Richard Wald, a longtime journalist and TV executive who ran the programs and anchors that shaped network news for decades, died Friday at age 92.
Wald had been at Montefiore New Rochelle Hospital in Westchester, NY, since he suffered a massive stroke Sunday night. He died in hospital Friday morning, his son Jonathan said.
Wald was a print journalist who switched to television in the 1970s. He spent most of this TV career at ABC News, working with Roone Arledge, the division’s high-profile chief. Together they transformed ABC News from the status they also had into the dominant player in TV news in the 1980s and 1990s.
During Wald’s ABC run from 1977 to 1999, Peter Jennings emerged as the most-watched evening newscaster and the network’s special event coverage regularly led the competition in the Nielsen ratings.
The network also launched two popular news magazine shows during the period, “20/20,” which still airs Friday nights, and “PrimeTime Live,” boasting a number of major TV news stars, including NBC’s David Brinkley and Diane Sawyer. from CBS. †
Prior to his ABC years, Wald was president of NBC News, where he led a major transition for the network’s morning franchise “Today.” Wald hired 24-year-old Jane Pauley to replace Barbara Walters, who had left for ABC, and paired her with Tom Brokaw, then an up-and-coming Washington correspondent.
At ABC News, Wald oversaw the launch of “Nightline,” the nightly news program first anchored by Ted Koppel. The program, which Wald mentioned, grew out of ABC’s nightly special reports on the Catch of 66. US citizens at the US embassy in Iran by militants. “Nightline” was the first expansion of nightly news programming by any network since evening broadcasts went from 15 minutes to half an hour in the early 1960s.
Wald was attuned to the TV audience’s growing appetite for news and information. In a speech at the 1976 meeting of the National Assn. of Broadcasters, Wald casually predicted the arrival of 24-hour news services. Four years later, Ted Turner launched CNN on cable.
Wald was also known as the model for Max Schumacher, the news chairman of the fictional UBS Network, played by actor William Holden in the 1976 feature film “Network.” Screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky followed Wald for several days before creating the character.
After leaving ABC in 1999, Wald taught journalism at Columbia University, where he became the first Fred W. Friendly Professor of Professional Practice in Media Society.
Richard Charles Wald was born in New York City on March 19, 1930, to Joe Wald, a clothing industry manager and factory owner, and Lily Wald.
Wald attended Columbia College, where he was on the editorial board of the Spectator, the student-run newspaper. He shared an off-campus apartment with Arledge, who was also a Columbia student.
Wald’s professional career began with the New York Herald Tribune, where he was a stringer. He joined the newspaper full-time as a foreign correspondent and eventually worked his way up to editor-in-chief.
The Herald Tribune was known as a writer’s newspaper, and Wald worked closely with the forerunners of the ‘new journalism’ style of the 1960s. The publication’s contributors included Jimmy Breslin, Tom Wolfe, and Gail Sheehy, who brought a narrative, novelistic approach to their writing.
Wald joined NBC News in 1967 after the paper, then known as the World Journal Tribune, folded. “I didn’t leave any newspapers,” he said. “Newspapers have left me.”
Wald leaves behind three children, Matthew, Elizabeth and Jonathan, a veteran news producer and executive for NBC and CNN. Wald also leaves behind seven grandchildren and one great-grandchild. His 67-year-old wife, Edith, died in December.