Public television news anchor Michael Grant doesn’t banter. With a long face and almost unnatural, serious on-air expression, he rarely flatters. Hardly ever badgers. On Monday, “Horizon” will take to the public airwaves without Grant, the show’s host since 1981.
And for a quarter-century, his news show, “Horizon” on KAET-TV (Channel 8), has offered arguably the most textured view of the state’s development and dilemmas available on local television.
On Monday, “Horizon” will take to the public airwaves without Grant, the show’s host since it launched in 1981.
Grant is retiring, sort of, to spend more time with his wife — and his day job.
He is a full-time attorney and occasional lobbyist at the firm Gallagher & Kennedy. Roughly 230 days a year, Grant said, he has gotten up before sunrise to start the day at the law firm. The day has usually ended after dusk, driving home from Eight’s studio.
Grant, 55, still loves broadcasting. But, he said, “You just reach a point where you say, ‘Maybe not five days a week, though.’ ”
He leaves behind a large chunk of Arizona history. During Grant’s tenure, the state has had six governors (two of them forced from office); a U.S. Supreme Court justice (“Horizon” covered Sandra Day O’Connor’s confirmation hearings from gavel- to-gavel); and more than its share of political scandal (remember the grainy footage from the AzScam scandal involving top state officials?).
Through it all, Grant interviewed the politicians and players. And each Friday, he shepherded a group of newspaper writers through a recap of the week. Called the journalist roundtable, it has been “Horizon’s” most popular feature.
“He’s the straight man to Arizona’s very weird, very funny and very pathetic politics,” said Jana Bommersbach, a freelance journalist and original participant in the show’s roundtable.
When Grant is criticized, the complaint often is that he is too mild-mannered, that he doesn’t call out guests when they dodge a question.
Grant agrees with that assessment. Indignation doesn’t suit him.
“I don’t think you can effectively be someone you’re not. I try to stay relevant, I try to do the difficult areas,” Grant said. “But I’m not going to scream at some people.”
He argues his job as host is not to make a point, but to ask the guests important questions in the 10 minutes he has them. Deciding how well the guests answer is up to the audience.
“I’m kind of old school. I came up at a time when there was no such thing as ‘advocacy journalism,’ ” he added.
Of course, when he’s not on the air, he earns his paycheck advocating.
Grant moved here from Kansas as a teenager with his parents in 1966. His deep, steady voice landed him radio jobs even throughout high school.
In 1970, while attending Arizona State University, he was hired to report for KOY (550 AM), which now broadcasts on 1230 AM.
After six years covering politics and other news for the station — a period in which he finished his bachelor’s and law degrees — he joined the state Attorney General’s Office.
But he kept a hand in broadcasting and by 1981, Eight’s producers and Grant had developed the idea of a news program that would do more than recite a list of headlines. The show would take pressing issues — mainly those being dealt with by the state Legislature — and explore them from multiple angles.
“There is no other program really that does what ‘Horizon’ does, which is give you something more than a 15-second sound bite on sometimes pretty complex news,” Grant said
Having shifted to a private law firm years ago, Grant signed on to host the show for six months, to see how he could manage the schedule.
Everything was in place for the news show, he said, except for the news.
“Friday edition was always pretty easy,” he said. “Monday through Thursday we were scratching our heads, wondering if you could, four days a week pretty relentlessly, fill a half-hour of live time.”
Arizona ultimately provided more than enough.
In its first year, President Ronald Reagan nominated O’Connor for the Supreme Court. “Horizon “offered viewers live coverage of all the proceedings.
Five years later, Evan Mecham rearranged the state’s political hierarchy when he upset Burton Barr, then majority leader of the state House, in the Republican primary for governor. Mecham, a hard-line social conservative, hadn’t been seen as a significant threat to Barr, at the time considered the state’s most powerful politician.
The story of Mecham’s rise and almost immediate fall filled segment after segment on “Horizon.”
Mecham’s 16 months in office were marked with racial tensions — one of his first actions as governor was canceling the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday — and ethical questions. The state Senate convicted Mecham on a variety of alleged improprieties in April 1988, ending his term more than two years early.
Horizon’s audience is described as a small, but loyal pack of news junkies and policy wonks.
On any given night, the show will draw between 20,000 and 50,000 household viewers, said Michael Philipsen, “Horizon’s” news manager. Those figures are good enough to top at least one of the commercial newscasts a night.
That position — and viewers’ loyalty — might be tested as a different face greets them each weeknight at 7 p.m.
However, it’s unknown just whose face they’ll be seeing.
Eight only began its official anchor search in the past few weeks and, after Grant’s final show on Friday, a group of regular fill-ins will cover the post.
Philipsen said he doesn’t expect a ratings slip.
“In many ways they’re coming for the stories they’re hearing and what they’re learning on the program,” he said. “And, yeah, they identify with Michael and associate with him. But hopefully they’ll associate with the new person, as well.”
The anchor search is national and should take about a month to complete, Philipsen said. Finalists for the job could be subjected to live, onair tryouts.
The station has not decided how much the new host will be paid. Last year, Grant received just more than $64,000 to host “Horizon,” said Greg Giczi, Eight’s general manager.
Applicants aren’t required to have lived in Arizona, Philipsen said, but “it sure helps if the applicant knows about Ev Mecham and knows about AzScam and some of these things that have happened.”
Despite the sharp differences between journalism and practicing law, Grant says life as an attorney kept him fresh for “Horizon.”
His practice is focused on telecommunications and utility regulations. Grant is registered with the state as a lobbyist, but is not listed as having any active clients.
Grant said he has been sensitive to conflicts of interest, at times telling his producers that he cannot host a particular segment because a client or someone at his firm has a significant interest in one side.
“He wasn’t shoving his agenda down anybody’s throat,” Bommersbach said. “He belongs in that era, which is unfortunately becoming a dinosaur, of someone who believes in civil discussion about controversial issues.”