Friday, April 10, 2009

Nashville loses trusted voice of Dan Miller

Dan Miller, then 44 and chief news anchor for WSMV-Channel 4, left the Nashville TV station to become anchor for KCBS-TV in Los Angeles in 1986. He returned in 1992. ROBERT JOHNSON / FILE / THE TENNESSEAN
Veteran newsman dies at 67
By Gail Kerr and Chris Echegaray • THE TENNESSEAN • April 10, 2009
DAN MILLER 1941-2009 Dan Miller, the low-key "everyman" news anchor who came across as the funny, kind brother you welcome in your living room each night, died of a heart attack Wednesday night after collapsing in his hometown of Augusta, Ga. He was 67.
Mr. Miller anchored the news on WSMV-Channel 4 for more than three decades, taking it to competition-busting ratings. He left in the 1980s for a short hiatus as a Los Angeles newsman and trusty talk show sidekick to his longtime friend Pat Sajak before returning to Nashville. Visitation with the family is 3 to 6 p.m. Monday and 10 a.m. Tuesday at Westminster Presbyterian Church, 3900 West End Ave. Services will be at 11:30 a.m. Tuesday at the church. Those who knew him, or felt like they did, were stunned Thursday morning as news of his death spread. He had returned to Augusta to see a practice round of the Masters golf tournament with WSMV sportscasters Rudy Kalis and Terry Bulger.
Mr. Miller talked Kalis into going for a walk with him around 11:30 p.m. They were staying about two blocks from Miller's childhood home, and he wanted to scout out the old neighborhood. He collapsed, never regaining consciousness.
Always 'Miller' He was a classic, old-school broadcast journalist who frowned on what he called the "flash and trash" type of local news coverage. His comfortable delivery made him a part of Middle Tennessee's dinner hour. He told viewers the news with accuracy and a calm sense that everything was going to be OK.
"It sounds cliche, but we were best friends, we were big brother and little sister, we were a team," said Demetria Kalodimos, Mr. Miller's co-anchor for more than 20 years. She called him "Miller," always. Never Dan.
"That's how he is on my speed dial. I was just so lucky to sit next to him and learn from him every day. I never admitted it to his face, but I know he knew it. He taught me everything about this business and about what's important. He was just the best."
There is one secret about "Miller" that she will not tell. Their signature "elbow bump" that ended every broadcast "is going to be our secret forever. We both vowed we would never reveal the significance."
The Miller the public saw was a friendly newsman. That's the guy viewers by the hundreds mourned Thursday in comments on
"Few local anchormen in this country have projected as modest an image," wrote Peter Rodman. "It was as if he were simply stopping by to deliver the news, on the way somewhere, but never intending (nor needing) to be the center of attention, at all.
"And yet, that 'Aw, shucks, this is no big deal' manner set him way apart, from anybody else on the air. He delivered the news straight down the middle, and you could hardly tell if he even had a political view — which is how it should be, and too often isn't anymore."
Others were shocked that the mainstay of their evening news would not be there. "My mom called me this morning to tell me," Matthew Frantom posted. " I grew up (on) Dan. For as long as I can remember Channel 4 News was always on our TV. This is really sad news, but I would bet he's in a better place. I'm praying for his family as they grieve. God bless." The private Dan Miller was actually rather shy. He loved his wife, Karen; his kids; banana pudding; and Rotier's cheeseburgers.
Friends remember his dry sense of humor. "Anyone who ever laughed with Dan really got the best," Kalodimos said. "If he got to laughing about something, he had a very sweet, infectious, sincere, darling kind of laugh." Though he was well over 6 feet tall, Mr. Miller drove a tiny Toyota Echo that stayed filthy. Colleagues said it was like watching a clown crawl out at the circus every day when he came to work. He also was quite proud of the world's ugliest pickup truck, which friends clamored to borrow when something needed moving.
Won viewers' hearts Mr. Miller first went on the air in Nashville at what was then WSM-TV as a weatherman in 1969. He began anchoring the NBC affiliate's evening news in 1971. His kind tone made him the city's most popular, and most trusted, local news broadcaster. Many feel as if they grew up with him — he is an intricate part of Nashville's landscape. He was as much a part of the dinner hour as meat and potatoes.
From 1980 to 1993, the popular anchor began a half-hour weekly late night talk show, called Miller and Company, which originated from a restaurant booth set. His first guest was Southern rock star Charlie Daniels.
"He's a good one gone," Daniels said Thursday. "He's good people, and very much an icon in the news world in Nashville."
