Did Hugh Downs Make Me What I Am Today?

hugh-downs-and-concentrationMy boyhood TV hero died this week. You probably think I am talking about Carl Reiner, who passed away June 29th. After all, Reiner created The Dick Van Dyke Show, one of my favorite TV shows of all time. But as a pre-school kid, I just knew the faces in front of the camera, and Mr. Reiner’s portrayal of Alan Bradie, funny as it was, was just a small part of the show. He wasn’t even as important as always dumped on Mel Coolie. And I could only watch the show once a week; no binge-watching back then. So Reiner didn’t really make much of an impression on me in the early 1960s.

No, the man  I watched on TV day in and day out, the man this young kid aspired to be when I grew up, wasn’t an actor or a writer, and certainly no comedian.  My hero was Hugh Downs, who died July 1st at age 99.

If you know the name and if you remember him at all, it is probably for his stints as host of Today or possibly 20/20, ABC’s news magazine answer to 60 Minutes. In a New York Times obituary discussing his career, one can learn a lot about his time on those two shows, as well as his years as the announcer and second banana to Jack Paar on Paar’s iteration of The Tonight Show.

But you must read way down to the 16th paragraph of the article to find a brief one-sentence mention of the  11 years Downs spent as host of the TV game show Concentration. But for me, that was Hugh Downs. That is where I met him every morning.

It was a simple game, call out some numbers, match some prizes, solve a simple rebus puzzle, and go home a winner. No need to know trivia, or how much a week’s supply of Alpo dog food cost, or what a survey said. It was the perfect show for a five-year-old with a good memory and an innate ability to solve word puzzles. It would be the launching pad for my life of TV game-show appearances (It’s Academic and Jeopardy!, the Family Feud near-missand Password games with friends that are as bitterly fought as a Bears-Packers game in the Halas days. And Mr. Downs was the perfect low-key host. He never got in the way of the game

So Hugh, while I salute all the other great TV work you did, when I write my book Concentration will never have to wait until paragraph 16! I’ll put it right there at the top.


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