Anchor’s up for Kurtis: ‘We've benefited more than CBS’

Forty years after Bill Kurtis and Walter Jacobson first teamed up at CBS 2, they’ll sign off for last time this Thursday. Then they’ll hand over the 6pm weekday newscast they’ve been anchoring since September 2010 to Rob Johnson and Kate Sullivan.

What began amid hopes for a ratings renaissance at the station Bill & Walter once transformed into a powerhouse ultimately amounted to a nostalgic curtain call for one of Chicago television’s most celebrated partnerships.

“I think we’ve benefited more than CBS,” Kurtis candidly conceded Sunday. “What fun to relive the best years of your life. Walter and I started co-anchoring in 1973. I was 33. He was 36 or 37, I think. Now we’re over 70.”

If Kurtis was disappointed that this latest run lasted only 2½ years or that CBS 2 never gave him or Jacobson the resources or encouragement to do much more than show up each night, he wasn’t saying. But it’s clear not all of his initial expectations were met.

“I think we both came to work seeing all these stories to be done and feeling the old juices flowing again,” he told me. “Then, like an old-timer who sees a pretty girl and realizes that doing something about it is nature’s payback, we realized that the younger reporters are very good. We enjoyed watching them fight the cold and rain as we sat by the fire and talked about the good old days.”

Leaving CBS 2 doesn’t mean Kurtis will be any less busy now. If anything, he’ll have more time to devote to Kurtis Productions, whose current roster includes the American Greed crime series for CNBC. (Last week’s season premiere drew the show’s highest ratings yet.)

“I’ll look for a new series, perhaps returning to The New Explorers, the PBS educational science series we produced with WTTW in the 1990s,” he said. “It’s needed more than ever now. I’d like to use the old shows on climate change as a baseline to measure the progress or slippage we’ve made in 20 years.”

He’s also excited about exploring the transition from television to digital. “I think there’s room for a new form of documentary in the marriage of print and video,” Kurtis said. “Think of it: television producers joining with newspapers to tell stories. It’s journalism of the future. Advertising will follow the crowd — the ‘crowd’ being viewers and readers, of course, which could bring revenue back into journalism.”

And that’s not all: “There’s Tallgrass Beef Company, which offers grass-fed beef — the healthy alternative for the beef lover. As chairman and founder, I have plenty to do.”

Think we’ll ever see Bill & Walter together again? “Yes, I do,” Kurtis said. “We got a taste of having people actually interested in what we had to say. And it left a good taste.

“I think there’s value in experience and observations that link past to present. Every marketer seems to be chasing the youthful viewer/reader, thinking that only fast cars and a police blotter will interest them. I believe that young people are looking for answers to the big questions just like everyone else, and that they respect intelligent comment to help guide them through tough times. There’s room for a diversity of ages on television.

“So let our third careers begin — on!”


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Laura Baginski, Editor (@TimeOutChicago)