Sunday, April 2, 2006


Bill Beutel, who helped bring about a sea change in the nature of local television news as the dapper and unruffled anchor of "Eyewitness News" at WABC-TV in New York for more than 30 years, died at his home in Pinehurst, N.C. He was 75.

The cause was complications from a progressive neurological disorder, his wife, Adair, said.

Though Mr. Beutel's tenure at "Eyewitness News" stretched from 1970 to 2001, his on-air personality was most strongly defined in the first 16 years, during which he was anchor opposite the wry and sometimes acerbic Roger Grimsby, who died in 1995.

Their innovative style of presenting the news, often called "happy talk" to Mr. Beutel's annoyance, led to imitations in local news broadcasts all over the country.

WABC-TV created the format in 1968 while Mr. Beutel was the London bureau chief for ABC News. Several anchors were tried opposite Mr. Grimsby, but all were consumed by his overpowering personality, said Albert T. Primo, who was then the director of news and public affairs for WABC-TV.

Mr. Beutel, who had been a local anchor before going to London, was brought to New York for a tryout. The two clicked immediately.

"I needed somebody who had confidence in himself and could keep his own style," Mr. Primo said yesterday in an interview. "Sure enough, his experience, his confidence, his presence and his humor came through."

"He was everyman and you could identify with him," Mr. Primo added.

Mr. Beutel's everyman quality was in line with the humanized, man-on-the-street approach of "Eyewitness News." The result was described in February 1972 by John J. O'Connor, the television critic for The New York Times, as "the freshest, brightest and liveliest example of local news coverage on commercial TV."

In keeping with the program's focus on covering stories from the perspective of everyday people, Mr. Beutel also traveled to Vietnam, Israel and Uganda, reporting the New York angle on international stories.

On January 6, 1975, Mr. Beutel joined Stephanie Edwards as host of a new morning show, "AM America," which was created by ABC to compete with the successful "Today" show on NBC and "The CBS Morning News."

The show struggled and on Nov. 3 of that year was replaced by "Good Morning America."

But Mr. Beutel never left "Eyewitness," staying on for another 15 years after Mr. Grimsby left in 1986.

In 1962, he joined ABC as a reporter for the national news broadcast and as an anchor on the local New York news program "The Big News." Up to then his name had been pronounced "BOY-tel," but at the beginning of his first live broadcast on WABC-TV, the narrator pronounced it, "Byoo-TEL." The new pronunciation stuck.

He became the London bureau chief for ABC News in 1968.

Mr. Beutel retired as anchor of "Eyewitness News" in 2001 but continued to work as a correspondent until 2003, including a stint reporting on the civil war in Sierra Leone.

For me, even though I was raised in a CBS family in Connecticut, the team of Roger Grimsby and Bill Beutel on the local ABC affiliate in New York made me feel like I was finally in that New York state of mind when it came to watching TV news. (Followed closely by Bill Jorgenson on the old WNEW and the CBS2 team of Dave Marash and Rolland Smith.)


[Thanks to the New York Times for the obit.]

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