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5 Questions with...CBS 2's Bill Kurtis

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5 Questions with...CBS 2's Bill Kurtis

Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2010

By Jeff Nuich
CSN Chicago Senior Director of CommunicationsCSNChicago.com Contributor

Want to know more about your favorite Chicago media celebrities? CSNChicago.com has your fix as we put the city's most popular personalities on the spot with everyone's favorite weekly local celeb feature entitled "5 Questions with..."

On Wednesdays, exclusively on CSNChicago.com, it's our turn to grill the local media and other local VIPs with five random sports and non-sports related questions that will definitely be of interest to old and new fans alike.

This week's guest, one of the most popular news anchormen in television history whose legendary, multiple Emmy award-winning career has spanned over four decades, he's also a celebrated filmmaker, motion picture narrator, nationally-recognized advertising personality and successful entrepreneur, he recently made his triumphant return to his local TV home in Chicago co-anchoring the CBS 2 News at 6 PM with his long-time on-air partner Walter Jacobson, one of the all-time TV greats, here are "5 Questions with...BILL KURTIS!"

BIO: Bill Kurtis is co-anchor of the weekday CBS 2 News at 6 PM with Walter Jacobson. The legendary anchor team has reunited and returned to WBBM-TV where they once dominated Chicagos 10 PM news from 1973 until 1982.

Bill is an award-winning journalist who began his Chicago television career at WBBM-TV in 1966 as a reporter. In 1973, he was promoted to co-anchor the 10 PM evening news alongside Walter Jacobson.

The celebrated anchor team of Bill and Walter went on to earn the No. 1 ratings position for most of the 16 years they were on air. In 1982, Bill became anchor of CBS Morning News in New York. In 1985, he returned to Chicago and to WBBM-TV as the 10 PM anchor 1985-1996.

Bill is renowned for reporting several groundbreaking stories during his television news career.

In 1966 at WIBW-TV in Topeka Kan., Bill was recognized for his coverage of a severe tornado that killed 16 and injured hundreds.

He stayed on the air for 24 straight hours reporting the destruction.

He covered the Richard Speck murders and the Charles Manson trial, and is credited with breaking the Agent Orange story as well as the Amerasian children in Vietnam.

Reports such as these have contributed to numerous honors and recognitions, including more than 20 Emmys, the 1998 Illinois Broadcasters Association Hall of Fame Award, and the 2003 Kansas Association of Broadcasters Hall of Fame Award. Being of Croatian descent, Bill was also honored this past spring with a 2010 Pleter Award, honoring individual Croatian-Americans for preserving and promoting their Croatian heritage.

In addition to spending more than 27 years behind the anchor desk at CBS 2, he founded Kurtis Productions in 1990, where he produced documentaries for the television show, The New Explorers on the A&E cable network. He continues to produce and host A&Es American Justice, recognized as the longest running nonfiction justice series on cable, and Cold Case Files, nominated for Primetime Emmy Awards for Outstanding Nonfiction Series in 2004 and 2005.

Bill narrated the Will Ferrell satirical comedy Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy and was featured in several AT&T Mobility commercials that poke fun at his serious investigative journalist persona.

He is also the founder of the Tallgrass Beef Company and an investor in the Prairie Grass Caf in Northbrookboth businesses reflect his interest in raising and marketing grass-fed beef.

Bill was raised in Independence, Kan., graduated from the University of Kansas with a B.S. in journalism in 1962 and he earned his J.D. from Washburn University School of Law in 1966.

Bill and his longtime partner, Donna, actively support several Chicago not-for-profit organizations and they split their time between homes in Chicago and their 10,000 acre ranch in southeastern Kansas.

1) CSNChicago.com: Bill, this is a true honor. Thanks for taking time to spend a few minutes with us. Here we goyour massive fan base is naturally thrilled youre back behind the anchor desk where you and your longtime on-air partner Walter Jacobson have dominated the ratings for years. From a news telecast standpoint, what would you say in the single biggest change you have encountered since you last anchored the news at CBS 2?

