After more than 40 years, Jim Gardner delivered his final sign-off after delivering the 11 p.m. news on 6ABC.
Tuesday night, Gardner said goodbye to his late-night Action News viewers as he dials down his schedule ahead of his full retirement later this year.
“Nobody is more grateful than I for the special, no, unique relationship between Action News and you, our viewers,” Gardner said to end the broadcast. “In a sense, we made a bargain long ago — we give you our respect and commitment to honest and fair reporting, and you give us your trust.”
“And thank you for allowing me into your homes so late at night for the past 45 years. I have never taken your hospitality for granted,” Gardner added.
Gardner, 73, had delivered the 11 p.m. newscast since May 11, 1977, after joining the station as a reporter the year before. He will continue to anchor the 6 p.m. newscast alongside sports anchor Ducis Rodgers and meteorologist Cecily Tynan ahead of his full retirement at the end of 2022.
“My main wish for the next year: to see this pandemic retire before I do,” Gardner said.
Replacing him in the anchor’s chair at 11 p.m. will be his longtime colleague, Rick Williams, whom Gardner praised Tuesday night.
“You need not be told that Rick is an extraordinary broadcast journalist. You already know that. He will preside over the best days of this newscast that are yet to come,” Gardner said in his sign-off.
Williams, who co-anchors the station’s 5 p.m. newscast as well as Action News at 10 p.m. on PHL17, will deliver his first 11 p.m. broadcast Wednesday.
“Rick is uniquely qualified by his 30+ years of experience in anchoring Action News in the morning, noon and evening. His knowledge of our region and deep roots in our community make him the perfect choice,” Bernie Prazenica, the president and general manager of 6ABC, said in a statement.
» READ MORE: Former Fox News host Jillian Mele joins 6ABC
So what does Gardner plan to do in his spare time? For starters, attend some Sixers games with his wife, Amy. But he told the Inquirer that will have to wait until the city’s current COVID-19 situation begins to subside.
“I think at this point, I’m staying away from sports arenas for a while,” Gardner said. “I think I’ll wait a little bit until omicron subsides before I start being a regular patron of the Wells Fargo Center.”
Among those weighing in on Gardner’s departure was late-night host Jimmy Kimmel. Every evening, Gardner promoted the names of the guests appearing on Jimmy Kimmel Live!, which immediately follows Action News (for trivia nerds, the guests Gardner teased in his final broadcast were comedian Jim Gaffigan, actress Ann Dowd, and music by Ryan Hurd).
“Why are you leaving the 11 o’clock news? Are you mad at me? Did I do this? Don’t answer me, I’m on tape,” Kimmel said. “Just know I will miss your mustache and the rest of you, too.”
Here’s Gardner’s full sign-off, as transcribed by 6ABC:
So this is my final broadcast as anchor of Action News at 11. It has been a pretty long run that began on May 11, 1977.
One of the big stories that night was the SEPTA board voting to raise fares on city buses, trolleys and subways from 35 to 45 cents.
The Phillies lost to the Giants 4-2 and Houston beat the Sixers 118-94.
Full disclosure, I didn’t remember those things, I looked them up.
That was about 16,500 11 o’clock newscasts ago, and our goal for each one was the same as tonight’s: to present a responsible, accurate, thoughtful and compelling account of the day’s happenings.
I have loved anchoring the 11 o’clock news for four and a half decades.
For me, this newscast has been a perfect meld of local news, which is our priority, and what’s happening as seen through a wider lens, on the national and international front.
But I came to understand a long time ago that if we want to know what people everywhere are thinking, we can often find out by looking no further than at our own communities, our own school boards, and city and town councils, our nonprofit organizations, our law enforcement agencies, business communities, our colleges and universities, our union locals and houses of worship.
That’s what we have tried to do, I hope with some success.
It is my earnest hope that Action News at 11 has provided useful information from the very start of the COVID-19 phenomenon, that we have informed, but also that we have helped you navigate the often confusing, and sometimes controversial, pathways, leading to your efforts to protect yourself and your loved ones.
This has been and continues to be a story like no other.
Nobody is more grateful than I for the special, no, unique relationship between Action News and you, our viewers. In a sense, we made a bargain long ago — we give you our respect and commitment to honest and fair reporting, and you give us your trust. And I can’t help but feel that that happens here in a way that is more authentic and even more intimate than anywhere else.
Everyone at this television station cherishes that, and no one more than I.
And certainly no one more than Rick Williams who will sit in this chair and join Cecily and Ducis starting tomorrow night.
You need not be told that Rick is an extraordinary broadcast journalist. You already know that. He will preside over the best days of this newscast that are yet to come.
And he will rely on two remarkably talented individuals: producer Laura Mammarella and Executive Producer Matt Dennis. They are superb at their jobs and make an anchor’s participation in the process of getting this newscast on the air every night nothing less than a joy.
Several other individuals need mentioning.
Dann Cuellar has given his talent for storytelling to this newscast every night for decades. If our 11 o’clock news is consistently excellent when it comes to covering local and breaking news, nobody is more responsible for that than Dann.
Former executive producer Rick Williams, no relation to the next anchor of this broadcast, gave his heart and soul to Action News at 11 for a generation. He and producer Matt Simansky formed a powerful partnership, and their intelligence, their judgment and their devotion made us immeasurably better every night.
Oh, by the way, the efforts of all these people wouldn’t have mattered if not for the outstanding work of director Mike Katz, who after all, puts us and keeps us on the air.
I am blessed to be able to work with Cecily and Ducis for another year at six o’clock.
We respect each other, we care about each other, and I think we’re a pretty good team.
And on this occasion, I’m also thinking of two people who have left their handprints on this broadcast and on my heart: Gary Papa and Dave Roberts. Even as he approached death, Gary was larger than life. As for Dave, whom I consider a dear friend, I have continued to feel his presence and benefit from his guidance every night.
And thank you for allowing me into your homes so late at night for the past 45 years. I have never taken your hospitality for granted.
And I’m looking forward to continuing to share dinnertime with you for the next year.
My main wish for the next year: to see this pandemic retire before I do.