Pete Noyes, a Peabody-winning Los Angeles TV news legend who worked in every L.A. network affiliate’s newsroom during a six-decade career and was the inspiration for the classic TV character Lou Grant, died Monday of natural causes at him home in Westlake Village, CA. He was 90. His son, longtime KNBC-TV assignment editor Jack Noyes, said his father had been in declining health.
The multiple-News Emmy winner was an early producer of then-KNXT’s format The Big News in 1963, when it expanded to become the first hourlong newscast in the region. He also was an investigative journalist, author and educator also taught broadcast news reporting at USC and Cal State Northridge for many years.
Noyes began his career working for the military paper Pacific Stars & Stripes while he was in the Army during the Korean War and later worked for City News Service in Los Angeles. During his career he would work for the news departments of L.A.’s Big 3 network TV outlets — KNXT/KCBS, KNBC and KABC — along with the Fox newsmag Front Page. He also had stints at L.A. indie station KCOP and at KFMB San Diego and KOVR Sacramento.
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It was during his 1961-72 gig at L.A.’s KNXT — the precursor to KCBS — that Noyes was named producer of The Big News, the nightly newscast created by Sam Zelman that launched the careers of such legendary Los Angeles TV news personalities as anchor Jerry Dunphy, reporter Ralph Story, sports director Gil Stratton and weatherman Bill Keene. The format served as the local lead-in for the newly expanded hourlong CBS Evening News, anchored by a young Walter Cronkite.
Noyes’ exploits at The Big News were legendary as he built a reputation for hard-nosed investigative reporting.
One of his first stories there, in 1961, was that Los Angeles Dodger President Walter O’Malley
had built his new stadium in Chavez Ravine with only one drinking fountain — the better to sell lots of beer to thirsty fans.
Among Noyes’ other muckraking gems were exposing the Mafia’s plan to steal $14 million in Teamsters money earmarked for a luxury home development near Beverly Hills and revealing that
Charles Manson and his so-called “family” were responsible for the horrific Tate-LaBianca murders in 1969. The latter earned Noyes the first of two career Edward R. Murrow Awards.
He went on to write a book about his experiences. Published in 2015, Who Killed The Big News? told the history of the format launched by Sam Zelman in 1961.
A veteran investigative reporter, Noyes also wrote The Real L.A. Confidential, a 2011 book about the history of investigative journalism in Los Angeles from the Black Dahlia and Roman Polanski cases to Charles Manson, O.J. Simpson and the death of Michael Jackson. The tome also detailed corruption at City Hall. He also penned the 1973 nonfiction book Legacy of Doubt: Did the Mafia Kill JFK?, about the assassination of President Kennedy.
Described by colleagues as salty but sweet, Noyes’ grind inspired the irascible, blustery TV character Lou Grant, played by Ed Asner first on The Mary Tyler Moore Show and later in the L.A.-set newsroom drama Lou Grant. Asner racked up 12 consecutive Emmy noms for playing the role from 1971-82 and won five, including three for Mary Tyler Moore.
“There are only a handful of people one would call a lion of broadcast journalism,” Bob Rawitch, a retired Los Angeles Times editor, told City News Service. “While most — Cronkite, Huntley/Brinkley, Brokaw — were on air, Pete belongs in that crowd. In addition to mentoring so many young journalists over the decade at TV stations, for many years he passed along his knowledge to aspiring broadcasters at CSUN and USC, where he often taught investigative journalism. To say he will be missed is an understatement.”
Along with the Peabody and Murrow awards, Noyes also won 10 News Emmys and multiple Golden Mike Awards. He retired from the news biz in 2008.
Noyes is survived by his wife, Grace; son, Jack; daughter-in-law, Linda; his sister, Liz Gorsich; brothers Frank and David; and two granddaughters. Funeral services will be private, but his sister hopes to hold a “celebration of life” via Zoom. In lieu of flowers, Gorsich suggested that contributions be made in Noyes’ name to the 8-Ball Emergency Fund for Journalists.
Watch a tribute to Noyes from KCBS-TV, where he worked from 1961-72, below.
City News Service contributed to this report.