Al Primo, man credited with creating Eyewitness News format, dies at 87

ByEyewitness News via WABC logo
Thursday, September 29, 2022
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Al Primo, the man credited with creating the 'Eyewitness News' format, has died.

NEW YORK (WABC) -- Al Primo, the man credited with creating the Eyewitness News format, has died.

Primo became news director at WABC-TV in 1968, launching Eyewitness News that November with Roger Grimsby as lead anchor. Two years later, he'd pair Grimsby with Bill Beutel, and a legendary anchor team was born. Primo quickly turned a station with languishing newscasts and ratings into a powerhouse that became the standard in the industry.

Primo had developed the Eyewitness News concept earlier, and was recruited from KYW-TV in Philadelphia, where he had great success with his new approach to storytelling, and brought on talent like Tom Snyder.

While many people helped grow and spread the concept of Eyewitness News, Primo was the one who came up with the idea.

Primo started in the mailroom of a TV station in Pittsburgh and worked his way up, becoming a giant in the industry.

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Primo dispatched reporters into the field and then back into the studio to share their stories with the anchors, serving as eyewitnesses. Those reporters reflected the diversity of the community.

Primo believed the people presenting the news should look and sound like the audiences they served.

"I was determined to make the reporters the most important element of the program - they were the eyewitnesses," said Primo.

He hired many of Channel 7's legendary anchors and reporters from Geraldo Rivera to Rose Ann Scamardella.

"You see women, Hispanics, Jews, Italians and on television were these three white men. Why waste time watching people preach the news to you? You want to really hear it from people that you know and respect and were part of the community," he said.

He replaced the disconnected news reader with people who were passionate, diverse, who could bring their own perspective.

The Daily News once described him as 'the man who almost single-handedly changed the face of broadcast journalism.'

His approach was not limited to choices in talent and reporting philosophy. He believed that the set, graphics, pacing and theme music were essential to the viewing experience, and it was he who selected the legendary "Tar Sequence" track from the film "Cool Hand Luke" that would serve as the Eyewitness News theme until the mid 1990s.

Primo was 87 years old, but his legacy will live on.

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