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The Irving Button

By RD Heldenfels Published: February 7, 2006

My wife will be the first to tell you that I am slow to throw things away. I would be the second, but with a plea for understanding. I have a hard time giving up objects that meant something to me along the way, or things that are important for research, or things that might prove important down the road, or things I simply like.

But, because I don't throw things away, this morning I found myself digging through a box of buttons -- rock-band buttons, TV show buttons, campaign buttons -- until I found one that said ''Irving. NBC News.''

The button reminds me of Reuven Frank, the former NBC News president who died recently. (You can find an obituary here.) My memory may play tricks, but here is why.

Frank, who among other things is credited with teaming Huntley and Brinkley, was running NBC News when a competitor -- by way of praising his own stars -- dismissed NBC's news team as a bunch of guys named Irving.

Hence the button. While it was most likely the work of an enterprising PR person at NBC, it reflected Frank's broad sensibility -- which would find nothing wrong with being an Irving, if you were good at being an Irving -- and his sense of humor.

While the obituaries I have read this morning make great note of Frank's contributions to TV news, it should also be remembered that he was funny and pointed. You can find that in his 1991 memoir, ''Out of Thin Air,'' starting with the subtitle, ''The Brief Wonderful Life of Network News.''

A few samples:

-- About ''Special Bulletin,'' an entertainment drama presented in the form of a live newscast, he said, ''I was outraged when it was given a Humanitas Award and would have returned mine but I couldn't find it.''

-- On star anchors: ''Once they have reached that level of money, they forget how unusual it is, and ignore what they are getting it for. A fraction pays for their competence and unique talents. ... The rest, inescapably, is paid because the network expects to get it back -- many times. It is an investment.''

-- On returning to the presidency of NBC News in the early '80s: ''I had not changed. I, who had once been known as a pain in the ass, was now seen to represent the good old days.''

-- ''Despite all the talk, news is a simpleton's business, its rules easily expressed and understood.''

I'm holding onto the book. And the Irving button.

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