Commentary: Donnybrook walk-on Martin Duggan is walking off
This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Sept. 3, 2009 - My thanks to The Beacon for this opportunity to shine a little light on Donnybrook as I see it.
From the start:
One Sunday morning in the summer of 1986 I happened to turn on television, which was not my habit. On Channel 9 some people I knew were arguing on The McLaughlin Group. I was fascinated by their no-holds-barred fury. After just a few minutes I said to my lovely wife, Mae, "I think I could do something like this locally."
"Why don't you?," Mae replied, and I took this to mean I had better.
Mark Vittert, then owner of the St. Louis Business Journal, and Rich Koster, a producer at KSDK and former sports feature writer at The Globe-Democrat, were my buddies. We often had breakfast together at the old Coco's on Lindbergh near Clayton Road, arguing much the way they did on the McLaughlin show.
I tried my idea out on Mark and Rich, and they didn't think much of it. But I pestered them, and Mark finally agreed to approach Channel 9.
We recruited some prospective talent and with Mark's wife, Carol, as our producer and camera operator, we filmed a test in the Vittert dining room. It was so bad, and I was so bad in particular, that Mark volunteered to replace me. I got a little huffy at that suggestion and insised that we proceed to Channel 9.
We recognized the desirability and fairness of having a woman and an African-American in our starting lineup, but I was turned down by a female columnist and a black male television personality to whom I offered auditions. After screening a number of others, we agreed that Ray Hartmann, who was Mark's choice, and Bill McClellan, who was my pick, were the right fit.
Michael Hardgrove, then the CEO of KETC, invited us to do a pilot. Andy Ruhlin, his executive producer liked what he saw. Hardgrove gave us a thumbs up and we went on the air in January 1987.
We agreed to perform without compensation. After 13 weeks, we were taken off the air, with management explaining that it was customary to offer different programs during the summer. But management began hearing from viewers who asked "Where is Donnybrook?" Callers reminded the station that news doesn't stop during the summer.
Management said they would like us to return and offered a modest stipend. We said OK.
We needed someone to alternate when one of the regulars was off. Anne Keefe, with her star power, was our first choice. and she graciously agreed, with permission from Robert Hyland, her boss at KMOX.
We were shaken by the unexpected death of Rich Koster in 1994. Anne became a regular. Mark Vittert spent each summer in Michigan and we asked Charlie Brennan to substitute. When Mark chose to leave the show for other interests, Charlie was his natural successor. When Anne wished to retire we were fortunate to have Nan Wyatt join us until her tragic murder.
Wendy Wiese and Kathy McDonald shared time after Nan's death and Wendy is with us to this day, more than six years later. All the women on our show have been exceptionally popular.
Through the years we have been blessed with a great array of guest performers.
Some of them you may recall more readily than others. And some names may surprise you. If any who have been gracious enough to join us do not see their names, please let me blame it on the computer.
Greg Freeman, the beloved Post-Dispatch columnist, was a frequent guest. He too died much too young. Alvin Reid joined us often. Others have included Donn Johnson, Phyllis Schlafly, Christine Bertelson, Harper Barnes, Betty Tannenbaum, Emmett McAuliffe, Phil Dine, Carol Daniel, Colleen Carroll Campbell, Amy White, Donna Hearne, James Hitchcock, Don Marsh, Sharon Stevens, Dick Ford, Harry Jackson, Crane Durham, Ed Martin, Betsey Bruce, Tim O'Neil, Don Corrigan, Virvus Jones, Clarence Harmon, Gary Berkley, Bill Bolster, Allan Cohen and most recently Debbie Monterrey.
We are grateful to all.
As announced, I have chosen to "blast off" from Donnybrook on Dec. 17 with a live performance at The Sheldon. In my wildest dreams I never imagined I would cap a memorable newspaper career by hosting a successful television show. I have always considered myself a walk-on, and prefer now to walk off and turn Donnybrook over to Charlie Brennan, St. Louis' Hall of Fame broadcaster. He will carry on with Wendy Wiese, Bill McClellan, Ray Hartmann and Alvin Reid.
The news is not that I am leaving, but that Donnybrook marches on with its great cast of characters.
Martin Duggan is a longtime journalist in St. Louis.