Kurtis: The biggest change is the technology. When I retired from CBS 14 years ago we were using videotape. Now the cameras record on a disc (I guess since digital means numbers, they can be recorded on anything they stick to). When the disc arrives in the newsroom it is ingested into the Avid editing system. That means a reporter can screen the video on their desk computer. What a change! Once the appropriate video is selected, a script is written and makes its way to a real editor who makes sense of it all, creating the visual package you see on television. Its a long way from scotch tape and a razor blade when I started 40 years ago. However, there is a downside. The new gadgets make our work faster and easier but require fewer people.

Journalism has lost nearly 40,000 jobs in the last few years as newspapers and broadcasters have downsized their staffs to meet the shifting economic venues. Journalism schools now debate whether there should be journalism training if there are no jobs waiting after graduation. The smaller newsroom staffs mean fewer eyes serving the community.

2) CSNChicago.com: Many younger fans of yours probably recognize you best as a successful advertising pitchman, along with your role as the narrative voice of Bill Lawson in comedian Will Ferrells successful 2004 comedy Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy. How did that film role come about and how did it feel to you personally that you were singled out to be THE VOICE of that very funny movie?

Kurtis: The director, Adam McKay, was working at Second City when Walter and I were in our heyday. To him, I guess I was the Anchorman. He sent me the script, thinking that Id turn it down. Little did he know that I have a wicked sense of humor. I laughed out loud on a plane while reading it. I sent him an audition reading on tape and was laughing so hard between sentences I think it gave them a lift that said, Hey, this might really be funny. And so it was born. I was later to learn when I went out to Universal to record the final narration that they thought anything I said was funny because of the deep voice and old age.

3) CSNChicago.com: Lets talk sports for a two-part question here. Did you play, if not excel at, any sports growing up in your native Kansas?...and who would you say is the one Chicago pro athlete that you admire to this day?

Kurtis: I played quarterback for the Independence, Kansas Bulldogs. Our undefeated season in 1958-59 started a 47 game record-breaking win streak for Kansas high schools. All the teams had a reunion last month to reflect on what we learned. To a man, we agreed that the lessons learned in high school football were the foundation for our lives.

As far as Chicago, it has to be Ernie Banks and Michael Jordan. Ernie because of the exemplary life he has crafted after his career. And Michael because of what he gave us during his career. He once said when I asked him what hed say to young people who admired him but couldnt match his abilities on the basketball court, Assess your talents, then choose something you love to do for the rest of your life. Because youll never have to work again.

4) CSNChicago.com: Your Tall Grass Beef company has skyrocketed in popularity over the years as its served in numerous, popular Chicago restaurants including Harry Carays Restaurants, Frontera Grill, Schubas, Prairie Grass Caf and even The Stadium Club at Wrigley Field. For those who havent tried Tall Grass Beef products before, what are the primary health benefits for the average consumer?

Kurtis: Grass-fed and finished beef has significantly higher amounts of Omega-3 essential fatty acids than corn-fed beef. It comes from leaving cattle in pastures all their lives rather than putting them in a feedlot on a diet of corn. Feeding corn to ruminants like bison or cattle is like putting diesel fuel in your car. Its unnatural. Cattle evolved on grass not grain. By going back to the way they were originally raised, the nutrition is restoredthings like conjugated linoleic acid, higher levels of beta-carotene and lower levels of saturated fat, cholesterol and calories. Many doctors are putting grass-fed beef back on the menus of their patients.

5) CSNChicago.com: What would be an ideal night of relaxation for Bill Kurtis?

Kurtis: Going to a movie. Donna LaPietra and I see them all. Action-adventure, feature documentaries, drama and comedyI love them all.

BONUS QUESTIONCSNChicago.com: For someone who has done it all in the media and business world, what would you consider to be the proudest moment of your professional career?and, tell us your proudest moment from a personal standpoint?

