5 Questions with...CBS 2's Bill Kurtis

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5 Questions with...CBS 2's Bill Kurtis

Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2010

By Jeff Nuich
CSN Chicago Senior Director of CommunicationsCSNChicago.com Contributor

Want to know more about your favorite Chicago media celebrities? CSNChicago.com has your fix as we put the city's most popular personalities on the spot with everyone's favorite weekly local celeb feature entitled "5 Questions with..."

On Wednesdays, exclusively on CSNChicago.com, it's our turn to grill the local media and other local VIPs with five random sports and non-sports related questions that will definitely be of interest to old and new fans alike.

This week's guest, one of the most popular news anchormen in television history whose legendary, multiple Emmy award-winning career has spanned over four decades, he's also a celebrated filmmaker, motion picture narrator, nationally-recognized advertising personality and successful entrepreneur, he recently made his triumphant return to his local TV home in Chicago co-anchoring the CBS 2 News at 6 PM with his long-time on-air partner Walter Jacobson, one of the all-time TV greats, here are "5 Questions with...BILL KURTIS!"

BIO: Bill Kurtis is co-anchor of the weekday CBS 2 News at 6 PM with Walter Jacobson. The legendary anchor team has reunited and returned to WBBM-TV where they once dominated Chicagos 10 PM news from 1973 until 1982.

Bill is an award-winning journalist who began his Chicago television career at WBBM-TV in 1966 as a reporter. In 1973, he was promoted to co-anchor the 10 PM evening news alongside Walter Jacobson.

The celebrated anchor team of Bill and Walter went on to earn the No. 1 ratings position for most of the 16 years they were on air. In 1982, Bill became anchor of CBS Morning News in New York. In 1985, he returned to Chicago and to WBBM-TV as the 10 PM anchor 1985-1996.

Bill is renowned for reporting several groundbreaking stories during his television news career.

In 1966 at WIBW-TV in Topeka Kan., Bill was recognized for his coverage of a severe tornado that killed 16 and injured hundreds.

He stayed on the air for 24 straight hours reporting the destruction.

He covered the Richard Speck murders and the Charles Manson trial, and is credited with breaking the Agent Orange story as well as the Amerasian children in Vietnam.

Reports such as these have contributed to numerous honors and recognitions, including more than 20 Emmys, the 1998 Illinois Broadcasters Association Hall of Fame Award, and the 2003 Kansas Association of Broadcasters Hall of Fame Award. Being of Croatian descent, Bill was also honored this past spring with a 2010 Pleter Award, honoring individual Croatian-Americans for preserving and promoting their Croatian heritage.

In addition to spending more than 27 years behind the anchor desk at CBS 2, he founded Kurtis Productions in 1990, where he produced documentaries for the television show, The New Explorers on the A&E cable network. He continues to produce and host A&Es American Justice, recognized as the longest running nonfiction justice series on cable, and Cold Case Files, nominated for Primetime Emmy Awards for Outstanding Nonfiction Series in 2004 and 2005.

Bill narrated the Will Ferrell satirical comedy Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy and was featured in several AT&T Mobility commercials that poke fun at his serious investigative journalist persona.

He is also the founder of the Tallgrass Beef Company and an investor in the Prairie Grass Caf in Northbrookboth businesses reflect his interest in raising and marketing grass-fed beef.

Bill was raised in Independence, Kan., graduated from the University of Kansas with a B.S. in journalism in 1962 and he earned his J.D. from Washburn University School of Law in 1966.

Bill and his longtime partner, Donna, actively support several Chicago not-for-profit organizations and they split their time between homes in Chicago and their 10,000 acre ranch in southeastern Kansas.

1) CSNChicago.com: Bill, this is a true honor. Thanks for taking time to spend a few minutes with us. Here we goyour massive fan base is naturally thrilled youre back behind the anchor desk where you and your longtime on-air partner Walter Jacobson have dominated the ratings for years. From a news telecast standpoint, what would you say in the single biggest change you have encountered since you last anchored the news at CBS 2?

Kurtis: The biggest change is the technology. When I retired from CBS 14 years ago we were using videotape. Now the cameras record on a disc (I guess since digital means numbers, they can be recorded on anything they stick to). When the disc arrives in the newsroom it is ingested into the Avid editing system. That means a reporter can screen the video on their desk computer. What a change! Once the appropriate video is selected, a script is written and makes its way to a real editor who makes sense of it all, creating the visual package you see on television. Its a long way from scotch tape and a razor blade when I started 40 years ago. However, there is a downside. The new gadgets make our work faster and easier but require fewer people.

