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At KTLA, Sam Rubin was a local morning news pioneer who covered Hollywood with zeal

Greg Braxton – Los Angeles Times (TNS)

KTLA entertainment reporter Sam Rubin was at the center of a local TV news revolution.

Rubin, who died Friday of a heart attack at 64, became a central member of “KTLA 5 Morning News” soon after its launch on July 8. 1991. The early morning broadcast was a bold experiment: Local news stations had usually focused on their evening newscasts, feeling that morning viewers would be more likely to tune into national programs like NBC’s “The Today Show” or ABC’s “Good Morning America.”

But the Channel 5 broadcast instantly struck a chord with its emphasis on news and events around Los Angeles. Its success was due to its loose approach and a collection of anchors and reporters who interacted with breezy banter.

The original team included anchors Carlos Amezcua and Barbara Beck, weatherman Mark Kriski, traffic reporter Jennifer York and reporter Eric Spillman. Rubin joined the unit three months after its premiere, and he made an instant impression with his energetic delivery and clear enthusiasm for Hollywood news and gossip.

The format became so popular that KTTV Channel 11 soon started its own morning broadcast. The two stations became rivals, turning the local TV landscape into a fierce ratings battleground. Years later, it’s now common for TV stations to have extensive local coverage in the early morning hours.

Amezcua reflected on the legacy of the broadcast during its 20th-anniversary celebration in 2011, which reunited several members of the original team.

“I can’t believe it’s actually been that long,” said Amezcua, who left the station in 2007. “When it started, it was such a scary time, we were sure it was going to be a short-term gig.”

In a separate interview, Rubin said initial ratings for the newscast were so bad “that we were pretty sure we wouldn’t last more than a year.”

He added, “There was just this sense that no one was watching. What we were doing maybe didn’t merit watching. There was this tremendous freedom in letting go. Our boss Joel Tator told us we were all going to get fired anyway, so we might as well do what we want.”

That freedom allowed the on-air talent to be informal in broadcasts, particularly Rubin, who would talk about his wife and daughter. Their home life became part of the self-promotion that often found its way into his reports.

As an entertainment journalist, Rubin’s principal approach was geared toward positive coverage of the subjects he interviewed. He was a favorite of publicists, and his interviews rarely featured probing questions. He would file reports on press junkets that would take him around the world and were paid for by studios, a practice that’s repudiated by members of the press in an effort to provide fair and balanced coverage. But he denied that he was influenced by the free travel or accommodations he enjoyed.

One of Rubin’s most famous segments was one of his most uncomfortable: In an 2014 remote interview with Samuel L. Jackson, who was promoting his new film, a remake of “RoboCop,” Rubin confused the “Pulp Fiction” actor with Laurence Fishburne.

“You’re as crazy as those people on Twitter,” scolded Jackson, pointing a finger at the camera. “I’m not Laurence Fishburne! We don’t all look alike!”

Embarrassed, Rubin tried to make light of the mistake, but a gleeful Jackson continued to tease him.

“You’re the entertainment reporter?” he said to Rubin in an incredulous tone. “You’re the entertainment reporter for this station and you don’t know the difference between me and Laurence Fishburne?”

Rubin frequently projected an edge, which often landed him in hot water inside and outside KTLA.

In 1993, the station’s veteran anchor Hal Fishman threatened to quit his job if station management did not take steps to punish Rubin for what he called “a shocking and appalling slander.” He was angered by Rubin’s joke that Fishman once “wore a skirt for a co-anchor job in Spokane.” It was part of a bit in which Rubin compared Fishman to Dustin Hoffman, who dressed as a woman in the movie “Tootsie.”

In 2004, Rubin was suspended for a week after he made satirical remarks on Monday’s morning news program about the show’s temporary news set, thanking a local high school for sending it to him.

Rubin would also take on-air swipes at Los Angeles Times entertainment coverage and TV columnist Howard Rosenberg, declaring he could do a better job. The Times and KTLA at that time both were owned by Tribune Company.

Regardless of his run-ins and remarks on- and offscreen, for viewers, Rubin managed to maintain an unflappable onscreen image of a television journalist who appreciated his access and enjoyed his job.

©2024 Los Angeles Times. Visit Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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