Bryan Curtis: “Dale Hansen Is Signing Off, Taking the Anchorman Era With Him”

From a post on by Bryan Curtis headlined “Dale Hansen Is Signing Off, Taking the Anchorman Era With Him”:

The best thing about Dale Hansen stories is that they’re usually true. Take the Louie’s bar story. It took place in 1988. Hansen, Dallas’s top local sportscaster, did the 6 p.m. news broadcast. Then he went to Louie’s bar to await the 10 p.m. news, his second assignment of the evening.

In the ’80s, few people raised an eyebrow when a sportscaster repaired to a bar between newscasts. The story is what happened next. That night, WFAA Channel 8, Dallas’s ABC affiliate, was carrying the roll-call vote from the Republican National Convention for the party’s presidential nomination. The local news would be pushed back. Hansen figured he could relax.

At one point, Hansen looked up at the bar’s TV. The Alabama delegation was speaking. A few minutes later, he looked up again. Nebraska. Plenty of time. A few minutes later, Hansen looked up and saw Channel 8’s anchors. His show had started. He had no idea how long it’d been on the air.

Hansen ran out of the bar. He found his car was blocked in. He ran back inside. “Whoever’s driving the burgundy Jaguar has like five seconds to move it or I drive right through it!” he shouted.

Hansen sped to the Channel 8 studios. He walked in during the commercials right before the sportscast. At that moment, Hansen had no idea who’d won the night’s games. He’d drank a lot of beer. He did the sports.

“I nail it,” Hansen told me last week….“I mean, I nail it. I go back to Louie’s, like the idiot that I was. Of course, I get a standing ovation.” That was local sportscasting in the ’80s.

On September 2, Hansen will retire after 41 years on Dallas television. “There’s a part of me that’s going to die,” he said….Hansen’s retirement is the end of the Anchorman Era of local sports.

Hansen is one of the last active specimens of a type of sportscaster that emerged in the ’80s. He’s unapologetically local. “Do you want to die in Dallas?” Hansen asked his future wife, Chris, upon arriving in town in 1980. “Because I’m going to die in Dallas.”…

In the Anchorman Era, a lot of sportscasters were stiffs….A small number were rebels. San Diego’s Ted Leitner and Detroit’s “Acid Al” Ackerman turned the screws on coaches and owners. In 1986, Hansen produced an incriminating envelope during the SMU recruiting scandals and created a great piece of TV theater….

If you didn’t watch local news in the ’80s, it’s worth sharing a few particulars about its stars. “They had the wide ties,” said Adam McKay, who directed Anchorman and helped create the vainglorious Burgundy. “They had the crazy suits. Always the way-too-important theme music.” A local newscaster sounded like Walter Cronkite announcing JFK’s assassination … if the newscaster were at that same moment trying to sell you a used car….

The local news lineup was always the same: two anchors, a meteorologist, a sportscaster. Sports was last in the pecking order. “What happens is local news does surveys,” said Len Berman, who did sports for three decades in New York City. “And the surveys always come back that people want the weather.”

The ’80s local sportscaster may have lacked gravitas. But he had creative freedom. He (it was nearly always a he) could be wacky. He could use props. The news anchors, fresh off describing a murder or a traffic pileup, seemed to look at him with a mixture of tolerance and envy.

In 1980, Hansen arrived in Dallas fresh off being fired from a sportscasting job in Omaha. Management showed him a tape of Verne Lundquist, then the top Dallas sportscaster and soon to leave town for a long career at CBS. Can you do this? they asked.

Hansen said he wouldn’t. It would be a mistake to try to be as smooth and soothing as Lundquist. Hansen knew he had to be outrageous. “There can’t be a better drug than somebody laughing at my jokes,” he said. Hansen did his sportscast from a comedy roast. When promoters wouldn’t let Hansen show footage of a Sugar Ray Leonard–Thomas Hearns fight, he recreated it with Rock ’Em Sock ’Em Robots. For a time, Hansen wore a black cowboy hat off the air….

To be a local sportscaster in the ’80s was to feel like you had everybody’s attention. “When I was fighting for the biggest piece of the pie, there were only three people trying to grab it,” said Hansen. ESPN was in its infancy. All Hansen had to do was clobber the guys on Channel 4 and Channel 5.

In the ’80s, local stations battled to pry away a tenth of a rating point. The anchors got famous and rich. Leitner told me he got calls at the station from women asking for romantic assignations right now. “It was just—how should I put this?—wonderful,” he said.

But the competition turned local news into a fiercely bottom-line business. Consultants weighed in on story selection. Hansen’s Channel 8 newscast was fairly tranquil compared to the competition. But much of local news drifted toward lurid murders, depressing cuteness, the cult of the anchor….

But there was something else “respectable” media types found unnerving about local sportscasters. It was that Ron Burgundy and Champ Kind resembled us. Part of us, anyway. The secret part. The part that thinks we have some good shit coming. The part that wants readers and listeners to think they’re lucky to have us. The inner voice we were trying to suppress was the voice Hansen was speaking in at 6 and 10 p.m.

“People look at that as arrogant or selfish or it’s all about me,” said Hansen. “Well, it is all about me. I mean, at the end of the day, the highlights are the same. The ball scores are the same. The information is the same. So they have to decide, where am I going to get that from?”

Today, selling your own brilliance isn’t just for local sportscasters. In case you missed it, it’s part of everybody’s job….

How do you distill 41 years of being Dale Hansen into a couple of minutes? Hansen has been rolling around his final sign-off in his head.

“I’ve always been afraid of this day because I’ve always known this day would come,” Hansen will say. “My dad said that to me when my mom died. And now I understand just a little bit of what he felt that day. Because a part of me dies tonight. Maybe the best part. Certainly my favorite part. Because this is my life.”

That’s it for an era of local sports. Enjoy your day.

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