The Archive of American Television is sad to report that former NBC executive Julian Goodman, died Monday, July 2nd, at the age of 90. In 1998, the Archive interviewed him for nearly three-and-a-half hours at his home in Jupiter, FL. During that interview Goodman discussed his years as president of NBC. In addition, he talked about his start at NBC News, when he was a news writer for David Brinkley in 1945. Mr. Goodman also detailed the network’s coverage of important news events including President John F. Kennedy’s assassination, the Civil Rights Movement, and the Vietnam War.
Here are some excerpts from the interview:
On producing the second of the 1960 Nixon-Kennedy debates
We had always sought to get the presidential candidates to debate. And the Convention of 1960, as soon as the candidates had been selected, Bob Sarnoff and Bob Kintner and Bill McAndrew and I sat in a hotel room in Chicago and composed a telegram to the two candidates, urging them to do this. I guess the other networks were doing the same thing at the same time. I know that the candidates themselves had probably been thinking about it long before we were, probably. So, reluctantly, they agreed upon the debates. And they certainly were historic and they certainly were influential in the outcome of the election. The debates have changed a great deal since then, if indeed they have been debates. But the ones we had then were the real thing. They may have changed the course of history because they were on television. People got a chance to see the candidates and a chance to choose for themselves which man they wanted to lead them. Yet it’s difficult that the mechanics and the cosmetics of the situation have blurred over the years who was the best man for the job. Because the final vote was less than half a million. Television did play a very important part in making the decision, or allowing the American people to make the decision for themselves.
On covering the President John F. Kennedy’s Assassination and Funeral (including the capturing of John-John’s famous salute)
Someone leaned over to me and whispered, “I’ve heard on WNEW Kennedy has been shot.” I got up without excusing myself and went to the headquarters, BOC, Broadcast Operations Center, of NBC. It was on the 5th floor, one floor down. And that’s where everything took place when we had an emergency. It was a room about the size of a current sports utility vehicle. We crowded at least 6 or 8 people into it. We were separated by a glass partition. And William Ryan, a correspondent, very good one, for NBC News, walked in about that time and I said, “Go and get on-camera.” And he said, “What’ll I say?” I had a UP flash in my hand that said,” Flash, Dallas – President Kennedy has been shot.” And he said, “what’ll I say? I can’t go on with that.” I said read it forwards. And then read it backwards. And then read it halfway and then read the other half. And by that time you’ll have more to say. And he read it. He did a really very good job. And a young man in the front part of this Broadcast Operations Center turned around and said to me rather petulantly, “When are we going back to local programming?” And I said, “son, why don’t you go home? We’re not ever going back to local programming.”
While we didn’t have a correspondent on the air from Dallas at that time, we followed the story from that moment on, until the following Monday night, after the Kennedy funeral. Without ever leaving the air. Without commercials. There were many people afterward were asking me, quite a number of times, how long did it take you to decide not to do any commercials? How big was the fight about not doing commercials? There was never even any discussion of it. Kintner just said, we’ll drop the commercials. That’s all there was to it. But, to the best of my knowledge, I didn’t sleep during those days, from that time Friday until the following Monday. I flew to Washington at one point, when Kennedy was in-State at the Rotunda, It was midnight. There was some discussion, somebody said, “there’s nothing going on. Shall we go off the air?” Edwin Newman was at the Capital Rotunda. I said, “No. Stay on the air all night, but don’t have anybody talk. Just show the people passing the casket.” It was a very effective way of doing it.
The coverage was a voluntary instantaneous work of art by everybody involved in it at NBC. From the time it started until the time it finished. In the course other coverage, particularly of the funeral cortege, and in Washington, there was a moment when there occurred a shot that I’ve always regarded as the greatest shot I’ve ever seen on television. It was caused by, directed by, set up by Charles Jones, who was one of our directors in Washington, he was working for the pool, and he set up a camera at a low point, so he could get the upward shot of the people coming out of the church, when Mrs. Kennedy came out. When young John-John came out and saluted, I still think it’s the best single, most impressive, most dramatic television shot in the history of television.
On the infamous 1968 NBC “Heidi” incident where a Jets v. Raiders game was pre-empted
It was November 17th, 1968. I was at my house in Larchmont, New York. The NBC Press Department was at a meeting with the press in Miami. At a cocktail party. I was watching the television and there was a football game on. The football game went off and Heidi came on and I said, “What?” But I thought no more of that. Until the phone began to ring. And until neighbors began to appear at our door. What had happened was, that Heidi, a children’s program sponsored by Hallmark, was scheduled to go on the air at I believe 6 p.m. Somebody who later admitted it to me, but whom I won’t name, had left a memorandum with Broadcast Operations Control. A man name Dick Cline, touched the fatal button and when 6 o’clock came – the memo said ‘Under no circumstances will the football game run past 6 o’clock. Heidi must go on at 6. We have committed to the advertiser.” Well, I didn’t know that it had happened. I don’t know any other people who knew it had happened. But at 6 o’clock, certainly, the game seemed to be under control at that time. But two more touchdowns were scored, the whole outcome of the game was reversed. We had bomb threats the next day. And people still remember it to this day.
On his most important achievements at NBC
The coupling of David Brinkley with Chet Huntley was the most important decision that I made. If that’s the only one I have to make. Something we haven’t mentioned: When I was at NBC News, Kintner and McAndrew and I were coming out of the White House after a meeting with Pierre Salinger. We had just lost the NCAA Finals. The NCAA contract, the yearly contract for football, college football on television to ABC. And instead of talking about what Pierre Salinger wanted us to talk about, when we got back to the hotel room at the Mayflower Kintner said, what are we going to do about football? And I gave him a plan. Which eventually we developed and which is working pretty well even today. That plan was to take the American Football League, which was then at ABC, getting $150,000 per game for what they did, and let us offer them a 10-year contract. Give them more money than they were worth to allow them to pay their football players so they could become competitive with the NFL. We got a 5-year contract. We paid them $800,000 per game per week as against ABC’s $150,000. Sonny Werblin, owner of the New York Jets, hired Joe Namath to be the quarterback, with the money we gave him. Some of the owners put the money in their pocket. Others made their teams competitive. As a result, Pete Rozelle created the Super Bowl. The American Football League is now competitive with the NFL. That was probably the most important decision. Aside from picking David Brinkley.
On the public’s perception of news integrity
The public’s acceptance of news integrity since I started, has gone up and down like a chart of the Dow Jones Industrials. Namely though, it has, like the Dow Jones Industrials, ended “up”. I think the public, although it hates some things it hears and sees on television, likes having it there and would be very sorry not to have it. That’s what I tried to fight all the time I was an executive in television. And that is, the eagerness that politicians have to hamstring us, to harass us, to keep us from doing what we would like to do. And that is to be fair. To be equitable. To be even-handed. To be thorough with all the news that we cover. I’ve made in speeches, a reference to the fact that as each new day begins, the pages of a newspaper are totally blank. The screen on television is blank. And all day long, there are people fighting to change and shape and arrange in order, to their benefit, what goes on there. It is the purpose and the challenge of the newsperson responsible to make sure that what goes on is fair and not just what others want us to say.
On how he would like to be remembered
As everybody would like to be remembered. Well and favorably. He did a good job. He did the best he could.
The entire interview can be viewed at http://emmytvlegends.org/interviews/people/julian-goodman