Journalism has lost nearly 40,000 jobs in the last few years as newspapers and broadcasters have downsized their staffs to meet the shifting economic venues. Journalism schools now debate whether there should be journalism training if there are no jobs waiting after graduation. The smaller newsroom staffs mean fewer eyes serving the community.

2) CSNChicago.com: Many younger fans of yours probably recognize you best as a successful advertising pitchman, along with your role as the narrative voice of Bill Lawson in comedian Will Ferrells successful 2004 comedy Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy. How did that film role come about and how did it feel to you personally that you were singled out to be THE VOICE of that very funny movie?

Kurtis: The director, Adam McKay, was working at Second City when Walter and I were in our heyday. To him, I guess I was the Anchorman. He sent me the script, thinking that Id turn it down. Little did he know that I have a wicked sense of humor. I laughed out loud on a plane while reading it. I sent him an audition reading on tape and was laughing so hard between sentences I think it gave them a lift that said, Hey, this might really be funny. And so it was born. I was later to learn when I went out to Universal to record the final narration that they thought anything I said was funny because of the deep voice and old age.

3) CSNChicago.com: Lets talk sports for a two-part question here. Did you play, if not excel at, any sports growing up in your native Kansas?...and who would you say is the one Chicago pro athlete that you admire to this day?

Kurtis: I played quarterback for the Independence, Kansas Bulldogs. Our undefeated season in 1958-59 started a 47 game record-breaking win streak for Kansas high schools. All the teams had a reunion last month to reflect on what we learned. To a man, we agreed that the lessons learned in high school football were the foundation for our lives.

As far as Chicago, it has to be Ernie Banks and Michael Jordan. Ernie because of the exemplary life he has crafted after his career. And Michael because of what he gave us during his career. He once said when I asked him what hed say to young people who admired him but couldnt match his abilities on the basketball court, Assess your talents, then choose something you love to do for the rest of your life. Because youll never have to work again.

4) CSNChicago.com: Your Tall Grass Beef company has skyrocketed in popularity over the years as its served in numerous, popular Chicago restaurants including Harry Carays Restaurants, Frontera Grill, Schubas, Prairie Grass Caf and even The Stadium Club at Wrigley Field. For those who havent tried Tall Grass Beef products before, what are the primary health benefits for the average consumer?

Kurtis: Grass-fed and finished beef has significantly higher amounts of Omega-3 essential fatty acids than corn-fed beef. It comes from leaving cattle in pastures all their lives rather than putting them in a feedlot on a diet of corn. Feeding corn to ruminants like bison or cattle is like putting diesel fuel in your car. Its unnatural. Cattle evolved on grass not grain. By going back to the way they were originally raised, the nutrition is restoredthings like conjugated linoleic acid, higher levels of beta-carotene and lower levels of saturated fat, cholesterol and calories. Many doctors are putting grass-fed beef back on the menus of their patients.

5) CSNChicago.com: What would be an ideal night of relaxation for Bill Kurtis?

Kurtis: Going to a movie. Donna LaPietra and I see them all. Action-adventure, feature documentaries, drama and comedyI love them all.

BONUS QUESTIONCSNChicago.com: For someone who has done it all in the media and business world, what would you consider to be the proudest moment of your professional career?and, tell us your proudest moment from a personal standpoint?

Kurtis: I think breaking the story of Agent Orange probably ranks at the top of my professional career. I had an investigative unit during my previous tenure with CBSWBBM-TV called the Focus Unit. Rose Economu, Brian Boyer and I worked the tip given me by a veterans advocate in the Midwest Regional office of the Veterans Administration. We broadcast an hour documentary after the 10:00 news and the rest is history. Its still kicking around from Vietnam to Washington D.C. I was in Washington a month ago emceeing a dinner for a law enforcement group when the stage manager took me aside to thank me for my work on Agent Orange. Thats more than 30 years after the first airing. Id call that satisfying.

Personally, I hope founding Tallgrass Beef Company will be one of the proudest personal moments. I say hope because our biggest challenges are ahead of us. Watch this space.

