In “Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues,” opening Wednesday, the arrogant journalist is recruited to join a 24-hour cable news network during the early 1980s. The plot centers around how he and his team — suave reporter Brian Fantana (Paul Rudd), clueless weatherman Brick Tamland (Steve Carell) and sports yahoo Champ Kind (David Koechner) — battle a rival anchor (James Marsden) and try to earn big ratings.
And, like the original 2004 film, this sequel expertly spoofs the perception that anchors are hollow shells with sparkling teeth. “I’m going to do the thing that God put Ron Burgundy on this earth to do,” the character says. “Have salon-quality hair and read the news.”
The movie also sends up the boozing, racism and sexism that were, it turns out, rampant in the biz during the 1970s and ’80s. (As when Burgundy can’t stop blurting out “black” when he meets his African-American boss, played by Meagan Good.)
The New York Post asked a few longtime on-air personalities — some national, some local — for their take. (Among them: Mort Crim, who, at least in part, inspired star Will Ferrell to create Burgundy.) Their memories are shocking . . . and shockingly hilarious. Fisticuffs! Backstabbers! And Sue Simmons flashing her ta-tas? Stay classy, news world.
“Every part of [Ron Burgundy] depicts the quintessential anchorman. Every single one [I worked with], with the exception of one, [was] just like Ron Burgundy. They were egotistical, they loved to hear the sound of their own voices. They hogged air time when it came time to ad lib.
Sexism was rampant. You want examples? Do you have a year? For example, [the typical male anchor] had to say ‘Good evening’ and ‘Good night.’ He had to start the program and every single time out of a commercial. [Women] were not allowed. It’s almost as if she could not speak until spoken to. Oftentimes, that was legislated in [the man’s] contract.
They should all go to homes for old anchorpeople, where all day long they can practice [saying], ‘Good evening.’ I worked with an anchorman in Washington, DC, and he would literally sit in his office and go,
‘[Loudly clears throat] Good evening.[Loudly clears throat again] Good evening.’
The network anchors had entourages. These were minions who’d travel with them. There was the makeup person, the hair person, the person who carried their bag. Then a producer, a researcher. Honestly, I would show up by myself. If we were going to the Middle East, I’d just show up and do my thing. We’d all be side by side. There would be a platform for all the major networks, so we could see who was bringing an entourage. It was pretty comical.”
“The movie is a great send-up. I think it’s mostly a farce. My experience with so-called pretty boy anchormen is that they were great writers [of their own scripts].
I will tell you, though, about one unnamed anchorperson I worked with. I walked into his office one day, and there was a list of New Year’s resolutions on his wall. Stay 175 pounds forever, jog a couple miles a day.
The last thing on his list was, ‘Stay on top of current events.’ I thought that was part of the job description.
I’m not saying I’ve worked with Ted Baxter [Ted Knight’s legendary blowhard character from ‘The Mary Tyler Moore Show’], but there are times when elements may creep in. But none of the anchors I worked with in New York fit that bill.
I mean, my goodness, before I got to Channel 4, [anchor] Sue Simmons would turn around and flash Marv Albert while he was doing sports. It wasn’t a boys’ club.”
“I thought in the first movie that they modeled the [Paul Rudd] character [Brian Fantana] after me. He’s a ladies man with long hair, mustache, bell bottoms, platform shoes. What the film captures wonderfully is these burlesque aspects of the we’re-all-in-this-together, local-news-team-as-family, where the anchormen are the surrogate parents and there’s one of each kind of character in the team.
At [WABC in 1970], I was the Puerto Rican — and there was the Jewish one, the fat one, the tall one, the skinny one and the black one, and we’d do commercials. They’re classics now. In one, I bring [anchors] Roger Grimsby and Bill Beutel and [weatherman] Tex Antoine and [sportscaster] Frank Gifford to a Puerto Rican wedding. ‘Eh, hombres, here’s my family.’ At least in the promotional aspect, it was a bridge too far.
[WABC producer] Al Primo was the architect of [the news team as family]. People forget how segregated the news businessbwas. Primo’s genius was to say that the news team should be a reasonable reflection of
the audience we’re looking to serve, in terms of ethnicity and race and age and all the rest of it.
