Jeff Gralnick would have hated it.
Jeff hated talking about himself. He had no use for self-praise and could become violent over the flagrant use of adjectives and adverbs. So this gathering of about 200 of his friends and colleagues for a memorial service honoring Jeff’s life would have both embarrassed and annoyed him.
For those who may not have known him, Jeff Gralnick was an amazing pioneer in television and online news. He worked for CBS, ABC, NBC, MSNBC and CNN, as a producer and executive. He worked with Cronkite, Reasoner, Jennings, Reynolds, Robinson, Koppel, Brokaw and Williams - and so many more. Anchors have told me - repeatedly - that when crises arose in live television, there was nothing as calming as Jeff's voice coming over their headset, leading them, feeding them information, guiding them.
This week, his friends and former colleagues gathered for a memorial service.
You only had to look around the packed room to get some idea of Jeff’s influence on broadcast news. There were the presidents of all the major broadcast networks’ news divisions. Executive producers and senior producers galore, representing ABC, CBS and NBC, plus a lot of other senior people from CNN, MSNBC and even Fox (the one major network where I don’t think Jeff worked, although God knows a lot of his protégés do). And there were a great many of us who toiled, or continue to toil, in broadcast and online journalism. We were all there to pay this final tribute to a most amazing person, to share some memories – and a lot of laughter.
The speakers included Jeff’s brother, Bill, plus Tom Brokaw, Steve Capus, Av Westin, Brian Williams and Lynn Sherr. Everyone had Gralnick stories to share. Brian Williams (who does a really fine Gralnick imitation) brought along printouts of classic Gralnick emails – the ones that used to make us cringe when we received them, or – because they were so rare – glow with pride when he praised our work.
One story was told about an NBC correspondent who had fought to get his spot on the broadcast. Jeff gave him 40 seconds. By dint of much rewriting, editing, etc., the correspondent brought it in at 39 seconds. He felt pretty proud of himself – until Gralnick cornered him at the end of the broadcast. “I gave you 40 seconds!” he said. The correspondent laughed. Jeff wasn’t laughing. “What should I have done with that second?” the correspondent asked. Jeff’s reply: “You could have opened it up.”
Funny story (and one of the few that can be repeated on a family-oriented website or email). But typical. Jeff was always pushing his people to do better, rewrite again, find a better sound bite, more powerful pictures. Jeff wanted to be first and best – but, more importantly, he wanted to be RIGHT. Lynn Sherr pointed out that when you phoned in a script to Jeff, he’d pepper you with questions about the story – and God help you if you couldn’t answer them! When you succeeded, you got a VERY occasional pat on the back. When you failed – well, you knew about it.
But Jeff was also a tireless teacher, one who always championed and defended his people, and who pushed them to be the absolute best they could be. He never settled for second best - in himself or from his colleagues. The legion of successful producers, writers, anchors and correspondents who worked with him and learned from him are testimony to his skills, his success and his humanity. Amid all the laughter at the memorial, there were tears too, for an amazing person who left us far too soon.
As I said, Jeff would have hated it.