News veterans sign off

Cost cutting, personal needs, and too-few viewers cited as among reasons

The familiarity factor dropped last week for TV's news networks, as three of the nation's better-known news people left their jobs.

ABC News veteran Sylvia Chase was cut from that network's staff. Longtime CNN Headline News anchor Lynne Russell will be leaving CNN Headline News, and Fox Sports Network and anchor Keith Olbermann are parting ways.

Fox sources say the Olbermann split was based on numbers and on a difference in approach. Olbermann left ESPN in 1998 and briefly hosted a news show for MSNBC but complained publicly that the show spent too much time covering President Clinton's sexual indiscretions. The edgy, often irreverent sportscaster was expected to become the face—and attitude—of Fox Sports, signing a reported $8 million three-year contract in 1998. But Olbermann's evening news program never drew the viewers needed to compete with ESPN's or CNN's sports wrapups.

Chase's departure from ABC is part of the network's cost cutting, a network spokesman confirmed. The network has eliminated the jobs of several correspondents this year, including some who are well known, such as Morton Dean and Sheila McVicar. Chase had been with ABC since 1978 and is best known as a consumer reporter. Some at the network believe other cuts, possibly high-profile ones like Chase, are still coming.

Chase expressed disappointment at the loss but described her dealings with the network as friendly. "I just feel I'm better than I've ever been—and able to do many things. But anybody whose contract is nearing an end or has a window is vulnerable at this time," she lamented.

Russell has given the reason for her departure as personal—her significant other is undergoing cancer treatment—and not due to a makeover at Headline News, including the hiring of actress-turned-newswoman Andrea Thompson after only a year in TV news.

Russell herself presented a different, more flamboyant image than most in TV news—she's the author of How to Win Friends, Kick Ass, and Influence People, and still works as a private bodyguard, after all. But unlike Thompson, she brought more than a decade of experience to Headline News when the network started in 1982.

On Friday, a memo to CNN from "the men of the Washington Post's Style section" proclaimed their devotion to Russell—"a blank canvass on which every man can paint his fantasy"—and said they were "devastated" by her decision to leave.