Chris Harrison out as “Bachelor” host

Reportedly gets a huge severance in return

When you announce you are “stepping away” from a franchise temporarily, believe me – it usually isn’t “temporarily”.

This is exactly what happened to Chris Harrison, The Bachelor host who now isn’t The Bachelor host as he was fired by ABC and Warner Horizon Television Tuesday after nearly two decades with the franchise.

He also hosted The Bachelorette, an edition with the gender roles reversed.

The axing came after he made racially in sensitive comments on Extra on February 9, defending a woman to the show’s correspondent – who happened to be former Bachelorette Rachel Lindsay, the first black woman to lead the show. During the interview, Harrison defended a contestant who was photographed at an antebellum-themed party in 2018 and liked racially insensitive social media posts. The controversy threw the franchise into turmoil as Harrison announced shortly thereafter he was stepping away from the show. 

Extra is syndicated by Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution. Both it and Bachelor producer Warner Horizon are owned by WarnerMedia, who recently announced a merger with Discovery Communications.

You can tell from the terse press release ABC and Warner Horizon Television wanted to move on quickly from Harrison: “Chris Harrison is stepping aside as host of ‘The Bachelor’ franchise. We are thankful for his many contributions over the past 20 years and wish him all the best on his new journey” – although his journey will lead him right to obscurity, joining fired sitcom star Roseanne Barr who was dismissed from the revival of her show in 2018 after sending a racist tweet.

Reports surfaced Harrison received a hefty severance – in eight figures – and signed a non-disclosure agreement. It’s a pact similar to what former ABC 7 sports anchor Mark Giangreco made with his employer (though for far less money) after departing the top-ranked station after he made an on-air comment about Cheryl Burton back in January.

ABC 7 (WLS-TV) and ABC share a parent with The Walt Disney Company.

The franchise has had it shares of controversies during the last twenty years on the air, with many groups accusing it of being sexist early in its run (thus The Bachelorette) as this space mocked the show back in 2010 (at least the Orioles joke held up.) But Bachelor and Bachelorette later came under fire for a lack of diversity in the show’s casting, leads included. And when they finally had minority leads, there were even more controversies as Matt James’ season last winter (the first Black Bachelor) attested. What was supposed to be a triumph for adding diversity to the mix turned out to be a nightmare as the season was panned by viewers and ratings sagged.

Reality and reality-competition shows have had a spotty history dealing with racial issues and stereotypes for years, notably with Survivor and several cable shows including The Real Housewives Of Atlanta and Love And Hip-Hop.

A Dallas native, Harrison added to his resume when was tapped by Disney-ABC Domestic Television (now Disney Media Distribution) to replace Terry Crews as host of the syndicated Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, a job he held from 2015 until the show’s cancellation in 2019 (Millionaire recently returned to ABC’s primetime lineup on a part-time basis with new producer and host Jimmy Kimmel.) Reruns of the Harrison-era Millionaire still air on local stations, but it is unknown if the arrangement would continue next season. Ironically, Disney used Millionaire reruns as a replacement for syndicated reruns of Cops, as all iterations of the former Fox series were pulled after the death of George Floyd at the hands of police.

There is something to be said about “reality TV” being staged for the cameras. But real life takes over once the cameras stop rolling, and when those elements start spilling over into the product, it may be too much for viewers. But that’s the world we live in now – take it or leave it. 

Oh yes, the “reality” in reality TV just got real. 

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FCC ownership rules now law of the land


Gives media companies more tools to build scale

The broadcast industry is getting a boost now the federal register has published the FCC rules, upheld by the Supreme Court in an unanimous decision in April. 

Effective as of Monday, the rule changes eliminates the newspaper/cross-ownership rule in place since 1975; the mandate eight television stations must remain after two to them merge; allowing the merger of two top-rated stations in a market on a case-by-case basis; and television/radio subcaps and JSA restrictions are also loosened. 

