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Durable anchor fought TV fluff
Hal Fishman, the award-winning KTLA-TV Channel 5 news anchor who was a Los Angeles broadcasting fixture for nearly 50 years, died Tuesday, the station announced. He was 75.
Fishman died at 3 a.m. at his Brentwood home with his family at his side. He had been hospitalized with a serious infection after collapsing at his home Aug. 1, less than a week after being diagnosed with colon cancer. On Friday, the station announced that the disease had spread to his liver.
A broadcaster who began his television career in Los Angeles in 1960, Fishman had anchored his station's 10 p.m. newscast -- now called "KTLA Prime News" -- since 1975. He covered major news stories in Southern California, including the Watts riots, the assassination of Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, the Sylmar and Northridge earthquakes and the Rodney G. King beating case.
A onetime assistant professor of political science, he also served as the newscast's managing editor and commentator.
Fishman anchored his last broadcast July 30.
"He's really the last of the old-fashioned broadcast journalists who cared about giving information to the public," Joe Saltzman, a journalism professor at the USC Annenberg School for Communication, told The Times on Tuesday. "He had fought for years against the dumbing down of television news -- celebrity journalism and car chases and all the silliness -- and tried to maintain the criteria he believed in. He wanted to give people news that affected their lives, stories of substance. I don't think a Hal Fishman would be hired today in a local news market," Saltzman said.
Former longtime KTLA news director Jeff Wald called Fishman "the dean of Los Angeles television news."
"My joke about him was that he was a walking encyclopedia," Wald told The Times. "I've never met anybody who was as close to genius as the word can be. He had almost a photographic mind in that everything he had read -- and he was a voracious reader -- he remembered."
Fishman, Wald said some years ago, "knows the material better than what is written in his copy or what comes in on the wires. That's no slap to the writers, but he is so into his job, he can usually ad-lib better than what the writers can write for him."
Rich Goldner, interim KTLA news director, told The Times on Tuesday, "Hal was one of the last newsmen in this country who was extremely well-read and was so interested in informing the public about the truth."
His lengthy career as an anchor was a tribute to his believability and integrity, Goldner said.
Word of Fishman's death spurred an outpouring of remembrances from viewers on the website of KTLA, which like The Times is owned by Chicago-based Tribune Co. E-mail missives praised the veteran anchor for his "honesty," "sagacity" and "responsible journalism."
"Hal Fishman was one of the last serious newsmen," said a message submitted by John P. "Guys like him are irreplaceable."
"I loved Hal. I loved his voice, his delivery, and his general friendly attitude and manner," a message submitted by Kathy Stevens said. "His presence was just a comfort in some way, which I can't really explain."
By midafternoon Tuesday, viewers had posted more than 2,000 messages about Fishman.
The announcement and discussion of Fishman's passing filled more than 10 minutes on the "KTLA Morning Show" as the news team reminisced Tuesday about the veteran anchor.
Frank Buckley, who was filling in for regular anchor Carlos Amezcua, almost apologized to viewers as the discussion went on, finally saying that Fishman, as a dedicated journalist, would have wanted them to get to the news of the day.
The station's website posted a six-minute video tribute Tuesday morning to Fishman that detailed the anchor's rise from college professor to leading local news anchor. The tribute was accompanied by staff remembrances from Fishman's colleagues, including news reporter Stan Chambers, who joined KTLA in 1947, and former co-anchors Jann Carl and Lynette Romero.
Carl, who co-anchored the station's broadcast with Fishman for eight years, recalled his intense need to get the story right. "I never worked with a man so dedicated, so intelligent, so concerned with the accuracy of every single word we would utter," Carl said.
KTLA news officials aired a lengthy retrospective on Fishman's life and career during Tuesday night's 10 p.m. broadcast.
Fishman, who spent his entire 47-year news career at independent TV stations in Los Angeles, has often been referred to as one of the longest-running news anchors in the nation -- if not the longest-running.
At a gala celebrating KTLA's 60th anniversary at the Autry National Center on July 31, Fishman was honored for his years in television news and presented with a certificate from the Guinness Book of World Records proclaiming his durability in anchoring television news without interruption from June 20, 1960, until the present.
