Way back when then-WNEW introduced the 10 o’clock news to New York City, the shop was known as a real New York newsroom: filled with quirky, gritty, honest-to-God New Yorkers, warts and all. They weren’t spit-shined, manicured and pretty, but damn did they know the City. And Channel 5’s newscast was worth watching.
A lot has changed, and most of those characters–and the solid, serious, in your face news that made Channel 5 different and so legitimately New York–have been replaced with fresh faces from El Paso and Orlando and beyond. Even the name–the original 10 O’Clock News (and, to my ear, the best damn news open this side of WABC’s Cool Hand Luke)–has been reduced to “Fox 5 News at Ten,” which could be the name of any newscast in any town.
And tonight comes word Mike Sheehan is out. As the set got glitzy and the wrinkled faces got shown the door…as the New York accents faded and the station’s news turned more and more to American Idol and Lindsay Lohan…Sheehan remained. The NYPD detective who earned his bones breaking cases like Preppy Murderer Robert Chambers was a throwback to the gold old days at 5: an honest to God trenchcoat and pinky ring wearing New York original.
Full disclosure: I worked at WNYW, and my desk faced Mike’s. This is a man who can tell a story over a beer like few I’ve ever known. And I know deep under his gruff Irish exterior, he was proud to do the job he did. Losing his job, as he told the Daily News’s Richard Huff tonight, was “a kick in the chest. Sixteen years I’ve been there. I can’t believe it.”
But anyone who watches local news in New York–or anywhere–shouldn’t be surprised in the least. Longevity is no longer an asset. Years on the job and contacts at One Police Plaza? That got you a big salary and influence back when television stations were powerhouses that could afford such things.
Sheehan told the Richard Huff the station ended its relationship with a letter delivered to his home. This is, sadly, the new normal in our business: nobody tells you to your face. It’s a way of doing business that reduces us all, and it’s shameful.
Yes, Mike has had his problems, including a recent accident involving a police horse and an arrest for reckless endangerment and operating a vehicle while intoxicated and impaired. Whether that’s really why Sheehan got the axe is valid fodder for debate. But believe me, in this environment, people like Mike Sheehan walk tall–too tall–and the networks are moving on.
For years, Mike ended his crime stories with an appeal for folks to “do the right thing” and pick up the phone if they knew anything that could help police. Too bad managers at Fox couldn’t do so little as to pick up the phone and give it to him straight.