After Being on Top, Jim Hill Finds It’s Tough to Stay There
It wasn’t that long ago that Jim Hill was the dominant sports anchor in Los Angeles.
His reign began in the late 1970s and continued through much of the ‘80s. He started the first Sunday night sports wrap- up show while at Channel 2, and continually drew solid ratings.
He did numerous specials, and some football play-by-play for the CBS network.
He was heavily promoted by Channel 2, and was involved in community functions.
He had a smile and a handshake for everyone. Nice guy, and popular.
But since switching from Channel 2 to Channel 7 in July of 1987 for $750,000 a year, or thereabouts, it seems Hill’s popularity has declined.
His ratings don’t look good. For the first Sunday of the February sweeps period, his late-night wrap-up show got only a 3.3. Channel 4’s show drew a 7.3, Channel 2’s a 5.8.
It should be noted that the ratings for the 11 o'clock news shows that night--11.4 for Channel 4, 8.7 for Channel 2 and 7.4 for Channel 7--affected the ratings for the sports wrap-up shows, but Hill’s had the biggest drop-off.
What has happened to Hill?
When he switched jobs, everything looked great.
Besides big money, he also got lots of promises. He would be heavily promoted, he would do a number of specials, as he had at Channel 2, and he would do high-profile work for the ABC network.
Few of those promises materialized, and the man who hired him, John Severino, is no longer Channel 7’s general manager. Severino left the station to become general manager at Prime Ticket.
Calls to Hill at Channel 7 were not returned, although one time he promised to call back after he finished editing a tape. He didn’t call back.
When he was on top, he was a favorite of Los Angeles broadcast columnists. But then he began getting burned by national writers, particularly for his work on ABC’s college football scoreboard show during the 1987 season.
He was not invited back for the 1988 season, and the network severed its ties with him.
What’s to blame for Hill’s demise?
Essentially, the sports broadcasting business, a changing one, has left Hill behind.
Off-beat, tightly edited video material, clever writing, and hard, issue-oriented interviews have taken over.
Hill still relies on straight highlights and soft, in-studio interviews.
Most of the time that Hill was at Channel 2, his chief competitors were Stu Nahan at Channel 4, who played it straight, and Ted Dawson at Channel 7, whose antics turned off many viewers.
Hill looked good on camera, his shows were well produced and his friendship with athletes gave him access to many of them for interviews.
He could show up right before air time--which he sometimes did--pick up the script, and come off looking good.
Since leaving Channel 2, however, his weaker areas--ad libbing, writing and interviewing--have been exposed.
His live interviews on Sunday nights don’t take much work. Just invite someone down to the studio, and presto, that takes care of almost half the show. No editing, no writing.
Al Joyner and wife Florence Griffith Joyner were the guests last Sunday, and a few weeks ago it was Bob Kersee and wife Jackie Joyner-Kersee.
The interviews are low-budget productions with little footage. When Thomas Hearns was on not long ago, the only clips shown were of last July’s Michael Nunn-Frank Tate fight.
He gets some big names, such as Eric Dickerson and Jim Brown, but the questions are generally soft. Dickerson and Brown together might have worked better.
He invited three players from the Carson High football team and Coach Gene Vollnogle into the studio after Carson won the City Section title. It was a noble gesture, but the interviews hardly made for provocative television.
As for Hill’s virtual disappearance from community activities, he has brought a lot of that on himself.
Hill has always had good intentions, since his image is very important to him, but stories of his unreliability have been circulating for years.
He used to give the Channel 2 promotions department fits. For instance, once he went out to speak to a high school graduating class and promised to return, bringing each of 500 or so students an autographed picture.
He demanded that the pictures be printed, then never followed through. The pictures remained in boxes.
Last summer, he was recruited by L.A. Games organizers to serve as chairman of the sports commission, and gladly agreed.
But he didn’t perform any of the duties that went along with the position, such as recruiting commissioners for individual sports, and didn’t even show up for the Games, as he promised. No call, no explanation.
As for Hill’s slide, you look for answers and wonder if his success as a broadcaster came too quickly. His pro football career ended in 1975, and he was working in the L.A. market the next year and headed for the top.
It was all so easy.
The Jim Hill story is a little bit sad for those who have known and liked him for years. But it shows that it’s often easier to get to the top than to stay there.
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