Reinstated is the 2018 incubator program, one that’s sees an established broadcaster provide financial and operational support to new broadcasters in a way to boost minority ownership of television and radio stations. 

The FCC – now split evenly between two Democrats and two Republicans since the departure of former FCC Republican chair Ajit Pai now must solicit public comment on the rules as part a review of the rules as mandated by Congress – including the TV station ownership cap, still at 39 percent and not affected by the Supreme Court ruling. 

So far, the Biden Administration has not nominated a fifth person to join the FCC. As this space pointed out beforehand, any Democratic nominee could pose a problem as he or she must be approved by the Senate, no easy task given the 50/50 split meaning the commission could be at four members for some time and could hold up transactions, such as Gray’s proposed purchase of Meredith’s TV stations. 

For the moment, the FCC rules from 2017 are now in the books but as this space noted before, don’t look for any wheeling and dealing anytime soon. 

The news comes as media companies without broadcast TV stations are making deals. Last month, WarnerMedia announced a merger with Discovery Communications and Amazon announced the purchase of MGM as the industry continues to build scale against Netflix and other tech giants. Broadcasters had been lobbying Congress to deregulate their business even further as streaming is taking told with viewers as the main way to watch TV as the networks’ revenues continue to shrink and feeling they’re at a competitive disadvantage. Whether this comes during the Biden Administration remains to be seen. 

One pairing being branded about is between ViacomCBS and Comcast’s NBCUniversal with the former operating Paramount+ and the latter running Peacock as both own stations in major markets, including Chicago. While any merger between the two companies would face tough anti-trust scrutiny from regulators, the FCC’s new rules on whether a duopoly between two stations in a market who are the four most-watched in a local market being handled on a case-by-case basis, could make the road a little easier – but it may have to wait until a Republican Administration takes over Congress and since most Republicans don’t like the way CBS’ and NBC’s news divisions cover politics, this won’t be a given. 


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What’s new in primetime this fall (if you still care)

ABC has a reboot of “The Wonder Years” with a Black cast this fall.

Fewer new shows reflect today’s reality of network television

With television viewership shifting to streaming preferences, it seems a “fall schedule” for linear TV networks seems antiquated, especially when viewers are watching shows on their own schedules. Plus, the pandemic has all but canned the in-person upfronts experience.

But old habits are hard to break, and despite plunging ratings, the industry is plowing ahead with a 2021-22 fall schedule with hopes the pandemic is in the rear-view mirror and things get back to some kind of normalcy.

There is less emphasis on the fall schedule as the broadcast networks are looking to spread premieres of new shows year-round, so there isn’t as many freshmen programs as there were in years past. In fact, NBC and Fox have opted not to premiere any comedies this fall, a first.

One big winner was Dick Wolf, whose NBC and CBS are devoting entire nights to his FBI and Law And Order franchises, respectively. Wolf now has nine hours over three nights (including the Chicago trifecta on Wednesdays on NBC).

Reflecting these trends, it only makes sense not to devote so much space to the fall TV season, as this site has done in the past. So here’s a quick rundown of the fall 2021 schedule, before Dick Wolf takes over all five networks’ schedules in the fall of 2025:

ABC: The network has just two new shows – drama Queens and the reboot of the 1988-93 sitcom The Wonder Years with a Black cast, set in the same time frame the original was but now set in Montgomery, Ala. ABC’s unscripted slate consists of old standbys Dancing With The Stars, Shark Tank, and The Bachelorette, joining game shows Supermarket Sweep and Celebrity Wheel of Fortune, who moves to Sunday perhaps to distance itself from the weeknight version, which airs on numerous ABC stations (including ABC 7 here.)

Canceled are American Housewives, Call Your Mother, For Life, Rebel, and Mixed-ish. Black-ish is returning next spring for a limited run of six episodes before ending its run.

CBS: The big news here is the network is devoting an entire night of Dick Wolf’s FBI with the original, then new series FBI: International, and FBI: Most Wanted, all on Tuesdays (the franchise is not related to the Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. series The F.B.I. or its sequel, Today’s F.B.I.)

