Sunday, March 11, 2012

#SaveSueSimmons: A Real New York Story

Lloyd Boston, the style guy on the Today Show, summed up the Sue Simmons "how can she be fired?" phenomenon for a generation:

I am in shock! Besides TVPIX, THIS woman practically raised me from the tube every day after school.

The seventies and early eighties were simpler times. There were no personal computers, so unless you went to the mall for a video arcade, there was no way to waste endless hours virtually. There were of course after school sports, and clubs, and the time honored just hanging out with your friends. But a generation of New York kids came home to a handful of things that unite us still: The 4:30 Movie on ABC; cartoons or syndicated shows (like F-Troop !) on WPIX; and NBC's Live at 5, when in began in 1980, with Sue Simmons,

Everyone is covering this big local story: Village Voice, HuffPo, The Root, Baltimore Sun, NYTimes, from many angles, including the question of why does the 68 year old Chuck Scarborough get to stay but the 68 year old Simmons is let go.

But my favorite article is in The Gothamist because of this user comment:

The late television critic Marvin Kitman always used to note how she only had a high school diploma. He also said she had a benefactor there who watched out for her all those years. Maybe that guy is gone now.

Marvin Kitman. The television critic for Newsday for 35 years beginning in 1969. I have not thought about him for decades, but he was the first "columnist" I read as a teen. He was funny, in an over-the-top blustery kind of way. And one thing that he was known for was his impassioned dislike of Sue Simmons.

I couldn't find any of these Newsday articles on line, but he was relentless, FOR YEARS, with entire snide columns devoted to how inept she was, how she stumbled constantly over any word over two syllables, how she came across as empty-headed, barely able to comprehend what she was misreading.

Now for the Twists

Marvin Kitman isn't dead. I guess TV critics should have their own Dead or Alive site. He left Newsday in 2005, and wrote a book about Bill O'Reilly in 2007.

But what's more amazing than not being dead is that he came to Sue Simmons's defense in 2008 when she had her mouth malfunction in a live promo, when she thought her mic was off and the wrong footage was running under her lines.

I didn't see it at time. I too thought Kitman had died a while ago.

But I found this piece Kitman wrote for HuffPo in 2008 when I was searching about last week's events:

"Only two weeks ago, Sue Simmons, the veteran WNBC/4 anchor, uttered an F -word that was heard around the world. And today her penalty has shocked the world of TV journalism even more.

Instead of being fired, suspended, hung by the thumbs, forced to wash her mouth out with a sponsor's soap on air, whatever punishment fits the crime, the management of the flagship station of the NBC network gave its sinner a big fat promotion. She is being moved from the Siberia of local news -- the five o'clock news show -- to co-anchor of the 6 PM broadcast with Chuck Scarborough, the Cadillac of Big Apple newscasts.

Holy s---, advocates of morality in broadcasting might argue. What the f--- is going on here?

The New York Post, in effect, alleged she was under the influence while reading the TelePrompTer ("SILLY SUE A SALTY SWILLER").

An equally incensed Daily News wondered if she shouldn't be suspended or fired for her use of the F-word, even began a poll to settle the issue.

I thought it was terrible the way the press was going after the Grande Dame of local news.

Secondly, Sue has a history of her mouth being an unlicensed weapon.

As a veteran watcher of Sue Simmons -actually I have a doctorate in Sue Simmons studies earned as the media critic at Newsday for 35 years -- I was once compiling a doctoral thesis on "The Wit and Wisdom of Sue Simmons."

I gradually realized that Sue's problem was not that English was a second language. She never did her homework. She was reading the stuff for the first time. "If she had to read it twice," a source explained, "she would lose her spontaneity."

Despite wiseass critics like me making fun of her, Sue has survived in a business where we will never forget what's-his- or her- name. What is the secret of her success?

First, she has improved with age. By that I mean, she has reduced her TPT Average to .987. Her percentage of reading errors is better than the fielding average of some Mets and Yankees infielders.

While she still has difficulty remembering names - who can forget the time she called Yankee manager Billy Martin Billie Holiday? -- and she still gets names twisted (Don't ask her to say "Meredith Baxter Birney" fast), Sue has retained a zany, unpredictable quality. It was hysterical the night (Jan.13, 2007) she tumbled off the anchor chair, feigning dozing in response to a Brian Williams scintillating commentary.

We in New York love Sue because she's a smart, sarcastic, sassy, funny chick, compared to the usual vapid, vain but gorgeous newsperson. She is the successful single older aunt who wisecracks her way through Thanksgiving and Passover dinners that everybody wishes they had. If she didn't exist, we would need to invent her.

So leave my Sue Simmons alone."

Seriously, has hell frozen over? From a home-town perspective this is a major reversal.

I'm not a follower of local news, per se. Simmon and Scarborough seem like the Abbott & Costello of NBC, in a good way. They should leave stay or leave the stage together.

The now request tumblr campaign to Save Sue.

And Marvin, please, no more reversals. We all need to count on some things remaining the same.

(Sue's groundhog picture/young picture from The Gothamist.)


VP81955 said...

I suppose Sue Simmons is the TV news equivalent of what Phil Rizzuto was on Yankees broadcasts -- the slightly daffy aunt or uncle who's nevertheless endearing because of that daffiness.