By Joe Peyronnin
Walter Cronkite, Dan Rather, Diane Sawyer, Lesley Stahl and Charles Kuralt are among the giants who have been the public faces of broadcast news over the past four decades. But just out of the public spotlight, whether in glittering world capitols or war-torn hellholes, there worked behind the scenes some legendary figures that were held in the highest esteem by their peers. On Friday Lane Venardos, one of the news industry's greatest producers and executives, died at his home in Hawaii.
Lane was a very special person who combined a fiercely competitive spirit, a strong commitment to professionalism and integrity with a wonderful effervescent personality. For nearly 30 years he personified what was great about CBS News.
Lane was an exceptional executive producer because he had a clear vision, he communicated effectively and he was always incredibly organized. "No detail too small" he would often say. His approach would earn him more than a dozen Emmy awards. As an executive producer and then vice president of CBS News, his energetic leadership style won respect from all those who worked with him.
Lane was born in post-war Alton, Illinois, just across the Mississippi River from St. Louis. He was a product of America's heartland. He started in radio news and had a booming radio voice, "Tall tower full power!" he would frequently blurt out even after jumping to television. That transition would take place in Chicago in the early seventies where he served as assistant news director at WBBM-TV News. It wasn't long before CBS News recruited him.
In the late seventies, as a producer for "The CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite" in Washington, he helped modernize television coverage of the White House. He applied organization and the latest technologies to presidential trip coverage around the world. He soon was promoted to senior producer. Sir Howard Stringer, now CEO of Sony and then the newly-appointed "CBS Evening News" executive producer, brought him to New York to work with Dan Rather. When Howard was promoted to the CBS News front office two years later, Lane took over as executive producer of the broadcast.
For four years in the mid-eighties he served as the executive producer of the "CBS Evening News with Dan Rather," and he was proud to point out the broadcast was number one in the ratings during his entire tenure. "The 'CBS Evening News' brings people together every day even for only a brief period of time." he once said. "That carries a special responsibility."
In the late eighties Lane took on the role of vice president of special events coverage. He was the executive producer of "48 Hours on Crack Street," the premier broadcast of that series. Lane led CBS News' presidential election specials, campaign coverage and dozens of specials on major news stories. He ran from Beijing, China, CBS News' highly acclaimed coverage of the student uprising at Tiananmen Square. He was also executive producer of such CBS News specials as "Remember Pearl Harbor," "Eye on the Earth," and "William S. Paley: Tribute to a Broadcasting Giant."
In the early nineties he was promoted to vice president of hard news. There he ran all of CBS News day-to-day news coverage and worldwide bureaus. He was as outstanding an executive as he had been an executive producer.
He retired from CBS News in the late nineties but did not retire from television. His subsequent television credits included several "Survivor" series, "The Apprentice," "The Contender" and "The Biggest Loser."
Yet, for all these considerable accomplishments, friends and colleagues will best remember Lane's extraordinary sense of humor and personality. "Let's get out there and scratch that surface!" he would often quip. Working with him, no matter how difficult the task, was always fun. His energy, his passion and his down to earth character were incredibly endearing. And he was deeply admired for his strong family commitment.
Lane Venardos was a great friend to thousands of broadcasters throughout the world. For them, Lane Venardos is a legend in television news.
A former producer, Washington Bureau Chief and vice president at CBS News, Joe Peyronnin was also a president at Fox News and Executive Vice President at Telemundo/NBC. He is also a professor at New York University and a contributor to the Huffington Post.