Baraboo native helped launch the “Today” show 70 years ago

Jim Fleming anchored the very first episode of Today back in 1952
Published: Jan. 14, 2022 at 7:33 AM CST|Updated: Jan. 14, 2022 at 6:28 PM CST
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Baraboo, Wis. (WMTV) - On January 14, 1952, the very first episode of NBC’s Today show hit the airwaves. One of the news anchors on that show was Baraboo native Jim Fleming.

“I’m very proud of my dad’s professional accomplishments. He was a really driven person,” said Jeff Fleming, Jim’s son.

James (Jim) Francis Fleming was born in Baraboo in 1915 and graduated from Baraboo High School in 1933. Jeff says after high school, his dad graduated from the University of Chicago and became a journalist.

James Francis Fleming (first row, fourth from right) is featured in the 1932 Baraboo High...
James Francis Fleming (first row, fourth from right) is featured in the 1932 Baraboo High School yearbook(Baraboo Public Library)

Jim initially got his start in journalism at WGN Radio in Chicago, mostly covering sports.

During WWII in the 1940s, he was a reporter for CBS Radio and Newsweek Magazine, mainly covering major conferences in Europe. He was based in Moscow, Paris, and the Pacific theater.

He came back to the United States in the early 1950s and helped launch NBC’s new television program called Today.

“The Today show was not just a good program, not just a program that continues for 70 years, but it literally changed the way people watch television. Morning television was left for kiddie programs, previously,” said Jeff. “And he wanted to do interesting things and the Today show was one of the things he did that was interesting,”

Dave Garroway was the first host of the Today show. Fleming’s role was to deliver news briefs throughout the program.

“Initially television was very stiff, and people had to announce when they were talking,” said Jeff Fleming. “It has become a much friendlier medium. In the early days, my dad was a stiff news announcer, and you could sense that.”

Jim Fleming left Today after a year and became a documentary film producer.

“He realized I think at some point in his career that his greatest strengths were not necessarily in front of the camera but behind the camera,” said Jeff.

His crowning achievement – he won an Emmy Award in 1967 for his four-hour documentary series entitled “Africa” that was narrated by Hollywood legend Gregory Peck and aired on ABC.

In 1996, Jim Fleming passed away at the age of 81. But his impact on American TV news will always be felt.

“He is someone who worked with Barbara Walters. He hired her as a production assistant long before she was on TV. He worked with Andy Rooney and Ed Murrow -- people who were famous in broadcasting were colleagues of his,” said Jeff.

“There have been so many people over the years who have made significant contributions to the Today show and I think my dad would be proud looking back that he was one of those people who helped define morning news that has literally lasted for decades and decades,” added Jeff.

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