Kurtis LINKS:

CBS 2 Chicago official web page

Kurtis Productions

Tallgrass Beef Company

Jim Thome: Getting into baseball Hall of Fame would be indescribable

Jim Thome: Getting into baseball Hall of Fame would be indescribable

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Normally upbeat and positive, Jim Thome can’t help but beam with pride when asked about his Hall of Fame candidacy.

Thome, who blasted 612 career home runs, including 134 with the White Sox, is eligible for induction for the first time in 2018. Even though he’s expected by many to one day be voted into Cooperstown, perhaps even in his first year, Thome said he’s merely honored to be on the ballot. Thome is joined on the ballot by Chipper Jones and former teammate Omar Vizquel, among others. Voting begins in December and the results will be announced next January.

“To even be on the ballot and thought of, it would be the greatest honor I think you could get,” Thome said. “Or if you get an opportunity to go into the greatest fraternity baseball has or created, it would be indescribable. How do you ever think as a kid or a high school player or even going through the minor leagues, that you’d play at the big leagues that long? And then to get an opportunity at the end of your career to be put on the ballot is so great.

“That would be the coolest moment ever.”

Thome – who is in White Sox camp as a special assistant to the general manager – provided plenty of big moments in a career that spanned 22 seasons. He hit 30 home runs in 12 of 13 seasons between 1996-2008, leading the league with 47 in 2003. The slugger was a five-time All-Star and produced 72.9 b-Wins Above Replacement.

[RELATED: Brett Lawrie trying to clear final hurdles]

Thome isn’t as superstitious about his candidacy as others previously have been. He won’t be the guy to bring up the topic, but the Peoria, Ill.-native doesn’t shy away from discussing it, either.

“It’s not something you talk a lot about,” Thome said. “We’re not going to bring it up. But when people do bring it up, there’s a sense of pride, a sense of ‘Wow, baseball has thought that highly to put you on the ballot.’ And the fact that there’s just this wonderful fraternity of incredible players that you could be a part of, if you’re chosen.”

Cubs manager Joe Maddon misses his chance to guest-star in ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’

Cubs manager Joe Maddon misses his chance to guest-star in ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’

MESA, Ariz. – This is a big bowl of wrong: Cubs manager Joe Maddon might have missed his only window to make the "Curb Your Enthusiasm" cameo appearance Jeff Garlin promised. 

Garlin – a Second City alumnus and one of several celebrity fans within the team's orbit – had offered Maddon a role whenever Larry David brought the band back together for the loosely scripted HBO comedy.

But last week's Cactus League media event at the Arizona Biltmore conflicted with filming in Southern California, where "Curb Your Enthusiasm" is working on a ninth season after a five-year hiatus.

"There was one matchup, and I couldn't get there," Maddon said before Sunday's World Series rematch against the Cleveland Indians at Sloan Park. "I just couldn't do it. It'll happen."

During an all-over-the-place session with reporters that lasted 20-plus minutes, Maddon declined to make any Oscar predictions, saying he's into Netflix and Hulu now and doesn't really go to the movies anymore.

Maddon also hasn't watched much – or any – of the World Series highlights or documentaries. When it came to the handling Aroldis Chapman part, there were some boos inside Chicago's Civic Opera House during the premiere of Major League Baseball's "The 2016 World Series."

But Maddon said he basically skipped that type of content after being Mike Scioscia's bench coach for the 2002 Anaheim Angels and managing the Tampa Bay Rays to the 2008 World Series.

"You get busy and I don't know," Maddon said. "I need to start reading more and watching Netflix less."

Didn't you say that last spring?

"I did," Maddon said.

Maddon had been addicted to cable news during last year's polarizing presidential campaign: "But, damn, it's gotten really annoying, so I stopped watching all that stuff. It's just not good for your brain. It's really not. There's nothing to be gained."

When Maddon starts rolling, it's not hard to picture him in a scene with David and J.B. Smoove. Shaquille O'Neal, John McEnroe and Bill Buckner are among the sports figures with "Curb Your Enthusiasm" credits.

"That was the only day, so I don't know how we're going to figure this out," Maddon said. "First, they had one day set up, and that was going to be good. And then they had to change it to this other day, which was not good. So we'll have to (come up with something else), even if it's maybe a picture on the wall or a phone call."