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Martin Duggan, journalist and gentleman provocateur - Part 2

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Nov. 29, 2009 - On the first day of the first show of "Donnybrook," Bill McClellan left the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and got a whiskey.

OK, two.

McClellan, a newspaper man, was nervous. He was about to be on TV. The drinks loosened him up a bit, the show was taped, and he went home.

That night, McClellan got a call from Duggan.

"'The station liked the show. We're gonna do it again,'" McClellan remembers hearing. "'But they want you to wear a sport jacket.'"

McClellan actually thought about that before going out to buy one. This was a new show on Channel 9 featuring a cast with different political perspectives. They weren't getting paid. How long it could last?

McClellan relented and bought the jacket.

"And here it is, 23 years later, and the show's still going," he says. "And of course, I'm probably on my third sport jacket."

All In The Mix

"Donnybrook" is the highest rated locally produced show on PBS, and its success seems to come from both the quality of the recipe and the quality of the ingredients.

Duggan's responsible for both those things, according to everyone involved.

In 1986, after retiring from a 45-year career at the Globe-Democrat, he saw an episode of "The McLaughlin Group" on PBS and realized he could create a similar show about local issues.

In fact, he was already kind of doing that, without the cameras, at breakfasts at Cocos with a few old friends. There was Mark Vittert, who then owned the St. Louis Business Journal, and Rich Koster, a KSDK producer and former Globe-Democrat writer.

All that was missing were the cameras.

After prodding from Duggan, the other two agreed to make a pitch to Channel 9, St. Louis' public television station. They filmed a video in Vittert's dining room.

No one knows where that video is today.

"I'd like to see it myself," Duggan says. "That's how bad it was."

But Channel 9 agreed to give them a try. Duggan knew they needed more people. So Vittert suggested Ray Hartmann, the founder and publisher of the Riverfront Times, and Duggan suggested McClellan. Koster made five.

Though all five men were big players in the St. Louis media universe, they weren't all having breakfast together at Cocos.

"I knew him mainly by reputation as the hard-charging, take-no-prisoners editorial page editor at the Globe-Democrat," McClellan says.

In 1969, Hartmann had worked as a copy boy at the paper and remembered Duggan as a grave authority figure.

Stupid Question

Here's how Duggan opened the show's pilot, which didn't include McClellan and never aired.

"'Ray Hartmann, a young Crestwood woman was found bound, gagged, burned to death in the garage of her home, husband's been arrested as a suspect, and it happens that they met through a so-called eligible ad in your newspaper. Now what have you got to say about that?'" Duggan remembers. "Believe me, for the first and only time in his life, Ray Hartmann didn't have anything to say."

But Vittert didn't hesitate.

"'Martin, I'm surprised you'd ask a stupid question like that,'" Duggan remembers. "Well, I knew we had the makings of what I was hoping for."

And so did the station.

Soon, the men came together to shoot the first show, including McClellan in a wrinkled yellow shirt and no sport coat, Duggan remembers.

Then, the cast of "Donnybrook" made a pact that would come to define them over the next two decades. They were a team, Duggan told them.

"All for one. We agreed over a drink in our early days that if for any reason the station wanted to get rid of any one of us, we were all out of there," he says.

That never happened, the station never interfered, but the promise was there. And over the years, even with changing cast members, from Anne Keefe to Nan Wyatt, to the current cast including Hartmann, McClellan, Wendy Wiese and Charlie Brennan, the people on "Donnybrook" became a family.