Kemper Peacock and the overnight highlights

Kemper Peacock (second from left), Dick Snider standing

Topeka Capital Journal
Sept. 27, 1985

The College Football Highlights show that appeared on Sunday mornings for 15 years on ABC was one of the most unlikely offerings ever to find its way to television. For one thing, if you understood the logistics, you would say it was impossible.

For another, when it all started, the two men primarily responsible for getting it on the air were TV’s original Odd Couple. One was yours truly, who knew nothing about film or television, and the other was Kemper Peacock, who knew even less about football.

To eliminate confusion, let me say here that Kemper Peacock is not an advertising agency, a law firm, a London park or odd strain of strutting bird. He is a man – a remarkable man.

What we had to do each Saturday in the football season was film five or six games across the nation that would be on the show, plus up to 10 more that ABC needed footage on for future promotional use.

Then, all we had to do was get the film to our home base (first New York, later Chicago), process it, edit it, transfer it to videotape, add narration and sound effects, and deliver it to the network by 11:00 a.m. Eastern Time Sunday. It can’t be done.

Yet we never missed a show. It was my job to get the film to Kemper, and his job to stay up all night and supervise all the steps necessary to put the show together.

To help us, we hired the best we could find. We often hired helicopters to get the film from the stadium to the airport. We had off-duty policemen running the film around New York or Chicago all night, getting it where it had to go.

One of our editors in New York was Bob Forte, who now does the Andy Rooney segments on “60 Minutes.” Another was Adolphus Mekus, now head of the film department at Bard College. And another was Jack Drescher, now a New York bartender.

Our announcer when we were in New York was Bob Murphy. After we moved to Chicago, it was Bill Fleming. Both are great pros. They would check in at 5:00 a.m. to narrate film that was all new to them, and time always was critical. They had to get it right, and in a hurry, and they did.

The key man was Kemper. Absolutely unflappable, he took every problem in stride. From early Saturday night, when the film started coming in, until early Sunday morning, when we were in the last lap race against time, he exuded a calm confidence that I never felt.

I did all the screaming. Kemper’s look always told me we’d make it, but I never believed him. When we finally did make it, when the show was delivered and we were back in our hotel suite, we would silently shake hands and I would start worrying about next week.

Kemper, a native of East Orange, N.J., was a graduate of Bard College in drama in 1961. After serving in the Army in France, je wound up writing copy for a small public relations agency. “I wrote about the golden sands of Trinidad and Tobago, two places I still never have been,” he said.

He moved into industrial film editing. He did forgettable epics about cement, aluminum and cornstarch Then one day, he met a friend from a bank that was financing some “skin flicks.” He asked Kemper to oversee the project, and Kemper did that, too, until the company went broke. Talk about stupid bank loans.

He was editing auto racing film for a company working with ABC’s “Wide World of Sports” when our trails crossed. I was looking all over New York for a high-class editor and in Kemper I got not only that, but also a high-class guy who became producer and director of our show.

Our most enjoyable projects for ABC were one hour pre-season specials. In 1971, we did “Anatomy of a Bowl Game.” It was the Cotton Bowl game between Texas and Notre Dame. ABC said they would name as host one of their network series stars.

He turned out to be Burt Reynolds, who came over from Georgia, where he was filming his first hit feature, “Deliverance.” We paid him $500. The script was written by Dan Jenkins, who just a year later had a classic book called “Semi-Tough” published. In 1977, the book became a movie, and Reynolds played the lead.

For our show, it happened that we later needed to record a few extra lines from Reynolds. We found him in Chicago, where he was doing a play. He agreed to do the lines, but said, “You guys really stretched the hell out of $500.”

Kemper says of Reynolds that he never met a nicer guy. I agree, and I say the same thing about Kemper. Neither of us, however, has much nice to say about those Saturday nights in showbiz.


One evening with Willie Nelson

Topeka Capital-Journal.
April 23, 1997

Willie Nelson was on “60 Minutes” Sunday night, having a lot of fun with the fact he has finished paying the settlement for the $32 million he owed the IRS in back taxes, interest and penalties. He got into that mess because, for one thing, he was a little naive earlier in his singing career, and this column is here to tell you I don’t know him now, but I knew him then, slightly, and briefly. Continue reading

Reliving the toughest hour in network television

Topeka Capital Journal
August 21, 1995

HARBOR SPRINGS, Mich. – Three men who once were responsible for the production of “the toughest hour in network television” had a reunion here this week. They recalled the horror stories, the good times and bad, and marveled once again that even one show got on the air, and agreed it was a miracle that more than 190 shows made it without a mishap over a 13-year period.

We met here because this is where Bill Flemming, the former ABC-TV sports announcer, spends the summers. Kemper Peacock, the New York City film editor and producer, and yours truly made the long trek here to the far reaches of Michigan’s lower peninsula.

When we were involved in the show, Flemming was the host and Peacock led the production team that actually did the work period as executive producer of NCAA films, I was responsible for the overall operation and for delivering the show to ABC on time. That meant I carried the beads and led the prayers that nothing would go wrong.

The show was College Football Highlights, which aired each Sunday morning during the season.

What we did was film six or seven college football games all over the country on Saturday afternoon, and then put highlights of those games on the air Sunday morning in a neat one-hour package. A sympathetic TV critic gave it the “toughest hour” label.

It sounds pretty simple, and it would be now, but back when we started in the late 1960s, it was considerably more complicated than planning and pulling off the invasion of Normandy. Continue reading