The Huntley-Brinkley Report in June, 1963: David Brinkley (on screen), Chet Huntley (standing)
|Directed by||Norman Cook
|Presented by||Chet Huntley in New York City
David Brinkley in Washington
|Theme music composer||Ludwig van Beethoven|
|Ending theme||Symphony No. 9 in D Minor, Op. 125, second movement|
|Country of origin||United States|
|No. of episodes||3,590|
|Executive producer(s)||Wallace Westfeldt|
|Running time||15 minutes (1956-1963)
30 minutes (1963-1970)
|Picture format||525 line b&w (1956-1965)
NTSC color (1965-1970)
|Original run||October 29, 1956 – July 31, 1970|
|Preceded by||Camel News Caravan|
|Followed by||NBC Nightly News|
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 program ran for 15 minutes at its inception but expanded to 30 minutes on September 9, 1963, exactly a week after CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite did so. It was developed and produced initially by Reuven Frank. Frank left the program in 1962 to produce documentaries (Eliot Frankel replaced him) but returned to the program the following year when it expanded to 30 minutes. He was succeeded as executive producer in 1965 by Robert "Shad" Northshield and in 1969 by Wallace Westfeldt.
By 1956, NBC executives had grown dissatisfied with Swayze in his role anchoring the network's evening news program, which fell behind its main competition, CBS's Douglas Edwards with the News, in 1955. Network executive Ben Park suggested replacing Swayze with Chet Huntley and David Brinkley, who had garnered favorable attention anchoring NBC's coverage of the national political conventions that summer. Bill McAndrew, NBC's director of news (later NBC News president), had seen a highly rated local news program on NBC affiliate WSAZ-TV in Huntington, West Virginia, with two anchors reporting from different cities. He replaced Camel News Caravan with the Huntley-Brinkley Report, which premiered on October 29, 1956, with Huntley in New York and Brinkley in Washington. Producer Reuven Frank, who had advocated pairing Huntley and Brinkley for the convention coverage, thought using two anchors on a regular news program "was one of the dumber ideas I had ever heard." Nonetheless, on the day of the new program's first broadcast, Frank authored the program's closing line, "Good night, Chet. Good night, David. And good night, for NBC News." This exchange became one of television's most famous catchphrases even though both Huntley and Brinkley initially disliked it.
Huntley handled the bulk of the news most nights, with Brinkley specializing in Washington-area news (i.e., the White House, U.S. Congress, the Pentagon). (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. When only Huntley or Brinkley was on the program, that one would merely say "Good night for NBC News".) The closing credits 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 lost audience from Swayze's program, and President Dwight D. Eisenhower let it be known that he was displeased by the switch. In the summer of 1957, the program had no advertisers. As its content improved, though, it began attracting critical praise and a larger audience, and by 1958, it had pulled even with CBS's program. The program received a big boost when, in June 1958, Texaco began purchasing all of its advertising, an arrangement that continued for three years.
Critics considered Huntley to possess one of the best broadcast voices ever heard, and Brinkley's dry, often witty, newswriting presented viewers a contrast to the often sober output from CBS News. The program received a Peabody Award in 1958 for "Outstanding Achievement in News," the awards committee noting that the anchors had "developed a mature and intelligent treatment of the news that has become a welcome and refreshing institution for millions of viewers." The program received the award again two years later in the same category, the committee concluding that Huntley and Brinkley had "dominated the news division of television so completely in the past year that it would be unthinkable to present a Peabody Award in that category to anybody else."  By that time, the program had surpassed CBS's evening news program, Douglas Edwards with the News, in ratings and maintained higher viewership levels for much of the 1960s, even after Walter Cronkite took over CBS's competing program (initially named Walter Cronkite with the News in 1962 and renamed the CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite in 1963). It received eight Emmy Awards in its 14-year run.
Huntley and Brinkley conveyed a strong chemistry, and a survey for NBC later found that viewers liked that the anchors talked to each other. In fact, aside from their sign-off, Huntley and Brinkley's only communication came when one anchor finished a story and handed off to the other by saying the other's name, a signal to an AT&T technician to switch the long-distance transmission lines from New York to Washington or vice versa. The anchors gained great celebrity, and surveys showed them better known than John Wayne, Cary Grant, Jimmy Stewart, or the Beatles. In 1961, Frank Sinatra and Milton Berle entertained a crowd in Washington by singing, to the tune of "Love and Marriage," "Huntley,Brinkley/Huntley,Brinkley/One is glum, the other quite twinkly." The anchors appeared on the cover of Newsweek on March 13, 1961, with a similar tagline, "TV's Huntley and Brinkley: One is Solemn, the Other Twinkly." 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...
