Ch. 5's Bobbie Wygant kept seeing stars and knew what to do with them
Note to readers: Roberta Connolly "Bobbie" Wygant joined KXAS-TV (then WBAP) at its creation in 1948. She eventually became best known for her steady stream of celebrity interviews and movie reviews before retiring from full-time work at the station in 1999. She still regularly contributes freelance pieces to NBC5, though. This article, first published on March 8, 1981, looks at how Wygant aimed for the stars without shooting them down. In return she expected a performance of sorts. It all worked out pretty well for her.
By ED BARK
Whether suffering at the little hands of Ricky Schroder or showing Dustin Hoffman a genuinely good time, Bobbie Wygant is unfailingly buoyant and undeniably professional.
Her monthly Entertainment and the Arts specials are Channel 5's avenue to the stars. It's obvious she primps and prepares for each celebrity. In return, she expects more than just the time of day from notables promoting their latest activities.
"A lot of stars get very uptight about interviews," Wygant says. "They just are in a nervous tizzy. So many of your television stars are people who have very little background in the business. And there's nobody trying to help them.
"It's such a mill and a factory. It's not like the old studio days where they actually learned how to give good interviews. They learned how to dress for a picture session. Not only did they learn, but they had to pass inspection, as it were. Now I see actors and actresses coming in and schlepping around, looking like they just came in from washing the car. In the old days that would never have happened."
For Wygant, the "old days" date to 1948, when she joined Channel 5 after graduating from Purdue University. In 1960, she got her own program, Dateline. It was a "basic local interview show" that ran for 14 years until Lin Broadcasting brought Channel 5 in 1974.
"I used to say, 'If it isn't illegal or immoral, I'll put it on,' " Wygant recalls.
Her next assignment was a 5 p.m. "magazine format" program co-hosted by Chip Moody. In 1977, the station switched to "hard news" at 5 p.m. and Wygant found herself in limbo for a while. News director Bill Vance wasn't sure he could afford a full-time "entertainment and the arts person," she says. Eventually, Channel 5 decided it couldn't afford to lose her. And so she endures as the only Dallas-Fort Worth television performer with a regularly scheduled half-hour celebrity showcase.
"As they say in television, 'working quick and dirty,' I think I do a good job," Wygant says.
Quick and dirty means an allotment of about 10 minutes per star. When she travels to New York or Los Angeles, Wygant often is one of 30 reporters penciled in for a brief interview. The time constraints are relaxed a bit when celebrities come to Channel 5's Fort Worth studios.
"I'll try to find some angle so they're not just sitting there doing the commercial to get people to go see the picture," Wygant says. "I try never to be in awe of them because I think the minute they sense that, it does something to the professional relationship. I don't want to sit there like some little teenybopper and say, 'Ooh, I just love you.' It's not my nature to do that.
"I read people pretty well," she adds, noting her double major in psychology at Purdue. "I don't come at them as if they were on the witness stand and I'm a prosecuting attorney. I find giving them a little gentle jab sometimes works just as well, if not better. I've seen other interviewers just really strike out, and their subjects just drop the curtain and clam up."
She had a memorable conversation with Hoffman after opening the interview with a simple, disarming, slightly naughty question. Wygant noted the somewhat reclusive actor was doing hundreds of interviews for the film Kramer vs. Kramer after refusing to tour the country on behalf of the many other movies he'd made since The Graduate.
"Why are you working your buns off?" she asked him.
Hoffman seemed genuinely charmed by the question and loosened up immediately. He offered a humorous discourse on his "buns" and then gave long, thoughtful answers to Wygant's other concise questions.
After the formal session ended, Hoffman said, "She's all right. That was a great interview. Who's your sponsor, Hot Cross Buns?"
It's all on tape, as is a somewhat less scintillating interview with Schroder, the child star, who recently visited Dallas to promote The Earthling. Virtually all of his answers were quick one-liners, but the indefatigable Wygant continued to pump questions, never pausing, using every second of the time allotted to her. A less prepared interviewer might have either given up or been reduced to a stammering mess.
Sometimes grown-up stars can be a problem, too. Wygant says her most disappointing interview was with Charlton Heston, who was supposed to be touting the movie Will Penny.
"His answers were, 'Well . . . uh . . . er,' and he just ate up time with that," she recalls. "I was livid with him because I knew I was giving him good stuff and he wasn't cooperating. Later I found out he was unhappy because it was a beautiful day and he wanted to play tennis."
Wygant says she had better luck in subsequent interviews with Heston, who has been "dynamite" since fizzling.
While promoting 9 to 5, Jane Fonda got a bit miffed when Wygant asked her what kind of president Ronald Reagan would be.
"When the interview was finished, Jane said, 'I bet you didn't ask Dolly Parton that.' "
"I sensed a little edge to her voice," Wygant says. "She said nobody thinks she has a sense of humor because they always ask her the serious and news-related questions."
"But Jane, you speak out on these things," Wygant says she told the Oscar-winning actress. "Even if people don't ask you, you're vocal with your opinions and you have taken stands. You're a natural person to ask questions like that.
"I think sometimes it isn't what someone says, but how they say it," Wygant says. "I like animation. And of course, you want them to directly answer the question. You know there are some people who you ask the time and they tell you how to build a watch. I want something people will perk up their ears to listen to, but I don't like people who work at being provocative. The good people are the ones who make it seem spontaneous, no matter how many interviews they've done."
Wygant says she won't ask questions that invade a celebrity's privacy. Otherwise, though, she'd like them to tell it all in an entertaining manner. In her case, there is one non-answerable question. Her biography includes information on her husband (former Channel 5 executive Philip Wygant), their homes and a cabin cruiser named Good Grief. There's no birthdate, though.
"If you were to print my age, there would be people who would immediately hold that against me," Wygant explains. "As long as we're in a youth-oriented society, middle-aged men and women should forget about their age. It doesn't serve me well to give mine, so I finally said, 'The hell with it.' "