Beverly Hills Fire Changed TV History
I didn't want the 30th anniversary of the Beverly Hills Supper Club fire this weekend to pass without a reminder how the fire coverage changed TV history here. At the time of the fire in 1977, Ch 9 news with anchor Al Schottelkotte had been No. 1 in the market for 17 years. 17 years!
But that night helped change viewers habits to Channel 12.
When Channel 9 sent its live truck to the fire that Saturday night, Schottelkotte wanted to get as close to the fire as possible. Channel 12, instead, opted for a position a little farther away from the fire -- but on a hill with a direct shot to the station and tower. The result was the Ch 12 had a superior picture that night... and many viewers, like myself (then a local news reporter at The Enquirer) watched Ch 12 because the picture wasn't fuzzy and breaking up. Thousands of viewers like myself, who habitually tuned to Ch 9 for the Big Story, disocvered that Ch 12 could do a decent job covering a Big Story too.
Five years later, Nick Clooney's newscast on Ch 12 finally knocked legendary Schottelkotte out of first place. The Beverly Hills coverage helped a lot. So did strong ABC programming and Winter Olympics in the late 1970s and early '80s. (Ch 12 was ABC until an affiliate swap with Ch 9 in 1996.)
As I recall, Ch 12 and 9 each had the new mobile live "instant cams" capability back then, while Ch 5 had little mobile equipment. At the time, Ch 5 still invested heavily in huge studio cameras used for the weekday live Bob Braun variety/talk show.
It's interesting to compare 1977 to the TV news landscape today: Ch 12 has been the runaway No. 1 at 11 p.m. for about a decade (or longer?). Ch 9 continues to be a solid operation, and No. 1 at 5-6:30 p.m. And Ch 5 is way behind the race, as 30 years ago.... with fewer viewers at 11 p.m. than Ch. 19 has for new at 10 p.m., and fewer viewers than Ch 19 has for "The Simpsons" at 11 p.m.
Were you here in 1977? Did you watch the tragic fire on TV that night? What do you remember about it?