Kurtis: I think breaking the story of Agent Orange probably ranks at the top of my professional career. I had an investigative unit during my previous tenure with CBSWBBM-TV called the Focus Unit. Rose Economu, Brian Boyer and I worked the tip given me by a veterans advocate in the Midwest Regional office of the Veterans Administration. We broadcast an hour documentary after the 10:00 news and the rest is history. Its still kicking around from Vietnam to Washington D.C. I was in Washington a month ago emceeing a dinner for a law enforcement group when the stage manager took me aside to thank me for my work on Agent Orange. Thats more than 30 years after the first airing. Id call that satisfying.

Personally, I hope founding Tallgrass Beef Company will be one of the proudest personal moments. I say hope because our biggest challenges are ahead of us. Watch this space.

Kurtis LINKS:

CBS 2 Chicago official web page

Kurtis Productions

Tallgrass Beef Company

Three questions for Bears ILBs: What kind of an impact will Roquan Smith make?

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USA TODAY

Three questions for Bears ILBs: What kind of an impact will Roquan Smith make?

Pre-camp depth chart

1. Danny Trevathan
2. John Timu
3. Joel Iyiegbuniwe

1. Roquan Smith
2. Nick Kwiatkoski
3. Jonathan Anderson

1. How good can Roquan Smith be?

Making sweeping observations from shorts-and-helmets practices in OTAs is often a fool’s errand, but Smith looked the part while running around the practice fields of Halas Hall after being drafted in April. His quickness and instinctiveness stood out — as they did at Georgia — and his football intelligence and work ethic were praised by coaches and teammates. 

“He’s learning well,” Trevathan said. “He’s doing a good job of learning. He’s learning the little things that you need to learn in this defense. Now it’s all about putting on a show and going out there and rocking.”

And that’s what’s going to be fun to watch in Bourbonnais: How does Smith play with the pads on? Chances are, the answer to that question will be “well,” setting the eighth overall pick on a path to being a mainstay of this defense for years to come. 

That’s not to say Smith doesn’t have plenty on which to work during training camp. But he left Georgia as a sort of “safe bet” in the draft, and nothing he’s done to this point has changed the view of him that he’s likely going to be a good one. 

2. Can Danny Trevathan stay healthy?

In terms of size and athleticism, Trevathan and Smith profile similar to NaVorro Bowman and Patrick Willis, the inside linebacking tandem that was the spine of the San Francisco 49ers defense during Fangio’s time there. But for Trevathan and Smith to reach that lofty bar — or even to come close to it — Trevathan needs to be more available than he was his first two years with the Bears.

This isn’t questioning Trevathan’s toughness — far from it. That he returned for Week 1 of the 2017 season 10 months after rupturing his patellar tending (an injury that can be a career-ender) was impressive, and that he was immediately productive upon returning was even more extraordinary. But Trevathan missed three games in November due to a strained calf, and coupled with a one-game suspension and the seven games he missed in 2016, the 28-year-old has only played in 21 of 32 games since signing with the Bears. 

Trevathan is confident he can improve his production in 2018, given he wasn’t able to participate in last year’s offseason program practices. He’s entering his third year in Fangio’s defense and feels better prepared after going through OTAs and minicamps this year. It’s just now about him staying on the field to make sure that work pays off.

“I’m more comfortable with this defense, I’m more comfortable with the guys and the calls that we make,” Trevathan said. “I take pride in being correct and working my tail off and making the defense better. And the more that I can be out there — which I plan on being out there a lot — it’s going to help us tremendously.” 

3. How big a role will Nick Kwiatkoski have?

The Bears didn’t draft Smith because they felt like they absolutely needed to upgrade over Kwiatkoski, who’s acquitted himself well in 25 games since being picked in the fourth round of the 2016 draft. But Kwiatkoski has dealt with some injury issues, and for as solid a player as he may be, the Bears’ defense needed (and still needs) more great players. Drafting Smith gave the Bears a shot at adding a great player.

It also leaves Kwiatkoski in the same spot he was in a year ago, when the Bears entered the 2017 season with Trevathan and Jerrell Freeman as their unquestioned starting inside linebackers. Smith still has to earn that starting spot, but the safe bet is he will, relegating Kwiatkoski again to reserve duties.

