Rewinding 2018 in media

2018 saw the end of The Loop after 41 years.

Year marked by scandals, futility, and other things

2018 wasn’t exactly a repeat of the last two horrendous years in the media world, but scandals and deceit still ruled the roost.

Though not topping 2017’s Disney-Fox deal, 2018 had some mega transactions – though the second-biggest merger of 2017 went bust as Sinclair Broadcasting’s $4 billion deal to buy Tribune Media fell though thanks to regulatory concerns and Sinclair’s own arrogance (Tribune was sold to Nexstar instead for $4.1 billion.) Sinclair also had other controversies: forcing its news anchors to read a script denouncing “fake news” and a host losing his job from its St. Louis TV station after using the word “poker” in a quite provocative way. Overall, 2018 was a forgettable year for Sinclair Broadcasting.

Other mega transactions included Gray swallowing up Raycom Media, as the Montgomery, Ala.-based broadcaster calls it a career by also shuttering Raycom Sports after losing ACC rights to ESPN so the conference can launch their new sports network. 

Chicago’s radio scene was marked by the demise of classic rocker The Loop (WLUP-FM) after 41 years. WLUP was sold to the Educational Media Foundation and flipped to Christian music, joining other markets in doing so (Shaw University’s jazz station WSHA-FM in Raleigh, N.C. went through a similar fate.) And Steve Dahl – who played a integral role in The Loop’s success early in its run, stepped down from his WLS-AM afternoon gig.

WGN’s “Man Of The People” is a surprise hit.

Meanwhile, Chicago radio basically quit being innovative by signing past-their-prime personalities Drex (to B96) and Mancow (to WLS-AM). But there were some success stories – notably the rise of The Drive (WDRV-FM) and WLS-FM, whose Classic Hits format drew bigger ratings than anything on the frequency in decades. On the other hand, the sharp ratings decline of Top 40 outlet B96 (WBBM-FM) has industry observers wondering how long the heritage station can survive.

In terms of local television, WGN’s Saturday night Man Of The People with morning sports anchor Pat Tomasulo was a surprise hit (and received a positive review from this website) while Fox’s WFLD introduced Flannery Fired Up, giving political editor Mike Flannery his own show. Despite plenty of promotion, WCIU’s morning show The Jam had difficulty finding an audience in the face of WGN’s dominant newscast, but it was ABC-owned WLS-TV who continued its ratings dominance of the market, especially in local news – even after Kathy Brock’s retirement in June. 

Moving on to the scandal department, it was quite a year as many in the industry were forced out due to bullying, sexual harassment, racism, and more. Mark Konkol was forced out of the Chicago Reader as Editor-In-Chief in February after approving a front page featuring Gov.-elect J.B. Pritzker on a lawn jockey spewing black smoke, which some called racist. Months later, Today’s Megyn Kelly made remarks dismissing the concerns over blackface and in turn, NBC dismissed her as host.

Les Moonves stepped down from CBS in September after sexual harassment allegations.

Les Moonves stepped down from CBS after sexual harassment allegations, which were proven to be true. Also out was Michael Ferro of Tronc (which reverted back to Tribune Publishing), stepping down mere hours before Vanity Fair published sexual harassment allegations against him.

But the biggest loser of the year is of course, Roseanne Barr. She lost her ABC show after she made a racist comment on Twitter, referring to Valerie Jarrett as an “ape” (the show has since been re-christened as The Conners.)

Turning to the national television scene, the major broadcast networks continued to progress backward, as viewers basically rejected most if not all, of the new primetime fall shows – and almost all received full-season renewals. As those pesky reboots petered into 2018, the return of Murphy Brown proved you can leave well enough alone. Meanwhile, the number of scripted television shows continue to soar with the number nearing 500 programs, thanks to the abundance of streaming services.

And speaking of streaming services, Netflix’s relationship with Marvel unraveled as the streamer canceled three of their shows. Another Marvel Netflix show – the second season of Jessica Jones, turned out to be the biggest disappointment of 2018. But while they were firing superheroes, Netflix was picking off talent from the other networks – notably Shonda Rhimes, Channing Dungey, and Kenya Barris – all from Disney.

Meanwhile, Jerry Springer finally hung up the mic on his rambunctious talk show after 28 years, but is returning next year in a new show, Judge Jerry. We also poured one out on the curb for HBO Boxing after 45 years and bid farewell to White Sox broadcaster Hawk Harrelson, who retired.

Notable deaths in 2018 included WGN Radio host Milton Rosenberg; WMAQ reporter and anchor Warner Saunders; and sci-fi author Harlan Ellison and Marvel Comics’ Stan Lee. We also lost actress and director Penny Marshall and said so long to Grammy-winning singer Aretha Franklin.

Khalil Mack helps brings the Bears back to relevance in 2018.

The unlikely comeback of the year, no doubt belongs to the Chicago Bears as the Monsters Of The Midway won a division title for the first time in eight years and saw local ratings soar, with the NFL also seeing increased ratings after being plagued with controversies. On the other hand, Chicago’s other teams – the Bulls, Blackhawks, and White Sox each saw their records collapse and ratings plummet. And while the Cubs failed to make it out of the Wild Card round in the MLB Playoffs, they officially made their intentions known on launching their own regional sports network in 2020.

The Chicago Fire decided to make themselves invisible as the soccer team signed an exclusive deal with the ESPN Plus streaming service, while Chicagoans gave the Winter Olympics the cold shoulder as residents are still peeved about the Windy City getting snubbed for the 2016 Summer games.

Best/Worst shows of 2018

After twelve years – and due the abundance of lists everywhere else (not to mention the huge number of TV shows), I’ve decided not to do a best or worst list this year as the method has become way too complicated. Oh, for the simpler days of the “Toilet 10” and the “Excellent 10” (well, not the names.)

But if I were to make a list, I would put Last Week Tonight With John Oliver and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel as the top shows of the year, followed by Superstore and the always reliable Survivor and Bob’s Burgers. The worst? Way too many to name, but deserving mention were the new Magnum P.I., Single Parents, The Proposal, and Vivica A. Fox’s Face The Truth – not to mention the dead-on-arrival I Feel Bad, which was put out of its misery this week. And of course, the aforementioned second season of Jessica Jones, which was the top show of 2016.

In the next few days, look for what to expect in 2019 and an update on 2018’s predictions. Happy New Year from T Dog Media!

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