Remembering the local news lovebirds, Mona Scott and Doug Adair, who became a Columbus phenomenon when they took over the anchor desk at Channel 4 in 1983
Editor's note: This week, former Channel 4 anchor Doug Adair died from complications from Alzheimer’s disease. Columbus Monthly published this November 1983 cover story about him and his then wife, fellow TV anchor Mona Scott, whose on- and off-the-air chemistry turned them into the talk of the town after arriving from Cleveland that year.
Things start stirring about 8:30 each morning in the suburban three-bedroom house with the big fireplace and knotty pine paneling on one living room wall. He gets up, fidgets around the house, makes the coffee, gets the paper. She sleeps until 10—they don't get to until 2 a.m. usually— and starts her morning with a half hour of exercises to "the cutest little exercise tape.”
In a few hours, after some lunch, they'll change their clothes, settle into the Honda Accord and head from Worthington to 3165 Olentangy River Road. They’ll get out of the car, enter the building and become Doug and Mona, the really nice husband-and-wife TV news anchors of Channel 4, who would like to become Mr. and Mrs. Columbus.
Doug Adair and Mona Scott are Columbus' really nice news team. When he reports an auto fatality, he tells us it's a “terrible, terrible thing." When she tells us about a kidnapping or about someone left homeless after a disaster, there is compassion in her eye, in her voice, in her whole manner.
A put-on? Oh, no, Doug and Mona are ... really nice people, really.
Remember that nice talk with Channel 4's sports anchor Jimmy Crum about the nice fish Doug caught? And the nice way they ask Jym Ganahl if the weather is going to be nice? And how nice they smile? At each other. And at us.
It's really nice. So nice in fact that critics—the fiends—have jumped all over them for it. One man said they were the “Mr. Rogers and Miss Linda—of the Romper Room—of television news.” And another insisted they were “too sweet even for Columbus.”
Doug and Mona try to ignore such criticism. After all, in the first month they were together as a team, the station finished a solid second in the ratings. “There isn’t any reason why we can’t overtake WBNS-TV,” says Doug, referring to the number-one news channel.
Doug and Mona have been a TV team since 1976; married since 1980. They met in Cleveland, where she went from Columbus after having worked at all three commercial television stations here.
A minister's daughter, Mona's start in TV came when the Northwest Christian Church in Upper Arlington decided to put together a half-hour religious program, to be broadcast on WTVN-TV every Sunday in the early ’70s. She was the "star," and the program lasted about a year and a half. Then she went to WBNS-TV, where she had her own children's show for two or three months. Then they replaced me with cartoons, she says. “They were only paying me $25 a week, but cartoons were even cheaper."
Mona spent a period doing freelance voice work, then became a booth announcer at Channel 4. After just a couple of weeks at that job, she was promoted and became the weather person, making $9,000 a year. Along the way, she had married and had two children.
In 1976, a call came from WKYC-TV, the NBC-owned and -operated station in Cleveland, and she and her family moved as she became the KYC weather person. Her salary was better: $25,000. And she met Doug Adair.
"We met in the studio," Doug remembers. “We were doing promos for her. At the beginning, she wasn't very good ... and she was replacing someone who shouldn't have been taken off the air.” Mona says: "It was not love at first sight."
Mona was new and young and scared. Doug was a Cleveland television institution. For 12 years, he had worked at the CBS affiliate there. In 1970, he had made a jump to WKYC-TV, at the then unheard-of salary of $65,000 a year. He had been the top-rated anchor when he was at his original station; the WKYC management hoped he could bring his audience along and help their third-place rating.
He didn't. In recent years, Adair was still one of the most recognized names and faces on Cleveland television, but the station's ratings started to sag even lower. The addition of Mona to the news show, first as a weather person, then, in 1979, as Doug's co-anchor, was one more effort to boost ratings. Cleveland media experts say it never really helped.
"WKYC is traditionally last in the ratings," says Bill Hickey, for 16 years the TV critic for the Cleveland Plain Dealer. "It was last when Doug Adair went there, it was last when he left and it will be last when he and I are in our graves." Yet, he adds, Doug and Mona did have a hard-core following. They worked well together. They were a good team on the set.
They began to become a team off the set. Mona divorced in 1977; Doug in 1978. He had three grown children from that marriage. "Doug, the sportscaster and I often went to dinner together," Mona recalls. “Doug insisted. And we got to be very close. But we had a friendship no more than that—for years. Our first official date was in January, 1980.” Their marriage came 11 months later.
Clevelanders loved it. "Little old ladies thought they were marvelously romantic," Hickey says.
The station loved it, too. WKYC even shot tape of Doug and Mona's wedding reception, which it later ran as a special (beaten in the ratings by, among other things, "Popeye" and "Woody Woodpecker").
But by 1982, the station's love had faded. The team was split up, with Mona given her own news and feature show at 5:30 p.m. (called “5:30") and Doug made what was euphemistically termed a “field anchor" at 11 p.m.
