Ted Baxter is the archetype for TV personalities who pretend to be journalists

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.


  1. moarscienceplz says

    My dad was an engineer for a number of TV stations in Tucson around that time. He said that Ted Baxter reminded him very much of a couple of the local anchors.
    To be fair to people in real-life gaffes like that clip, back in those days the on-air staff rarely had monitors to look at, so a green-screen insert (which back then was called chroma-key and the screen was actually cyan, not green) would not be visible to them.

  2. johnson catman says

    I was a fan of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, but I never loved Ted Baxter. I pretty much held him in contempt because of what an idiot he was. I still feel the same way about idiot news readers. Just a couple of mornings ago, an “anchor” kept announcing the “rapport” between the local police and some group, but was pronouncing it as “report” with the hard “t” on the end. This was done in three consecutive half-hour segments, and either the producers in their ear never corrected them, or they ignored the producers. It was annoying to say the least.

  3. says

    One of the local stations likes to refer to itself as “News Channel 2”. They are not journalists, just news readers. Consequently, I have taken to calling them “Stenographer Channel 2”. They are, as one might expect these days, owned by a larger media company, and their web site is basically a clone of ones in other markets owned by the same company. Reagan really did a number on this country in a number of ways, and gutting the Fairness Doctrine was just one of many evils.

  4. Pierce R. Butler says

    I lived in LA for a part of the Jerry Dunphy period. He was best known locally for his silver-blue Rolls Royce, not his “journalism”.

  5. Silentbob says

    The late William Hurt starred in a whole movie about the difference between reporters and front men for news programs.

    I haven’t seen it since it was new, but from memory, highly recommended.

  6. says

    I don’t get it. Baxter was just a parody of news-reading talking heads like Cronkite. Isn’t Cronkite the problem? Does anyone still mistake him for a journalist?

  7. antaresrichard says

    True story: It was the early eighties and Thanksgiving, and for the 6pm KNTV live newscast, weatherperson Bob Haulman was going to carve a turkey. (For the 11pm weather segment they would merely recap the footage.)
    I was a studio cameraperson and floor director back then.
    Anyway, it all went wrong when, during the 11pm broadcast, on a read-over concerning a new medical procedure to help men with impotency, the control room ran the wrong footage!
    It was hilarious to be sure, although I didn’t relish the newsanchors having to wear egg on their faces for the control room’s mistake!

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