The New York TV news star was once among the most familiar figures in our lives. But as local TV news ebbed — as cable news, then the internet flourished — their prominence ebbed as well. What happened to these New York TV legends? Today, Newsday launches an occasional series to find out.
We begin with Sue Simmons.
Born 77 years ago in Greenwich Village, Simmons, daughter of prominent jazz bassist John Simmons, had anchor jobs in New Haven, Baltimore and Washington before joining WNBC/4 in 1980. She left in 2012.
A true trailblazer, Simmons was the first African American woman to co-anchor a nightly New York news broadcast, and New York's most prominent female anchor as well. Her programs, like the groundbreaking "Live at Five," and the 11 p.m. telecast, were top-rated for decades.
Simmons was beloved, and then she was gone.
I spoke with Simmons earlier this week. This is her first extended interview in seven years.
I sensed a little reluctance on your part to do this.
[Laughs] I was concerned about boring people with details of my mundane life.
What have you been doing with your life?
I can't tell you specifically other than living my life day to day, like anybody else who worked and then finds themselves with a lot of time on their hands. But thankfully, because of my career, I'm able to have a place in the city and one in a nearby suburb. I go back and forth between those places. I keep myself busier than I care to, and spend a lot of time with my Mets. I'm a long-suffering fan.
After all those years of prominence, you disappeared. Why?
I'm no Greta Garbo [but] it is fair to say that I have no public profile. I don't have any desire for one. I'm settling in very nicely, being the person I was before TV. ..I have a tendency to enjoy my home and not go out just to go out. But when I do go to my appointments on the West 57th Street crosstown bus, I will get an occasional shout-out from people. It feels so good because I like to be remembered. I do want to be remembered.
You had one of the greatest runs in New York TV history. Lessons learned?
I have a room in my house, my office, and a lot of articles framed on the wall, and photos, and I walk in there occasionally and read some of the stuff. It seems so long ago. I read one — about the proclamation for Sue Simmons Day [upon retirement]. It seemed like it happened to someone else. I miss the team and the camaraderie [but] I must say, the best part of my day was when I was on the air. I never got over that.
When your contract wasn't renewed in 2012, I sensed that was a bitter, emotional time for you. True?
It was very emotional — the end of a 40-year career, 32 of those years in New York. It was a messy ending and one that I didn't want. In the middle of all that messiness I cried because I was sad to leave this thing that had been my life for 40 years. People would come into my office and say 'we're sorry to see you go' and I'd start crying all over again. [But] it wasn't bitter. I had worked until I was 70 and for an anchorwoman, that was ancient. Most people are burdened with retirement concerns [and] I'm not rich but my rent is paid, and I think about all the joy I had through those years. I'm so chill. Not bitter about anything. NBC has given me a fabulous life.
Of course I have to ask about the famous curse on live TV, in 2008.
Not a bad memory. The backstory is that every night, Chuck [Scarborough, her longtime co-anchor] and I would do these promotional spots at 11, and Chuck was so focused— you could drop water on his head and he wouldn't notice — that you could yell at him and he wouldn't hear. I thought it was being taped, and as I read my part of the tease, Chuck was reading off his computer. I looked over at him and said, 'what the [expletive] are you doing?' I then looked over and [someone] lip-synced, 'we're live.'
You and Chuck Scarborough remain pals?
I'm actually having dinner with him. The restaurant where we used to dine, Seagrill, is closing, so we said let's have dinner and celebrate before they close. We saw each other regularly, though less and less as the years go by. But we have dinner every couple months. We like to gossip and talk about family — he's a granddad —and talk about the funny moments over the years.
You were a trailblazer but you never made a big deal about that. Why?
I think I lead by example, simply by the fact that I was there. [But] pioneer? I never saw myself that way. There were so few of us — Carole Simpson, Carol Martin — but I do believe I was the first on a [nightly] New York news show. I fall into another category because I was biracial, too.