Tag Archives: Tom Llamas

WNBC Shakeup: Shiba Russell Out; Brynn Gingras CNN-Bound

ShibaRussell_WNBCShiba Russell is gone from WNBC. The anchor’s days were numbered at Channel 4 since Sibila Vargas came on board from Los Angeles in October 2013, supplanting Russell as night time co-anchor with Chuck Scarborough.

Tuned In speculated even before Vargas put her Channel 4 mic clip on for the first time with the headline, “Is Shiba Russell on the Way Out at WNBC?

Russell’s five-year tenure at 30 Rock started with such a promising note, perhaps too promising. Most believe was hired from the ABC affiliate in Boston with the ultimate goal of replacing legend Sue Simmons.

Her star immediately soared. Shortly after starting out on the weekend anchor desk, Russell was promoted to weekdays, putting her in the perfect “wait in wings” position.

Simmons was pushed out in 2012, and there was her heir apparent to pick up the pieces.

However, the chemistry never worked between Scarborough and Russell. The pairing would not come anywhere close to the 32 years of Chuck and Sue’s famous “marriage.” In fact by early 2014, Vargas, who already sat with Scarborough for the 6 p.m. newscast, replaced Russell on the 11 p.m.

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WNBC Moves Forward at 5 p.m. with Split Newscast

WNBC140908172527Without any publicity or fanfare, WNBC quietly unveiled its revamped 5 p.m newscast without Tom Llamas.

Channel 4 opted to break the traditional one-hour broadcast into two separate 30-minute shows. Chuck Scarborough and Sibila Vargas anchor the first half. We’re told the “anchor” leg features a rotating male presence of either David Ushery or Rob Schmitt, alongside Shiba Russell.

At first blush we notice the previously demoted Russell is getting the short end of the stick again. She has the noon duties but loses a pivotal half hour of face time.

Of course, Chuck and Sibila are already the station workhorses as the lead team at 6 and 11 p.m.

It’s uncertain if this is a stopgap measure. In addition, Tuned In learned the station did not let the staff know about the changes.

“Newsroom insiders are concerned these changes will be confusing to viewers,” a source admits.

At 5 p.m. viewers have multiple options for local news. WCBS and WABC, usually performing better than WNBC, are joined by WPIX and WNYW.

Several years ago, Channel 2 tried a split 5 p.m. news that featured a lighter news slant at the bottom of the hour. There’s no word on what the direction for WNBC’s version will be.

Llamas departed for ABC News last month.

Major Anchor Switch On Tap at WNBC

siblia-vargasIn a dramatic move, WNBC management has decided to make a change with its anchors. Sibila Vargas, who joined WNBC in October, will add the 11 p.m. broadcast opposite venerable Chuck Scarborough, a WNBC spokesperson confirms to Tuned In. Vargas will stay put on the 6 p.m. newscast with Scarborough, which she started upon her arrival from KCBS.

Related: Sibila In, Shiba Out at WNBC?

However, Shiba Russell loses her cushy 11 p.m. slot, taking the noon newscast in a swap with Vargas. The changes take effect February 3. Russell will remain the 5 p.m. co-anchor alongside Tom Llamas.

Whether it’s being deemed an official demotion, make no mistake, it is. Russell, from the moment she arrived at Channel 4 in three years ago, was labeled as the heir apparent to take Sue Simmons‘ job. Russell was on the fast track to succeed Simmons in 2012, being named a weekday anchor within of six months of her debut. She was also a lead fill-in for Simmons.

A WNBC spokesperson, though, counters the “demotion” theory, saying, “As a matter of course, schedule changes routinely take place at local stations, and this is no different. Both Sibila and Shiba play important roles on our anchor team and will continue to do so.”

Even before we got our first opportunity to see Vargas, Tuned In speculated that Vargas and Russell splitting the evening anchor newscasts would probably lead to a bigger change.

Related: Vargas Wins a “Barmash Award”

Once the Queens native showed up, the idea was apparently cemented. Many viewers have said that the seasoned pro injects more personality than Russell at the anchor desk. That trait helped Vargas win a “Barmash Award” earlier this month for “Best New Anchor.”

FTV Live first reported about the anchor switch.

Sibila Vargas In; Is Shiba Russell On the Way Out at WNBC?

siblia-vargasWith the announcement that Sibila Vargas (left) is coming on board at WNBC in October, we’re left to speculate how the anchor changes will impact the station, and most notably, Shiba Russell.

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.

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Pat Battle Shines in Rare Weeknight Fill-in Role on WNBC

Pat BattleFor those who missed Shiba Russell last week, veteran anchor/reporter Pat Battle proved a strong alternative. Battle, who has been a weekend co-anchor on WNBC for many years, got some much needed wide exposure. She was called in from the bullpen to join Tom Llamas for the 5 p.m. newscast last week.

The significance of the rare weekday early-evening fill-in was not lost on the professional Battle. She gave something extra to the newscasts, showing she is not just a weekend anchor.

And her colleagues responded. The always likable Battle was a welcome change.

“It’s like a breath of fresh air,” an insider says. “It’s like night and day.”

That is a reference to Russell, who apparently has some critics in the newsroom, while Battle has been a popular member of Channel 4 since she arrived on the scene in 1996.

This was a one-week stint, but it would not be, the insider says, if many people could have their choice.

“It’s clear [that] people want her to be the 5 p.m. anchor.”

Her popularity may also be connected to successfully battling breast cancer in recent years.

“The reception she receives in the newsroom is spectacular,” the insider says.

Not only does Battle bring a renewed energy to the broadcast, the insider claims, it helps her colleague.

“I think she helps Tom too,” the insider says. “She has good command of that show.”

WNBC’s Tom Llamas Drops Noon for Reporting; Rob Schmitt Hired From SoCal

rob-schmittBy JERRY BARMASH
(@jerrybarmash)

Channel 4 is going bi-coastal with its new hire, Rob Schmitt (left) from CBS’ duopoly KCBS/KCAL in Los Angeles.

Schmitt, who makes his New York debut July 15, will anchor the weekday noon broadcast with a rotation of Erika Tarantal and Contessa Brewer.

Schmitt, who was with the CBS’ stations in L.A. since 2011, will also handle reporting for WNBC’s  5 and 6 p.m. newscasts.

It also frees up noon co-anchor Tom Llamas to expand his reporting duties with the station’s investigative unit—the I Team. Viewers will still see Llamas, who won an Emmy as New York’s top anchor, with Shiba Russell at 5 p.m.

“I’m incredibly excited,” Llamas tells Tuned In.

Llamas’ plate is even more full when you add his contributions to NBC News.

“It’s really a dream opportunity,” Llamas says. “I don’t know if any other television journalist on the planet has that type of opportunity. So I’m really looking forward to it.”

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