Also: Amy Jacobson gets her press cred back; WGN Radio may bring back Garry Meier; NewsNation hires Joe Donlon and two WGN-TV vets
[Editor’s Note: This post was updated on June 27 at 8:50 p.m.]
In a move not unexpected, local stations have dropped episodes of Cops and Live PD: Police Patrol from their schedules as protests have flared across the country over the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis and other African-Americans by police officers, including Rayshard Brooks in Atlanta.
Several weeks ago, Paramount Network canceled Cops ending its 31 year-run followed by A&E’s cancellation of Live PD after six seasons. A scandal surfaced over the show erasing footage of Javier Amblin’s death, taped in 2019.
As reported by NextTV, Sony Pictures Television told stations it would no longer distribute Live PD spinoff Police Patrol in syndication nor to the CW Plus roster of stations in markets ranked below 100 after June 19.
Numerous stations have also pulled Cops off their schedules. A source said Disney Media Networks – who acquired rights to Fox-era episodes of the show as part of its parent company’s purchase of Twentieth Century Fox in 2017, is in negotiations to release stations from their contracts.
On June 22, those few remaining stations who were airing Cops are now airing Chris Harrison-era episodes of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, which ended its syndicated run last year and is now back in primetime a a weekly series hosted by Jimmy Kimmel with celebrity contestants.
On June 15, Weigel’s The U – available on different channel positions throughout Chicago (except DirecTV), has replaced both Police Patrol and Cops with reruns of court shows Judge Jerry, Paternity Court, and Couples Court With The Cutlers from 5 to 7 p.m. The station has also dropped another police docuseries, Sheriffs Of El Doraldo County, which remains in syndication for the time being.
Abruptly pulling a program from syndication before the end of the season isn’t unusual – in the past, if a program didn’t deliver, a distributor would cancel it before the season was over (it last happened to The Megan Mulually Show, canceled in January 2007 after three months.) But in recent years, stations stuck with struggling shows as if they were yanked mid-season, they would have to scramble to find a replacement, which isn’t easy nowadays. But this move by Sony is notable because the decision to pull the show isn’t tied to ratings – the show averaged a household 0.9 season-to-date, which is a success by today’s standards, as opposed to when Mulually was on the air (0.8, tied for last place among talk shows during the 2006-07 season.)
It was believed Sony’s two-year contract with local stations to air Police Patrol was up this September, but it’s unknown if Sony was actively seeking renewals. Police Patrol debuted in off-network syndication quietly in September 2018, with little promotion or marketing.
After suing the Pritzker administration for getting booted out of the press pool for speaking at a “Reopen Illinois” rally, WIND-AM co-host and reporter Amy Jacobson has her press credentials returned to her, as first reported by Robert Feder Tuesday.
Beginning immediately, Jacobson can attend press briefings like any other reporter. Jacobson was represented by the conservative Liberty Justice Center, who represented her in the lawsuit. The group claimed Pritzker’s actions violated the First Amendment.
Jacobson had been critical of Pritzker and the way he has handled the pandemic on her morning show she co-hosts with Dan Proft on the Salem-owned radio station, despite public opinion polls showing otherwise.
“Governor Pritzker’s ban on Amy Jacobson was a complete overreach and he’s right to walk it back,” Liberty president and co-founder Patrick Hughes said in a statement. “The governor may not like when journalists ask tough questions and he may not always agree with their coverage, but Americans have a constitutional right to hold their elected officials accountable. One of the most important ways they do this is through a free and vibrant press.”
Proving the ever classy fellow he is, Proft tweeted a statement and taunted the rest of the Chicago news media:
Not just a victory over Pritzker's hypocrisy and lying but that of the political hacks in the Chicago press corps at @chicagotribune, @suntimes, @WGNRadio, et al., who pressed the phony claim. @AmyJacobson stood up to the cabal and won. It can be done.https://t.co/OKK0DUff98— Dan Proft (@DanProft) June 16, 2020
Whether she is a journalist is up for debate (or the fact having certain “privilege” is one of the reasons why she still have a career after an ethical lapse in 2007), the entire episode is a huge embarrassment for the Pritzker administration as the message was sent loud and clear to everyone in “blue state” Illinois – the other side lives here, too.
Is Garry Meier heading back to WGN Radio? After sitting out for six years, the Radio Hall Of Famer could get the opportunity. According to Robert Feder, the 70-year old former radio personality was contacted by Sean Compton from the Nexstar-owned radio station. The news is curious given current afternoon personality Roe Conn’s contract expires by the end of the year – and may not be renewed.
Meier has been off terrestrial radio for the last six years, after declining to renew his contract with WGN-AM, then-owned by Tribune Media. He launched his own subscription podcast in 2016, similar to what his former on-air partner Steve Dahl did a few years earlier.
The last few months have saw a huge surge in listenership for WGN-AM, posting its highest ratings in years. The move to hire veteran media personality Bob Sirott has paid off, giving the station its highest-morning ratings in nearly 15 years as his show ranked second only to WBBM Newsradio in the highly valuable daypart.
In the last PPM report, WGN tied for third – its highest rank in nearly twenty years as Conn ranks eighth in the afternoon. As listeners return to daily life as the coronavirus pandemic has eased a bit (at least in the Chicago area), it’ll be interesting to see if WGN’s numbers hold up.
Nexstar’s NewsNation is continuing to fortify its anchor lineup as it snared one from Chicago’s Very Own: Joe Donlon of sister WGN-TV has been tapped to become lead anchor of the new prime-time newscast to launch on WGN America on September 1. The news was announced on June 2.
Donlon came from Tegna-owned NBC affiliate KGW-TV in Portland, Ore. in 2018 to replace a retiring Mark Suppelsa to anchor alongside Micah Materre. Ratings for WGN-TV’s 9 and 10 p.m. newscasts remained solid, despite competition from streaming and cable TV in the hour. On NewsNation, he’ll be paired with Marni Hughes, who comes from KCPQ-TV in Seattle, a station Nexstar recently swapped (along with sister station KJZO-TV) to Fox for WJZY and WMYT in Charlotte. Other correspondents are being based in Dallas and Miami.
Other notable hires who worked in Chicago media include Tom Negovan, who’ll be a New York-based correspondent and Nancy Loo, who’ll be based in Los Angeles. Both were formerly employed at WGN-TV.
“We’re adding more than 130 ‘News Nation’ staff members to the 5,400 Nexstar journalists already reporting from local communities across the U.S.,” said Jennifer Lyons, a WGN News alum who is heading up the new effort. “We have assembled extraordinary teams both in front of and behind the cameras… I think you’re going to learn so much about our country through them.”
Nexstar boss Perry Sook pledged NewsNation would be bias-free and won’t have an agenda, hoping to attract news viewers who aren’t interested in partisanship. But it could be a tough road ahead – Fox News last week became the most-watched network in prime-time among total viewers – broadcast OR cable.
Nexstar isn’t the only station group to launch a new national venture. On Wednesday, rival Sinclair Broadcasting announced they were launching a headline news service on the company’s CW and My Network TV affiliates, many of whom don’t air news. Known for its conservative leanings, Sinclair says the new service – scheduled to run from 6 to 9 a.m. in its initial phrase, plans to be bias-free (or so they say.)
The new service also plans to have a Live Desk assigned to update stories through the day. The service is scheduled to launch early next year with Sinclair planning to hire 25 people to staff. The headline service will also stream on STIRR, Sinclair’s over-the-top platform.