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20 and Out: WNBC Fires Len Berman. Anything, It Seems, to Save a Buck at NBC.

WNBCs Len Berman

WNBC's Len Berman


“I do not want to retire,” Len Berman told Richard Huff at The New York Daily News.  But after 20 years as main sports anchor at WNBC, Berman’s getting the boot, the latest goliath to fall at a station that was once known far and wide for having assembled a stellar collection of New York journalists, many of them, like Berman, a nationally-known name with his appearances on Letterman and his “Spanning the World” segment. But hey, there’s that nasty downside to being a “name.”  You know, that oversized salary.

So Berman’s gone.  Not because WNBC’s eliminating sports, as some other cash-strapped and struggling local stations are doing.  This is all about the money.  WNBC news director Vickie Burns writing in a newsroom memo:  “Going forward, we remain committed to our local sports franchise and will announce new plans for our coverage soon.”  You gotta love those “we’ll figure out the rest soon memos.  It basically tells you the key thing was getting rid of a superstar and his salary.  How they’ll fill the big man’s shoes?  Eh.  We’ll figure it out. The key thing is we just knocked off a legend and saved a TON of cash.  You can almost imagine the relieved high-fiving going on among the suits.  That wasn’t so hard!  Maybe we should ditch Sue next?

Spanning the World for 20 Years

On the Daily News website this morning, they’ve got a poll:  “Are you sad to see Len Berman go?”  The overwhelming answer:  “Yes.  He’s a New York City icon,” with 84%.  You’d like to think this was a not all that funny April Fool’s joke from Channel 4.  And then you remember.  It’s NBC.  No sense of humor.  No sense of history.

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WNBC/NY Newsers Party in Midtown: “Severance Fest ’09”


Yeah.  It wasn’t your typical going away party.  As detailed in the New York Observer’s The Media Mob column, WNBC/NY newsers gathered at an Irish bar in midtown recently to send off a group of some of Channel 4’s best and brightest;  not headed to bigger and better things, just headed “in a different direction,” as the ludicrous management cliche goes.

“In the days leading up to the party, some staffers jokingly referred to it as a ‘Wake 4 NY and a ‘gathering of the recently departed.’ Others took to calling it ‘Severence-Fest 2009.'”  As the once-mighty WNBC has transformed in recent months from a team of titans to an ever-more-anxious group of survivors in the “Content Center,” the bold-faced names that once populated the place have been picked off, one by one.  

“By the time Friday night rolled around, everyone needed a stiff drink, went the thinking. And in the end, despite the recent gloominess at WNBC-4, Friday night’s party turned into a jovial affair, according to several attendees. The cash bar, located in the basement of Legends 33, was packed by 7:30 p.m., and the party didn’t break up until 3:30 a.m. By Monday morning, photos of the revelry were already making their way onto Facebook,” the Observer reports.

Jay DeDapper

Jay DeDapper

Recently laid off political reporter Jay DeDapper served as an impromptu emcee, and kept it positive, but told the paper the station New York had come to know over the last few decades as solid, serious, and staffed with veteran New Yorkers, has ceased to exist.  “It was more of a reunion and a goodbye. We put the dot at the end of the sentence. News Channel 4 is over.”  (DeDapper, though, is not.  He’s taken his show on the web.)

“Everything that we did, all the Emmys we won, all the great stories and series we did, that’s done,” he added. “There may be great stuff in the future with the new group of people. We’re just not going to be a part of it. We had what we had. Now it’s time to move on.”

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WNBC/NY Newsers Party in Midtown: "Severance Fest '09"


Yeah.  It wasn’t your typical going away party.  As detailed in the New York Observer’s The Media Mob column, WNBC/NY newsers gathered at an Irish bar in midtown recently to send off a group of some of Channel 4’s best and brightest;  not headed to bigger and better things, just headed “in a different direction,” as the ludicrous management cliche goes.

“In the days leading up to the party, some staffers jokingly referred to it as a ‘Wake 4 NY and a ‘gathering of the recently departed.’ Others took to calling it ‘Severence-Fest 2009.'”  As the once-mighty WNBC has transformed in recent months from a team of titans to an ever-more-anxious group of survivors in the “Content Center,” the bold-faced names that once populated the place have been picked off, one by one.  

“By the time Friday night rolled around, everyone needed a stiff drink, went the thinking. And in the end, despite the recent gloominess at WNBC-4, Friday night’s party turned into a jovial affair, according to several attendees. The cash bar, located in the basement of Legends 33, was packed by 7:30 p.m., and the party didn’t break up until 3:30 a.m. By Monday morning, photos of the revelry were already making their way onto Facebook,” the Observer reports.

Jay DeDapper

Jay DeDapper

Recently laid off political reporter Jay DeDapper served as an impromptu emcee, and kept it positive, but told the paper the station New York had come to know over the last few decades as solid, serious, and staffed with veteran New Yorkers, has ceased to exist.  “It was more of a reunion and a goodbye. We put the dot at the end of the sentence. News Channel 4 is over.”  (DeDapper, though, is not.  He’s taken his show on the web.)

“Everything that we did, all the Emmys we won, all the great stories and series we did, that’s done,” he added. “There may be great stuff in the future with the new group of people. We’re just not going to be a part of it. We had what we had. Now it’s time to move on.”

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Saturday Rant: Saving the Fat, Cutting the Muscle

I get it.  Times are tight.  Advertisers aren’t spending.  The local TV money machine isn’t functioning the way we’ve come to expect.  So budgets must be cut.  It would seem to be the responsible thing to do.  When less money is coming in, you’ve got to adjust the budget and start spending less.  But I question the way some station managers and corporate execs are choosing to trim.  They’re not going for the fat, they seem to be targeting the muscle.

When WJLA/DC hired Leon Harris from CNN, he told reporters the lure was “working with great co-anchors and an excellent, focused news team.”  It wasn’t the cool spinning 7 logo or the nifty treats in the break room. “The resources and commitment that WJLA brings to bear on news coverage are simply phenomenal,” Harris said.

At that time, Robert Allbritton, Chairman and CEO of WJLA’s corporate owner, Allbritton, said spending the money on Harris was “yet one more indication” of WJLA’s plans to be the “dominant TV news station” in the D.C. area.  Makes you wonder.  When Mr. Allbritton went about cutting his budget, he did as others have done in recent months, keeping the familiar face out front (in this case, Mr. Harris;  in New York, Chuck and Sue) but just below the billboard names, it was well-compensated experience that took the hit.  Andrea McCarren at JLA.  Jay DeDapper at WNBC.

We could–and we should–assemble a roster of what’s been lost.  Tally up the names of the A list, experienced veterans of local tv news–the people who went network and came back, the people who chose to stay in a community where they’d built ties and sources, and did the work that drew us into journalism in the first place.  Not to get our mugs on tv, but to truly “report” and tell stories that matter.  

Any kid can cover a car wreck.  But when the story is big, when it requires a little depth of knowledge about City Hall or the history of a community, where will those reporters be?  WNBC kept Jay DeDapper on the payroll–and the political beat–until the end of the election season.  Too bad his insight and knowledge of Albany’s no longer there to delve into the appointment this week of Kristin Gillibrand.

I know I’m naive and I don’t have to balance the books like GMs do.  I know that experience comes with a hefty pricetag, especially experience that has a “name.”  And I know the business is rapidly changing.  But when the advertising comes back, what will these “dominant news teams” really look like?

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