R.I.P. Hugh Downs, who once held the record for most hours on network television
His sidekick role on The Tonight Show led to gigs hosting Concentration and 20/20.
Image: The Everett Collection
In 2004, Regin Philbin reached a milestone. The energetic daytime host officially set the record for the most hours on network television. The total count was 15,188 hours. The man he surpassed was Hugh Downs.
Downs began his broadcasting career on the radio, in his home state of Ohio before relocating Chicago. The Akron native made his debut on television in September 1945, in the infancy of the format. He quickly became a mainstay of the medium.
He was the announcer for Hawkins Falls, the first hit daytime soap opera in 1950. He also served as the announcer for Kukla, Fran and Ollie, the beloved children's puppet show that began production in Chicago's Merchandise Mart.
He was the announcer for Sid Caesar's Caesar's Hour and Jack Paar's The Tonight Show — where he was essentially the "Ed McMahon" of the late-night mainstay. That gig made him an onscreen personality.
The Tonight Show spotlight led to Downs landing a headlining job of his own, hosting the original version of Concentration, beginning in 1958, as seen at the top of this page.
From there, Downs hosted NBC's Today Show from 1962-71.
Most likely remember him from 20/20, the news magazine program that paired him with Barbara Walters from 1978 to 1999.
In 1984, Downs set that record for 15,188 hours — which would stand for two more decades.
Downs died on July 1 in his Scottsdale, Arizona home, according to The Hollywood Reporter. He was 99. In nearby Tempe, the Hugh Downs School of Human Communication at Arizona State University is named in his honor.