From 1956 to 1970, dinner time was also time for the (Texaco) Huntley-Brinkley report on NBC.
On October 29, 1956, the duo of Chet Huntley and David Brinkley were introduced to America on NBC with The Texaco Huntley-Brinkley Report. The news of the day included the Suez Crisis in which Israel invaded the Sinai Peninsula and pushed Egyptian forces back toward the Suez Canal.
Chet and David replaced the Camel News Caravan, hosted by John Cameron Swayze. And in case you’re wondering, yes, John Cameron was a sixth cousin to the actor Patrick Swayze.
Americans loved the chemistry between Chet and David, especially because they talked to each other as they handed off stories with the familiar “Chet” or “David.” In reality, except for the end of the show, the only communication between them was when they ended a story and said the other anchor’s name which was a signal for the AT&T Control Center to switch the long-distance transmission lines from Chet in New York City to David in Washington, D.C. and vise versa.
Frustrating Hollywood, the anchors popularity as they became better known than John Wayne, Cary Grant, Jimmy Stewart, and the Beatles.
Ratings for The Huntley- Brinkley report were through the roof until late in the 1960s when CBS and Walter Cronkite gave viewers unrepresented coverage of America’s space program. While NBC attempted to keep pace with Frank McGee’s space coverage, NBC eventually lost the race.
Furthering the NBC ratings losses, some at NBC felt the program began to slip after a 1967 strike by members of AFTRA (American Federation of Television and Radio Artists). Brinkley honored the picket lines but Huntley, who viewed himself as “a newsman, not a performer” did not, and maintained his position at anchor desk without David Brinkley, puzzling viewers, who had grown accustomed to the duo’s cohesiveness. Most viewers didn’t know that Huntley and Brinkley were not as close at it appeared as they operated from different cities and rarely met in person, except for live coverage events such as political conventiopns and election night coverage.
“Good night, Chet.” “Good Night, David.”
Huntley and Brinkley finished their final newscast on July 31, 1970 with these closing words:
“And so, this difficult moment is here. In leaving this post after almost 14 years, I recommend to you The NBC Nightly News, which begins tomorrow. It will be in the most capable hands of David, John Chancellor and Frank McGee. I’ll be watching, with interest and affection. I might also remind you that American journalism, all of it, is the best anywhere in the world. I want to thank the entire staff of NBC, for this nightly broadcast has not been an individual effort by any means. And as for you out there, I thank you first for your patience, then for your many kindnesses and the flattering things you have said and written. More difficult to take, to be sure, has been your criticism, but that, too, has been helpful, and, in most cases, valid. But you have bolsted my conviction that this land contains incredible quality and quantity of good, common sense, and it’s in no danger of being led down a primrose path by a journalist. At the risk of sounding presumptuous, I would say to all of you: be patient and have courage, for there will be better and happier news one day, if we work at it. And David, thanks for these years of happy association, and for being such an easy colleague to work with, and for all the kindnesses.”
“Chet, I, too, would like to thank all of those who tuned us in and put up with us, particularly including those who write the nasty letters! McGee and Chancellor and I will be here every night, and we will miss you. Last night, NBC had a dinner for Chet and gave all of us a chance to say goodbye to him, and as a farewell gift, NBC gave him a horse. So Chet, when you ride away to the West to Montana on your new horse, I will have to admit to at least a mild envy, and when you’re out there under clear skies and clean air, maybe once in a while you will think of those of us still here, fighting the traffic, the transportation breakdowns, stress, pollution, and wondering what is left that we can eat, drink, smoke or breathe that will not kill us, and wondering what horror will be visited upon us next. In these years I have often been stopped in public by people, always polite, who knew I was either Huntley or Brinkley, but weren’t sure which and so they have asked, so from now on, when somebody stops me in the street and says, ‘Aren’t you Chet Huntley?’, I have an answer: it is ‘No, ma’am, he is the one out West on a horse!’ I really don’t want to say it, but the time has come, and so, for the last time, good luck…and good night, Chet.”
Chet Huntley: “Good luck, David, and good night, for NBC News.”
Even the Muppets got into the act.
The Huntley-Brinkley Report was parodied by the Jim Henson program “Sam and Friends.” Using audio from a broadcast of the show, puppet characters Hank and Frank lipsynch dialogue spoken by Huntley and Brinkley in response to original dialogue remarks by Kermit. The segment was sponsored by Esskay Meats in a bit performed by Harry the Hipster and a loudmouthed Professor Madcliffe.
Chet Huntley died of lung cancer on March 20, 1974, at his home in Big Sky Montana at the age of 62, three days before the opening ceremonies for Big Sky.
David Brinkley died in 2003 at his home in Houston from complications of a fall suffered during a fire at his vacation home in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, according to his son, John Brinkley.