Jim Hartz, co-host of NBC’s “Today” show for two years in the mid-1970s, who was also a local news anchor in New York and Washington, died April 17 at a Fairfax County hospital. . He was 82 years old.
Jim Hartz, Channel 4 presenter and Today Show host
An old-school news anchor with a deep voice that had hints of his native Oklahoma, Mr. Hartz became one of the nation’s youngest local news anchors when he joined WNBC-TV in New York in 1964. , when he was 24 years old.
In New York, Mr. Hartz helped make WNBC’s 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. programs the city’s top-rated newscasts. Broadcasting from the same building that housed the national headquarters of NBC News, he made a name for himself as a reliable newsreader and on-site reporter and caught the attention of network executives.
In addition to local news, Mr. Hartz covered national politics, traveled abroad to report on the 1973 Arab-Israeli war and became particularly known for his reporting on science and the space program. . From 1966 to 1976, he helped anchor NBC’s space coverage, including the Apollo launches that took the first astronauts to the moon.
His mentor at NBC News was Frank McGee, a veteran reporter and fellow Oklahoman who hosted the “Today” show from 1971 until his death from bone cancer in 1974. When Mr. Hartz was cast to succeed McGee as co-host of “Today” alongside Barbara Walters, he would have beaten out Tom Brokaw and Tom Snyder for the job.
He handled a mix of hard news and entertainment stories, often sharing the screen with NBC stalwarts Joe Garagiola and Gene Shalit, the program’s longtime film critic. Mr. Hartz once had a testy interview with former Vice President Spiro Agnew, who complained that the media was “sympathetic to the Zionist cause” in its coverage of Israel.
Mr. Hartz has often said his favorite assignment on “Today” was a series of visits to all 50 states in the months leading up to the 1976 U.S. Bicentennial.
“It’s one of those things you don’t forget,” he said in 2012. “It was a chance to see the country almost like a snapshot.”
In June 1976, Walters quit the “Today” show, and as NBC executives reconfigured the program, Mr. Hartz was soon replaced as host by Brokaw. He remained for several months in a reduced role of traveling correspondent.
“The show was glamorous on the outside, but on the inside it’s one of the toughest jobs ever,” Mr. Hartz told Tulsa World in 2001. “It turned my life upside down.”
In 1977, he came to Washington as co-anchor with Jim Vance of the 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. newscasts on NBC-owned WRC-TV (Channel 4). He was reportedly paid $200,000 a year, the highest salary of any local anchor at the time.
Jim Vance, Washington’s oldest local news anchor, dies at 75
After two years, WRC-TV brought in Gordon Peterson from rival station Channel 9 (then known as WDVM), and Mr. Hartz’s contract was not renewed.
He later became a co-host, with Broadway star Mary Martin, of “Over Easy,” a PBS show about graceful aging that originated in San Francisco and featured interviews with celebrities such as the comedian Bob Hope and actress Jane Fonda. In the 1980s and 1990s, Mr. Hartz was a long-time host of the PBS science show “Innovation” and worked on other shows, including a joint PBS television show with a Japanese network on Asian news.
In the late 1990s, Mr. Hartz was a visiting scholar at the First Amendment Center at Vanderbilt University in Nashville. He was particularly interested in how to increase the scientific culture of the general public.
He collaborated with NASA scientist Rick Chappell on a book, “Worlds Apart”, which aimed to bridge the gap between scientists and journalists. The authors argued that misunderstandings on both sides threatened the scientific pre-eminence of the United States.
“Besides scientists who don’t speak English and journalists who don’t speak science,” Mr. Hartz and Chappell wrote, “there are uncertain gatekeepers — editors who decide which papers will be published or produced — and an audience ill-equipped to grasp the nuance and significance of scientific developments.Under these circumstances, it is not surprising that the popular support science once enjoyed is now eroding.
James LeRoy Hartz was born on February 3, 1940 in Tulsa. Her father was an Assembly of God pastor and her mother was a homemaker.
He took premedicine classes at the University of Tulsa and, to help pay his tuition, started working in radio. He was an announcer at two radio stations before leaving college to become a television reporter for Tulsa CBS affiliate KOTV. An NBC producer noticed him on the air and hired him for the network’s New York station.
“When NBC recruited me as news director at KOTV three decades ago, I moved to New York,” he said in 1994. “The world became my news beat: fights in the Middle East, space plans, presidential trips.”
He resided in Alexandria, Virginia for over 30 years.
His marriage to Norma Tandy ended in divorce. Survivors include his wife of 42 years, the former Alexandra Dickson of Alexandria, Virginia; two daughters from his first marriage, Jana Hartz Maher of Colorado Springs and Nancy Hartz Cole of Reston, Va.; six grandchildren; and six great-grandchildren. A son from his first marriage, John M. Hartz, died in 2015.
In addition to broadcasting, Mr. Hartz had a public relations consulting business and wrote articles for National Geographic and other publications. He won five Emmy Awards throughout his career and retired in his mid-60s. He was also longtime chairman of the Will Rogers Memorial Commission, which operated a museum and worked to preserve the legacy of the Oklahoma-born comedian and artist.
He said the two most important qualities required in a television journalist were the ability to make extemporaneous commentary for long periods of time and “a strong bladder”.