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.
There is shock and sadness still permeating Channel 7. It’s been a week since venerable investigative reporter Sarah Wallace left the station. Questions remain as to why she’s no longer part of the “Circle 7” staff after more than three exemplary decades.
Did Wallace quit? Did she get fired? Was she pushed out by News Director Camille Edwards?
While it may take time for those answers to be revealed, it is clear that the station is devastated by the abruptness of her departure and lack of closure.
“People are heartbroken at the loss. Sarah is respected, admired and loved by her colleagues,” a station insider tells Tuned In. “It’s like a death in the family.”
One veteran anchor takes it a step further for her longtime friend and colleague.
WPIX’s Kaity Tong writes on her Facebook page that Wallace is “absolutely THE most dedicated, tenacious, fair, and professional journalist around. She is brilliant. And has been brilliant for more than 30 years.”
The Dan Mannarino era is drawing to a close at WPIX. Sources confirm to Tuned In that Mannarino will be removed from his anchor chair in the coming weeks. Mannarino co-anchors the PIX Morning News early edition with Marysol Castro. Sources say Mannarino will stay on as a reporter at WPIX for the short term.
Mannarino joined WPIX as a reporter in September 2011. He got his first taste of anchoring on Channel 11 last June, teaming with Kaity Tong for the weekend broadcasts. However, that pairing was panned, and Mannarino was bounced from the newscasts after just three weekends.
Larry Mendte is the latest casualty of the new WPIX regime. Tuned In has learned that Mendte is no longer with Channel 11 or Tribune. A well-placed source confirms that Mendte’s contract wasn’t renewed, but that the parting was amicable.
Astute viewers of the revamped 5 and 10 p.m. newscasts with Scott Stanford and Tamsen Fadal noticed that Mendte and his nightly commentaries have been conspicuous by their absence since earlier this month.
Mendte, a three-time Emmy winner for his PIX pieces, joined WPIX in February 2010. The commentaries originated from Channel 11, but aired on several other Tribune owned stations. Mendte’s departure is the latest purge by news director Mark Effron to eliminate the staff hired by former news director Bill Carey.
Mendte could be thought-provoking or controversial. He used his platform on multiple occasions pressing Congress to pass the 9/11 First Responders Health and Compensation Bill. When it passed six months later, Mendte was honored with several awards
In 2011, he made a historic trip to Libya. He was the only journalist to accompany former congressman Curt Weldon on a peace mission.
There was also anchoring at PIX for the veteran broadcaster. Mendte was part of the Hurricane Sandy coverage with Kaity Tong and Jodi Applegate. He was also on the air for 12 straight hours with Fadal as one of the Boston Marathon bombing suspects was killed by police.
Dan Mannarino is out as weekend co-anchor on WPIX. Sources tell Tuned In that Mannarino did his final weekend behind the desk on June 16. He’ll remain a reporter at Channel 11.
It was a failed experiment from the start for news director Mark Effron, who teamed the veteran Kaity Tong, 65, with the thirty-something enterprising reporter.
“It’s a case of age versus beauty,” a source cracks. “And beauty wins out,”
From the outset of joining PIX, Effron made no allusions internally about undoing the Bill Carey era. As we reported last month, he told staffers that the station is in the process of employing the standard second anchor, at this point with Tamsen Fadal. But the recent weekend movement caught many insiders by surprise.
The Tong and Mannarino on-air partnership, which survived only three weekends, started June 1.
“The problem with Dan is that he looked and sounded at least 10 years younger than he actually was,” the source says. “When you looked at the totality of the Kaity and Dan anchor team, what defined the two of them? Nothing.”