In 1949, just months after debuting on air, New Orleans’ first television station, WDSU-TV, hired Mel Leavitt as the sports and special events reporter. Leavitt, who moved from New York, was an instant lover of New Orleans and spent his career televising its finer points, earning the nickname “Mr. Television” in the process. Over his 35-year career, he worked at WDSU, WVUE, WGNO and WYES, as well as on the radio at WSMB. He was also a writer, publishing two books about New Orleans.
He worked with Alec Gifford at the anchor desk, and helped Nash Roberts with the weather. He was the first person to broadcast Mardi Gras parades and the Sugar Bowl. He broadcast Louisiana State, Tulane, and Loyola universities’ games and races from the Fair Grounds. He had an afternoon program (“Byline”) and a late night talk show (“Tonight with Mel”). He quizzed students on “Prep Quiz Bowl” and adults on “Do You Know Louisiana?”.
He produced many award-winning programs, including “The Huey Long Story,” “The Battle that Missed the War” and “The School That Would Not Die,” for which he won an Emmy. His editorials earned him a Peabody Award. He was the first in the country to broadcast U.S. Senate hearings, earning the Raytheon Award. One of his most popular programs was the “Wonderful World of Cajuns.”
He died of cancer in 1997, but as his former WDSU colleague Al Shea says, “Mel Leavitt is and will always be Mr. Television in New Orleans.”