The Equalizer reboot with Queen Latifah made the fall schedule and remains on Sunday nights but now must complete against Celebrity Wheel and Sunday Night Football. Another midseason series (The United States of Al) retains its Thursday slot after Young Sheldon.

Survivor is back after a year layoff returning to Wednesday nights, and leads into last season’s placeholder Tough As Nails. Rounding up Wednesdays is the return of CSI, this time known as CSI: Vegas.

New series include yet another new NCIS show (Hawai’i), airing on Monday nights out of the original NCIS, who moves off of Tuesday after 17 seasons. Taking over the Thursday night time slot the now-retired Mom occupied last season is new sitcom Ghosts.

Done are NCIS: New Orleans, The Unicorn, All Rise, and McGyver. Dramas Evil and SEAL Team are moving to sister streaming service Paramount+.

NBC has “For The Defense”, the eighth television series in the “Law & Order” universe.

Fox: Three new series are coming this fall – Our Kind Of People on Tuesdays and The Big Leap on Mondays and Alter Ego on Wednesdays. The rest of the schedule remains unchanged, with Thursday Night Football heading into its final season before becoming exclusive to Amazon.

Even though Fox has no live-action sitcoms on its lineup this fall, it did renew Blossom’s Cat Cafe (aka Call Me Kat) for midseason and of course, its longtime Sunday night animation lineup.

As mentioned here earlier, Fox passed on a third season of Bless The Harts. Last Man Standing is also departing, announced a year ago. Canceled was Prodigal Son, Filthy Rich, and Next, which was canceled last fall.

NBC: A lot was made about NBC not having comedies on its fall lineup for the first time since the Stone Age. However, NBC renewed Young Rock and Mr. Mayor for next season, so the schedule won’t be totally devoid of laughs (and besides, you have the Bears’ yearly spanking on SNF by the Packers.)

Like CBS with FBI, NBC decided to brand a night of programming with Law & Order entirely taking over Thursdays, marking the first time since the 1980-81 season the network won’t have any comedies on the night, the one-time home of “Must-See TV”. The new series leading off the night is Law & Order: For The Defense, long-running SVU, and sophomore drama Organized Crime.

Other new series are Ordinary Joe on Mondays and La Brea on Tuesdays. Of note, NBC dropped vintage SNL on Saturdays for more Dateline. Superstore ended its run last month.

The CW: As reported here a few weeks ago, The CW is adding programming on Saturdays, achieving the impossible dream of the fifth network with a full-week prime-time schedule.

Ok, after you’re done laughing with what I just wrote, let’s look at what they have in store – two new dramas with a stateside remake of Killer Camp on Sundays and The 4400 reboot on Tuesdays. Leading into Camp is The CW’s first game shows in years, a reboot of former Nickelodeon game show Legends Of The Hidden Temple (sorry, no slime is involved and this version features adults competing.)

Of note is the out-of-gas Riverdale moving to Tuesday nights, after The Flash.

As Expected, The CW is filling their new Saturday night lineup with low-cost series Whose Line Is It Anyway and World’s Funniest Animals.

The CW no longer cancels shows, but departing is Black Lightning.

To see the full seven night schedule for all broadcast networks, click here.


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May sweeps sees declines for local news

WGN News claimed victories in mornings, middays, and late news but like all news stations, saw steep ratings declines.

Ratings are down for local news – but not out

[Editor’s Note: This post was updated on June 1.] 

If you’ve noticed, ratings are down across-the-board for just about everything on linear TV these days. 

And yes, that includes local news.

As reported by Robert Feder Friday, three Chicago news stations: ABC-owned WLS-TV, NBC-owned WMAQ-TV and Nexstar independent WGN-TV, all found themselves in a first-ever three-way ratings tie among English-language stations at 10 p.m. in the key 25-54 demo, a very important component for media buyers and advertisers (Univision’s WGBO beat all stations at 10 p.m. with its Spanish-language newscast in the demo.) 

