LA Anchorman Hal Fishman Dies
The newsman made an appearance in 'Spider-Man 3'
Fishman died at 3 a.m. at his home with his family, the station said. He was hospitalized with a serious infection after collapsing at his home Wednesday. On Friday, the station announced that he had been diagnosed with colon cancer and that the disease had spread to his liver.
A broadcaster who began his television career in Los Angeles in 1960, Fishman had anchored his station's popular 10 p.m. newscast — "KTLA Prime News" — since 1975.
He covered major news stories in Southern California, including the Watts riots, the assassination of Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, the Sylmar and Northridge earthquakes and the Rodney G. King beating case. A onetime assistant professor of political science, he also served as the newscast's managing editor and commentator.
Fishman anchored his last broadcast on July 30.
"I think Hal is one of the last newsmen in this country that is extremely well-read and is so interested in informing the public about the truth," Rich Goldner, interim KTLA news director, told The Times on Friday. "He has been an anchor in this market for such a long time because he is so believable and has extreme integrity. He had a bond with the viewers and means so much to Southern California."
Former longtime KTLA news director Jeff Wald said Fishman was "certainly the dean of Los Angeles television news."
"My joke about him is he's a walking encyclopedia," Wald told The Times on Friday. "I've never met anybody who was as close to genius as the word can be. He has almost a photographic mind in that everything he's read — and he's a voracious reader — he remembers."
Fishman, Wald said some years ago, "knows the material better than what is written in his copy or what comes in on the wires. That's no slap to the writers, but he is so into his job, he can usually ad-lib better than what the writers can write for him."
Fishman's hospitalization spurred an outpouring of get-well wishes from viewers on the website of KTLA, which like The Times is owned by Chicago-based Tribune Co. E-mail missives praised the veteran anchor for his "honesty," "sagacity" and "responsible journalism."
"Get well soon, Hal," said a message from a woman named Dolores. "It just isn't the news without you. We love you."
"Came to L.A. in early 60s and u had just started at ktla," wrote another e-mailer. "Wow. U have outlasted 3 of my wives."
Fishman, who spent his entire 47-year news career at independent TV stations in Los Angeles, has often been referred to as being among the longest-running news anchors in the nation — if not the longest-running.
At a gala celebrating KTLA's 60th anniversary at the Autry National Center on July 31, Fishman was honored for his years in television news and presented with a certificate from Guinness World Records proclaiming his durability in anchoring television news without interruption from June 20, 1960, until the present.
"When I think of the hundreds of anchors who have come and gone over the last 30 years — many of them better-looking and better-coifed than I ever was ... there was one area that they were not better, and that is in being dedicated to being informed. And I think the audience perceives that," Fishman told The Times in 1990.
"I am not a charismatic broadcaster or a dramatic guy," he said, "but I think I am a person that people can trust to give them a straightforward and accurate account of what's going on in the world. I think that's why I have lasted so long."
Born in Brooklyn on Aug. 25, 1931, Fishman earned his bachelor's degree at Cornell University (where he also worked on the campus radio station) and his master's degree in political science at UCLA.
He was an assistant professor of political science at Cal State L.A. in 1960 when KCOP-TV Channel 13 invited him to teach an on-air class in politics — "American Political Parties and Politics" — during the summer the Democratic National Convention was being held in Los Angeles.
In a 2006 interview with Broadcasting & Cable magazine, Fishman recalled the first thing he ever said on television: "Good afternoon, I'm professor Hal Fishman, and this course is certainly quite unique for me, because it's the first course that I have ever taught where the student can turn the professor off."
Fishman did so well that he was asked to stay at the station and provide political commentary.
"What I didn't know was that the course was getting a rating," Fishman told The Times in 1995. "I didn't know from ratings in those days. I ad-libbed everything. I interviewed the Kennedys — JFK, Bobby, Teddy. When the course was over, I went to say goodbye to the general manager, and he said: 'How'd you like to come on our news? Do your thing for two, three minutes. Do anything you'd like.' So that's how it started."
As Fishman told The Times in 1985, "I decided I could reach more people in one broadcast than I could teach in a lifetime."
In 1965, Fishman moved to KTLA-TV, where he contributed to the station's Emmy- and Peabody Award-winning coverage of the Watts riots. He moved to KTTV-TV Channel 11 in 1970, returned to KTLA in 1971 and moved to KHJ-TV (now KCAL-TV) Channel 9 in 1973 before returning to KTLA in 1975.
Fishman told The Times in 1990 that he "always looked at broadcasting as a continuation of my teaching."
After Iraqi troops invaded Kuwait that year, he set a Michelin road map of the Middle East desert on an easel and used a pointer to illustrate for viewers the route that buses packed with U.S. and British women and children would have to travel to escape Kuwait City.
Fishman thought his study of political science and history was far more valuable to him as a newscaster than formal journalism training would have been.
"When I was a professor," he said in the 1985 Times interview, "I used to tell my students, 'You can't have a properly functioning democracy without an enlightened electorate.' It's our job as newscasters to enlighten the electorate. We are the conduits of information."
A longtime aviation buff and pilot who held numerous world aviation records for speed and altitude, Fishman sometimes covered news stories from his own airplane.
Among his many honors was the prestigious Governors Award from the Los Angeles Academy of Television Arts and Sciences in 1987.
In 2002, the Associated Press Television-Radio Assn. gave him its first Lifetime Achievement Award, as well as naming him "Best News Anchor" for the third consecutive year. And in 2004 and 2005, the Southern California Radio and Television News Assn. honored Fishman for best news commentary.
He received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1992 and in 2000 — his 40th anniversary in television news broadcasting — KTLA named its newsroom "The Hal Fishman Newsroom" in recognition to his service to the station and the community.
Like many Los Angeles TV newspeople, Fishman appeared as a newsman in a number of movies, including "Joe Dirt" and "Crocodile Dundee in Los Angeles." He also co-wrote two novels with Barry Schiff: "Flight 902 Is Down!" and "The Vatican Target."
Fishman is survived by his wife, Nolie, and a son, David.