He’s Kind of a Big Deal: Meet the Anchorman Who Was the Real Life Ron Burgundy
Back in 2000, Will Ferrell was winding down as the star of ‘Saturday Night Live‘ (he would leave after that season ended). He had a series of smaller, supporting roles in movies like ‘Austin Powers’ and ‘Zoolander’ but had yet to break through in a leading role. His search for the right project was jumpstarted one night when he was at home, watching an A&E ‘Biography’ special when he came upon a man who would spark inspiration and change both Ferrell’s career and the modern state of comedy forever.
That man, that anchorman, was Mort Crim.
Mort Crim was the lead anchorman at KYW-TV in Philadelphia. He was used to reading the news alone, alongside his sports, weather and investigative reporters. This was an age when only men were allowed to read the news. And, at KYW, one anchorman was more man then the rest. But, then in 1974 it was announced that Jessica Savitch, a 26-year-old blonde reporter who was new to the city, would be Crim’s co-anchor; the first female anchorwoman in a major market city. It should all start sounding very familiar to ‘Anchorman’ fans.
After watching their story, Ferrell immediately called ‘Anchorman’ director Adam McKay, then his ‘SNL’ co-worker. “Will had seen a thing on A&E’s Biography about Jessica Savitch,” McKay told IGN back in 2003, “and they were interviewing the anchormen who were so freaked out by the first woman coming into the office.”
After McKay watched the special, it was clear this was the script they were going to write. “The idea came of telling the story from the other side. Telling it from the side of the guys,” said McKay. “They were just really awful to these women.”
Adds Ferrell in this New York Times profile, “He literally said the line: ‘You have to remember, back then I was a real male chauvinist pig. I was not nice to her.’”
You can watch Crim’s part in the Savitch ‘Biography’ below, right after the guy who says, “We’re done. They’re putting that broad on the 11:00 news.”
“I liked woman, but I wasn’t sure their place was sitting beside me on an anchor set, doing what I did,” says Crim, reflecting honestly on his time with a female co-anchor. It’s a line that, when you hear it, is hard not to think of Brian Fantana’s ‘Anchorman’ line, “Don’t get me wrong, I love the ladies. I mean they rev my engines, but they don’t belong in the newsroom!”
The two men studied tape of Crim – his sideswept hair, his authoritative and velvety tone, his condescending acceptance of a female co-anchor – and worked it into their script, then titled ‘Action News! With Ron Burgundy.’ Their version of Crim was obviously broader and slightly more cartoonish, but as McKay said, “That avuncular, comforting, authoritative voice saying horrible things made us laugh.”
The ‘Action News!’ script sat for years – initially set for Ben Stiller, Chris Parnell and John C. Reilly to star as the fellow members of the Channel 4 News Team. It was only after the success of ‘Old School’ and ‘Elf’ in 2003 would DreamWorks finally give Ferrell and McKay the greenlight to make their
Unlike Ron and Veronica Corningstone, Crim and Savitch were never romantically involved, but there certainly was a sense of professional competition. In 1983, Frank Reynolds was forced to step down as the anchor of ABC’s ‘World News Tonight’ leaving a network opening. Crim, who was working not far from ABC’s offices in New York, was considered one of the candidates to replace Reynolds, leaving local news behind for good. Crim was eventually passed up for Peter Jennings, who had been a reporter under the previous regime. In a twist of fate, Savitch was hired by NBC in 1977, just three years after joining Crim, and leapfrogged her male counterpart to a national gig, becoming the first woman to host NBC’s flagship “NBC Nightly News.”
While Savitch later struggled with a drug addiction and died in a 1983 car accident, Crim continued a successful career as a local TV anchor, retiring in 2007 after a bout with colon cancer (he has since made a full recovery). As for his part inspiring comedic legend, Crim said in 2004, “I think I’ll have a lot of chuckles when I see it.” He did have some advice for Ferrell on how to make the Ron Burgundy character more authentic: “He needs lime green polyester pants, and sideburns down to his ankles.”