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The Little Old Parade From Pasadena

Times Staff Writer

The Tournament of Roses Parade is television’s most covered parade, with ABC, CBS and NBC airing the event nationally, along with KTLA and KTTV locally. Times Staff Writer Steven Herbert talked with a sampling of the people working the parade on camera and behind the scenes about television and Pasadena’s 103rd floral spectacular.

Bob Eubanks, KTLA Rose Parade host since 1978

Will the various controversies over the parade, such as the selection of the grand marshal and having the queen selected by an all-male panel, have an impact on the parade itself New Year’s Day?

There’s always some form of controversy, but I don’t think it will have any effect on the parade. I’m very happy that they have the two grand marshals (after Native Americans protested the selection of a descendant of Christopher Columbus). I think that was a very wise decision to make.

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I think that the queen who was chosen is a delightful and very beautiful young lady. The bottom line is that this is the most beautiful parade in the world, and we need to take our hats off to the people who put it on. They do a great job.

How would you describe your style as a parade commentator?

Whereas the networks try to use their personalities to promote the shows that they have, Stephanie Edwards and I treat the parade as if it were a true event. We divide the parade up into mini-specials. Every float that comes down that boulevard, we could probably talk about for maybe 10 minutes.

Reviewers seemingly always want parade commentators to talk less and say they talk too much. How do you react to that?

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I happen to agree with that. You don’t have to say everything that you see. However, if you recall when (NBC) showed the NFL game (in 1980) without commentators, it was not successful.

It is our job to enhance the pictures. If we get in the way of the pictures, then we’re not doing our job. I try to disseminate information that I think would be interesting to the general populace that they would not know by just watching.

Bill Welsh, KTTV Rose Parade commentator who begin doing the parade 45 years ago for KTLA

From what I’ve read, in the past the parade was much less formal and you could go out and talk to people in the parade. Do you miss that?

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Oh yes. That was fun. I think I could probably climb up on the Queen’s float if they would stop it and let me do so, but that was one of those things when you’re doing the parade for the first time--how do you do it? Nobody knew because no one had done it before.

So here comes the queen. I think people would like to hear from her, so I flag down her float. The networks began to complain in the 1950s because they wanted to get out of there on time and go to their bowl games in the East and I wasn’t helping the parade get along.

As we see from ratings, people prefer to watch the parade on local stations rather than the networks. Why do you think that is?

We spend more time talking to people about things they want to hear about. Announcers on local stations aren’t plugging their upcoming TV series. There are no cutaways to go away to commercials.

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I used to hear that there was one orange juice that was (advertised) on one of the networks, and someone told me, “I’ll never drink it again. They took too much of the parade away from me.” In contrast to some of the Eastern announcers, we know how to pronounce the Spanish words out here like La Canada. It has been called La Canada (like the country) for the network audience.

Do you see that there is a rivalry between your station and KTLA?

It’s a friendly, but fierce rivalry. I’m good friends with a lot of people at KTLA, but I’m ready to challenge them as much as I can on New Year’s Day. I’m calling the next day to see what the ratings are and who won. I know it will be between the two of us and the networks will be trailing behind.

Beth Ruyak, rookie Rose Parade host for ABC (joining her “Home” co-host, Gary Collins)

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Have you ever seen a Rose Parade in person?

Never. Never in person, so I have to keep my wits about me, keep working and not just stare. I’m excited to smell the air that day. That’s the one time maybe we should have scratch and sniff television to appreciate the rich smell as well as the color and beauty of the parade.

What are some of your memories of the parade watching it on television growing up in Minnesota?

I don’t think there is a New Year’s Day without watching the Rose Parade and the football game. That was always a family event for us, the one day it was fine to stay glued to the television set from morning until afternoon. There would always be food and family rotating in and out of the room, but especially as children, to begin the day with the Rose Parade was the best part of that holiday.

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What is the whole day like for someone from the Midwest. It must be a different perspective than a Californian. It was probably always cold in Minneapolis, usually with snow on the ground. What was it like first watching the parade, and then the football game--where the Big Ten team would usually get beat up by a Southern California team?

That’s true. (Laughs) There is a spirit of enjoyment in Minnesota that is so intense that even if our team was we getting pounded, we still had the pride in them being there. We’re as aggressive at spectating as we are about tackling winter. So watching the parade, watching the game and some sort of outdoor recreation are all a part of the tradition.

How much preparation do you have to do for the parade?

It started in early November with us receiving information about the floats. Preparing for the parade is a very individual thing for me. I not only want to study the information about them, I want to tour them before the parade, I want to know the little things about each float and the history of the people who made that float happen. For me, it’s a lot of work, but more work makes you better prepared that day.

