The Media Notepad: Chicago Sun-Times drops out of Marquee’s “The Reporters” due to editing controversy

Also: Chicago news ratings continue to decline; The Bob’s Burgers Movie does OK business at box office in spite of competition from Top Gun: Maverick

The Chicago Sun-Times has dropped out the suddenly controversial Sunday morning sports roundtable series The Reporters on Marquee, after an revelation of producers apparently editing out criticism of Chicago Cubs management from a discussion of the team.

The Cubs are partners with Sinclair Broadcasting on the regional sports network, launched in February 2020 and features Cubs baseball as its centerpiece but also other sports including college football and basketball and recently adding Chicago Sky WNBA basketball

During a recent taping of the show, the panel consisting of WSCR morning co-host David Haugh, ESPN 1000’s Peggy Kusinski, and the Sun-Times Maddie Lee asked about Cubs GM Jed Hoyer’s transparency regarding the roster rebuild, and whether or not to call it that. After the questions were asked, a producer halted tape of the segment, claiming “technical difficulties” and was told to “steer clear of transparency talk.” The discarded segment did eventually end up airing. 

The story made news in the Chicago Tribune and Sun-Times, as sports editor Chris DeLuca said his publication would “no longer participate in the show.”  Backlash was immediate, with Tribune sportswriter Paul Sullivan blasting Marquee and former Tribune columnist Phil Rosenthal doing likewise, calling The Reporters “a sham”. Awful Announcing had a sarcastic byline on a story about the controversy called “The joys of state run media!” So far, there is no word of any other media outlets dropping out of the show. 

This comes as the Cubs are having a less-than-stellar performance season on the diamond – particularly after getting blown out by the cellar-dwelling Cincinnati Reds last Thursday, and the front office being criticized for terrible roster moves since the departure of former GM Theo Epstein. 

Obviously, the controversy forced Marquee’s hand and is now going to air the show live every Sunday morning. This week, WSCR’s Danny Parkins filled in as host. The Reporters isn’t exactly must-watch TV with microphones on a small desk on a pitch-black background set and horrible graphics. This show was supposed to invoke memories of the beloved Sportswriters on TV, but as we know that was a completely different era in television where you could get away with looking like a public access cable show in its 480p standard-definition glory in monoaural sound. This is 2022 and we get our television in 1080p HDR high definition and Dolby surround sound, something Marquee execs fail to get a grasp on what is a generally terrible show. 

Apparently, something like editorial control was bound to come up given the Cubs own the network with Sinclair, who is not known for “transparency” on anything, seeing how their news operations are run. Having a panel show with opinions – good or bad about the Cubs or any other team – is part of the game. It’s another black eye for a RSN who has struggled for respect since signing on two years ago and they couldn’t even get the sign-on part right. You can’t blame the Sun-Times for bailing out of The Reporters, using the same name from a short-lived 1988 Fox newsmagazine show – the same people who brought you the syndicated A Current Affair – the breeding ground of what would become Fox News. Imagine that. 

The results are in for The Bob’s Burgers Movie and as expected, turned in a decent box office performance this Memorial Day weekend. The Disney film finished third in the box office rankings with a haul of $14.8 million in North America over the last four days, according to figures. The movie wasn’t expected to come anywhere near the total The Simpsons Movie made during its opening weekend on July 27-29, 2007 given Bob’s fanbase is considerably smaller.

Bob’s came in behind Marvel’s Doctor Strange: Multiverse of Madness in second place and ahead of another film with a television connection, Downton Abbey: A New Era, based on the popular British series. 

Audience reaction to Bob’s was positive, with an A grade from Cinemascore. with audiences giving it an 89 percent positive and 69 percent recommend. The movie has been Certified Fresh by Rotten Tomatoes with 86 percent (and a 95 percent audience score!) while Metacritic gave it a 75. Perhaps the only knock was the movie did not perform as well outside of the Northeast and the West Coast and performed poorly with teens. 

Taking no prisoners of course, was Top Gun: Maverick, the sequel to the 1986 box office smash with $258 million globally – with roughly half of the take in North America alone – which is the biggest box office haul for a movie in the pandemic era and set a record for the biggest Memorial Day weekend haul in history. It is a huge victory for the newly rebranded Paramount Global, whose film studio produced both movies. The success of Maverick is certainly good news for Paramount, who lagged behind other studios in recent years and especially streaming, where Paramount Plus is behind HBO Max, Netflix, and Disney Plus in terms of overall subscribers. Like Bob’s, Maverick’s release was delayed for two years by the pandemic. 

Top Gun: Maverick performed particularly well in middle and small media markets, which is more politically conservative than major media markets such as New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and the Bay Area. 

The news is certainly welcome for movie theater owners, who saw their businesses decimated by the pandemic as their businesses closed in March 2020 due to stay-at-home orders. Businesses were slow to attract moviegoers back at first, but the success of several films this year has audiences stampeding back into the theaters – and this came on a weekend with two big series dropping on Netflix and Disney Plus, respectively – the fourth season of Stranger Things and the premiere of Obi-Wan Kenobi, the latest Star Wars series. 

Whether or not this success can sustain itself in the streaming era remains to be seen with several blockbusters due for release later this summer, such as a new Jurassic Park movie. But for now, it seems the movie-going experience is back in vogue. 

While ABC 7 (middays, early fringe and access, and 10 p.m.) and WGN-TV (mornings, 9 p.m.) claimed ratings victories, the biggest story is the continued decline of local newscasts at 10 p.m. from last year as Chicago’s late news numbers were down fourteen percent from last year. 

This came on the heels of a bigger decline in May 2021 when there was a three-way tie in the 25-54 demo between three stations as all local stations recorded double digit losses from May 2020 – the biggest drop since 2014. Despite the declines, ABC 7 still won easily in every daypart (except mornings), beating NBC 5 at 10 by nearly 60,000 households. WGN may have gotten a boost due to Dan Roan’s retirement, as his last appearance was Thursday night. 

But the declining numbers shows linear TV continues to spring a leak as more viewers head to streaming services with the broadcast networks’ prime-time programming becomes to fall, failing to provide ample lead-ins to news, though it appears some stations can overcome those weak lead-ins than others. 

Despite the declines, local and national advertisers still find news valuable – especially sports betting companies and of course, political PACs – and there’s no shortage of annoying political commercials airing during this recent May sweep and more to come with the Illinois primary taking place June 28 – three months later than usual.


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