Television Newscasters

Who was the first black co-host of The Today Show?

The first black co-host of The Today Show was Bryant Charles Gumbel (1948–), beginning in 1982. He had been co-host of NBC’s Rose Bowl Parade since 1975, worked as chief anchor of NBC’s televised football games, and in 1977 was co-host for Super Bowl XI. In 1988 he was NBC’s host for the Olympics in Seoul, South Korea. When he replaced Tom Brokaw as co-host of Today, after sitting in for him for a few months before being officially named co-host, most of his previous broadcast experience had been in sports, which he acknowledges as his true love. Gumbel was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, but the family moved to Chicago when Bryant and his older brother Greg were infants. He is a 1970 graduate of Bates College, where he played both baseball and football. He wrote an article about Harvard’s first black athletic director for Black Sports, which led to a contract with the magazine and to his becoming its editor nine months later. He became a weekly sportscaster for Los Angeles’ KNBC-TV in 1972, moved to sportscaster on the evening news, and to sports director in a span of just eight months. For a time he worked for both KNBC and as co-host of the NFL pre-game show, commuting back and forth from Los Angeles to New York. He began to do more shows for NBC, and in 1980 was assigned to do three sports features a week for Today. When he took over the plum job of co-host of the show, it was in second place in the ratings. By spring 1985, it was in first place, where it remained for most of the Gumbel years. His stay on Today was not without controversy. Gumbel is regarded as a hard taskmaster and was given to expressing his opinions about aspects of the show and its cast members in sometimes unflattering terms. This and other instances of creative differences between Gumbel and the producers played a part in his decision to leave the show in 1997. He soon accepted a CBS offer to host Public Eye, a prime-time, magazine-format, weekly interview show. This show lacked Today’s longevity, and in 1999 Gumbel returned to the morning show beat as co-host of CBS’s The Early Show; he left the show in 2002. He maintained multiple projects and still appears on his HBO sports show, Real Sports. Over the years he earned three Emmys and numerous other awards and honors, including two Image Awards from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and was named Journalist of the Year by the Association of Black Journalists in 1993. He has also become known for his philanthropies, particularly his work on behalf of the United Negro College Fund.

A former journalist for the Washington Post and New York Times, Gwen Ifill was a panelist for Washington Week in Review in the 1990s and is a senior political correspondent for PBS Newshour.


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