"His name is John Haldi, and he is one of the dozen or so people who defined television broadcasting in the United States. John started in television about the same time as CBS’ legendary news pioneer, Don Hewitt. These two men were at very opposite ends of the business, but both spent their adult lives in the service of the television medium.
Don was a co-collaborator of Ed Murrow and Fred Friendly. He spent his entire career at CBS, and he invented most of what we know or believe about television journalism and news. Not only was Don involved in CBS’ earliest public affairs programming, he was part of the great CBS News juggernaut extending from See It Now to 60 Minutes II. When people speak about what is good about television news and information programming, they’re probably speaking about the programs, formats, means, methods and values established by Don Hewitt during his lifetime at CBS News.
But not everyone who pioneered television worked at one of the networks. Some, like John Haldi, worked at a single station in a single market. Like Don Hewitt, John Haldi was there at the very beginning, at a family owned television station out in Columbus, Ohio. John worked many jobs in his lifetime at WBNS-TV ranging from a writer, on-air personality, director, program director, and station manager. But almost from the day he arrived at Channel Ten, John was the force, spirit and vision of one of the country’s legendary television stations.
If Don Hewitt invented 60 Minutes and produced the classic documentaries that made CBS News a force to be reckoned with in the 1960s and 1970s, John Haldi was a major innovator in nearly every area of broadcast theory and practice.
Both recognized talent. Don Hewitt helped a one-time game show host [ Mike Wallace ] become one of the toughest and most respected interviewers on television. John Haldi pioneered athletics coach programs with legendary football coach Woody Hayes–a program that ran for nearly three decades. But that was only a beginning for one of the most fertile minds in the history of the media.
The Great Haldini invented the courtroom genre with a program that began as Traffic Court and then went onto a new life as The Judge, and eventual syndication. Haldi found a young, personable zoo director in his market who he helped to shape into the man known today as Jack Hanna. John served as a writer and collaborator with Johnathon Winters during his tenure at WBNS-TV in the 1950s.
During conversations we shared during the research and writing of the novel Newsroom, John used a term I had not heard before. He’s a very creative and inventive person so he may well have invented both the idea and the term.
John used the term sometimes when speaking about the state of television news today, for he understands that what is presented as news today has little to do with what the public needs to know, but a great deal to do with entertainment values and economics.
But Happenings TV is not relegated only to local television news. It is everywhere today, on all the cable news channels, and every network news broadcast. What I learned from The Great Haldini, was that Happenings TV has some of the look and feel of real news, but it comes at a far lower cost. It’s not real news, and therein lies the cause for what passes for television news today.
The problem is that News that’s important, relevant in our lives, and credibly reported is a ratings killer. That’s why there’s so little news content on today’s network news programs. At the networks, all of the news content is up-front so that the remainder of the broadcast can pander for audience in the short segments between commercial clusters.
For those of us who grew up with the values of John Haldi and Don Hewitt, Thanks. I’ve enjoyed spending time with John well over fifty years after we first met at Channel Ten.
Thanks, John Haldi, for building and operating your television station all those years with the dignity and quality your community deserved."