And that’s a positive for the overall health of this defense, having a player good enough to start ready to play if needed. But it also raises this question: What do the Bears do with Kwiatkoski if he’s one of their four best linebackers, but isn’t one of their two best inside linebackers? 

So for the purposes of watching training camp practices, seeing if Kwiatkoski gets any reps at outside linebacker will be an interesting storyline to follow. 

Nationals fans sent Kyle Schwarber from hero to villain in monumentally entertaining Home Run Derby

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USA TODAY

Nationals fans sent Kyle Schwarber from hero to villain in monumentally entertaining Home Run Derby

WASHINGTON, D.C. — How could someone like Kyle Schwarber play the villain?

The fan favorite who’s always quick with a smile — or an Uncle Sam costume on the Fourth of July — Schwarber doesn’t fit the mold of a loathsome target of boos. But he made quite the heel turn in the minds of Washington Nationals fans Monday night, and of course he knew it was coming.

Schwarber went from getting cheered by the legions in attendance at the Home Run Derby to getting booed when he took on, and eventually lost to, hometown hero Bryce Harper in the final round.

“I was down in the tunnel saying, ‘If we get to the finals, Harp, they’re all going to be against me. I think they’re all going to be against me,’” Schwarber said Monday night. “And then I went out there and got booed after they all got pumped up for me. That’s just the beauty of it, and I was happy for Bryce that he won it in front of the home crowd.”

Harper delivered an incredibly memorable baseball moment Monday night, catching up to Schwarber’s 18 home runs with a ridiculous display of repetitive power to win a Home Run Derby for the ages. The format of this event, revamped a couple years ago, made for a dramatic and hugely entertaining evening. Harper smacked nine homers over the final 47 seconds of the final round to tie Schwarber, then bested him in bonus time. Unsurprisingly, the home crowd was going ballistic for their boy.

But earlier in the night, it was Schwarber getting all the cheers, when he made his own last-second comeback to beat Philadelphia Phillies slugger Rhys Hoskins in the second round. Schwarber was pumping up the crowd, pumping his fists and screaming while putting on a show of his own to catch and pass Hoskins' 20 home runs and advance to the finals.

How quickly the locals forgot.

By the finals — during which Schwarber looked understandably exhausted — the crowd had turned on him, trying to get every advantage for Harper.

“As soon as I got done with that round, I told myself that he had it,” Schwarber said. “I knew that he had the home crowd behind him, and I knew that he was a very prolific power hitter with a great swing. For him to come in and do that and started getting down to the wire, all of a sudden he started racking them up one at a time. You kind of just accept your fate there.”

Perhaps the night could’ve ended differently for Schwarber had he listened more closely to the advice of his teammates, Javy Baez and Willson Contreras, who were quick with Gatorade, a towel and words of encouragement on Monday. Baez hit 16 home runs in his own first-round appearance, though Los Angeles Dodgers slugger Max Muncy knocked him out.

“I was just telling him to slow down,” Baez said. “He was kind of rushing a little bit, that’s why he was jumping to the ball.”

“They were actually giving me really good advice that I didn’t take because I was really dumb-headed,” Schwarber said. “‘Make sure you take some pitches and get the pitch that you want.’ At the end, I felt like I was swinging at everything. I was just running out of gas. I felt like I had to put up as many swings just to try to put a couple out.”

Schwarber was totally content with losing out to Harper’s home-field advantage. Though as his homers flew out deep into the right-field seats Monday night, you couldn’t help but wonder what it would be like if Schwarber was instead taking aim at Sheffield Avenue and getting his own home-field advantage from Cubs fans.

The North Side hasn’t played host to the All-Star Game since 1990, so perhaps Schwarber will still be slugging the next time the Friendly Confines are the site of the Home Run Derby.

“That’d be really cool one day if the All-Star Game’s at Wrigley,” Schwarber said, “and to participate in the Derby, that’d be fun.”