News veteran Ellerbee set on retirement

Ellerbee

Linda Ellerbee, a newswoman who wrote an irreverent best-seller about her time on TV and built a second career at Nickelodeon explaining tough stories to youngsters, is signing off the air for good. Ellerbee says she’s retiring from TV after Nickelodeon airs a retrospective of her work Dec. 15.

“It’s really nice to be one of the few who walks away from television news ... of their own choice and I’m really lucky in that,” she said. “That really didn’t happen for so many of my contemporaries ... because of age or cutbacks in news.”

The outspoken Texan and award winner, 71, was among the first prominent women in TV news and a model for the sitcom character Murphy Brown after actress Candice Bergen studied her work. Ellerbee, and later Murphy Brown, survived breast cancer.

Ellerbee began a TV news career after being fired by the Associated Press in 1972. On the night desk in Dallas, she wrote a gossipy letter to a friend that was inadvertently sent on the wire to three states. A news director in Houston saw it, thought Ellerbee was a funny writer, and hired her. She moved on to local news in New York and then NBC, where she covered politics and co-hosted the newsmagazine “Weekend” with Lloyd Dobyns. She hosted weekly news segments on the “Today” show and, later, “Good Morning America.”

Her network news highlight came in the wee hours when she and Dobyns wrote and co-hosted the nightly news program “Overnight” from 1984 to 1986 on NBC. “There’s never been anything plastic or blow-dried about Linda,” said producer Cheryl Gould. “She has always been the antithesis of your stereotypical, perfectly coiffed anchorwoman. ... Linda is as real as they come.”

Ellerbee’s 1986 book, “And So it Goes,” named for her signature signoff, was a best-seller when she was told her contract would not be renewed. “I wrote it ... on the assumption that my bosses at NBC News had a sense of humor,” she said. “I turned out to be wrong on that.”

She produced a special this year with dying children talking to their peers. Cyma Zarghami, of the Viacom Kids and Family Group, said Ellerbee has “helped multiple generations of kids understand the issues of the day, and ... a lot of parents navigate how to talk about the tough topics as well.”