Vance: We had dinner at La Ferme in Chevy Chase before you took the job. I remember because I saw you in the parking lot and my first thought was: Well, at least they hired a fox.
Gentzler: I knew all about you, but you didn’t know anything about me.
Vance: I’d had a conversation with George [Michael] about you. George knew everybody in the business, and he spoke of Doreen in glowing terms.
Gentzler: There was one broadcast my first week where George and Vance went off on some tangent, as they liked to do, and I think I interrupted them and moved things along.
Vance: Restored order.
Gentzler: I just remember feeling like, okay, I’m in.
Talk about your most memorable moments from your early days.
Gentzler: I remember being here the night [DC mayor] Marion Barry got arrested, and one of our colleagues got the tip before anyone else. I think it was my turn to do the cut-in that night. I remember hearing this in the newsroom, and it was my first year on the job. My eyes were getting bigger and bigger and I’m thinking, holy s---.
LA Law was on that night, and they wanted me to break in. I said, “You know what? I do not want to be the one who breaks into LA Law. Let’s find Vance.”
Vance: Remember the train wreck in Silver Spring in 1996? It was a commuter-train derailment, and we had to be on the air for several hours—no scripts, and there was a lot of misinformation. Amtrak wouldn’t talk, so it was not the easiest of assignments. What became apparent was two things: Doreen knew how to handle herself, and she didn’t need all the face time.
Doreen comes to the set with lots of papers; you’re more likely to ad-lib. Have you always been like that?
Vance: I’ll tell you when that happened—on that awful day in 1982 with the crash of Air Florida 90, the Metro collision, and the snowstorm. I was on the air all day. It was one of those days when you don’t have scripts, you don’t have rundowns, you don’t have anything except “Let’s do some good television.”
I had a producer named Jim Van Messel, and we were walking to the studio from the newsroom. I said to Jimmy: “What do you wanna do?” And he said: “I don’t know—what do you wanna do?” And we laughed. He said: “You go in the studio and do what you do, I’ll go into the control room and do what I do, and let’s see what comes out.”
Fast-forward to the Emmy Awards: That show won. I looked at Jimmy and we both were like, “I’ll be damned. How’d that happen?”
David Brinkley said to me once, “I like to go on the air knowing enough about what happened in the world today that if a big wind comes and blows my scripts away and a storm comes and knocks out the teleprompter, I can still do a half-hour show.”
Can you think of times where one of you had to save the other?
Gentzler: When I was coming back from maternity leave and was just exhausted, we were coming out of sports and I got startled—I’d drifted away. They came back to me, and I said, “We’ll be right back with sports.” And Vance just said, “Don’t worry, she’ll be all right.”
Vance: Every now and again, you hit a wall. You’re trying to say something and the place or the name just won’t come to you. If I go blank, she’ll pick it up and leave it to the director to figure out how to get the camera onto her. It’s something I just assume—that if I ain’t feeling good, I might not even have to say so because she’ll pick up on it.
Gentzler: Vance was honored last week in Prince George’s County, and we taped a thing about “What do people not know about Jim Vance?” And after I said some insulting things—
Gentzler: —I said that what they may not know is what a good listener he is. It is not unusual for him to say: “Wow, what’s going on with you?” Before you even say a word. He just picks up on the cues.
What were the insulting things?
Gentzler: Should I repeat the ones I already said on that tape? That was for a much smaller audience. All right, I said you belch all the time.
Vance: “Loudly.” And that I act like it’s no big deal.
Gentzler: He thinks macaroni and cheese is a vegetable.
Vance: Oh, and you said I act like I know stuff.
Gentzler: He is very good at acting like he knows what he’s talking about when occasionally he does not have the faintest clue.
Vance: It’s a gift.
What do people not know about Doreen?
Vance: I don’t know that people would know just from watching her how incredibly sentimental Doreen is. She feels other people’s pain—way more than I do. She’ll tear up, in joy or deep sorrow, but I can’t think of a time anybody’s ever seen it on television.
She’s tough. And stubborn. Here’s this wonderfully educated, well-spoken suburban mom, apple pie, all-American, but I don’t go near the line with Doreen. I would not want to piss her off. A long time ago when she found out she was pregnant, Doreen pulled me aside, got right up in my face, and said, “I’d appreciate it if you wouldn’t smoke in the studio because I’m getting ready to have a baby.”
Gentzler: I don’t remember asking you to do that.
Vance: You didn’t ask me—you told me.
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