WGN posted a press release Thursday, claiming they had the top-rated weeknight newscast at 9 p.m. in the 25-54 demo beating all competitors – including those at 10 p.m., calling it a “historic” victory. The same release also pointed out WGN’s ratings victories in morning news and middays, and competitive in the early evening news races. 

But the biggest story out of the May sweeps wasn’t who won – it was the serious ratings losses at all local stations. 

As Feder noted, WLS did win in households at 10 p.m., but was down more than 20 percent and down a whopping 42 percent in the key 25-54 demo. Other late news losses in the demo were recorded by WMAQ (-30%), WGN (-33% at 9 p.m.; -37% at 10 p.m.), Fox-owned WFLD (-20%) and CBS-owned WBBM-TV (-50%), whose 25-54 rating has to be the lowest for any owned-station at 10 p.m. in recent memory.  

The tepid results mirrors a similar ratings decline in May 2014 as documented by this blog and TVNewsCheck. In the sweep, Chicago’s news ratings in key afternoon (fringe), evening (prime access), and late news time periods were down a combined 21 percent from a year prior, losing ground faster than stations in New York and Los Angeles. Seven years later, it looks like the ratings decline are even worse. 

So why the declines? In WLS’ case, it is likely tied to the fallout from their firing of top sports anchor Mark Giangreco, who was let go after he made an on-air joke about colleague Cheryl Burton. Another reason is viewers are abandoning prime-time broadcast network television in droves, as their shows historically provided a lead-in to late local news. The May sweeps showed tepid results for just about every broadcast network.

Another issue is viewers – especially younger ones, are abandoning linear TV for streaming services. Plus, the three traditional network-owned stations are now part of larger conglomerates who own streaming services and they seem to be more of a priority than the local stations they own, let alone the networks.  

ABC 7’s 10 p.m. newscasts are down 42 percent from last year after they fired Mark Giangreco.

But if you read the comments in Feder’s column, there is another reason that isn’t discussed much – the content of the news shows themselves.

Now, I know no one should put too much stock in the comments section of any article, but it does provide a snapshot of what viewers are thinking – aside from idiot trolls who cause trouble and have no idea how the business works (with gems such as “ratings are down for BET because too many Black people are being shot in Chicago”, and so forth.)

With that said, many complained about too much crime coverage in local news, but this claim is old as local news itself, and isn’t limited to Chicago. But as I’ve pointed out before in this space, some of these same viewers don’t seem to have a problem with Fox News and other conservative media outlets covering the same issue. 

Perhaps another reason is viewers – especially conservatives, are growing tired of the “wokeness” of local news, and to them, the firing of Giangreco was just another example of “cancel culture” – not to mention the acquisitions of liberal and racial pandering they often accuse the network-owned stations of doing (and this despite Giangreco making a joke about then-President Trump a few years ago.) 

Then there’s the continued racial controversies in local media with the Giangreco-Burton drama serving as a backdrop for Mayor Lightfoot’s decision to have only Black and Brown journalists interview her marking two years in office, which drew heavy criticism from already agitated white viewers in an already notoriously racially divided and segregated Chicagoland. 

But what does all of this mean in the end? Nothing, really. Keep in mind advertisers – particularly political/PACs (during election years), sports betting, automobile companies, and other marketers pay a premium to reach news viewers more than any other genre as this audience is more likely to vote in upcoming elections. The declining ratings are a concern to advertisers, but isn’t likely to deter them. This is why broadcasters continue to add newscasts – something broadcasters are doing despite a lack of viewer demand.

Local news is indeed down – but not out. While people on social media and in comment sections bitch about wokeness, constant crime coverage, and Cheryl Burton, nothing is really going to change in long run as marketers and PACs continue to find local news valuable as the genre provides them the reach no one else can. 

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Texas bans reality TV cop ride-a-longs

Legislation passed in the wake of Javier Ambler, who died after a police chase filmed by Live PD

Everything’s bigger in Texas, but reality TV cop shows have gotten too big for the state. 

