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And So She Goes: Farewell, Linda Ellerbee

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In eighth grade, I had Good Morning America on for background noise as I got ready for school.

I always wanted to know the news; occasionally my social studies teacher Mrs. Preston would quiz us on news topics and I always won the Snickers she offered as a prize. On Fridays, Linda Ellerbee came on with a segment called TGIF: Thank God It’s Friday. Ellerbee would do a roundup of the unusual stories that happened during the week. The odder the story, the more deadpan her voice became. After showing the footage, she would say something concise to tie all the stories together. Then she would say her signature line: “And so it goes.”

I loved that line.

At fourteen I was realizing that life could be terribly unfair one day, the next wonderful. Make no mistake: it kept on going and going and going. It was life. You had to go with the waves, see where they took you. Hopefully you’d end up on the shore.

I knew Ellerbee had been on NBC for years, but I didn’t know all the details about her being there.

She was from Texas, home of beauty queens and Molly Ivins. Mother of two children, she was hired by NBC in 1974, and then started anchoring in the late 70’s. With reporter Lloyd Dobyns, she anchored a news show called Weekend. NBC management wanted her to wear makeup. Don’t wear your glasses, Linda! Come on! Smile more! Be pretty! It didn’t help matters that Golden Girl Jessica Savitch just came to the network. The differences between the women were obvious as demonstrated by a profile People Magazine did on Ellerbee in their June 27, 1983 issue:

In an ice-blue studio at NBC News in New York, Jessica Savitch sits in an anchor seat holding a mirror and puckering her lips like a goldfish. It is 8:47 p.m. Expensively adorned, she is preparing to give a live news digest on the hour. Savitch primps, studies her copy, primps. A sound man fits a small microphone in the folds of her silk dress beneath a chained pendant.

 Nearby another NBC anchor, Linda Ellerbee, types out her copy. A cigarette juts from her lips. She wears sneakers, old corduroys, owlish eyeglasses. Her desk is littered with wire tear sheets, a regiment of reference books, cartons of soggy Chinese food. At 10:02, updates over, Savitch exits. Ellerbee’s job is just beginning.


Ellerbee soon had a reputation as “one of the guys.” She was a good writer, did her job well, and was very funny. After Weekend was canceled, she and Dobyns were offered a new show called Overnight. They would give a wry take on the news, trying to show that yes, the news could be depressing, but sometimes you had to laugh. This intro of the June 25, 1983 show is proof (Note: Dobyns left the show in November 1982, replaced by KQED anchorman Bill Schechner):

Ellerbee: If your day was lousy, take what comfort you wish in knowing that Yasser Arafat’s day was much much worse.

Schechner: Others that were set back or down were Lech Walesa, General Augusto Pinochet, and half the Huffers and Puffers in Dalton, Georgia. The other Huffers and Puffers did fine, and all this will make more sense when we move forward on Overnight.

Right away they grabbed your attention. Why did Yasser Arafat have a bad day? What were the Huffers and Puffers?

Ellerbee was busy doing Overnight, her TGIF segment on Today (which she moved to GMA in 1986) raising two preteens and caring for her aging mother. In October, 1983 everything fell apart: Ellerbee’s mother died. While in Texas for the funeral, Savitch did a NBC News Digest where she slurred her words and appeared drugged. When Ellerbee returned (according to Savitch biographer Alanna Nash) she begged NBC to help Savitch. They refused, saying they didn’t want her dying on their watch. She conferred with several colleagues, and they decided to do an intervention October 24th. The day before, Savitch was the victim of a car accident. She was killed instantly. A month later, Overnight was canceled. It was definite rough going.

But Ellerbee kept at it.

After refusing to take a pay cut with NBC, she went to ABC in 1986. She started a new show with Dobyns called Our World. It was a look back at a certain time of history. One show they did the fall of 1973 where they talked about Watergate, Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs, and shock! A woman wore a pantsuit to the Supreme Court! I loved Our World. It was like watching a history lesson. But it was against Cosby and Family Ties, meaning it didn’t have a chance. It was canceled in 1987.


Ellerbee founded a new production company, Lucky Duck. Something was becoming clear: she had a drinking problem. She admitted in her book Move on she got drunk at her son’s graduation and other times, too. But she was defensive: So she drank? Big deal! Her father drank all the time. But she knew it was a big deal, that it was slowly killing her. If Murphy Brown could do it, so could she. She did a stint in Betty Ford, and remained sober.

She also realized something else: kids deserved to know what was going on in the world. They shouldn’t be talked down to, or not know what’s going on. In 1991, she went to Nickelodeon and started doing Nick News With Linda Ellerbee. She did shows on global warming, President Clinton’s impeachment, AIDS (where Magic Johnson talked about being HIV positive) different families (Rosie O’Donnell talked about being a lesbian and raising children) and children of alcoholics.

She signed off with a new tagline: “If you want to know, ask!”

When I learned of Ellerbee’s retirement, I almost wanted to grab her by the ankles and say “No! You can’t go!” After all, we need her take on the news!

Donald Trump cherishes the disabled.

Kylie Jenner poses in a wheelchair for Interview Magazine.

A flight attendant attacked several passengers.

Mark Zuckerberg’s wife had a baby.

The news comes faster this time, sometimes harder. Ellerbee’s sane sardonic voice will be missed in the crossfire we call news today.

And so it goes.

This week Stereo Embers learned of the death of Ellerbee’s colleague Ray Gandolf. He was eighty-five years old. Condolences go to his family.