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

Fast Break Morning Update: White Sox, Cubs both drop series openers

Fast Break Morning Update: White Sox, Cubs both drop series openers

Here are some of Monday's top stories in Chicago sports:

Preview: Cubs look to bounce back vs. Giants tonight on CSN

White Sox fall to Diamondbacks in series opener

Cubs can't complete another miracle comeback against Giants bullpen

Should Blackhawks' next assistant coach be Joel Quenneville's choice?

How Bears are using veteran videos to school rookies on NFL way

Luis Robert the latest high-end acquisition for White Sox

For Joe Maddon, Cubs winning World Series came down to Giant comeback in SF and avoiding Johnny Cueto in elimination game

Carlos Rodon 'getting closer' but still without time frame for return

Have the Cubs found their new leadoff hitter in Ben Zobrist?

MMQB's Peter King's thoughts on Trubisky, Howard, White and the Bears offense

Theories on why Cubs haven’t played up to their defensive potential yet

Theories on why Cubs haven’t played up to their defensive potential yet

“That’s what we’re supposed to look like,” Joe Maddon said Monday night after a 6-4 loss where the San Francisco Giants scored the first six runs and Wrigley Field got loudest for the David Ross “Dancing with the Stars” look-in on the big video board, at least until a late flurry from the Cubs.

But for a manager always looking for the silver linings, Maddon could replay Addison Russell’s diving stop to his right and strong throw from deep in the hole at shortstop to take a hit away from Christian Arroyo. Or Albert Almora’s spectacular flying catch near the warning track in center field. Or Anthony Rizzo stealing another hit from Brandon Belt with a diving backhanded play near the first-base line.

The highlight reel became a reminder of how the Cubs won 103 games and the World Series last year – and made you wonder why the 2017 team hasn’t played the same consistently excellent defense with largely the same group of personnel.

“Concentration?” Jason Heyward said, quickly dismissing the theory a defensive decline could boil down to focus or effort. “No shot. No shot. It is what it is when it comes to people asking questions about last year having effects, this and that. But this is a new season.

“The standard is still high. What’s our excuse? We played later than anybody? That may buy you some time, but then what?

“The goals stay the same. We just got to find new ways to do it when you have a different team.”

FiveThirtyEight.com, Nate Silver’s statistical website, framed the question this way after the Cubs allowed the lowest batting average on balls in play ever last season, an analysis that goes all the way back to 1871: “Have the Cubs Forgotten How to Field?”

Even if the Cubs don’t set records and make history, they should still be better than 23rd in the majors in defensive efficiency, with 37 errors through 43 games. The Cubs have already allowed 28 unearned runs after giving up 45 all last season.

“We just got to stay on it and keep focusing and not let the miscues go to our head,” Ben Zobrist said. “We just have to keep working hard and staying focused in the field. A lot of that’s the rhythm of the game. I blame a lot of that on the early parts of the season and the weather and a lot of difficult things that we’ve been going through.

“If we’re not hitting the ball well, too, we’re a young team still, and you can carry that into the field. You don’t want to let that happen, but it’s part of the game. You got to learn to move beyond miscues and just focus on the next play.”

Heyward, a four-time Gold Glove winner, missed two weeks with a sprained right finger and has already started nine times in center field (after doing that 21 times all last season). Zobrist has morphed back into a super-utility guy, starting 16 games at second base and 15 in two different outfield spots.

[MORE CUBS: Have the Cubs found their new leadoff hitter in Ben Zobrist?]

Maddon has tried to drill the idea of making the routine play into Javier Baez’s head, so that the uber-talented second baseman can allow his natural athleticism and instincts to take over during those dazzling moments.

The Cubs are basically hoping Kyle Schwarber keeps the ball in front of him in left and setting the bar at: Don’t crash into your center fielder. Like Schwarber and Almora, catcher Willson Contreras hasn’t played a full season in The Show yet, and the Cubs are now hoping Ian Happ can become a Zobrist-type defender all over the field.

“I’m seeing our guys playing in a lot of different places,” Heyward said. “It’s not just been penciling in every day who’s going to center field or right field or left field. We did shake things up some last year, but we did it kind of later in the season. We had guys settle in, playing every day. This year, I feel like we’re having guys in different spots.

“It’s May whatever, (but) it seems like we haven’t really had a chance to settle in yet. Not that we’re procrastinating by any means, but it’s just been a lot of moving pieces.”

The Giants won World Series titles in 2010, 2012 and 2014 with a formula that incorporated lights-out pitching, airtight defense and just enough clutch pitching. The Cubs are now a 22-21 team trying to figure it out again.

“Defense comes and goes, just like pitching,” said Kris Bryant, the reigning National League MVP, in part, because of his defensive versatility. “I feel like if you look at last year, it’s kind of hard to compare, just because it was so good. We spoiled everybody last year. Now we’re a complete letdown this year.”

Bryant paused and said: “Just kidding. Different years, things regress, things progress, and that’s just how it goes sometimes.”