Walter Cronkite, Dan Rather, Diane Sawyer, Lesley Stahl and Charles Kuralt are among the giants who have been the public faces of broadcast news over the past four decades. But just out of the public spotlight, whether in glittering world capitols or war-torn hellholes, there worked behind the scenes some legendary figures that were held in the highest esteem by their peers. On Friday Lane Venardos, one of the news industry's greatest producers and executives, died at his home in Hawaii.
Lane was a very special person who combined a fiercely competitive spirit, a strong commitment to professionalism and integrity with a wonderful effervescent personality. For nearly thirty years he personified what was great about CBS News.
Lane was an exceptional executive producer because he had a clear vision, he communicated effectively and he was always incredibly organized. "No detail too small" he would often say. His approach would earn him more than a dozen Emmy awards. As an executive producer and then vice president of CBS News his energetic leadership style won respect from all those who worked with him.
Lane was born in post-war Alton, Illinois, just across the Mississippi River from St. Louis. He was a product of America's heartland. He started in radio news and had a booming radio voice. "Tall tower full power!" he would frequently blurt out even years after jumping to television. That transition would take place in Chicago in the early seventies where he served as assistant news director at WBBM-TV News. It wasn't long before CBS News recruited him.
In the late seventies, as a producer for The CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite in Washington, he helped modernize television coverage of the White House. He applied organization and the latest technologies to presidential trip coverage around the world. He soon was promoted to senior producer. Sir Howard Stringer, now CEO of Sony and then the newly appointed CBS Evening News executive producer, brought him to New York to work with Dan Rather. When Howard was promoted to the CBS News front office two years later Lane took over as executive producer of the broadcast.
For four years in the mid-eighties he served as the executive producer of the CBS Evening News with Dan Rather, and he was proud to point out the broadcast was number one in the ratings during his entire tenure. "The CBS Evening News brings people together every day even for only a brief period of time." he once said. "That carries a special responsibility."
In the late eighties Lane took on the role of vice president of special events coverage. He was the executive producer of 48 Hours on Crack Street, the premier broadcast of that series. Lane led CBS News' presidential election specials, campaign coverage and dozens of specials on major news stories. He led the CBS News operations in Beijing, China, for its highly acclaimed coverage of the student uprising at Tiananmen Square. He was also executive producer of such CBS News specials as Remember Pearl Harbor, Eye on the Earth, and William S. Paley: Tribute to a Broadcasting Giant.
In the early nineties he was promoted to vice president of hard news. There he ran all of CBS News day-to-day news coverage and worldwide bureaus. He was as outstanding an executive as he had been an executive producer.
He retired from CBS News in the late nineties but did not retire from television. His subsequent television credits included several Survivor series, The Apprentice, The Contender and The Biggest Loser.
Yet, for all these considerable accomplishments, friends and colleagues will best remember Lane’s extraordinary sense of humor and personality. "Let's get out there and scratch that surface!" he would often quip. Working with him, no matter how difficult the task, was always fun. His energy, his passion and his down to earth character were incredibly endearing. And he was deeply admired for his strong family commitment.
Lane Venardos was a great friend to thousands of broadcasters throughout the world. For them, Lane Venardos is a legend in television news.
A few LANE-isms
A greeting: "Good luck in your own personal career!"
Booming radio voice: "Tall tower, full power!...50 thousand watts, clear channel...broadcasting from the heart of the capital...the capital city's number ONE source for ne-uws...now the golden tones of (insert your name)."
Answering the phone: "Good morning. miracle productions."
Comment during a failed video feed: "It looked good leaving here, New York."
Inspring the troops: "Let's get out there and scratch that surface."
Killing a package: "Boom, boom, boom, boom, you're piece is dead."
Or: "On any other day your story would have been the lede!"
Setting expectations: "Never make the same mistake once."
On being human: "No good deed goes unpunished."
Hard work: "If it is worth doing, it is worth overdoing."
Organization: "No detail too small."
On television investigative reporting. "Your report should be like a rock skipping across the top of the water, never too deep as to slow down the story."
On praise: "You're only as good as your next piece."
Avoiding controvery: "Life is lonely in the middle."
The producer's apology when caught being sneaky: "I don't know how it happened, I am sorry, it will never happen again."
The producer's pledge: "You have my word as a producer!"