The Anchor Switch

The real story behind the new shifts at WILX.

I had planned on blogging about the anchor switch sooner, but wow, has there been a lot of things to handle in the first week, that I've had time for little else. An LSJ article on the subject really didn't scratch the surface of the whole situation, but the one in the City Pulse recently was pretty good.

The Pulse article's focus was right on the money-- David Andrews.

Our Executive Producer told me he learned a lot about David by reading that article. What most people don't know about David is he is quietly the leader of the newsroom. He leads by example and never yells or fits the classic cliches of anchors and their "anchor-tude" or demanding to have more "facetime." In my 12 years at WILX I've seen some major league meltdowns and scream fests by all kinds of people. Some just hard workers who saw their work butchered on air by a glitch, some big egos that just wanted to throw their weight around, and some who just got a little frazzled by the pressure of the profession. Even I'm not immune from it. Until a month ago, I could claim just one real blowout with co-workers. But, there I was, floundering on air, without scripts or a prompter, unable to remember the lead to my package. I had to run down to the studio at the last second and then completely botched the lead after David tossed it to me. It was embarrassing and instead of owning it, I got into it with the producer about how it should have been handled. My point is, TV News is one of the few professions where everyone sees your mistakes, and that kind of stress makes people boil over sometimes. Some people more than others, but not David. And there have been many times I thought he'd come out of the studio royally pissed about something that left him frying on air. Nope. He's always been able to stay calm and cool and let things go. Maybe he's been in the business long enough to know it's not going to do any good to blow your stack every time there's a technical fail, because let's face it, if we did that, we'd be screaming on a daily basis. It ain't exactly CNN, to quote Tim Staudt.

It's the calm and cool part that I've taken away from working with David. I told him so after our final 6:00 newscast a few Fridays ago. The switch had been in the works for about a month or so, but wasn't public yet. David and I have never been close enough that we confided in one another, but we joke around and chit chat and stuff. I didn't really think about it until I was asked by LSJ writer Mike Hughes what my thoughts were when they told me David was going to take over the morning show and Lauren Evans was coming to nights to co-anchor with me at 5, 6 and 11. I had two feelings on the whole thing. First, I was very excited to work with Lauren, because I thought we could make a really good team. Second, I was worried people would see it as a demotion for David. It sounds like spin to say it, but to know our station is to know that we put a lot of emphasis on the morning show. I mean, a ton. And the focus has only grown as the morning audience has. Contrary to what our competitor's news director wishes out loud, the ratings have never really been close in the mornings. We beat WLNS from 5-7 every time. Sometimes it's close in the 5 a.m. hour when five people are watching, but overall it's a resounding victory. The reasons why vary, but if I had a top 3 it would be; "Today" comes on right after us, Darrin Rockcole, and the formula of the show. That means, no matter what time you tune in you're going to get the news of the day and Darrin's forecast. But in the summer ratings period that aren't as important as February, May or November, we lost the mornings. I'm guessing that's about when the top brass started wondering how we could cement that show for good. If it truly is our most important show, why not put our most important anchor on it? David and Darrin is an all-star team, and for the reason many of you are discovering right now... David has a great personality that he doesn't get much of a chance to showcase at night. That leaves Lauren and me to be the team of the future at night. We are surrounded by the other all-stars-- Andy and Tim-- to help make us a great team. But anyone who thinks David got demoted or is on the way out, I say look at the ratings. David didn't lose ratings books, period. He's owned the 6:00 time slot for a long time.

Publicly and privately, he's been excited about the change since he's an early bird anyway and it puts he and his wife on the same schedule for a change. His wife, Monica Harris does the morning show on 99.1 WFMK. Still, I dreaded his aforementioned last evening show. Maybe deep down I was worried he was angry at me for being the guy to replace him at night. I'd also never talked to him about what he's done for my career. But there we were as the red light went off at 6:29. I finish on the other side of the set for my 11:00 tease and then usually walk over to the desk where David is to get his mic.

He turned and in his classic methodical cadence said, "Well, the keys are yours."

I still didn't know what to say as I got a little choked up, but I knew I couldn't let him leave the studio without saying something. So, I thanked him. I said I'd learned so much about being calm and cool on air by working with him. We've co-anchored election nights the last few years and I'd always been a little jumpy those nights since it's pretty much a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants operation. David is a true professional those nights and is as calm and cool as anyone. It rubbed off and I thanked him for that because having some grace under pressure is extremely valuable in this job. I could tell it meant a lot to him, as did our producer coming in and giving him a tear-filled hug. She's a crier.

So here we are a week into the switch and I think it's going crazy good. It's like Lauren and I have worked together for years. When you're already friends and then you start anchoring together it makes a huge difference. I hear nothing but good things about the morning too. We've had a few technical... issues... the first week, but once that's ironed out, the future of News 10 could be very exciting and, dare I say, fun to watch!

Although, I find myself missing David in the newsroom and the news meeting, sitting quietly in the corner, waiting for the perfect moment to unleash his one-liner that brings the house down. Did I mention that DA is funny? Just another reason to watch News 10 Today now starting at 4:30. (Shameless plug, I know)

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