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Hugh Downs in 1972
Hugh Malcolm Downs
February 14, 1921
Akron, Ohio, U.S.
|Occupation||Television broadcaster, host, producer, author|
(m. 1944; her death 2017)
Hugh Malcolm Downs (born February 14, 1921) is a retired American broadcaster, television host, news anchor, TV producer, author, game show host, and music composer. He is perhaps best known for his roles as co-host of the NBC News program Today from 1962-71, host of the Concentration game show from 1958-69, and anchor of the ABC News magazine 20/20 from 1978-99. He also served as announcer/sidekick for Tonight Starring Jack Paar, host of the PBS talk show Over Easy, and co-host of the syndicated talk show Not for Women Only.
Downs was born in 1921 in Akron, Ohio to Edith (née Hicks) and Milton Howard Downs, who worked in business. He was educated at Lima Shawnee High School in Lima, Ohio; Bluffton College, a Mennonite school in Bluffton, Ohio; and Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan, during the period 1938-41.
He worked as a radio announcer and program director at WLOK in Lima, Ohio, after his first year of college. In 1940 he moved on to WWJ in Detroit. Downs served in the United States Army during World War II in 1943 and then joined the NBC radio network at WMAQ as an announcer in Chicago, Illinois, where he lived until 1954. While at WMAQ Downs also acted, including as the "co-pilot" in the "Uncle Ned's Squadron" program in 1951. He married a coworker, Ruth Shaheen in 1944, three days after his 23rd birthday. He also attended Columbia University in New York City during 1955-56.
Downs made his first television news broadcast in September 1945 from the still experimental studio of WBKB-TV (now WBBM-TV), a station then owned by the Balaban and Katz theater subsidiary of Paramount Pictures.
Downs became a television regular, announcing for Hawkins Falls in 1950, the first successful television soap opera, which was sponsored by Lever Brothers Surf detergent. He also announced the Burr Tillstrom children's show Kukla, Fran and Ollie from the NBC studios at Chicago's Merchandise Mart after the network picked up the program from WBKB. In March 1954, Downs moved to New York City to accept a position as announcer for Pat Weaver's The Home Show starring Arlene Francis. That program lasted until August 1957. He was the announcer for Sid Caesar's Caesar's Hour for the 1956-57 season, and one of NBC Radio's Monitor "Communicators" from 1955-1959. Downs became a bona fide television "personality" as Jack Paar's announcer on The Tonight Show from mid-1957, when he replaced Franklin Pangborn, until Paar's departure in March 1962, and then continued to announce for The Tonight Show until the summer of 1962, when Ed Herlihy took the announcing reins. Herlihy held that post until October 1, 1962, when Johnny Carson took over the show, and brought Ed McMahon as his announcer.
On August 25, 1958, Downs concurrently began a more than ten-year run hosting the original version of the game show Concentration. Also, he hosted NBC's Today Show for nine years from September 1962 to October 1971, plus co-hosting the syndicated television program Not for Women Only with Barbara Walters in 1975-76. Downs also appeared as a panelist on the television game show To Tell the Truth and in an episode, cast as himself, on the NBC police sitcom, Car 54, Where Are You?, set in New York City.
Downs earned a postgraduate degree in gerontology from Hunter College while he was hosting Over Easy, a PBS television program about aging that aired from 1977 to 1983. He was probably best known in later years as the Emmy Award-winning co-anchor -- again paired with Walters -- of the ABC news TV show 20/20, a primetime news magazine program, from the show's second episode in 1978 until his retirement in 1999.
In 1985, he was certified by the Guinness Book of World Records as holding the record for the greatest number of hours on network commercial television (15,188 hours), though he lost the record for most hours on all forms of television to Regis Philbin in 2004. A published composer, Downs hosted the PBS showcase for classical music, Live from Lincoln Center from 1990-96. Downs made a cameo appearance on Family Guy in addition to other TV shows.
Downs has been seen in infomercials for Bottom Line Publications, including their World's Greatest Treasury of Health Secrets, as well as another one for a personal coach. He did an infomercial for Where There's a Will There's an A in 2003. His infomercial work since then has aroused some controversy, with many arguing the products are scams.
Downs has most recently appeared in regional public service announcements in Arizona, where he currently lives, for that state's Motor Vehicles Division; for Hospice of the Valley, a Phoenix-area non-profit organization specializing in hospice care, as well as in many public, short-form programs in which he serves as host of educational interstitials.
Ruth Shaheen Downs, Hugh's wife, died on March 28, 2017 at age 95.
Downs wrote a column for Science Digest during the 1960s. He was Science Consultant to Westinghouse Laboratories and the Ford Foundation and an elected member of the National Academy of Science. He served as chair of the Board of Governors of the National Space Society until 2019 and was a longtime president and chairman of the predecessor National Space Institute. The asteroid 71000 Hughdowns is named after him.
Downs has expressed public praise for many libertarian viewpoints. He opposes the U.S. "war on drugs". He did several pieces about the war on drugs and hemp. On his last 20/20 he was asked if he had any opinions of his own that he would like to express: he responded that marijuana should be legalized.
an anthology of Downs's science articles
a collection of essays
50 selections from his ten-minute radio essays
Comments on the 2006 Book and Infomercial
| The Tonight Show announcer
| Concentration host
| Today Show Host with Barbara Walters
September 17, 1962-October 1, 1971
Harold Hayes and Robert Hughes
(first episode only)
| 20/20 Anchor
himself June 13, 1978-1984,
with Barbara Walters, 1984-1999