The Media Notepad: Rob Stafford latest Chicago news personality to call it a career

Also: DirecTV and Fox avert blackout;  NHL, Roku launch FAST channel; Debmar-Mercury to offer local stations People Puzzler

Another news anchor has called it a career: NBC 5 (WMAQ) anchor Rob Stafford announced last week he is retiring after over 30 years in the business. HIs final day is on December 23.

“I turn 65 next year and my wife Lisa and I look forward to making our own schedule,” Stafford said in a Facebook post.

Born and raised in New Hampshire, Stafford worked as a reporter and anchor at several stations including WFRV Green Bay, WFTV Orlando and KBJR Duluth, Minn. before landing at CBS-owned WBBM-TV as a consumer reporter and reporter in 1992. Four years later, he left for the national stage joining NBC News and became Chicago correspondent for Dateline NBC where he won two Emmys for investigations on hazing in the military and the Elizabeth Smart case. While in Orlando, Stafford founded WFTV’s investigative unit, leading to widespread praise for investigations on hotel security in Central Florida.

In 2007, Stafford returned to local television NBC 5 where he co-anchored alongside Allison Rosati at 5, 6, and 10 p.m. In 2020, Stafford stepped down from the 10 p.m. anchor position and was replaced by Stephen Holt. Five years ago, Stafford took a six-month leave of absence to undergo a bone marrow transplant and chemotherapy to treat amyloidosis, a rare blood disorder.

Stafford also has co-emceed the Better Business Bureau’s annual dinner for several years (full disclosure: I attended several BBB dinners as I worked for the organization from 2008 to 2016.)

Stafford’s retirement is the latest in local Chicago television in recent months. Earlier in the week, NBC 5 station manager and VP of news Frank Whittaker also decided to call it a career. This year also saw the exits of ABC 7’s Alan Krashesky and Stacey Baca.

After warning subscribers earlier in the week, DirecTV and Fox Corporation came to a long-term agreement Saturday morning to keep their channels on the service, avoiding a blackout.

The agreement covers Fox, FS1, FS2, Fox Deportes, and the company’s 28 owned-stations, including Fox 32 and My50 in Chicago.

Fox set a deadline of December 3 at 2 a.m. Central to reach an agreement, but a short-term extension was put in place as progress was being made and to let viewers watch the huge FIFA World Cup match between the United States and the Netherlands (unfortunately, the U.S. lost 3-1 and were eliminated from the soccer tournament.)

The now-solved impasse came during a big sports weekend at Fox. In addition to the World Cup tournament, Fox had the college football Big Ten Championship Game Saturday night and a NFL single-header Sunday, highlighted by (at least for Chicago-area and Wisconsin viewers) the Green Bay Packers-Chicago Bears game, who’ll now have both Aaron Rodgers and Justin Fields starting for their respective team at QB as their status was uncertain last week due to injuries.

Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Move over Freevee and Pluto TV, there’s a new FAST channel in town and it is bulking up big.

Called the Roku Channel, the new service – yes, it’s the one named after the dongle stick – added more content on Thursday, including a dedicated NHL channel. The new channel features recent game highlights, classic Stanley Cup games, and documentaries from NHL Original Productions. Also, the NHL FAST Channel plans to feature event-specific content to get fans geared up for these marquee dates on the NHL calendar, such as the Winter Classic and the Stanley Cup Finals.

“The Roku Channel is delighted to be the inaugural partner of the NHL as the League makes its exciting expansion into FAST (which stands for Free Advertiser-Supported Television.) We look forward to working with the NHL to further broaden its audience by connecting this brand-new channel to our robust audience made up of millions of streamers,” said Ashley Hovey, who is chief executive of the channel. “Sports is a valuable content category for consumers, and we are thrilled to provide free and easy access to programming from one of the most popular Leagues in all of professional sports to our audience.”

The NHL FAST Channel is a great alternative for those who can’t get the NHL Network, which is available on cable but on higher-priced digital tiers.

The NHL is one of  several new dedicated channels launched this past week, including FUSEMedia’s Latino Vibes; nature channel WildEarth; the Women’s Sports Network; and five Christmas-related content channels, four of them from iHeartMedia.

Launched in 2017, Roku Channel has 350 free channels on the service, including from dedicated partners such as AMC, Telemundo, Ion, and NBC’s local news channels. Meanwhile, Roku is also adding more on-demand content to its service including day-old episodes of Warner’s The Jennifer Hudson Show and recently ventured into first-run original programming with a biopic on Weird Al Yankovic’s life.

The Roku Channel is not just for those who have Roku hardware – it’s also available as an app to those who have Amazon Fire TV, Samsung Smart TVs, iOS and Android devices, and available to watch online at

If you’ve never heard of the game show People Puzzler…well, now you just did (prior to writing this, I haven’t either.)

The game show hosted by King Of Queens star Leah Remini becomes the first syndicated project announced for the 2023-24 season, based on the crossword puzzles found in People magazine (yes, that’s still a thing.) Distributed by Debmar-Mercury, 325 off-GSN episodes are being made available to local stations starting in September on an all-barter basis, In lieu of a cash license fee, stations give up half of the ad inventory in the show to the syndicator to sell to national advertisers.

In the show, people solve puzzles based on pop culture and the winner with the most points advances to the bonus round, with a chance to win up to $10,000. The show premiered January 18, 2021 on GSN and its third season began August 1.

No station clearances has been announced as of yet.

Crossword game shows are nothing new; a similar show aired in 1975 called The Cross-Wits and ran for five seasons in syndication. The series had another run during the 1986-87 season as The All-New CrossWits, also in syndication. Another such show aired during the 2007-08 season as Merv Griffin’s Crosswords, notoriously known for an episode where a “winner” of one contest entered the bonus round with a negative score, wound up losing, and left the show with no money.

Debmar-Mercury is banking on Remini to be a draw as off-network repeats of Queens continue to be popular in broadcast syndication as the former CBS sitcom is in its twentieth season (reruns continue to air in primetime on CW 26 at 9 p.m.) However, previous off-network GSN game shows Baggage and America Says were not successful in syndication and each lasted only a year. People Puzzler is produced by Game Show Enterprises with Remini as an executive producer.

Further reading:

CBC Explore, Pluto TV launches in Canada (CBC)

ABC 7’s Samantha Chapman promoted to weekend morning news anchor (Samantha Chapman’s Twitter account)

Local news stations battle it out in New Orleans (NextTV)


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