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Thursday, October 29, 2009

While I love every station that carries our show, WNET , Channel 13 in New York, which begins airing Life (Part 2) on Sunday, Nov. 1, at 3PM ET, has a special place on my dial.

Until I started hosting LP2, the most fun I ever had on air was on a show called The Eleventh Hour. It was on Channel 13 in 1989 and 1990. Great staff, engaged guests, important topics, new information.

What a thrill it's been to have all that evoked again. Talk about a second act!

Twenty-one years ago, while I was covering the Seoul Olympics for NBC News, I got a call from WNET. They had decided to start a nightly public affairs broadcast. It would be an intensely local show and they wanted a host with a local voice, someone who sounded like he was born in the Bronx, grew up in Queens, went to college in Manhattan, and raised his kids in New Jersey. Me. (As my friend Howard Cosell so often told me, affectionately I hope, I had a face for radio and a voice for print.)

I was thrilled, and if it hadn't been for the drug scandals and Greg Louganis' bloody high dive, it would have been impossible to keep my mind on the 1988 Games.

But then I got back to New York, and earth. No way out of my long-term contract with NBC. I went to see Tim Russert, then an NBC vice-president, and the network's rising star. This was the job I always wanted, I told him. A chance to do smart journalism in a place that could support and appreciate it.

Tim just gave me that grin. Go for it, he said. How could NBC sue you for going to PBS?  I've got your back. Just don't expect a goodbye party.

I've always been grateful to Tim, although it has occurred to me that maybe NBC wanted to get rid of me. And years later he told me he didn't actually have the authority to set me free. And there was a party.

I loved the Eleventh Hour, a nightly parade of engaged, passionate guests dealing with a city in crisis. There was a superb young staff.  We staged mayoral debates, we had everyone on from Trump to Tutu, and we even broke a story or two.

But after two seasons, Channel 13 decided to become more of a national presence. We were eventually replaced by a wider-ranging nightly talk show hosted by a national-sounding voice, a guy with a flower-sounding name, something like Charlie Tulip.

I wonder what happened to him. Maybe we could have him on our show someday and find out how his Life (Part 2) panned out.




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