Jack Reilly passed away today. I can’t begin to tell you how much I owe him.
Jack Reilly, the former Good Morning America executive producer and later vice president of news at CNBC, passed away this morning at St. Vincent’s Hospital in New York at the age of 84.
Reilly was VP and managing editor of CNBC from 1994 to 1998. Before that, he was the executive producer of ABC’s Good Morning America from 1986 to 1994. Reilly transformed GMA, a faltering #2 show, into the nation’s top-rated morning show – a position the show held for more than five years.
The time was the mid-90s and I was working here in New Haven. One afternoon our news director Liz Crane (now Liz Gray) asked me if I’d like to do the weather on Good Morning America/Sunday. “This Week with David Brinkley” was interviewing someone at Yale, had already asked for our satellite truck and then as an afterthought asked if we would also supply a weatherman.
This was a big deal to me and I told EVERYONE I knew to watch. Truth is, this kind of affiliate hit was nice but inconsequential to the network. You do it. Your friends and family see you. Life goes on.
The first hit followed an interview with tennis great Tracy Austin. She had just gotten married. While Dana King (I love Dana King) conducted the interview from New York Tracy stayed at home in a room full of wedding gifts.
Dana finished the interview and briefly introduced me. This was my chance to play it straight–just do the weather. I didn’t.
“Dana, if you talk to Tracy again, would you ask if she got the Corning Ware we sent?”
After the weather ended our sat truck operator ran out of the truck. “The producer wants to speak to you.”
Oh s**t. I was in trouble. I could feel it. On the other end of the line was Jack Reilly.
“We all laughed in the control room,” he said. “Would you like to come to New York and do some fill-in for us?” he asked.
I continued to be GMA’s go-to guy working weeks at-a-time until one winter’s day Spencer Christian got stranded on the West Coast. A lower level producer called and asked me to fill-in. I felt committed to do the day in Connecticut–a big weather day.
That was it for me. The GMA calls stopped. I have second guessed myself a million times on that call.
I aggressively pursued trying to get back in their good graces–but it didn’t happen. A few years ago I gave up.
I liked working at the network. What made it better was parachuting in while keeping this job. It was a very cool place to work–seriously big time with loads of people and pressure to perform.
Jack Reilly made that happen. It didn’t matter to him I was working in New Haven. He saw me. He laughed. He followed his gut.
Later on he was squeezed out at ABC. The show was never quite the same after that. Whether the Today Show passed GMA while Jack was there or after I can’t remember.
Jack Reilly is a lot of what TV was and no longer is. He will be missed. My condolences to his family and friends. Thanks Jack.