The conversational style, with Mr. Miller's folksy questions, made the show a hit both with audiences and guests clamoring to be on it. One Christmas, he stunned a delighted viewership by showing videotape of a crackling, glowing fireplace log for 30 minutes.
"It was one of the shows you wanted to do," said country legend Vince Gill. "He was really good at making you feel at ease, asking you questions you felt were important. He didn't take up a lot of space. That's a great credit to him as a person."
Mr. Miller left Channel 4 in 1986 to take a job at KCBS, the CBS affiliate in Los Angeles. Not because the market and salary were bigger — which they were — but because "it's the double-A ballplayer who gets a shot at the majors. You may not ever become a 20-year legend, but you want to be able to tell your grandchildren you gave it a shot."
He was taken off the air a year later in what was described as a management housecleaning. With two years left on his contract, Miller described it as "television purgatory." That ended in 1989, when he joined The Pat Sajak Show as the emcee and announcer. In one memorable episode, Mr. Miller spent the entire 90-minute show wearing a giant fuzzy pink bunny costume. Sajak worked at WSM-TV from 1972 to 1975 as the weatherman, and the two remained friends over the years. Sajak remains host of the popular Wheel of Fortune game show. "I knew Dan since 1972, and we saw each other through marriages, divorces, births, deaths, romantic crises, and more professional and personal ups and downs than any pair of grown-up males should have had," Sajak wrote in an e-mail Thursday. "But mostly, we laughed. We laughed at everything and everyone, but mainly at ourselves and each other." -->(4 of 5) The show drew decent ratings but was canceled in the spring of 1990. triggerAd(4,PaginationPage,12); When Mr. Miller first left Nashville, the station manager at Channel 4 told him he was welcome back to the anchor chair at any time. He did just that, rejoining WSMV's Scene at Six on Jan. 1, 1992. He described it as "like going back home after being away for a while. It just felt like where I was supposed to be." Earned peers' respect Colleagues, competitors and leaders respected the Emmy-award-winning Mr. Miller. "He had such a tremendous impact on so many young journalists," said John Seigenthaler, a former NBC anchor who started his reporting career at WSMV. "There is no question that he was one of the best anchors in the country," Seigenthaler said. "He was a great communicator. Even if they didn't know him, everybody felt like he was their friend and they trusted him. There's no bigger compliment for a broadcast journalist. No matter what the news was, he made you feel like everything is going to be OK." Gov. Phil Bredesen said Mr. Miller was "a constant light. It's the kind of role of an anchor person that is getting too rare in this country. I thought very, very highly of him. His calm voice and authoritative way he dealt with the news was exactly what was needed. It's very sad to see someone leave life right in the prime of it the way that he did." Elden Hale, vice president and general manager of WSMV, said Mr. Miller "was a terrific human being. He loved people, understood people and he was an excellent journalist." Ken Smith, news director of WZTV-Channel 17, worked with Mr. Miller for five years at Channel 4, after growing up watching him. "He made me want to be in TV news," Smith said. "He was larger than life. He was unflappable. The control room would be going crazy, and you never knew it." Former WTVF-Channel 5 anchor Chris Clark and current WKRN-Channel 2 anchor Bob Mueller joined Mr. Miller as being the three most recognizable news men in Middle Tennessee at one point. "We were competitors, but Dan and I thought that our colleagues took that more seriously than we did," Clark said. "He was such a nice guy, a comforting figure. Dan made you feel like everything would be OK." -->(5 of 5) Mueller said in the 30 years he knew Mr. Miller, "he was very hard to beat. Dan Miller was simply the best at what he did. His style was so watchable. He didn't read you the news, he told you the news." triggerAd(5,PaginationPage,7); Kalodimos chuckled through tears when reminded of what her longtime partner had said four years ago, upon the death of The Tonight Show's Johnny Carson. "Without meeting him," Mr. Miller told The Tennessean, "we all knew him. We knew him better than some of our own relatives. For 30 years he would tell us good night every night. And no matter where life took you, he was a constant. He was always there." That hit home for Kalodimos. "He was talking about himself." Besides his wife, Miller is survived by daughters McKensie, Darcy Lashinsky and Jennifer Blumenthal; son, Stephen; sisters Debee Stayner and Sara Harper; brother, Lynwood; and three grandchildren. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made to Westminster Presbyterian Church, the Martha O'Bryan Center or Circle Players.

No comments: