Bryant Gumbel has been a well-spoken, good-looking TV personality in sports and news since he left his post editing "Black Sports" magazine in 1972 to become a sportscaster for KNBC-TV in Los Angeles. His fluid style soon caught the eye of the brass in NY, and Gumbel was tapped by NBC Sports in 1975 to host the pre-game shows before NFL games. His rise was rapid and within a few years Gumbel had become the sole host or lead anchor on NBC's coverage of major league baseball, college basketball and NFL football games. In 1980, sports reporting for NBC's "Today" were added to his duties. By January 1982, he was the anchor of the entire "Today" program. Gumbel quickly proved foolish those pundits who thought a sportscaster could not adapt to news coverage. In 1984, he headed the "Today" team broadcasting live from Moscow, including interviews with Kremlin leaders. Both Gumbel and NBC News received much praise for the effort. Gumbel's identity as a sportscaster had been supplanted. He followed the Moscow trip with coups -- broadcasts from Cuba (including an interview with Fidel Castro), and Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon). He also began to host primetime documentaries and reality-based programs for NBC, including "The R.A.C.E." a two-hour quiz on racial attitudes in America.
In 1990, Gumbel was lured back to his sports roots as anchor of championship golf coverage on NBC, and in 1995, he began hosting "Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel" for HBO. His tenure on "Today" was not without its troubled moments and column coverage. A major brouhaha developed when an internal memo written by Gumbel to NBC brass suggesting changes in "Today" fell into the hands of the consumer press. As part of the memo, Gumbel suggested that weathercaster Willard Scott was not up to snuff for a news show which wanted to be taken seriously. Gumbel's criticisms of Scott were not intended for public consumption, but when they did become public, after several tense days, he apologized to Scott. Gumbel also was critical of the writing on "Today" and strove to make the show a news and not "personality-drive" program. Under his anchor watch, "Today" was either in first place in the early-morning Nielsens, or just a hair behind ABC's "Good Morning America", most often the former. After a 15 year tenure, Gumbel left "Today" on January 3, 1997. Later that year, he signed a lucrative contract with CBS and hosted "Public Eye with Bryant Gumbel", a newsmagazine that premiered in the fall of 1997.