"WKYC moved Judd Hambrick in as anchor at 11 p.m.," Hickey says. "He was young, good looking. ... Doug had his age [he's now 54] going against him. When gray started tinging his hair, the station didn't really care if he stayed or left. It had already milked him for everything it could." Mona, who's now 37, was another story. "She was just coming into her own. ... I know Channel 3 didn't want her to go."
But Doug and Mona were now a package—at least off the air. And although they don't talk much about intrastation politics, about Doug being quietly put out to pasture, they do complain about their working hours at the Cleveland station. “We were working different shifts," Doug says,and Mona continues, “And I wasn't seeing Doug enough."
In early February, they decided to take action. Ron Bilek, a former Clevelander, had just been appointed news director at WCMH-TV. "I called him to talk about us working here," Mona says. “I'm awfully glad I made that call."
Bilek says, “We bought them as a team. We wanted a two-person anchor team. I never looked at the fact that they were married as a real gimmick. I looked at the softness they have. It's something you strive for on the air, and they have it."
Adair and Scott won't discuss their current salaries specifically, except to say they took "about a 50 percent pay cut to come here.” (One media expert guesses they were making about $100,000 apiece annually in Cleveland when they left.) They also got a five-year contract, long by broadcasting standards, and a guarantee that they would be together at 6 and 11 p.m. "Since we're working together," Mona sighs, "I'd almost do it for free.”
WKYC let Adair go with little fanfare, but Scott was asked to stay until early July. She joined her husband the night of the lighting of the LeVeque Tower, a somewhat inauspicious entrance.
For perhaps the rest of his days here, Adair will be remembered for his "light the LeVeque Tower" crusade. "I was talking with some people last spring," he says, "and I happened to mention that you have a building here that looks very much like the Terminal Tower. When it was lighted at night a few years ago, it changed the whole feeling about Downtown. So I thought, ‘Why not do that here?’ ”
The press was on. Every night there were comments by Doug on the news program. Light the tower countdown reminders were printed on the screen. Finally, July 3 arrived, the night for the lighting of the tower. It turned out to be the attempted lighting of the tower. "The lights at the top came on fine," Doug says. “But there were floodlights that were supposed to come on, too. And they didn't.” Much to Doug's embarrassment. “Needless to say, the lighting company did not get paid," he says.
Mona, trying to help her husband forget the whole unpleasant incident, breaks in with an account of their day-to-day life.
Their house, which Mona says they picked because, “It reminds us of our cabin in Pennsylvania," is unimposing. The living room is decorated with comfortable, Indian-style print couch and chairs and a large storage unit that conceals a TV and video cassette recorder. Down a hall is the master bedroom, Mona's daughter's room and Doug's small office. Mona's son has a pine-paneled room in the basement. Chester, a black and white cat, bounces about as his owners talk.
"We don't have a maid," Mona says, explaining the division of household chores. “So it's good if a guest comes once a week because that means we'll have to clean," she says with a giggle. "He's good at cleaning the bathroom, and I clean the kitchen."
Their workday lasts from 2:30 p.m. until after midnight, with a break of about an hour around 7:30 p.m. for dinner. "We don't have time to plan a really big meal at dinner, so sometimes we'll stop and pick up a pizza or some hamburgers, and three nights a week the children cook," Mona says. For a quick bite, they might stop at the Ground Round, "Because Doug and I love to throw peanut shells on the floor."
After the 11:30 newscast, they come home and watch themselves on a tape they've made of the show. "We see what shots we liked, what failed and what worked," Doug says. Then, Mona continues, "We may watch a movie. And every other night we run about two miles."
Weekends are often spent on family trips in their Chevy van, maybe drives to upstate Michigan or over to their cabin at Treasure Lake, Pennsylvania, a private resort area with cabins, two lakes, golf courses and a ski area, about 80 miles east of Youngstown.
Mona disappears to change quickly into a lilac and gray suit that blends nicely with the rose jacket Doug will wear on the air. She confesses, "I have to have a lot of clothes. But they're cheap clothes. On TV, you can't really tell cheap from expensive. They all look the same. I've got some good stuff, but I save that for going out and seeing people.” It's 2:20. Time to head to the station.
They're greeted casually when they arrive in the cramped space that passes for the Channel 4 newsroom. Each has a tiny cubicle, about the size of a study carrel in a library. Doug's is bare; Mona has a terrarium on her desk and a small square of needlepoint on one wall: "Coming together is a beginning, staying together is progress, working together is a success.” Nice. “My sister did that for me," she says.
Doug and Mona spend most of their work day in the newsroom at manual typewriters facing each other, just in front of the news producer's desk. Doug sheds his coat, and he and Mona are filled in by Paul Dughi, the 6 p.m. news producer, about what's being covered that day. "It's vital for anchors to be involved in the producing, to talk with the reporters, to work on rewriting," Mona says. Today there are about 20 news stories. Doug and Mona will write half of them and, “We have to figure out ways to blend all the stories, and to move from one to another," Doug says. “We take stories and cut them, too. Sometimes a. 40-second story comes down to 15 seconds."
