“Women of Louisiana, prepare yourselves!” The rich baritone of Baton Rouge’s number one news anchor rumbles through the newsroom ten minutes till showtime every night. George Sells is in the building. And the news is about to get interesting.
I had the pleasure of studying George Sells from both sides of the fence. For seven years, he was the one newsman I feared and loathed . . . but only because his guys kicked the shit out of my guys on a nightly basis. And a lot of that had to do with Sells.
Nobody can “whore up a lead” like WAFB-TV’s silver-haired leader. Whether it’s a grizzly murder scene, a gasbag in a suit, or a cat stuck in a tree, the man just has a way of forcing you to watch. And he’s been doing it in Cap City for 24 years.
I first met the enemy back in ’98, or maybe ’99. I was working a police stand-off with our nightside reporter. Our rivals were there too. We had all just wrapped our live shots and were beginning to grumble about finding dinner. The cops had made it clear it was going to be a long night.
6:45 rolls around, and up walks a gray-haired man with way too much spring in his step. I couldn’t help recognize the face that tormented our own anchor desk every night. He dodged his way through the police cars and dropped a McDonald’s bag down on the hood of the competition’s live truck. “I figured you wouldn’t be getting dinner, so I brought you a little something.”
I was awestruck. Not by the fact that I had just looked the enemy in the eye, but that I had seen a suit, a houseboy, a freekin anchor, leave the studio to take care of his crew in the field. His crew thanked him like it was something he did every day.
George must have seen the saliva dripping from the sides of our mouths because before he left he offered to make another stop to take care of the competition. An offer we declined, then phoned our desk.
“Sorry, I’ve got nobody I can send right now.”
My reporter called his wife, and we had to walk two blocks to meet her.
I got my chance, and my first day in the WAFB newsroom, I found out the secret to George’s appeal. He’s having so damned much fun.
At 70, after a lifetime in the news business: places like Nashville, ABC New York, Philly, Houston, Denver, and Detroit, his face still lights up when a reporter brings him a “nugget.”
The man’s got more energy than a frat house hopped up on Red Bull. And he never stops digging. He knows everyone. Not just the movers and shakers, but the old grocer on the corner he met on a crime scene eight years ago. And he treats them all like they’re the most important person in the room.
That attitude spills over into the rest of the newsroom. We work for him because he values each and everyone of us: from his co-anchors, to the producers, the reporters, the photogs, studio crew, and yes even the interns.
George is one of those guys that has managed to keep it real for 50 years in the business. And everybody can relate to real. Hell, we all thought he’d leave this earth before he left the anchor desk. (It was even money that he’d do it simultaneously.)
We said goodbye to George this week. After 24 years of ratings dominance in Baton Rouge, he’s taking his final bow.
As legends go, he’s legit. Sells stories float around the newsroom, and no matter how big they get, I have a hard time questioning any of them. That’s just the kind of man George is. When it comes to George Sells, don’t doubt anything.
George hates the mushy crap, so I’ll simply say, “It’s been a fucking honor.”
I know The Big Raggedy won’t be far from his every waking thought, but I hope he tries to relax a bit every now and then.
When he hears something on the scanner, I know he’ll still call us. He knows we won’t be listening.
As he heads home all I can say is, “Mrs. Sells, prepare yourself!”