01:27

Interviewer

View Profession
Hugh Downs on interviewing Frank Lloyd Wright and what he learned about interviewing
01:27
Genres

Children's Programming

View Genre
Hugh Downs on announcing for Kukla, Fran & Ollie
05:44

Game Shows

View Genre
Hugh Downs on hosting the popular game show Concentration and security on the show during the Quiz Show Scandals
05:41

Late Night

View Genre
Hugh Downs on being on The Tonight Show with Jack Paar; on Paar's wit
05:46
Hugh Downs on Jack Paar's famous walk out on The Tonight Show on February 11, 1960
09:42
Hugh Downs on politicians and diverse guests appearing on The Tonight Show
07:48

News and Documentary

View Genre
Hugh Downs on announcing for NBC's The Home Show in New York
10:14
Hugh Downs on his work on 20/20 (contd.)
10:02

Talk Shows

View Genre
Hugh Downs on why he was drawn to hosting Today
03:17
Hugh Downs on his preparation for hosting Today; on memorable interviews on the show and leaving the program in 1971
18:03
People

Woody Allen

View Person Page
Hugh Downs on memorable guests on The Tonight Show while he was announcer - Woody Allen
01:34

Steve Allen

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Hugh Downs on differences between Steve Allen and Jack Paar on The Tonight Show
00:44

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)
04:30
Hugh Downs on working with Roone Arledge
01:20

Desi Arnaz

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Hugh Downs on announcing dance band remotes featuring Desi Arnaz
00:50

Carol Burnett

View Interview Page
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")
00:41

Sid Caesar

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Hugh Downs on on-camera announcing for Caesar's Hour
03:54

Johnny Carson

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Hugh Downs on working with Johnny Carson
00:22

John Chancellor

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Hugh Downs on working with John Chancellor in Chicago radio
00:51

Bill Cosby

View Person Page
Hugh Downs on memorable guests on The Tonight Show while he was announcer - Bill Cosby
00:22

Errol Flynn

View Person Page
Hugh Downs on Errol Flynn appearing on The Tonight Show with Jack Paar
00:49

Redd Foxx

View Person Page
Hugh Downs on memorable guests on Today - Redd Foxx
00:34

Arlene Francis

View Person Page
Hugh Downs on announcing for NBC's The Home Show with host Arlene Francis in New York
00:42

Dave Garroway

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Hugh Downs on Dave Garroway's style on Today
01:04

Lawrence K. Grossman

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Hugh Downs on working with Lawrence K. Grossman
01:46

Hugh Hefner

View Interview Page
Hugh Downs on interviewing a young Hugh Hefner
00:36

Jim Henson

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Hugh Downs on interviewing a young Jim Henson
00:24

John F. Kennedy

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Hugh Downs on the importance of appearances on The Tonight Show to JFK's election win
00:21

Robert F. Kennedy

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Hugh Downs on RFK's appearance on The Tonight Show after JFK's assassination
00:54
Hugh Downs on RFK discussing Jimmy Hoffa on The Tonight Show
00:54

Martin Luther King, Jr.

View Person Page
Hugh Downs on interviewing Martin Luther King, Jr.
00:57

Jack Lescoulie

View Person Page
Hugh Downs on working with Jack Lescoulie
00:49

Elaine May

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Hugh Downs on memorable guests on The Tonight Show while he was announcer - Mike Nichols and Elaine May
00:19

Ed McMahon

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Hugh Downs on working with Ed McMahon
00:21

Al Morgan

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Hugh Downs on working with producer Al Morgan
01:14

Mike Nichols

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Hugh Downs on memorable guests on The Tonight Show while he was announcer - Mike Nichols and Elaine May
00:19

Jack Paar

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Hugh Downs on his role on The Tonight Show with Jack Paar; on Paar's wit
05:46
Announcer Hugh Downs on Jack Paar's famous walk out on The Tonight Show on February 11, 1960
09:38
Hugh Downs on differences between Steve Allen and Jack Paar on The Tonight Show
00:44
Hugh Downs on working with Jack Paar on The Tonight Show; on Paar's nervousness
02:39
Hugh Downs on Jack Paar's strengths and weaknesses; on his interviewing skills and his ability to discover new talent
08:35
Hugh Downs on politicians appearing on The Tonight Show
05:18
Hugh Downs on working with Jack Paar
00:24

Geraldo Rivera

View Interview Page
Hugh Downs on Geraldo Rivera's work on 20/20 and after; on why Geraldo left the show
03:10

David Sarnoff

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Hugh Downs on David Sarnoff's view of competition and Sarnoff's interest in broadcasting
02:42
Hugh Downs on meeting David Sarnoff
00:39

Adlai Stevenson

View Person Page
Hugh Downs on interviewing then-United Nations Ambassador Adlai Stevenson
02:00

Burr Tillstrom

View Person Page
Hugh Downs on Burr Tillstrom's ad-libbing on Kukla, Fran & Ollie
01:45
Hugh Downs on Kukla, Fran & Ollie creator Burr Tillstrom doing portable puppet shows and his celebrity
02:37

Barbara Walters

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Hugh Downs on "The Today Girl" on Today and bringing Barbara Walters on-screen
02:05
Hugh Downs on his working relationship with Barbara Walters; on her success
03:28

Sylvester L. Weaver

View Person Page
Hugh Downs on NBC's Pat Weaver and his television innovations
03:41

Av Westin

View Interview Page
Hugh Downs on working with producer Av Westin
01:11

Frank Lloyd Wright

View Person Page
Hugh Downs on interviewing Frank Lloyd Wright and what he learned about interviewing
01:27

All Interviews

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