The big story on Action News tonight is the end of an era in Philadelphia broadcasting — Jim Gardner will anchor his final 11 p.m. broadcast on 6ABC.
It goes without saying Gardner is an institution in the Delaware Valley, and is just as iconic as the timeless Action News jingle. He’s delivered the news at 11 p.m. since taking over for Larry Kane way back in 1977, and said he has mixed feelings as he approaches his final late-night newscast on Tuesday.
“It’s been a long run, and it’s the first step towards retirement,” Gardner told The Inquirer. “I hope we’ve done a good job with the 11 o’clock news over a period of almost 45 years. I think we have.”
» READ MORE: 6ABC taps Rick Williams to replace Jim Gardner on 11 p.m. edition of ‘Action News’
Fortunately, Gardner, 73, isn’t relinquishing his role entirely just yet. He’ll continue to anchor 6ABC’s 6 p.m. newscast alongside Ducis Rodgers and Cecily Tynan through the end of the year.
“For many of us, Jim is the last news voice we hear before ending our day. He has guided us through the good and the bad with calm confidence for more than 40 years, often reassuring us that tomorrow will bring a better day,” said Bernie Prazenica, president and general manager of 6ABC. “Thankfully, we have another year with him during the 6 p.m. newscast, and we look forward to his continued presence and leadership.”
With the spare time opening up on his schedule, Gardner said he’s looking forward to finally being able to watch some Sixers games. Back in November, he received a thunderous ovation after ringing the bell at the Wells Fargo Center prior to a Sixers-Timberwolves game.
But Gardner said it’ll have to wait until this latest wave of COVID-19 infections subside, which has him and his wife, Amy, hunkering down more at home.
“I think I’m going to say [Tuesday night] that my main wish for the next year is seeing the pandemic retire before I do,” Gardner said.
The longtime anchor also recently made a cameo on the new ABC comedy series Abbott Elementary, which is set in a Philadelphia public school and created by West Philadelphia native Quinta Brunson.
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“He’s fantastic. It was so sweet. I almost passed out I was so starstruck,” Brunson told 6ABC.
Gardner said he seriously considered winding down his career several times over the past few years, but found the news too interesting to walk away from, whether it was the coronavirus pandemic or the four-year tenure of former President Donald Trump.
Ultimately he decided last year it was time to walk away, and wanted to model his departure on the retirement of former 6ABC meteorologist Dave Roberts back in 2009, who also ended his long career at the station by focusing on the 6 p.m. newscast.
“It worked out well for him, I think it worked out well for the station, and I’m sure it’ll work out well for everyone this time around,” Gardner said. “I think he’s a wise man, and he has always given me very, very good guidance.”
So who will replace Gardner on the 11 p.m. newscast? The station has turned to longtime reporter and anchor Rick Williams to take over the late night edition of Action News. Williams has worked at the station for more than 30 years and might best be know for his role anchoring 6ABC’s coverage of the annual Thanksgiving Day parade in Philadelphia alongside Tynan.
Williams will begin his tenure in the 11 p.m. slot on Wednesday.
6ABC also recently hired former Fox News host Jillian Mele as a reporter and anchor. Mele, a Glenside native who previously worked for NBC10 and the station formerly known as Comcast SportsNet, hasn’t yet made her first television appearance, but it seems likely she’ll help make room in the schedule due to Gardner’s departure.
» READ MORE: Jim Gardner spent decades reporting the news. Here are some of his lighter moments