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Remembering Emmy award winning Arthur “Duke” Struck who directed the NFL Today and other programs

Podolsky

Arthur “Duke” Struck, who directed such varied programs as The NFL TodayThe Oprah Winfrey Show, and The MacNeil/Leher Report, passed away early Wednesday morning. He was 80.

A winner of 14 Emmy Awards, Struck began directing The NFL Today show back in 1974, before the arrival of Brent Musburger, Phyllis George and Irv Cross the following year. It was also the first year producer Bill Fitts tried to do the show live. It wasn’t easy.

”The first year, we were just experimenting,” Duke told The New York Times’ Neil Amdur in 1982. ”We had a meeting with the technical people. They said, ‘what you want is impossible,’ but we went out and did it anyway.”

In ’75 when Struck’s friends Robert MacNeil and Jim Lehrer wanted to start a news show on PBS they asked Struck to direct. He returned to direct The NFL Today in 1980 and stayed for over a decade, directing the pregame shows for Super Bowl XXIV and XXVI. He had a unique attitude about bringing the game into America’s living rooms.

“How many guys would love to be Lawrence Taylor?” Struck wondered out loud when being interviewed by The L.A. Times in 1987. “They’re stars, they’re superstars. And TV is the vehicle. It’s in your house, every week for six months. You invite these people in. They’re guests in your house almost every weekend for half the year. The Super Bowl is a social event, almost like a national holiday.” It is also a major event in television: “You’ve got six months of TV drama ending in one final show.”

“We’ve got so many people who can seriously affect a show,” Struck said. “Off the field as much as on it, everybody touches the ball, and everybody can fumble it.

“We don’t have any room for prima donnas,” he said. “Egos are fine during the week, but not here, not on the weekend.”

After The NFL Today he directed more than 800 Oprah Winfrey Shows and several seasons of The CBS Morning News. “I learned a lot listening to Oprah…she’s an amazing interviewer and a pretty damn nice person,” he told Podcaster Jeff Kreiner.

Struck felt comfortable around television studios as a kid, when his dad was directing public service spots for the government. JFK knew Duke by his first name. “My dad started as a stagehand for the Jimmy Dean Show working for $1 and hour,” he said. “He built the set, he swept the floor, then became a stage manager and a floor director.”

In between high school and college Duke was working at a Safeway (supermarket). His father told him, “Find something you love to do and you’ll never work a day in your life.”

Duke Struck was a man of great humor but also a tough taskmaster. A typical NFL Today show has more than 100 people working at a time and it all would run through Struck. Many of those technicians posted comments on Facebook describing what a tremendous influence Struck was on their lives. One coordinator, Gady Reinhold said of Struck: “He flew The NFL Today (ship) like a great fighter pilot.”

Editor’s note:

Talking of respected folks behind the scenes, CBS’ celebrated Coordinating Producer Lance Barrow will be working his final Masters for the network when the delayed tournament is held in Augusta beginning November 12th. He’s retiring at the end of the year.

Lance has been around the Masters since 1977 when he served as a spotter for Pat Summerall. Barrow accepted the Emmy Award for CBS Sports’ coverage of the 2004 Masters.

Dan Mason interviewed Barrow after the gripping 2019 Masters when Tiger Woods pulled off his striking win. Barrow told Dan. “I always say to people and did so even in ’97 before Tiger won his first Masters that he’s a part of the story whatever he does. We’ve been lucky enough at CBS to be a part of 9 of his (15) majors victories.”

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Rich Podolsky
Rich Podolsky

Rich Podolsky, an established writer and reporter since the 70s, has been a staff writer for CBS and has written for ESPN, the Philadelphia Daily News, the Palm Beach Post, the Wilmington News Journal, College & Pro Football Newsweekly and TV Guide. He is also the recipient of the prestigious Pennsylvania Newspaper Publishers' Keystone Award for writing excellence. A fan of music from the 60s and 70s, he is the author of Don Kirshner: The Man with the Golden Ear, which relates how Kirshner discovered Bobby Darin, Carole King and Neil Sedaka among others, and Neil Sedaka, Rock ‘n’ Roll Survivor,” which tells the inside story of Sedaka’s comeback.

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Michael Green
1 month ago

I’m sorry to read the news about Mr. Struck. I well remember his name in the credits of a LOT of shows.

A lot of people probably forget–and I know that Mr. Podolsky didn’t!–that the director of The NFL Today between Duke Struck’s tenures was young Bob Fishman. I wonder whatever became of him. 🙂

And think of it: Only two people have produced Masters telecasts over a 60+-year period, and one trained the other. Congratulations to Lance Barrow on what I hope will be a happy retirement. He continued the tradition unlike any other.