Horace Holmes gets up early to host Channel 2's new 'Morning Show'

MAN OF THE MORNING

January 12, 1992|By Mary Corey

As early morning TV goes, the day is shaping up to be a doozy:

It's Elvis' birthday, clam night at Howard Johnson's, and an 85-year-old waitress' TV debut.

Horace Holmes, who's in the midst of this pre-dawn mayhem at WMAR-TV, senses the "Morning Show" is working on all cylinders and allows himself a satisfied smile during a break.

"Anybody who's up this early in the morning I have a bond with," he says. "We're kindred spirits."

But how many people have been up since 3:15 a.m.? And how many will make it through the day -- and night -- without caffeine, cigarettes, alcohol or even junk food? How many can say they attend church regularly, rarely ever curse and are described by colleagues, and even competitors, as a nice guy in a mean business?

Mr. Holmes may feel he has kindred spirits out there, but in fact he's more of an aberration, particularly in the world of local television.

Says Marty Bass, his counterpart at WJZ-TV, "Horace is just a real fine guy. He understands the business. When we're on the air, he's trying to destroy me and I'm trying to destroy him. It's war. But off the air he's a real gentleman. It's, 'Hey, how are you? How's the family?' "

Mr. Holmes' co-anchor, Rudy Miller, sees an even gentler side working with him in the studio: "I've told him, 'You're too nice to be in television.' You expect people who have been in the business as long as he has to have this hard edge. He doesn't."

In person, there is an unexpected softness to the 34-year-old newsman. He's smaller than he appears on the air, his features are rounder, and his clothes -- the silk paisley tie, pleated trousers and diamond-patterned socks -- look snazzier.

If you let him, he would talk about Channel 2 all day long, echoing the station's ever-present slogan and saying with a completely straight face that he wants to be "a friend you can turn to."

But get beyond the anchorman playing politician, and he turns into a modest, down-to-earth guy who would rather discuss his mediocre tennis game than life as a local celebrity.

"I'm not a perfect person, but this business is about more than news," he explains. "It's about how you conduct yourself, what you become to people. . . . And especially in the black community, we need to see stable families, strong families. All of us need to see people who have strong beliefs and principles and live by those."

It's an image he's eager to protect. "I mentioned to him one day that I thought it would be neat to have a tattoo, and I thought he was going to pass out," Ms. Miller says.

Perhaps the person Mr. Holmes is toughest on is himself. After the morning show, he complains about words he mispronounced ("safe" for "sale"), questions he didn't ask (When would the show's guest, singer Patti Austin, be performing in town?). But he also acknowledges that he's come a long way since he made his debut as weekend anchor in 1984.

"When I first started I was the anchor-in-the-box, and I didn't know how to get out of it," he says. "I always thought you sat on the set and never moved your body."

The station brought in the ubiquitous consultants to teach him the ropes. Others would have been insulted, but Mr. Holmes was eager for their advice.

With the help of such handlers, he learned how to alter his speech and body language for the camera. "It was like having somebody put you under a microscope and tell you who you are," he recalls.

Even now, he finds himself working to appear relaxed on the air, particularly in the anything-goes atmosphere of the early a.m.

"I'm constantly telling myself, 'Be yourself, be yourself.' It may sound simple, but it's hard to do," he says.

Nancy Hinds, producer of the morning show, is less critical of his performance. "He's the unsung hero of Channel 2," she says. "Stan [Stovall] and Sally [Thorner] get all the credit, but he can do anything. . . . He can be the straight news anchor or the upbeat morning show host."

She also calls him a steadying influence in a hectic business. "The worst I've ever seen him is quiet," she says. "If he's in a bad mood, he's quiet until he gets over it."

His secret, he says, is keeping the job in perspective. "This is a tough business, but I don't take it too seriously," he says. "It's fun. I'm doing this, and they're paying me for it. And if things do go wrong, you've always got tomorrow."

Horace Holmes got his first taste of television as a youngster growing up in Washington. As a teen-ager, he remembers being mesmerized as he sat in the studio audience of "Panorama" with host Maury Povich.

Several years later, his older sister was hired as a graphic artist for Channel 9 in Washington. Mr. Holmes, the youngest of two, tagged along and was eventually hired part-time as an assistant.

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