Since she walked in the door at 30 Rock in 2011, Russell was tapped as the next Sue Simmons. But if the media helped create that idea, station management was on the same path. Seemingly from day one, she was “the” Simmons back-up. Of course, by last June she was understudy no more, when Simmons left WNBC. Russell joined another market legend Chuck Scarborough at 11. However, since Simmons returned from back surgery, she was no longer on the 6 p.m., leaving Scarborough to fend for himself.
Now with New York native Vargas installed as the 6 p.m. anchor with Scarborough, there could be a case of turf wars among the ladies. Vargas becomes the first evening female anchor to land at WNBC since Russell’s rapid ascension.
“I grew up watching WNBC. The news was always first-rate,” Vargas tells Tuned In. ”Now I’m going to be part of the team. I am beyond thrilled! It is an honor.”
Is there more to this move?
Well WNBC has been in an uncharacteristic fight for last place, and that’s not all Russell’s fault. As much as loyal viewers lit up the blogosphere saying they’d stop watching the station without Sue. They wouldn’t, and didn’t. The bigger problem, as one insider tells Tuned In, quality has been sorely lacking.
“So far the talent they’ve hired for the station is amateurish,” the insider says. “Hopefully with these two new anchor hires they’ll get it right.”
In July, WNBC brought in another KCAL/KCBS anchor, Rob Schmitt, who will work with Vargas on the noon newscasts.
Ironically, the Russell/Tom Llamas team is more youthful, but the ratings are actually much worse in the crowded 5 p.m. slot.
But make no mistake, a weekday noon anchor position is in the second tier of newscasts. Even with Vargas locked into a main early evening broadcast, if she performs well with Scarborough, expect bigger changes.
“The station needs some kind of a boost,” the insider contends. “There will be anchor changes.”