Back in the ’70s and ’80s, it was a wild time. In terms of [hitting on] interns, there was a free-fire zone. Hard drinking was still the mark of a man. Roger used to go to a pub on Columbus Avenue and have three, four, five drinks between the six o’clock news and the 11 o’clock news.
Roger and I had at least two brawls. I remember one time he insinuated [off air] that Johnny Mathis was gay. I was doing a report on Mathis returning to New York, and Roger intimated very strongly that Johnny was gay. It really threw me off and I got mad and punched him.
It was quite a time. More of a Wild West. It was a miracle that we didn’t get in more trouble than we did. On the other hand, [the reporting] was a lot more spontaneous, vivid and real than the live shots are today.”
“The movie is ridiculously over the top, but it is absolutely art imitating life. Back then, [male anchors] were sexist, racist, unapologetically pompous and arrogant.
I came to New York [from Sacramento in 1975]. I was hired with a blond guy named Peter Bannon. They called us Ken and Barbie. Everyone in the newsroom hated us. They’d write stories with complicated sentences or tongue-twisters, and all the writers and everybody would get on the set and wait to see if I stumbled. Everything you see on the screen [in ‘Anchorman’], I’m telling you, it happened in real life.
I’d been at WABC for a year when Barbara Walters came over [in 1976 to become the first female network anchor]. [ABC political reporter] Sam Donaldson was famous for walking the halls and yelling, ‘The women are coming!’
Half the time Roger [Grimsby] threw to you, he did it with some super sarcastic remark. He called [gossip reporter] Rona Barrett ‘Rona Rooter’ on the air. One night he did a story about garbage pick-up in the city.
When he was done, he turned to Rona and said, ‘And speaking of garbage. . . ’ He was allowed to do that.
That first night when Barbara did the [national] news with Harry Reasoner, [WABC co-anchor] Bill Beutel called in sick and the news director said I’d be filling in [alongside Grimsby on the local newscast].
Now here I show up next to Grimsby on the set on the same night Barbara Walters was anchoring the [national] news for the first time, and he was so upset. He looked at me and said, ‘You don’t deserve to be here. You didn’t go to the school of hard knocks.’ He started the show, finished his first story, then turned to me and said, ‘Barbara?’ At first, I thought he was senile. But he did it again and again. All the male reporters threw back to me as ‘Barbara.’ And no news director stopped them.
When I started at ‘Good Morning America,’ no one told me it was written into [host] David Hartman’s contract that no one was allowed to be called a co-host. All the major magazines came to do stories on me. They’d ask me how it was to co-host the show, and I’d answer. All of a sudden I got a knock at my door, and the producer said, ‘You can’t call yourself a co-host. You can say you’re an in-studio interviewer.’ That’s what it was like.”
“I saw the first movie. I thought it was hilarious. Will was looking at a documentary [about Crim’s co-anchor, Jessica Savitch, one of the country’s first female anchors] I was interviewed in, and I think he saw some of the comments I made about the adjustment period when Jessica [first started at a Philly station in 1974].
I don’t think we were chauvinist [to Savitch] in a traditional sense. The biggest resistance that we had was this was a 25-year-old novice with limited experience who was being brought in and put in the anchor’s chair because, in our view at that time, she was attractive. She proved herself to be a very good journalist. In the end, we all became tight friends.
Obviously ‘Anchorman’ takes a little grain of truth and puts it under the microscope of satire. I understand that, and I was not offended in the least [by Ron Burgundy]. I’ve been in the business long enough to know you have to have a thick skin.
I regret the clothes. I wore leisure suits. Synthetic fabrics, polyester. I wore one lime-green suit on the air. Today, it’s hilarious, but at the time, that’s what people were wearing. That part of the Ron Burgundy movies is true, I guess.
I’ve never met Will, but I got an e-mail from his agent asking for an autographed picture. I pulled one out of my desk and signed it, ‘Will, you’ve almost got it. Just a little more authenticity. Your friend, the real Anchorman, Mort Crim.’ Will has it hanging in his office.
My wife and I are both going to the premiere. Will says he’s going to give me a big fat kiss on the lips when he meets me. I think I’ll put my wife between me and him.”