"When I think of the hundreds of anchors who have come and gone over the last 30 years -- many of them better-looking and better-coiffed than I ever was, there was one area that they were not better, and that is in being dedicated to being informed. And I think the audience perceives that," Fishman told The Times in 1990.
"I am not a charismatic broadcaster or a dramatic guy," he said, "but I think I am a person that people can trust to give them a straightforward and accurate account of what's going on in the world. I think that's why I have lasted so long."
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., on Aug. 25, 1931, Fishman earned his bachelor's degree at Cornell University, where he got into broadcasting after accidentally entering the campus radio station.
"Someone asked me, 'Are you here for the tryout?' I had no idea what it was about, but I had nothing else to do, so I said 'yes,' " he told the Riverside Press-Enterprise in 2000.
After earning a master's degree in political science from UCLA, Fishman had planned for a career in academia.
He was an assistant professor of political science at Cal State L.A. in 1960 when KCOP-TV Channel 13 invited him to teach an on-air class in politics -- "American Political Parties and Politics" -- during the summer the Democratic National Convention was being held in L.A.
In a 2006 interview with Broadcasting & Cable magazine, Fishman recalled the first words he said on television: "Good afternoon, I'm professor Hal Fishman, and this course is certainly quite unique for me, because it's the first course that I have ever taught where the student can turn the professor off."
Fishman did so well that he was asked to stay at the station and provide political commentary.
"What I didn't know was that the course was getting a rating," Fishman told The Times in 1995. "I didn't know from ratings in those days. I ad-libbed everything. I interviewed the Kennedys -- JFK, Bobby, Teddy. When the course was over, I went to say goodbye to the general manager, and he said: 'How'd you like to come on our news? Do your thing for two, three minutes. Do anything you'd like.' So that's how it started."
As Fishman told The Times in 1985, "I decided I could reach more people in one broadcast than I could teach in a lifetime."
In 1965, Fishman moved to KTLA-TV, where he contributed to the station's Emmy- and Peabody Award-winning coverage of the Watts riots.
He moved to KTTV-TV Channel 11 in 1970, returned to KTLA in 1971 and moved to KHJ-TV (now KCAL-TV) Channel 9 in 1973 before returning to KTLA in 1975.
"He was always a ratings winner," Wald said Tuesday. "He was an advantage . . . because of his longevity. People knew who he was."
Fishman told The Times in 1990 that he "always looked at broadcasting as a continuation of my teaching."
After Iraqi troops invaded Kuwait that year, he set a Michelin road map of the Middle East desert on an easel and used a pointer to illustrate for viewers the route that buses packed with U.S. and British women and children would have to travel to escape Kuwait City.
Fishman thought his study of political science and history was far more valuable to him as a newscaster than formal journalism training would have been.
"When I was a professor," he said in the 1985 Times interview, "I used to tell my students, 'You can't have a properly functioning democracy without an enlightened electorate.' It's our job as newscasters to enlighten the electorate. We are the conduits of information."
A longtime aviation buff and pilot who held numerous world aviation records for speed and altitude, Fishman sometimes covered news stories from his own airplane and often folded stories about aviation into the newscast.
Among his many honors was the prestigious Governors Award from the Los Angeles chapter of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences in 1987, given to him "for his special and unique contribution to Los Angeles area television."
In 2002, the Associated Press Television-Radio Assn. gave him its first Lifetime Achievement Award, as well as naming him "Best News Anchor" for the third consecutive year. And in 2004 and 2005, the Radio and Television News Assn. of Southern California honored Fishman for best news commentary.
Like many Los Angeles TV newspeople, Fishman appeared as a newsman in a number of movies, including "Joe Dirt" and "Crocodile Dundee in Los Angeles." He also co-wrote two novels with Barry Schiff: "The Vatican Target" (1978) and "Flight 902 Is Down!" (1982).
He received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1992, and in 2000 -- his 40th anniversary in television news broadcasting -- KTLA named its newsroom "The Hal Fishman Newsroom" in recognition of his service to the station and the community.
Fishman is survived by his wife, Nolie; and a son, David.
Services are pending.
Times staff writers Valerie J. Nelson, Martin Miller and Greg Braxton contributed to this report.