Texas passed a law this week banning law enforcement from working with reality TV shows such as Live PD and Cops, according to the Austin-American Statesman. Even though both shows are no longer in production, the legislation bans any future program from doing so. The bill was signed into law this week by Gov. Greg Abbott and passed easily with bipartisan support. 

News programs and documentaries are not affected by the legislation. 

The move came after Austin-area resident Javier Ambler II died after a police chase through Williamson and Travis counties with Live PD crews in tow. Ambler crashed his car in the 2019 incident as police tasered him, resulting in his death. Live PD footage from the chase was erased, leading to tampering charges against a former sheriff and a Williamson County general counsel. The footage never made it to the air. 

Williamson and Travis counties are in the Austin designated market area, or DMA. Williamson County signed a deal with Live PD in early 2018 and started filming in November of that year. The relationship was often rocky, even becoming bizarre at times.  

In a statement, the Ambler family said: “Javier Ambler was killed because Williamson County deputies were encouraged to produce exciting reality television instead of simply protecting and serving the public. As a consequence of this unconscionable decision by the county and its sheriff, a beloved father and son was senselessly killed.”

Javier Ambler

The bill in part came in an investigation by the Statesman and Tegna-owned ABC affiliate KVUE-TV into Javier’s death. Both Austin outlets also uncovered some violent arrests staged just for the cameras, including using a “no-knock” warrant to arrest a man by dragging him out of his father’s house and arresting him on live TV. 

Both Live PD and Cops were canceled last summer in the wake of protests surrounding George Floyd’s death. Live PD was A&E’s highest-rated show while Cops, a former longtime Fox staple, was dropped by the Paramount Network. The latter program was a subject of a podcast series in 2019 called Running From Cops, investigating how the show was made, which revealed some interesting tidbits – including suspects coerced into signing releases into appearing on camera. 

Reruns of both shows were pulled from syndication and cable networks. Locally, Weigel’s The U had rerun rights to both shows and pulled them three weeks after George Floyd’s death. 

Texas became the first state to ban reality TV crews recording law enforcement, though it remains to be seen if this legislation would spread to other states. It’s a bit surprising given Texas is a hardcore red state and support for law enforcement is strong. But even officers in Texas admit their jobs would be made easier if the cameras weren’t around. 

Already, Live PD was kicked out and subsequently banned from other locales including Tulsa and Bridgeport, Conn. Although both Live PD and Cops have tagged along with Lake County (Ill.) and Cook County Sheriff deputies respectively in the past, the Chicago Police Department has never participated in either show, stating police work shouldn’t be viewed as entertainment. Currently, there is no legislation pending on banning reality TV shows from filming law enforcement in Illinois, Wisconsin, or Indiana. 

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It’s official: Alden takes over the Chicago Tribune

The former Chicago Tribune headquarters at 435 N. Michigan Avenue. The newsroom relocated to a dumpy, industrial area. Makes sense given who now owns them.

Alden takes control, ending local ownership after more than 150 years 

In a move everyone saw coming, New York City-based hedge fund Alden Global Capital last Friday got the green light to take full ownership of Tribune Publishing

The Chicago Tribune – one of the papers involving in the Alden transaction, reported the deal officially closed late Monday night. This makes Alden now the second-largest owner of newspapers in the United States, only behind Gannett. Alden owns papers in Denver; San Jose, Ca.; Boston; St. Paul, Minn.; and Orange County, Ca., among others. The buyout price was $17.25 a share. 

Alden didn’t waste time making changes by firing Tribune Publishing CEO Terry Jiminez and installing Alden hedge fund president Heath Freeman in his place. 

The vote to convert Alden’s stake in Tribune Publishing from a third to full ownership came Friday when Los Angeles Times owner Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong (whose own paper is not involved in the deal) voted to abstain. 

