NBC brings in Leno and the big guys to trumpet its Jan. 2 jump to WBAL

THE BALTIMORE SUN

What a week to hobnob in Baltimore. It's not often that in one week I have lunch or dinner in the company of Jay Leno, Bob Costas, Tim Russert, James Robinson, Cardinal William H. Keeler, Cal Ripken Jr., Art Donovan, Ned Beatty, Tom Clancy, and I could go on and on.

The festivities began Tuesday evening, when WBAL-TV put on quite a show in the Hyatt ballroom. As most of you know, on Jan. 2, Baltimore's three major television stations change affiliations -- NBC moves to WBAL-TV; ABC moves to WMAR-TV and CBS moves to WJZ-TV.

WBAL was first out of the gate to throw a Switch Party to introduce NBC and some of its stars to Baltimore. The evening was highlighted by the 10 p.m. arrival of NBC funny man Jay Leno, who rode into the ballroom on a Harley-Davidson. He said he was late because he'd been helping Ellen Sauerbrey count votes. I'm told he flew in on a private jet just for the party and left immediately after to return to California.

The evening began with a cocktail party where I saw lots of old friends, such as Dave Barrett, WBAL radio's former general manager who left Baltimore for New York, where he's moving up in the Hearst Corp. hierarchy; Ed Kiernon, the station's current GM; Bob Leffler, ad agency owner who was complaining to anyone who would listen about what he considered unfair treatment of one of his clients, the racing industry, by WBAL radio's Alan Prell that morning; Barney Johnson, president of Harbor Hospital; Clark Jeunette, Harbor Hospital; Edie Brown, Baltimore Arena, who was besieged with requests for tickets to the sold-out Maryland-UMass game Saturday; Richard Sammis, Town and Country Pontiac; "Another World" soap stars Diego Serrano and Robyn Griggs; and "Homicide" television series stars Ned Beatty, Richard Belzer, Yaphet Kotto and Kyle Secor; Baltimore Police Commissioner Tom Frazier, and an array of WBAL personnel -- David Roberts, Rod Daniels, Carol Costello, John Collins, Tom Tasselmyer, Liz O'Neill, Rhonda Overby and Carolyn McEnrue.

I had the pleasure of sitting with Tinker and Ned Beatty, and Tim Russert, star of NBC's "Meet the Press," who is an attorney. Tinker is a delight and was amused when I asked how long she and Ned had been married, since they act like newlyweds. It's been 15 years and two children later, and they are a delightful couple who are also in love with Baltimore. She tells me she's writing a book, "Murder and Mayhem," which is based on two murders in California.

As I said, Leno was superb and had Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke laughing so hard he was at a loss for words.

The next show took place yesterday at the Stouffer Harborplace Hotel, where the Advertising Club of Baltimore honored one of the most prominent names in the world of showbiz, James Robinson, CEO of Morgan Creek Productions, with its 1994 Distinguished Marylander Award. And, fortunately for Marylanders, this talented businessman was born and still lives in Maryland with his wife, Barbara, and their five children, and has brought a lot of film business to our state.

I can honestly say that in all my years of covering these functions, never have I seen a more prestigious head table. The honoree was joined on the dais by Cardinal William H. Keeler, who gave the benediction; Gov.-elect Parris Glendening, Gov. William Donald Schaefer; former Gov. Harry Hughes, now a lawyer with Patton, Boggs & Blow, and I assume from his remarks that he does some legal work for Robinson; author Tom Clancy; Orioles' all-star shortstop Cal Ripken Jr. with his attorney Ron Shapiro; Tom Sherak, vice president of 20th Century Fox; Mike Styer, Maryland Film Commission; Clarisse Mechanic, the lady responsible for putting together such a lineup; Michael and Lois Hodes, co-presidents of the Ad Club; former Colts great Artie Donovan and, last but never least, U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski, who quipped "As a good Democrat, I can honestly say that after the last election, I'll never give anything away again." She went on to say perhaps the cardinal was at the wrong hotel -- that he should be at the Radisson Lord Baltimore, where Newt and the boys were meeting and that she was sure they could use some help from him.

When Robinson finally spoke, it was easy to see why this man, who has produced such wonderful movies, is a success and that he was indeed worthy of all the nice things that were said about him. I enjoyed listening to his remarks, but the observation that I liked best was, "Talent is a real equalizer."

And I should tell you that Senator Mikulski's remarks about Newt Gingrich and the guys referred to the three-day orientation meetings for the new congressional Republican freshman class that are being held at the Radisson Lord Baltimore. Today, the nation's most popular conservative talk-show host, Rush Limbaugh, will be among the speakers. As a matter of fact, WBAL radio's Ron Smith will be broadcasting his show from the hotel this evening and hopes to have Limbaugh as his guest.

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