It was an experiment that never took off. The anchors didn’t gel and the ratings plummeted from its start in early January.
Now, Tuned In has learned, Channel 11 is turning its back on the 6:30 p.m. broadcast within the next few weeks. Interim GM Greg Easterly made the announcement to staffers.
The future of Kaity Tong and Brenda Blackmon (left) is uncertain, although sources say Blackmon is done at PIX. It’s believed the former WWOR anchor has a one-year contract. She was respected within the newsroom but the cancellation didn’t surprise many at the station.
Tong, a WPIX lifer, may return to the weekend anchor slot.
“How do you compete against network news? They could have cancelled it after two months,” a PIX insider says.
While there was no mention of layoffs, the fate of 6:30 p.m. Executive Producer and former meteorologist Chris Knowles is up in the air.
“Every newscast, talent and manager are being looked at,” a source tells Tuned In. “Hard to see how others survive when ratings aren’t there for any show.”
Another victim in the WPIX carousel. President and GM Rich Graziano is out. As the newscasts have struggled to find viewers, especially on the new 6:30 p.m. broadcast, Graziano becomes the latest member of Tribune management to face the fire. Tribune says in a statement that Graziano “decided to leave,” although multiple sources confirm that he was fired. Staffers saw him carrying boxes out of the office at 3 a.m. Tuesday.
Graziano takes the high road in his departure letter, as he ends a 17-year association with the media company.
“Here in NY we have accomplished much at WPIX. I’m very proud of and thankful for the leadership team and all of the staff that is so dedicated and passionate about PIX 11.”
The noose is tightening for management at WPIX. It’s only three months since the Tribune flagship added a 6:30 evening newscast. But it’s not too soon to realize it’s a disaster. The ratings for the Kaity Tong/Brenda Blackmon 30-minute broadcast, aside from the first week curiosity, are in the tank. Channel 11 performed better with Craig Ferguson‘s poorly received Celebrity Name Game in syndication, previously holding down the slot.
Multiple sources confirm to Tuned In that executives are upset with the PIX direction led by news director Amy Waldman (above) and GM Rich Graziano, who promoted her once Mark Effron was shown the door.
“Graziano was honest about why he greenlighted Waldman- her market knowledge” an insider admits. “But knowing how many live trucks your competition has does not make a news director. Now Graziano is tied to dismal ratings, low morale, and an unimpressive news director.”
Insiders say that Waldman, who took on the high profile positiion last April, will not survive beyond the May sweeps. But Graziano’s days could be numbered as well for orchestrating the creation of the 6:30 p.m. newscast.
Another indication that he may be on the hot seat, Tuned In has learned that Bart Feder, Tribune’s SVP of News will lead the search for Waldman’s replacement–not Graziano.
All of the backdoor maneuvering comes as Tribune is reportedly up for sale. What that could mean for WPIX remains a mystery.
Update from Feder:
“I am absolutely not engaged in a search for a new news director at WPIX, nor is anyone else. Amy Waldman is our news director. Period.”
Weekends at WPIX will have a new look in the new year. As we previously reported, Channel 11 is moving Kaity Tong back to weeknights as part of an expanded early evening broadcast with WWOR castoff Brenda Blackmon.
Kala Rama (left) is making the switch from reporter at Eyewitness News, the market’s top station, to weekend co-anchor at PIX. She’ll be joined by a Channel 11 veteran Craig Treadway. Rama will return to the street three days during the week.
A Fairfield County native, Rama tells Tuned In that making it to the anchor desk has been a goal. “My dream has always been to report in New York City. I achieved that in 2015 at ABC7. And now, 2016 brings another accomplishment I’ve dreamed of for years.”
You can call Kaity Tong (left) a WPIX survivor. She weathered the storm when she was relegated to weekends five years ago.
Now the 23-year PIX veteran is ready to start anew. She’ll co-anchor a new 6:30 p.m. weeknight broadcast starting next month. Another familiar face to viewers, Brenda Blackmon, is coming on board to join Tong on the 30-minute newscast.
Blackmon spent 23 years at WWOR until Fox canceled its 10 p.m. broadcast in 2013, which she anchored for many years with Harry Martin.
“Brenda is one of the most recognizable and talented journalists in the market, and we are thrilled to pair New York news icons Brenda and Kaity at the anchor desk of PIX11’s newest newscast,” WPIX President/GM Rich Graziano said in a statement.
Tong has been a fan favorite during her time at PIX, especially since dealing with the station adversity. She responded to numerous congratulatory tweets. In one saying, “Cannot WAIT to sit beside Brenda.”
Tamsen Fadal and John Muller hold down the fort from 5-6:30 p.m., before returning after dinner break for the 10 p.m.
Channel 11 will have the only local option opposite the network’s big three newscasts.
We’re not sure what this means for the Craig Ferguson-hosted game show, Celebrity Name Game, currently occupying the 6:30 p.m. slot.
The brave new world for WWOR minus a news department began last night with the debut of Chasing New Jersey. As we reported last week, Fox management, without any fanfare, opted out of its regular 10 p.m. newscast. Instead, Channel 9 is airing a show that is being labeled by some as TMZ meets A Current Affair. The nightly show jettisons anchors and reporters in favor of a ringleader and chasers to highlight New Jersey-centric topics. Perhaps the closest element to being “news” worthy is interviews with state politicians.
The dramatic movement by Rupert Murdoch and Fox in the last few days has brought attention squarely upon the FCC. The agency has been in a struggle with WWOR for years. Since Channel 9’s move to the shadows of the Meadowlands in the late 1980s, the station has been under the gun by the FCC. Becoming a New Jersey broadcast outlet forced Channel 9 (then owned by RKO) to cover the Garden State properly.
An FCC spokesperson tells Tuned In that the WWOR issue is before the Commission so it cannot comment. The spokesperson adds that there is no specific timeframe for a decision.
In order to satisfy a license renewal, the FCC will need to determine if local news is getting the short end of the stick at WWOR, whose license expired in 2007.
Matthew Schwartz spent a career at Channel 9. The reporter worked at WWOR (and the original call letters WOR) for 20 years. Even though he’s been out of New York for a decade, Schwartz says the death knell sounded for Channel 9 News when Fox purchased the station in 2000.
“I wasn’t surprised at all. I saw it almost from the get-go,” Schwartz tells Tuned In. “I blame the FCC first, and then I blame Fox second, because they’re equal partners in this. How could [the FCC] let this station, licensed to New Jersey, not even have a newscast? What a joke. It’s a disgrace.”
Effective immediately, WWOR/Channel 9 is out of the news business. VP/station manager Dianne Doctor announced Secaucus-based WWOR will offer viewers all things Garden State. The 30-minute Chasing New Jersey will feature wide-ranging interviews with everyone from local politicians to area residents, as many important issues facing the state are discussed.
The new program, originating from Trenton, will not include an anchor. Instead Bill Spadea will be the “Ringleader.”
Tuned In has learned that Channel 9 employees were told about the news today with this terse statement from the human resources department.
“We regret to inform you that the news has been cancelled and we’re shutting down.”
Several staffers will be laid off as a result of this programming shift, TVSpy reports. The website says co-anchor Harry Martin has been offered a reporter position at WNYW. From 2009 to 2012, Martin was solo at 6 p.m. on WNYW along with his Channel 9 duties. Brenda Blackmon will produce and anchor specials for WWOR. She has been a mainstay of WWOR since 1990. Sports anchor Russ Salzberg and meteorologist Audrey Puente won’t be affected as much. Salzberg is the regular nightly sportscaster on Channel 5 and Puente is a featured back-up on the station.