Such was their stature during the golden age of local television news that mail sent to their WCVB-TV offices was often addressed simply to “Chet and Nat, Boston, MA.” For nearly three decades, beginning in the 1970s, Chet Curtis and Natalie Jacobson, married partners and boldfaced-name celebrities, formed a ratings-winning anchor team for whom viewers developed a strikingly familial affection.
Mr. Curtis, who was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, died Wednesday night, according to his family. He was 74 years old.
The on-air chemistry and domestic union – they were among the first married co-anchors paired together in a major television news market – made Mr. Curtis and Ms. Jacobson media royalty in Boston. Even after the couple’s marriage came apart in 1999, followed by their on-air partnership, and Mr. Curtis moved to New England Cable News, where he anchored newscasts and hosted a nightly business show, he remained a revered figure in the broadcast news profession and a mentor to many journalists.
Mr. Curtis first teamed up with Jacobson in 1972, when they co-anchored Channel 5’s midday newscast. In 1982, after working separately in different anchor configurations at the ABC network affiliate, they were reunited to lead the station’s 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. newscasts, later taking over its 5 p.m. newscast as well. Earlier that same year, Mr. Curtis had helped launch “Chronicle,” Channel 5’s long-running news-feature program.
In a fiercely competitive market driven by its on-air personalities, Channel 5 built a ratings powerhouse around its anchor duo, aided by a reporting team that included Martha Raddatz Bradlee, Clark Booth, David Ropeik, Ron Gollobin, Kirby Perkins, Susan Wornick, Jack Harper, and Chuck Kraemer.
But the unmistakable, and highly marketable, stars were Mr. Curtis and Jacobson. He was known as the “mayor” of the newsroom; she was the “madonna” of local broadcast news. They commanded six-figure salaries and rock-star status. Station management aggressively promoted them as Boston’s First Couple, at one point making “5 Is Family” its branding slogan. During holiday-themed promotional spots, Channel 5’s news team and their families appeared together warbling Christmas carols.
“Back then, it was like going to work for Google,” recalled former Channel 5 news director Charles Kravetz, now general manager at radio station WBUR-FM. “Viewership was growing exponentially, and Chet was an absolutely iconic figure in those years. He was low-key, with a wonderful sense of humor and journalistic ethics. A real reporter, too, who always put the self-important nature of TV news in perspective.”
Jack Hynes was an anchorman at Channel 5 who worked with Mr. Curtis for several decades. Today, Hynes called his former colleague an anchorman people could believe in. Mr. Curtis, Hynes said, was a journalist, not a news presenter.
“It takes two things to be a good anchor. You have to be credible and likeable and Chet had both in spades,” said Hynes. “He had a thing that transmits from the studio to the living room and people locked onto that. If he said the moon was blue, people would think maybe the moon is blue.”
Hynes said he would talk to Mr. Curtis every April 15. They both shared the same birthday.
“We would always say we cheated the calendar again,’’ Hynes recalled.
To WGBH-TV and radio host Emily Rooney, a former news director at WCVB, the respect Mr. Curtis commanded among camera operators and studio crew “speaks volumes” about his professionalism. Beyond his personal likability, Rooney wrote in an e-mail, “There is no single human being in the world, Peter Jennings included, who was better at the ad lib than Chet.”
Mr. Curtis “could talk tall ships and sloops, the Queen and her royal entourage, the Pope and Synod II — there was no issue too trite or complex for Chet,” she observed. “If he had to fill 8 hours of airtime for a major snowstorm — his rich detail left you wanting more, even if he was really repeating the same thing in different words.”
Writing in 2000, Globe media critic Mark Jurkowitz delivered the opinion that Mr. Curtis and Jacobson’s on-air partnership had made them “symbols of stability and class” in local news, turning Channel 5 into one of the country’s “most highly regarded local news stations.”
In doing so, the couple had virtually become household members in the eyes (and hearts) of many loyal viewers. In 1975, when the two were married – each for the second time – at the Old North Church, it was front-page news in Boston. A year later, they were profiled in People magazine. The birth of their daughter Lindsay, in 1981, garnered even more page one headlines.Continued...