At 3:20 pm, both have rolled paper into their typewriters. They will type the copy which appears on the teleprompters and hold extra copies of the same script in their hands. They divide the work, writing separate stories, but often writing into the script a line for the other one to say.
The anchors are not treated with any particular deference. Floor director George Levert wanders into the newsroom smacking his lips, holding a tin can marked "peanut brittle," and asks if Doug would like some. Doug takes it, opens it and four snakelike springs pop out at him. Everyone laughs. Mona can't believe he fell for it. “George is just like you," she says in a wifely way. "His mouth twitches when he's lying.” Doug gives another chuckle, lets George gather his snakes and can, and 60 seconds later everyone is back at work.
At 5:56 p.m., Doug and Mona are on the set with Ganahl. Crum is off tonight and Mike Hostetler, filling in for him, is doing a live sportscast from the Ohio State golf course. Doug opens the newscast, and they're off. During commercial breaks, Mona chats with Jym while Doug looks at the rest of his script. Ganahl likes them both. “When they came down here, I was surprised how friendly they were," he says. "You'd expect them to be aloof. They have that right, since they made it in the big time and just chose to come here. You might think they'd be friendly on the air, and not friendly when you're off. But they aren't any different off the air. They're really that way."
Later on, Crum will echo his sentiments. He likes to spend time with Doug and Mona. And he's glad they're on his station. “They're dedicated, very professional and I think they both care," he says. “Not just about what they're doing, but about the people they're talking to, and what they're talking about. … When Mona Scott left here in the mid '70s, it was one of the biggest losses TV-4 ever suffered."
During the news, Doug and Mona consciously try to be two news anchors, not husband and wife. “We are not out there to flaunt that we are married," she says, "but to deliver the news.” She purposely avoids touching his arm or hand on the air—but during a commercial break she gently suggests that he adjust his mike so his tie isn't so mussy.
They close the show with what's called a "kicker": It can be anything from a story about how not to fight with your mate (Mona casts a quick glance at Doug as she reads that one) to something about women working outside the home. Mona finds nearly all of them: They come from the wire services, from NBC and, "I read New Woman, Ms., Savvy, Woman's Day, McCall's. … I have a huge file titled 'fun.' ” After this show, they have a quick meeting with evening producer Barbara Cox. Then it's home for dinner and back to work.
News director Bilek is happy with what Doug and Mona have done for Channel 4. "Our look on the air is much more professional," he says, "maybe the most professional the town has ever seen. We have quality talent." He takes most of the credit for deciding what makes it onto the air and what doesn't. “The news mix changed the day I walked in," he says, "not the day they walked in. ... But I have in both of them allies in what I believe in."
But wait. Adair already has alienated some potential permanent viewers with the LeVeque Tower debacle, his harangues on the airport's need for emergency plans, the suggestions that he—newcomer—knows more about Columbus than we do. He has antagonized people who don't want a heavy dose of advocacy along with their news. Mona has been written off by many as being just too sweet. If Bilek is worried about this reaction, he doesn't let it show. He has big plans for both of them.
"They have come into a market that has been void of charismatic figures," he says. "Their personalities are magnetic enough that it makes people want to watch them.”
Over at Channel 6, Miles Resnick, the news director, says cautiously, "Channel 4 looks very good on the air and does a good job.” But, of course, he thinks his news operation is doing better. "I wouldn't go after them [Doug and Mona]. I feel like I have the best news people, the best on-air look."
And at WBNS-TV, long the leader in TV news ratings, news director Larry Maisel comments, "They have a very interesting approach to the news. They inject a certain element of excitement into stories that don't evoke excitement on their own sometimes. They oversell some stories."
Are Doug and Mona ... too nice? "Coming off friendly and all that is fine,” Maisel says. “But it comes down to credibility. … It's nice to be loved. But in the news business, it's better to be believed."
Will Columbus take Doug and Mona to its heart? How could such nice people be disliked? Easy, says Dispatch TV critic Jeff Borden. "They attract snide letters. Gary Radnich [Channel 10's sports anchor and target of much criticism] must love these guys, because since they came to town, he doesn't get any negative letters anymore. This is certainly among the largest amount of negative mail I've ever received about anyone on the air."
But Doug and Mona carry on. “I try to say I'm not going to let criticism bother me, but I do," Mona admits. Doug is more philosophical about it.
And, in some respects, Mr. and Mrs. Adair are in a no-lose situation, They can be cute, sweet, as nice as can be. They can talk about lighting up buildings or how to stretch before getting out of bed or Doug's fishing trips or anything else that strikes them.
No one—except Adair and perhaps Bilek—really expects them to over take WBNS in the ratings. If they do, it would be a real coup. If they don't, well, Doug and Mona will be all right. They've got a good, solid five-year contract. In five years, he'll be 59 and in a good position to retire, he says. To that little cabin in Pennsylvania. Where they can be as nice—or as surly—as they want to be.
This story originally appeared in the November 1983 issue of Columbus Monthly.
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