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Ron Burgundy’s Memo to Chuck Scarborough: “Stay Classy, and Go Home.”

The Man, the Myth, the Legend:  San Diegos Ron Burgundy

The Man, the Myth, the Legend: San Diego's Ron Burgundy

Ron Burgundy has a message for mega-anchors like WNBC’s living legend Chuck Scarborough:  “fly off into the sunset while there’s still a dash of news left.”

Okay.  The quote’s not technically from Burgundy himself (admittedly, a fictional character and all) but from the closest thing we have to Burgundy this side of Will Ferrell, “Anchorman:  The Legend of Ron Burgundy” co-writer Adam McKay, who writes in today’s New York Post that the day of the big time local news anchor is officially over.  “So farewell perfectly parted ones,” McKay writes.  “Adieu teleprompter readers.”

McKay’s op-ed comes on the heels of a rough week for high-salaried, deep rooted local newsers, like Paul Moyer in LA and Len Berman in NYC.  Both announcing unexpected departures from NBC O&O’s, and raising questions about the network’s continued investment in superstar anchors like New York’s Chuck Scarborough.

When Anchors Ruled the World:  WABC's Grimsby and Beutel

When Anchors Ruled the World: WABC's Monster Duo: Roger Grimsby and Bill Beutel

As McKay writes, “Their avuncular baritone voices reassured us in times of crisis and made us laugh when there was a frog leaping contest or a cat who had befriended a pig.  But slowly their days are coming to an end.”

McKay has a pretty good grasp on the changing local news landscape, noting that “gone are the days of only three networks, the days when these men were gods.”  And sure enough, he’s right.  I realized earlier this week that I may have been clouded by my own emotions–rooted in the local news of my childhood, with three stations doing news and big, oversized anchors chuckling and clearly ruling the Earth–when I wrote that it would be nuts for NBC to get rid of Chuck.

The movie man may have a better grasp on my biz than I do:  “Let’s face it,” McKay says.  “Local news has always been pretty sugary, but these days it looks like the National Enquirer and the Weekly  World News had a baby and taught it to only speak drug shootings and Madonna affairs.  It’s orange, loud, dumb and absolutely devoid of any news whatsoever outside of the occasional baby food recall or toxic spill.  I’m convinced their entire audience consists of people looking to see if they got on TV while waving their hands behind a reporter in the field.”

Ouch. 

Detroits One and Only Bill Bonds

Detroit's One and Only Bill Bonds

I’m tempted to defend my dear local news, with an impassioned argument of the irreplaceable role of local newsers in informing communities in the face of dangerous weather and in the aftermath of horrible tragedies.  But the impulse passes quickly.

McKay offers this to the goliaths who still toil in TV:  plan your exit, and plan it now, while you still can.  “What does a retired anchorman do?  He can yell at the neighborhood kids not to play in his yard in a pitch-perfect non-geographically specific voice.  He can watch the local anchor in Clearwater, Florida, and mumble ‘punk kid’ to himself.  Or he can host a PBS news show and bask in the joy of no producer handing him copy about a dog trapped in a drainage ditch.”

Too bad PBS isn’t hiring.

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Local Sports: Key Component of Staying Local and Relevant? Or First to Throw Overboard? (Both?)

Lets Go to the Videotape!

"Let's Go to the Videotape!"

Of all the things that have stayed with me about growing up watching local TV news, two things stand out: the evolution of WCBS/NY’s “2” logo over the years, and the time I got to sit in Warner Wolf’s chair on the Channel 2 News set.  As a kid in Connecticut watching New York news, I won’t ever forget Beutel and Grimsby and the Cool Hand Luke music;  I won’t forget Jim Jensen, Chuck or Sue.  But for some reason, it’s Warner Wolf who I think was the first true “character” that made watching the 6 o’clock news something I would actually talk about at school the next day, what with his trademark style and “let’s go to the videotape!”

Today, there aren’t many wise young sportscasters expecting to be Warner Wolf one day.  Sure, you don’t “go to the videotape” anymore, but more importantly, sports has become the go-to source for deep-sixing talent and freeing up cash at struggling stations from coast to coast. WCBS, Wolf’s old station and the one I watched as a kid, (Anybody remember “NewsBreaker Territory?”) recently fired its main sports anchor, Ducis Rogers, and the morning guy, John Discepolo.  Sports, struggling for air time, is down to one lone anchor/reporter.

New York still has Len Berman, but many markets may do away with local sports altogether. Managers claim there’s no need, since true sports fans get their info from ESPN, or regional sports nets.  As Stacey Brown writes in the Scranton Times-Tribune, “Nightly sports reporting and local news appear to be headed for a divorce.”  

WOLF/Scrantons FOX 56

WOLF/Scranton's FOX 56

“It is a shame you don’t see more local sports during the newscasts,” Jon Cadman told Brown.  Cadman’s GM at (ah, irony) WOLF-TV in Scranton.  He says costs are just too high, and something’s gotta give.  So forget about seeing your kid’s high school touchdown run on Channel 16.  Maybe it’ll make SportsCenter.

In my own newsroom yesterday, as the sports folk were busy writing scripts, producing their ever-shrinking six o’clock sportscast, I heard the bellowing boom of the Asst. News Director:  “Sports is dead!”  It happens a lot.  And as a newsguy, I get it–to a point.  When news breaks, you’d expect weather and sports to give.  But in this environment of cutbacks and layoffs, is killing sports altogether the next step?  And does that, in a sense, take away one more thing that sets local news apart?  

I’ve worked in some sports-crazy cities, especially in the South, and let me tell you, there’s hardly a bond as strong as that between sports fan and sports talent.  When they show up at the high school football game on a Friday night, that’s the kind of thing that earns viewer loyalty. (Remember the Friday night football shows where sportsteams would actually use the station helicopter to fly around to as many games as possible?  Bringing not only a camera to get the game on TV that night, but the chopper to fly the colors in front of a packed stadium:  “Wow, Channel 5 ROCKS!”)

But even in small town Scranton, sports is on life support.  And in big city, sports-crazed New York, calling it a sports “department” seems like a bit of a stretch.  Are we turning away viewers to save a few dollars?  Or do the viewers really not care anymore–have they truly moved on?

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