Going, Going, Gone
Gene Cox leaves TV. For good.
I really don’t want to talk about television. The topic has dominated my chatter for over 40 years and it’s time to talk about something else. I have done that in most of my BOOMER columns, but the old television albatross just keeps hanging on.
So this time, I am not going to talk so much about television as I am about … leaving television.
MAKING A DIFFERENCE … SOMETIMES
Brief history: I started television in 1967 at Channel 3 in Harrisonburg, then went to Annapolis where I worked in radio, then jumped from there to WMAR-TV in Baltimore. The work in Baltimore was disappointing. My station seemed lethargic, unable to innovate. When the riots broke out, we didn’t assign a photographer to cover them. One of many moves taken to save money. When a lady named Oprah Winfrey started work at the ABC station across town, we just watched and didn’t react. That’s the way we were.
Eight years later the opportunity came to move to WWBT in Richmond. Excitement! I jumped at it, pay cut and all. I did what few in my career do: I moved from a major market to a small market. It’s supposed to go the other way.
Channel 12 was No. 2 in the ratings at the time, but with new creative management and a lot of hard work we turned it around. We tried new things. We brought in good people. We worked hard. Our product and image began to improve. It paid off. Long before I left, WWBT had become the dominant television station in Richmond, easily doubling the audience of either of the other two stations. But honestly, I was getting tired. Television is for the most part a game for young, energetic people. Still, I wondered if I had left too soon.
Channel 8 came to my rescue. They offered a part-time gig co-anchoring the 5:30 news. I jumped on it. With great excitement I re-entered the field I had abandoned and struggled for almost two years to make a difference. I had dreams of taking with me some of the things I had learned in 32 years at 12. But it didn’t work. Enough said.
KNOWING WHEN IT’S TIME
There are many stories, about athletes mostly, who did their thing then left only to want to come back and do it again. Jim Palmer comes to mind. I knew Palmer when he played for the Orioles. A Hall of Famer he was. But as the old saying goes, what have you done for me lately? Palmer soon realized a 75-mile-an-hour fastball simply was not good enough. In other words, when he retired he should have stayed retired.
One of my favorite celebrities of all time was Johnny Carson. Carson did it right. When he left, he left. He did not seek comebacks that would need the favor of a new generation who did not appreciate what he had been before. An additional benefit is that when he died, the only video of him was from the glory days. There was none of him wrinkled, hobbling around with an oxygen tank. We remember Carson at his best. I wonder if he planned it that way.
Buster Douglas is worth mentioning. A 41-1 underdog, he beat the legendary Mike Tyson in 1990. Perhaps the biggest upset in boxing history. Rematch? No chance. Douglas took his money and his title and went fishing. I have always respected him for that.
I am disappointed by Pat Boone’s selling reverse mortgages and walk-in bathtubs. He shouldn’t do that. I’d rather remember him for “Tutti-Frutti” … even if he did steal it from Little Richard.
I now know I should have accepted the wonderful sendoff Channel 12 gave me and never have gone to Channel 8 hoping to rescue something. It was a mistake. I appreciate the kindness WRIC showed me, but it was the wrong decision. Never fall in love with a dream that played out years ago.
I am thankful for the wonderful life I have had in television news, but it’s over now.
Let’s just leave it at that.