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Is there anything you’ve ever done that can compare to the Rose Parade?

I’ve been part of dozens and dozens of parades, but I don’t think any parade at all compares to what this will be or any event my family has been at or any New Year’s Day we’ve been at, just in its beauty, history and tradition. Controversy and all, it’s very rich in what our country and holidays are all about. I’m trying not to be overwhelmed by the fact that I am so proud that I’m doing the parade.

I can tell you honestly that I practically begged to do this. When I was with ABC Sports, I told them this is one thing that’s really important to me, that I really want to be able to do. I consider it a terrific opportunity to be a storyteller for a day, with this magnificent backdrop of floats as my picture book.

Why did you want this assignment so much?

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There’s a homeyness, an intimate connection that I had in Minnesota and I’m sure people in the rest of the country have to it, to be able to connect with an event like that, that isn’t ever overshadowed by commercialism or excess, that is still very real and very important in the tradition of family and holidays.

Any nervousness at all?

Not yet. Don’t remind me. (Laughs) That’s where the preparation comes in. The more I get in these big notebooks in front of me, the less nervousness there is. I will tell you that there will be an awful lot of excited energy for me on that day.

Mike Gargiulo, executive producer for CBS’ Rose Parade telecast, and the six other holiday parades the network carries

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What is your greatest challenge in producing the parade?

It’s a series of unbelievable challenges, some known and some what we call, “By the ways,” meaning, “Oh, by the way, the band that went through the commercial, we would really like to see it.”

It’s like an avalanche. It just keeps going. In addition to 11 cameras located at rather strategic places, we also have eight tape machines inside the truck, so even if we are away for a commercial, we try to shoehorn in anything that we may have missed. We try to keep the coverage moment to moment and wall to wall and stop for nothing, covering every space that may occur.

How does this parade compare to the other six that you are the executive producer for?

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Each parade has a different set of problems arising from the nature of the events. The Tournament of Roses sets the highest standard. The floral parade in Hawaii also has flowers on every float, but it also has the tropical atmosphere, the attractive girls, the colorful performers from different South Pacific islands. The Canadian parade features kids on every float and each float has a fairy-tale theme.

The primary attraction of the Macy’s parade is not on the ground at all, but in the air with the 65-foot balloons. No other parade has the balloons that are in the Macy’s parade. For that, we have cameras that are outfitted with double tilting heads and special lens to see the balloon against the sky, rather than have it turn black against the white sky. We gear for coverage of the balloons. We never miss a ballon. When we go to commercial, we record everything in sight.

The Cotton Bowl Parade has its own features. I like to think that the floats are not as important as the magnificent Texas bands, the choreography of the Kilgore Rangerettes. Even though I’m from New York City, I happen to be a horse fancier and that parade has the finest equestrian units in the country.

Every parade has certain things that are outstanding, but you are never ever going to see floats as beautiful, unusual and expensive as the Rose Parade.

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How has TV technology expanded in the years that you have been producing the parade?

You have more facilities at your disposal. You have one-inch tape, instead of two-inch tape, you have more cameras, lighter weight, the cabling is easier. What we do is concentrate on the visualization of the parade to get it down to its simplest form. People who watch a parade want to see a parade. They want the best seat in the house. Our philosophy has been always, if the razzle-dazzle gets in the way of the best seat, don’t get rid of the best seat, get rid of the razzle-dazzle.

I can give you incident after incident, while we’re on the air, of people calling up and saying, “We want to see the parade. We don’t want to see this. We don’t want to see that.” Especially when there are moments when there’s nothing on the street making a musical sound and we try to embellish it with recorded parade music. People know that right away. There are people all over this country who can tell you what fife and drum corps plays what.

How would you describe the format for your parade coverage?

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Our format for all our parades is, “Our CBS family coming to your family on a family day.” We use CBS stars that people see because we feel people identify with them and want to see them in a different role.

Some people at stations in Los Angeles accuse you of using the parade as a vehicle to promote CBS series.

I’ve heard that before. We do a show as we see it with our stars. If you want to call it promoting our series, I don’t think we’re really quite guilty of that. If you want to say we’re promoting our personalities, so people will get to know them in a slightly different light, I guess I would have to plead guilty to that. If you want to criticize us for that, you have to give us some credit for doing our homework. I’ll accept the first if they’ll admit to the second.

Coverage of the Rose Parade begins Wednesday at 8 a.m. on ABC, CBS, NBC, KTLA and KTTV.

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