Local news iconoclast Al Primo, who launched the Eyewitness News branding at several major stations, died September 29. The cause was lung cancer and he was 87.
Primo's influences on local news include having reporters report from the field, local newscasts' two-anchor setup and on-air banter between anchors and reporters.
"In a format that he developed in Philadelphia, brought to New York City and then helped spread nationwide, Mr. Primo strove to make his news teams seem like on-air families that viewers could relate to at 6 and 11 o'clock," the New York Times said. (opens in new tab) "He did away with the staid, usually white anchorman delivering the news and switched to two anchors, often a man and a woman.
"He sent reporters into the field (after learning that he did not have to pay them extra if they left their newsroom desks) and assigned them to beats, as newspapers do."
The NY Times also noted Primo pushing reporters and anchors to discuss a story on air after the report, which some detractors refer to as "happy talk."
Eyewitness News went on the air on WABC New York in late 1968, and the station catapulted from last to first in New York, said the NY Times, within two years.
Primo was born in Pittsburgh in 1935. He attended the University of Pittsburgh and worked in the mailroom at WDTV Pittsburgh while in college, and later was assistant to the general manager. After graduating, he became the assistant news director at the station, which had become KDKA.
Primo launched the Eyewitness News brand at KYW Philadelphia in 1965. After running news at WABC, he was head of ABC's owned stations.
Primo later was executive producer of The Reasoner Report, which ran from 1973 to 1975.
He then was a consultant, and launched syndicated Teen Kids News in 2003. “I like to say it's Eyewitness News with teenagers,” Primo told B+C.
Primo wrote the memoir Eyewitness Newsman. He lived in Greenwich, Connecticut. ■
Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.
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