WBBM drops Marin newscast
Two days after anchor wins Emmy, much admired experiment gets axed because of ratings
By Dan Trigoboff -- Broadcasting & Cable, 11/5/2000 7:00:00 PM
The 10 O'Clock News: Reported by Carol Marin was at once a low-rated Chicago newscast and the most closely watched newscast in the country.
Launched in February to promising ratings and favorable reviews, wbbm-tv's experimental back-to-basics program was broadcast last Monday night for the last time, two days after Marin won a local Emmy.
While it existed, it carried the hopes and praise of journalists around the country. CNN's Christiane Amanpour drew nods and applause at the Radio-Television News Directors Association convention in September when she said, "I don't dare ask how this radical experiment is doing in the ratings.all my fingers and toes are crossed."
And last week, after it was over, former CBS icon Walter Cronkite, "the most trusted man in America," lamented that Marin's failure was a result of the "dumbing down of the media" in a letter to The New York Times.
"We never claimed we had all the answers," said Hank Price, the former WBBM-TV general manager who persuaded Marin to return to local news from CBS network news three years after she had left rival station WMAQ-TV to protest the hiring of low-road talkmeister Jerry Springer for commentaries. "There was terrible pressure on Carol. They turned Carol into Joan of Arc. None of us want the pundits to say quality doesn't work."
Marin commented before her final broadcast: "I'm sorry it didn't take off like a shot. But I'm proud of the work we did. The last eight months are some of the most rewarding I've ever spent in a newsroom." Marin, a Chicago news fixture, will keep her office at WBBM-TV as a full-time CBS correspondent for 60 Minutes and CBS News.
Carl Gottlieb, deputy director for the Project for Excellence in Journalism, said, "Ultimately the viewers voted..[I]t takes more than trying to be PBS on CBS."
With ratings dropping, that WBBM-TV would "disband" the newscast was long expected, probably since Price left the station in July to run Hearst-Argyle's WXII-TV in Winston-Salem, N.C. News Director Pat Costello then left Chicago in August to run the news at KING-TV and KONG-TV Seattle.
Anticipating change, Assistant News Director Danice Kern and well-known commentator John Callaway left last month.
Price risked much of his own capital at CBS to promote the newscast, particularly in insisting just before the launch that the station group's new news chief Joel Cheatwood-who had clashed with Marin at wmaq-tv-stay away from the newscast. Cheatwood has advised the station since Price's departure, but current General Manager Walt DeHaven said decisions regarding the late news were made at the station level. Even with Price at the helm, according to insiders, the newscast probably had only through November to attract an audience.
DeHaven said that, when he got to WBBM-TV in July, "the numbers were in free-fall" but decisions were put off while Craig Hume was hired to replace Costello. DeHaven and Hume said they'd hoped to keep Marin on while making production and style changes, such as a different set and a co-anchor. "Carol decided she didn't want those changes," he said.
Hume said the plan now is to build on the remaining reporters' ability to do hard, investigative stories without "doing a newscast that is dry, hard and stern. We look this as the beginning of the process."
Marin's immediate replacements will be Linda MacLennan, a former WBBM-TV late-news anchor, and David Kerley, currently a weekend anchor. Kerley is considered a contender to co-anchor permanently-or at least as permanently as a big city anchor's role can be. Asha Blake, late of NBC's Later Today, is also a contender for a co-anchor spot, although DeHaven said the station is not looking for a "savior" anchor.
Marin agreed that the quality of the newscast "can continue with or without me" but that "I was not able to make some of the compromises they felt would make it more viewer-friendly. When I finally agreed to do this newscast, it was to be heavily content-driven, lacking in some of the normal choreography. We decided it's best to part amicably.
"We all knew from the beginning that this was a risk," she added, "but it was a risk worth taking. I'm still glad we did it. I wish we had a little more time to see if it would stick."
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