Entertainer Sammy Davis Jr. was shown in a 1964 photograph watching the Huntley-Brinkley Report on a television backstage in his dressing room in Life magazine, who quoted him saying, "My only contact with reality. Whatever I'm doing, I stop to watch these guys."
By 1965, the program brought in more advertising revenue than any other on television. On November 15 of that year, The Huntley-Brinkley Report became the first weekday network evening news program broadcast in color. The network's weekend programs, Saturday's Scherer-MacNeil Report and Sunday's Frank McGee Report, were also broadcast in color at that time.
The program's ratings slipped late in the decade as CBS's Walter Cronkite gained fame for his coverage of the space program, a field in which neither Huntley nor Brinkley had much interest (although Huntley and Brinkley occasionally participated in space coverage, another NBC newsman, Frank McGee, was prime anchor of NBC's space coverage with Huntley or Brinkley occasionally reporting a launch from Cape Canaveral or "minding the store" in New York while McGee was at the Cape). 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 political conventions, election nights, or a few other events.
Saturday evening broadcasts
For most of its run, The Huntley-Brinkley Report aired only Monday through Friday, but in January 1969, the network expanded it to Saturday evenings, with Huntley and Brinkley working solo on alternating weeks, although sometimes, the other would be seen in a taped essay or commentary recorded on Friday. On July 19, 1969, during the Apollo 11 mission, both co-anchored live (Huntley and Brinkley were commentators during NBC's coverage of the historic moon landing, again with McGee as anchor). After the Saturday edition failed to garner sufficient ratings to justify two anchors, veteran correspondent Frank McGee took over as anchor, with Sander Vanocur substituting, although the broadcast kept the HBR name. The Frank McGee Report, a documentary program not tied to the day's news, aired on Sundays in the time slot.
Huntley and Brinkley's final newscast
On February 16, 1970, NBC announced that Huntley would retire later that year. Huntley and Brinkley concluded their final newscast together on July 31, 1970, with the following parting words:
- Chet Huntley: And so, this difficult moment is here. In leaving this post after almost 14 years, I recommend 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, all of it, 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 had 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 mild 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 that 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 the NBC Nightly News. Huntley died in 1974. Brinkley worked as co-anchor or commentator on Nightly News until 1981 when he departed for ABC News and its new weekly Sunday morning news program This Week. He died in 2003.
- Inline citations
- Frank 1991, pp. 178–182
- Whitworth, William (1968-08-03). "An Accident of Casting". The New Yorker.
- Caudell, Robin (2008-07-30). "Time on his side". PressRepublican.com. Retrieved 2009-07-04.
- Matusow 1983, p. 69
- Frank 1991, p. 110
- Murray, Michael D. (1999). Encyclopedia of Television News. Oryx Press. p. 32.
- Matusow 1983, pp. 73–76
- Frank 1991, p. 121
- "Peabody Awards, The Huntley Brinkley Report 1958.". Peabody.uga.edu. Retrieved 2012-04-24.
- "Peabody Awards, The Texaco Huntley-Brinkley Report 1960". Peabody.uga.edu. Retrieved 2012-04-24.
- Frank 1991, pp. 111–112
- Shapiro, Walter (June 12, 2003). "Twinkley' Brinkley a sad loss for news, politics". USA Today.
- "The Rat Pack: Unpublished Photos of Frank, Dean and Sammy". Life.Time.com. June 1, 2013.
- "Huntley-Brinkley's Chunk of Crinkly," TIME (1965-04-02).
- Frank, Reuven (1991). "Out of Thin Air: The Brief Wonderful Life of Network News". New York (Simon & Schuster).
- Matusow, Barbara (1983). The Evening Stars: The Making of the Network News Anchor. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company.
- Johnston, Lyle, Good Night, Chet: A Biography of Chet Huntley, Jefferson, NC., McFarland Publishers, 2003.