Eyeing a seat at the table with local TV’s fab five

Yale Hollander is a dad, husband, legal professional and writer whose works have appeared in a number of local and national publications. He is currently a trustee of the St. Louis Jewish Light, however the opinions and viewpoints he presents in this blog are strictly his. Follow him on Twitter @yalehollander.

By Yale Hollander

My dad has never been easy to impress, and there’s a drawer full of my old report cards to back this up. One of the few times I’ve seen him even close to starstruck occurred in the summer of 1988 when we were meandering through Union Station, killing time before a family wedding. As we ambled past the cacophony of the musical fudge place, a well-dressed gentleman with hair a bit long for the sunset years of the Reagan administration strode past. I was oblivious; Dad was not.

“Do you know who that was?” I turned around to look.


“That was Ray Hartmann!”


“Ray Hartmann! From ‘Donnybrook.”

“What’s ‘Donnybrook?”

“It’s a ‘McLaughlin Group’ for St. Louis,” he replied. And that’s all I needed to hear. Strange kid that I was, I grew up watching a lot of news and public affairs programming — partly because I grew up when there wasn’t much on TV and partly because, well . . . I was a strange kid. I loved the weekly battle of the talking heads that was (and is) “McLaughlin” and I loved St. Louis, so this was a mash-up rivaled only — perhaps — by the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup.

Like my dad, I got hooked on “Donnybrook.”  And more than a quarter-century later, the show remains a stalwart. My kids know that just about every Thursday at 7 p.m. they can find their old man holed up in his room talking back to the television as they power through their viola and flute practices (my poor wife buys Advil in bulk).

Hartmann and delightfully rumpled newspaperman Bill McClellan remain from the show’s original panel and are now joined by veteran media personalities Alvin Reid and Wendy Wiese, as well as KMOX’s Charlie Brennan, who serves as “provocateur.” Through the years the format of the show has never changed — it’s a roiling series of debates cleverly marketed by Channel 9 as “polite conversation on local issues.” It is without question the fastest 30 minutes on public television. 

Several years ago, an additional 30 minutes entitled “Donnybrook – Your Turn” was tacked on to the end of the main show. Two of the regular panelists take live phone calls from (presumably) live viewers. Last year, it moved into the 21st century by soliciting tweets, some of which are then read over the air. It was at that point that I moved from avid viewer to adjunct participant, as a number of my Tweets have been featured, most of which are — cue mock surprise — a bit tongue-in-cheek. I only wish my dad could get in on the fun, but alas, those days are gone.

You see, Dad lives in Jefferson City, where Channel 9 is no longer available. So, anytime one of my tweets curries favor with a Donnybrooker, I have to record it on my phone and send it to his. He always sends a pride-laden reply, but in the back of my mind I know he won’t think I’ve truly made it until I have my own seat in front of St. Louis’ most famous faux brick fireplace. As I learned from the lectures that followed those aforementioned report cards, he knows I have the potential to do better.

And, like I used to tell him back in my school days, “I’m working on it!”