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Reconnecting with the University

Story by
Nancy Joseph

As a UW student, Robb Weller (‘71) instilled school pride in thousands of Husky fans as a “yell leader” at athletic events. Thirty years later, he’s still one of the University’s best cheerleaders.

Weller, a video producer and former host of television’s Entertainment Tonight, currently serves on the boards of the College of Arts and Sciences and the University of Washington Foundation. He is producing a documentary that features UW History Professor Jon Bridgman. And he and his wife Barbara recently promised a $100,000 gift to help establish the Jon Bridgman Endowed Professorship in History.

Robb Weller (right) with UW Professor Jon Bridgman.

Robb Weller (right) with UW Professor Jon Bridgman.

“The UW prepared me for where I am today,” says Weller, “so it’s been wonderful to reconnect with the University. I think it’s important to get involved.”

Weller has been a public figure since his college days. His popularity as a yell leader made him a personality on campus, leading to dozens of invitations to emcee University events as a student. He’s even been hailed as the inventor of “The Wave”—a cheer that gets spectators on their feet and ripples through an entire stadium.

“We used to do a version of the wave, just in the student section of the stadium,” recalls Weller, “but we didn’t have a name for it. Then, while I was serving as a guest cheerleader for the homecoming game in October 1981, the wave leaked out of the student section and just took off. That’s how it got started.”

Inspired by his uncle and mentor Art Gilmore, a successful radio announcer, Weller decided early on that he wanted to be in radio and television. He didn’t have to wait long for his wish to come true.

Robb Weller posed for this UW photo in the early 1970s, during his cheerleading days.

Robb Weller posed for this UW photo in the early 1970s, during his cheerleading days.

After graduating with a B.A. in communications, Weller was quickly recruited by KIRO Radio as sideline announcer for Husky games. Before long he was filling in for the host of Seattle Today, a local television talk show, which led to a job hosting a new—and ultimately short-lived—program in Columbus, Ohio.

When the show in Columbus was cancelled, Weller spent the next five years hosting a morning talk show in Chicago. His successor was an unknown named Oprah Winfrey. “In a way, I’m responsible for her success,” jokes Weller.

It was while working at his next job—“an ill-fated evening magazine” in New York—that Weller got his biggest break. The executive producer of the popular syndicated program Entertainment Tonight (ET) called, asking Weller to come out to California for a couple of days to fill in for weekend hosts. “He told me to bring two suits,” Weller recalls. “Four weeks later I was still there and I was made a regular host of the show. It happened so fast it was hard to even comprehend. It was such a hot show at that time.”

And the two suits he brought? “With only two shirts, I started to smell a little gamey,” Weller jokes.

Four years later, Weller began hosting The Home Show, a daily network show, while continuing with ET on weekends. But he also began developing an interest in producing. “I think I’ve always been a producer,” he says. “I just had to take a sidepath as a host for a while.”

With his friend Gary Grossman, a former coordinating producer on Entertainment Tonight, he started Weller/Grossman Productions in 1991. Their first show aired in 1992, and they have since produced more than 3,500 programs for 18 different cable networks. The company now has 140 employees.

“We started out by supplying A&E and the Garden Network with the kinds of programs they had need for, and it grew from there,” says Weller. “Now we focus on documentary, service, and information programming, as well as entertainment news and specials.”

The company is planning a move to larger quarters this year. Maybe the new building will include some space for the many awards Weller/Grossman Productions has amassed in the past few years, including Emmys, Cable Ace Awards, and CINE Golden Eagle Awards.

Weller’s partnership with Grossman has not only led to business success but also to renewed connections with the UW. “Gary was very involved with his own college and having a great time,” explains Weller. “It made me realize that I wanted to reconnect withmy college—the UW. I had been away so long.”

For me, getting a liberal arts education has meant everything. It's been the essence of my professional career.

Soon Weller joined the College Board and the UW’s Foundation Board. Now he is sharing his production expertise to create a documentary about World War II, with Jon Bridgman providing the narration. The project grew out of a conversation between Weller and Arts and Sciences Dean David Hodge.

“We were talking one day about resources at the University,” recalls Weller, “and using the example of Jon Bridgman, who is year-in, year-out one of the best lecturers at the University. He’s a real resource. I realized that we needed to get his lectures on tape and share them with more people.”

Weller’s company began a collaboration with Bridgman to produce a one-hour documentary, soon to be available through the UW Alumni Association and the University Book Store. “It touches on Pearl Harbor and World War II, and how our country was getting prepared for the war yet was completely surprised by it,” says Weller. “The project has been a wonderful joint effort.”

Robb and Barbara Weller’s gift to help launch the Bridgman Professorship has been another way to give back to the University. Weller says that he is thrilled to be able to support the liberal arts, which have been so important in his life and his career.

“For me, getting a liberal arts education has meant everything,” says Weller. “It’s been the essence of my professional career. As a television producer dealing with a wide variety of show topics, you need to know about many subjects, so it has been invaluable to have studied everything from sociology to communications to history to English. I didn't realize how important some of these courses were then--but I do now."