Steve Buckhantz was theoretically in competition with George Michael when both me ran local sportscasts, Buckhantz on Channel 5 and Michael on Channel 4. Buckhantz, though, said he never looked at it that way, partly because he was on at 10 while Michael was on at 11, and partly because the whole gang of D.C. sportscasters from that time--Buckhantz, Michael, Glenn Brenner, Frank Herzog--were friends off the air.
So during Super Bowl XXII, when everyone was out in San Diego, Buckhantz hosted a special episode of Redskins Playbook, with Herzog, Michael and Brenner as his guests. The men sat in directors chairs and talked Redskins; Brenner his animated self, Michael wearing a Sports Machine hat. Buckhantz still has the photo on his mantle.
"One of my favorite pictures ever," Buckhantz told me on Thursday, when I called to ask about George Michael. "We were all competitive, but we were all friends. That's the best way you can be in this business."
Buckhantz also hosted his competitors on the air from his newsroom once, an idea that ended up exactly as you'd have guessed with Michael hectoring Brenner and then eventually sitting on his lap. Here are more reflections from Buckhantz, which are worth quoting at length.
"I mean, there were some guys you would call sportscasters, some guys you would call sports readers. George was an entertainer," Buckhantz said. "Clearly, he was also a sportscaster, but he was an entertainer, he was a showman. And he took the best resources of any local sports station in the country, and he utilized them to their full potential. When we were all searching for any piece of great video tape we could get, in any fashion, he had three or four satellite dishes at Channel 4 that were utilized just for sports. He had the ability to get the best videotape in the world into that building...and once he got it, he used it better than anybody else. He had the ability to make it really sing and dance, because he was such a great showman and an entertainer. It was a combination of getting all of that great video and presenting it in such a way that it was fun, fun to watch. And he became known as the guy with the videotape, and that's really how he made his mark, how he became so great....
"Just like it is now, it's never changed, it's a visual medium. That's why Glenn Brenner used to have Encore Wednesday. He invented it, and the only reason he invented it was so that once a week he could take a piece of videotape that might have been 20 years old and make it relevant, just to put the best video on the air. Glenn dreamed it up beautifully: Hey look, this thing might be 20 years old, and we've got no real reason to show it, but we're gonna make a reason, because it's great tape. And that's what George did, he got great tape on the air: The kid taking a baseball and throwing it out on the field, the kid with his hand stuck in the cotton candy machine, the dog show from up in New York. He understood what people wanted to see."
I asked whether D.C. would ever see a sportscaster with that sort of presence, and Buckhantz paused to praise Lindsay Czarniak and Dan Hellie, their talent and their on-air personalities and their popularity.
"[But] the fact is, you're never gonna get anybody to be the way he was," Buckhantz said. "He was a unique talent. Not that these other folks aren't talented, they're extremely talented, but he was a unique talent. You probably won't ever find anybody with his type of showmanship, the way he would just sort of command and dominate his space up there on the news set. George was just able to control that space in such a way where you watched him. You had to get used to him, because when he first came on he would hold that red pen in his hand, and I remember people saying, 'Who is this guy that's yelling at me?' And within a few months, you became attracted to it, and you couldn't get away from it, and then after a while he became an authority. He was one of those guys, like certain weather people, you would go to when you needed the big story. Because when you needed the definitive word, he had it."