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Hugh Downs, brilliant presence on television news and game shows, dies

NEW YORK (AP) – Hugh Downs, the friendly, versatile broadcaster who, with more than 15,000 hours of news, games and talk shows, has become one of the most famous and welcome faces of television, died at the age of 99.

Downs died Wednesday at his Scottsdale, Arizona home for natural reasons, said his great-niece Molly Shaheen.

“The Guinness Book of Records” realized that Downs had logged more hours in front of the camera than any other television personality until Regis Philbin overtook him in 2004.

He worked on NBC̵

7;s “Today” and “Tonight” shows, the game show “Concentration”, and hosted the ABC magazine show “20/20” together with Barbara Walters and the PBS series “Over Easy” and “Live From Lincoln Center”. . ”

His signature at the end of “20/20” said to the viewers: “We are in contact, so you are in contact.”

“I’ve worked on so many different shows and done so many shows at the same time,” Downs said in an interview with the Associated Press in 1986. “I once said I did everything on radio and television except sports for games. Then I remembered reporting a boxing match in 1939 in Lima, Ohio.”

Downs began his broadcast career at the age of 18 as a $ 12 a week announcer on a small radio station in Ohio. When television first came, he saw it as a gimmick, but quickly realized “it was probably a juggernaut and I should be better off.”

He was an announcer in Chicago, who was a television incubator in 1950, for “Kukla, Fran & Ollie” and “Hawkins Falls”, which he believed were the first soap opera on television. In 1954 he went to New York for “The Home Show”.

In 1961, Newsweek described him as “a voracious reader with a top-notch brain that keeps him going and training like a poodle”.

His reputation was such that he even had the right to approve every commercial he was supposed to read and tried to keep dubious claims out of the air.

“I was loyal to the person who tunes in,” he said. “It was appropriate. If I lost my credibility, what would be the benefit for a customer? “

In 1997, he again showed his principled side when he spent a vacation day on “20/20” instead of taking part in a show that included an interview with Marv Albert after the sportscaster was involved in a wild scandal of sexual assault.

On Twitter on Thursday, CBS News political correspondent Ed O’Keefe said: “He retired from 20/20 in 1999 and died in 2020 at the age of 99. Sweet symmetry. Rest, Hugh Downs. One of the best.”

Downs had a special interest in science when he started a monologue about the couple show on the science of water skiing. It made couple joke, “Well, Hugh, if you drown, you’ll know the reason.”

His interest in aging problems – he even earned a degree in gerontology – was highlighted in his “Over Easy” series by the Public Broadcasting Service and in many of his “20/20” pieces.

“We all suffer in our culture from the idea … that youth was the big thing,” he said.

“There has been a kind of loss of respect for older people and we are losing the wisdom of older people. We lose the ability to recognize that impairment and old age do not necessarily go with age. “

His work on “20/20” also showed his adventurous spirit, like the time he was allowed to ride a killer whale and another time he put on a breathing apparatus to swim near a great white shark. There was a dangerous expedition to the South Pole, in which one participant almost died.

“I am interested in science, the environment, medicine and certain personalities,” he said. “I just make the stories that I want to make. I don’t just want to be the anchor. “

Downs began working as the couple’s second banana in 1957 after working as a presenter on NBC’s The Home Show.

In a high profile incident in February 1960, a couple stormed from the air in a dispute in which the network cut a joke about a couple’s “water closet” (toilet) that the censors disliked. Downs was praised for calmly saying “I would like to believe that this is not final” to the audience and for the live show to run until logout time.

Downs later said that he expected Couple to come back on stage any moment “with a punch line or something. He didn’t do it. “But Downs said he was finally grateful for the boost Brouhaha gave his career.

Couple finally returned to the show a few weeks later.

Couples departure of “Tonight” in 1962 paved the way for Johnny Carson. Downs meanwhile started his nine-year run as the host of the “Today” show. Walters was a “Today” colleague for part of that time. She admired Downs and praised his generosity and collegiality.

In the 1995 book, The Box: An Oral History of Television, 1920-1961, he humbly expressed his views: “The less talent you have or use, the less likely you are to overexpose. Maybe that’s why I was more than anyone else in the world on network television. “

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