Share this article

print logo

ALL-CENTURY, ALL-BUFFALO TV TEAM <br> A CRITIC'S LIST OF THE ERA'S MOST INFLUENTIAL TV CELEBRITIES WITH LOCAL ROOTS

By now, you're probably thinking that if you had a nickel for all the lists of the century's greatest or the millennium's greatest, you'd be a millionaire.

Even without having to endure Regis Philbin's jokes on that quiz show.

But I apologize. Here's one more list on a subject that is just too easy to ignore.

I thank Entertainment Weekly for giving me the courage to pick my own All-Century, All-Buffalo TV Team of the most influential people in the industry who either were raised here or worked here. (In truth, it should be the Half-Century team since that's about how long TV has been around).

If you missed Entertainment Weekly's collector's issue of The 100 Greatest Entertainers, Lucille Ball is No. 9, six spots behind Marilyn Monroe and four spots behind Madonna.

Steven Bochco mades the list at No. 87, but his more prodigious former writer, David E. Kelley, will just have to be satisfied with his Emmys for producing the best comedy ("Ally McBeal") and drama ("The Practice") on the air at the same time, because he didn't make the list.

David Letterman is No. 64, 22 spots behind his late-night idol, Johnny Carson.

Jay Leno? Jack Paar? Forgetaboutit.

Any list that puts Marilyn or Madonna ahead of Lucy is obviously encouraging hate mail. Generations love Lucy, the MTV Generation loves Madonna. And Marilyn at No. 3? Only if the Kennedy family stuffed the ballot box.

Which brings me back to my list.

If Entertainment Weekly can make so many silly picks, it is safe for me to assemble a subjective list of my own of Buffalo's most influential TV celebrities.

Admittedly, this critic's list tends to give preference to performers in the last 30 years because that's how long I've been around here.

1. Lucille Ball: At least the Jamestown native is No. 1 in our hearts, having been involved in one of TV's early and timeless classics. Which is why Channel 2 plans to put "I Love Lucy" on at noon starting in January.

2. Buffalo Bob Smith: The late "Howdy Doody" puppeteer became one of the icons of baby boomers. Smith was a symbol of the innocence of the early days of Kids TV before merchandising became key and Pokemon ruled.

3. Irv Weinstein, Rick Azar and Tom Jolls: Channel 7's legendary anchor team has a national reputation for its longevity. It is safe to say there will never be another team like this one, which has been reunited in a commercial to plug a phone book.

4. Tim Russert: One of Buffalo's biggest boosters, he is one of the most influential media members of the current generation by virtue of his job as host of "Meet the Press." Russert has taken a TV institution and elevated it.

5. Tom Fontana: The writer-producer of two of the best TV dramas of the 1980s and 1990s, "St. Elsewhere" and "Homicide: Life on the Street," Fontana competes with Russert for the title of Buffalo's biggest booster.

6. David Milch: The brilliant co-creator of one of TV's best cop shows, "NYPD Blue," Milch first entered the world of television when Bochco hired him away from Yale to write for "Hill Street Blues."

7. Gene Jankowski: A Buffalo boy who rose through the corporate ranks to eventually become the president of CBS when it was considered the Tiffany Network. He hasn't been heard from in about a decade, but he showed many Buffalonians that you didn't have to be connected at birth to someone in power to make it in television.

8. Phil Beuth: The general manager of Channel 7 in its glory years for Capital Cities, he eventually ran ABC's "Good Morning America."

9. Leslie G. Arries: The general manager of Channel 4 during its heyday, Arries ran the station with class and had a national influence.

10. Diane English: The creator of one of TV's best comedies, "Murphy Brown," which made political statements that even influenced a presidential race.

11. Van Miller: What have we here? To use one of his favorite expressions. He anchored Channel 4's sports for generations and was the radio voice of both the Buffalo Braves and Buffalo Bills. Really, the most important local sportscaster of the half-century.

12. Carol Jasen: The preeminent female anchor in local television, who could end up anchoring as long as Weinstein if she wants to. She is so powerful that she felt free to admit that she's a Barry Manilow fan.

13. Don Paul: The most influential weatherman -- uh, meteorologist -- of our time. He's the reason that Channel 4's competitors are buying gadgets like the Doppler 2000 and sending their weather people to meteorology school.

14. Chuck Healy: He was a sportscaster, but before that he covered the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago and anchored Channel 4 news when it dominated local television.

15. Anthony Yerkovich: The creator of "Miami Vice," though Michael Mann ("The Insider") has tried to take most of the credit for the success of a series that made Don Johnson a star and was considered revolutionary during its run.

16. Don Polec: The standard by which all TV feature reporters have been judged, Polec returned to local television last month when Channel 7 ran his 20-year-old series forecasting what Buffalo would look like at the millennium. It reminded us how good he was -- and that in the old days local TV had enough money to hire a guy just to do feature stories.

17. Paul Maguire: The ex-Bill worked on NBC's No. 1 team, now is on ESPN's No. 1 team and deserves a crack on ABC's No. 1 team to cap off his long broadcasting career.

18. J. Michael Collins: Mr. Public Television. Without him, there wouldn't have been a Goldie Gardner.

19. Don Postles: The only anchor to work for Channel 2, Channel 4 and Channel 7, Postles is nothing but a survivor. And for a city struggling to survive, that's quite a virtue.

20. Jesse L. Martin: What's missing from the above? An African-African representative, which says mountains about how backward local television has been when it comes to hiring minorities. Martin, the graduate of Buffalo's Visual and Performing Arts Academy who is now the co-star of NBC's "Law & Order," has become one of the most prominent black actors on television. His future appears to be unlimited. His success should serve as an inspiration to minority children in this town who still don't see enough strong role models on TV.

There are no comments - be the first to comment