Wednesday, December 22, 1999

Time again for Dixon tribute




BY JOHN KIESEWETTER
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        If Channel 5 needs a story to fill newscasts between the holidays next week, how about a tribute to funnyman Paul Dixon, who died 25 years ago on Dec. 28 at age 56?

        The TV personality who inspired David Letterman, Michael Flannery, John Riggi and other comedians, hosted a live daily show on Channels 5 and 9 during his 25-year TV career here. WCPO-TV fed his show to ABC and DuMont networks during parts of 1951-55.

        After a brief stint in New York, he returned to Channel 5 in 1955 to host the Midwestern Hayride (1957-58) and a daily show simulcast on Avco Broadcasting stations in Dayton, Columbus and Indianapolis.

        Channel 5 has several complete Paul Dixon Shows, including the infamous 1969 chicken wedding that was replayed twice during the station's 50th anniversary last year.

        His widow, Marge, recently received a tape of a 1970 interview her husband did on Oxford's Channel 14 with Rick Ludwin, now NBC senior vice president for specials, prime-time series and late night. Mr. Dixon discusses his career and audience with Mr. Ludwin, a 1970 Miami University graduate who supervises the Jay Leno and Conan O'Brien shows. He sent the tape to Mrs. Dixon.

        Decades before Dave, “Paul Baby” Dixon presided over “this dumb show” on Channel 5, mocking conventional TV. He gave studio guests Oscherwitz Kosher Salami (not canned hams); he tossed a rubber chicken over his shoulder (not index cards) after Kroger chicken commercials; and he would interrupt his show to chat with his bandleader, other sidekicks or the audience.

        Mr. Letterman told me in 1997: “I was just out of college (in 1969), and I really didn't know what I wanted to do. And then all the sudden I saw him (Mr. Dixon) doing it (on TV). And I thought: That's really what I want to do!

        “From beginning to end, he pretty much did the same thing every minute of every show,” he recalled. “It was like we're all in on this joke.”

        Mr. Dixon came to old WCPO-AM (1230) from Chicago in 1944 and made the transition to WCPO-TV when it started in 1949. He suffered a heart attack in 1970, four months after his 19-year-old son died in a car wreck. He never fully regained his health and died after a 1974 operation, says Mrs. Dixon of Hyde Park.

        “I knew he looked bad, very bad, but his goal was to be on the air until April of 1975, for 20 years at WLW. He never made it,” she says.

        “Paul Baby” fans also may purchase a copy of the chicken wedding show from Video Marketing Enterprises for $9.95. The 60-minute Paul Dixon Show Chicken Wedding, which aired twice last year during Channel 5's silver anniversary, may be ordered by calling (800) 358-7691, visiting the VME Web site (www.vmevideo.com) or writing VME, Box 1588, Norcross, GA 30091.

        MORE INGALLS: Richard Thomas (The Waltons) stars as Charles Ingalls, the role made famous by the late Michael Landon, in CBS' Jan. 2 movie, Beyond the Prairie: The True Story of Laura Ingalls Wilder.

        Meredith Monroe (Dawson's Creek) and Tess Harper share the role of Laura Ingalls Wilder, author of the Little House books which were the basis of NBC's Little House on the Prairie (1974-82). The film will air at 9 p.m. (Channels 12, 7).

        STAND-UP GUY: Politically Incorrect host Bill Maher will tape an HBO comedy special in spring, his first since 1997.

        “I have a new act finally,” the comedian says. “It takes a while (to develop new material) after you do a special. I call it getting pregnant again with new material. I'm pregnant again, and it's fun. It's like having a new car.”

        ENQUIRERING MIND: This Enquirering mind wants to know: What does Jesse Eisenberg, the teen-ager from Fox's Get Real, think about his 6-year-old sister Hallie, star of Pepsi's “Joy of Cola” TV commercials?

        “She's a down-to-earth cute kid. I think she really has talent, which is not found a lot at that age,” he says.

        “She's really talented,” he says. “She sings, and dances, and does those impressions of Ross Perot and the whole thing.”

        NETWORK DEAL: Three of the four major networks — ABC, CBS and Fox — have signed an agreement for an unprecedented domestic news cooperative to share video footage with each other and their affiliates through the new Network News Service (NNS).

        It's a cost-cutting deal for the rivals, which will share the expensive of gathering video on breaking news stories.

        Each network's news operation will be able to select from all of that day's NNS material for inclusion in its regular feeds to affiliates. ABC NewsOne, CBS Newspath and FOX News Edge will continue to operate independently.

        “The starting point for all of us in television news — at the networks and at the stations — is access to the best video,” said David Westin, ABC News President. “Our news cooperative will ensure that we always have the best possible video of the widest range of stories.”

        “NNS enables each network news service to devote more resources to its own coverage, exclusive stories and distinctive, enterprise reporting,” said Andrew Heyward, CBS News president, “which will ultimately differentiate one station or one service from its competitors.”

       



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