In a made-for-TV moment, a pair of Philadelphia TV celebrities surprised viewers — and each other — with a touching tribute to retired 6abc news anchor Jim Gardner at this year’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
To honor Gardner, who has anchored the 6 and 11 p.m. newscast for more than four decades, fans have come equipped with streamers and even donned fake mustaches to look like him.
Gardner’s following only expanded when he got a nod in the Philly-set comedy Abbott Elementary.
Gardner made a cameo in the show’s first season but didn’t meet creator and star Quinta Brunson until Thursday when she surprised him during the 6abc Dunkin’ Thanksgiving Day Parade, thanking him for being on the show.
“Everyone now knows the beauty of Jim Gardner,” Bronson said. “I’ve been watching you since you were a little girl.”
She added, “My whole family loves you, all of Philadelphia loves you, but now the whole world has a chance to love you.”
A group of fans, including a toddler with a home microphone emblazoned with the 6abc logo, attended the show wearing fake gray mustaches resembling the announcer’s.
Gardner shared a photo of his mustachioed fans on Twitter, wishing them a happy Thanksgiving.
“People ask what I’m going to miss,” he wrote. “A lot of things, but none more than the unique relationship that 6abc Action News has with our viewers. You guys are crazy, but all kinds of fun!”
Gardner began anchoring the newscasts at 6 and 11 p.m. on May 11, 1977. His devout following spanned generations, only growing when he was featured on Abbott Elementary.
“Now I am a proud married Christian woman and I love my husband,” Sherrill Lee’s Ralph character says in a dream on camera. “But there is something about that Jim Gardner, that non-territorial spelling.”
“You’re reshaping the landscape of television,” Gardner told Bronson Streaming Thursday. “You are!”
Gardner has an open invitation from 6abc to return to the show next year. However, fans like Mary Beth Ivy chose to keep their memories of him on Thursday. Ivy, a former Kensington resident who made the trip to the show from Rochester, New York, recalled how “handsome and polite” Gardner was when she saw him on TV.
“He was charismatic and like he was sitting in your living room talking to you about the news,” said Ivey, who attended the show for the first time in 35 years. “Not phony and trying out the acting.”
Ivy, who also retired in her 70s, couldn’t believe he was leaving the local TV news.
“Sooner or later, you just have to pull the plug and leave,” she said.