Many of the people whom one sees on cable TV ‘news’ shows are not really journalists but people selected for their looks and attitudes. Some old timers may remember the Mary Tyler Moore TV comedy series in which she plays an assistant producer on a local TV new station. Much of the humor in that show comes from their TV news anchor Ted Baxter (played by Ted Knight) who was pompous and ignorant but had the look and the voice of a TV anchor, at least by the standards of that time when they were pretty much all middle-aged white men.
Chris Kaltenbach writes that in the film Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, Will Ferrell models his character on Baxter.
Burgundy’s is a character profile that fans of television’s “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” know well. For seven seasons, pompous blowhard Ted Baxter anchored the news on Minneapolis’ WJM-TV, mangling the English language, acting as his own biggest fan, placing more importance on the color of his blazer than on his understanding of the news. He was an insufferable buffoon who rarely did anything right, who believed the world existed for him and him alone.
Fans of the show loved him. Critics loved him. His peers loved him, awarding actor Ted Knight a pair of Emmys for his portrayal. Who knew that Knight and the show’s writers were creating an archetype that would still be going strong three decades later?
[Show co-creator Allan] Burns, who would go on to win a pair of writing Emmys for the show, says he and Brooks patterned Baxter after a pair of news anchors popular in Los Angeles at the time the show debuted in 1970.
“[Moore’s] aunt was the assistant to the president of the local CBS affiliate here in L.A., and so Jim and I spent a lot of time hanging around that newsroom just to try and get the flavor of it,” he says. “There was an anchorman there, Jerry Dunphy — Jerry was one of those stentorian, firm-jawed, gray-haired guys who looked right on camera, but who was not a newsman, like so many of the anchors are not. They’re really newsreaders more than anything else.
Baxter would constantly mangle the script written for him to read, to the chagrin of the writers. In this clip, Baxter reads the script oblivious that the visuals accompanying it are wrong.
Heather Hendershot makes the case that the fictional Baxter, for all his faults, is better than the current crop of media news pundits.