Alden now takes over Tribune Publishing, who owns papers in New York City; Baltimore; Orlando; South Florida (Ft. Lauderdale); Hartford; Norfolk; Annapolis, Md., Allentown, Pa.; Newport News, Va.; and the aforementioned Tribune.

There was a plan for the Baltimore Sun to be sold to hotel magnate Stewart Bainum and convert it to a non-profit, but the proposal fell through. 

As you imagine, the deal was panned, including journalists at the affected papers. In Chicago, a protest was held outside the Tribune’s Freedom Center facilities a few days before the vote, urging the Tribune Publishing board to reject the deal. Alden had a reputation for cutting newsroom jobs, slashing resources, and eliminating newspapers – resulting in a loss of coverage in numerous areas. 

Even before Alden took up any stake in Tribune, the company was already making cutbacks, as you can plainly see in how their suburban newspapers were run – especially the once-prosperous Daily Southtown, who served the already under-served south suburbs. With Alden now calling the shots, the fear is coverage would be cut back even further. Alden bought the shares owned by Michael Ferro, who took over the Tribune until he was forced out.

Not everyone was in mourning. A right-wing blog run by a corrupt ex-Chicago police officer and critic of the local media offered a “glimmer of hope” Alden would do better a job by using the worst kind of title possible for his inane piece. The less said about this complete piece of shit, the better. 

You can trace the Tribune’s fall back to twenty years ago when the Tribune Co. took over the Los Angeles Times for around $8 billion, which included numerous newspapers, a profitable TV group, a top-rated Chicago radio station, several websites, and more. But it all came crashing down when Sam Zell purchased the company in 2007, taking it to bankruptcy a year later as an economic downturn took hold and the 2008 crash nearly wiped out everything. 

After Tribune came out of bankruptcy, the company sold off much of its non-core assets such as Career Builder and, and split into two – Tribune Publishing and Tribune Media in order to get more “value”. In fact, splitting up TV-radio-newspaper conglomerates became more commonplace even as the FCC eliminated cross-ownership rules in 2017, but held up for years until the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the agency this year. But it came too little, too late for most media companies. 

What this turned out to be was breaking up the old Tribune Co. and selling them for parts- Tribune Media to Nexstar and now Tribune Publishing (foolishly named “tronc” at one point). Even the famed Tribune Tower the company was housed in for decades was sold to a real estate developer and turned into condos. And now, the last link to this once-grand company is now owned by a ruthless, out-of-town hedge fund. What a shame. 

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The Think Tank: Lightfoot’s decision on journalists forces discussion on racial diversity

Lightfoot’s decision to exclude white journalists sets off firestorm. But it’s a conversation long overdue

The latest dustup between the Chicago media and minority communities is unusual because the person behind it happens to be the Mayor of Chicago.

On Tuesday, Mayor Lori Lightfoot – the first Black woman to be elected to the position in the city’s history, decided to grant interviews reflecting on her first two years in office – but only to Black and Brown journalists.

The move angered many in Chicago’s City Hall press corps as many suspected Lightfoot – who is under constant criticism for just about everything, wanted to be interviewed by minority journalists because the thinking was, she would get softball questions lobbed at her (turns out this wasn’t the case.) Lightfoot’s move also came under fire from some minority journalists too, including retired ABC 7 political reporter Charles Thomas and Sun-Times and ABC 7 political contributor Laura Washington.

But the reason for the decision was outlined in a letter sent out Tuesday to journalists regarding the lack of minority faces in Chicago’s newsrooms. “The Chicago media leadership must evolve with the times, in order to be a true reflection of the vibrant, vast diversity of our city,” Lightfoot said. “Diversity matters and without it, how can you as the media truly speak to the needs and interests of the diverse and nuanced constituency you claim to serve until you do the work until you do the work necessary to reflect that constituency.” 

The action was panned for the most part on social media – though many Black journalists applauded the move although some questioned the sincerity. Not surprisingly, the story – taken out of context – was picked up by conservative news outlets such as Fox News and Newsmax, but also other mainstream outlets including The Hill, CNN, and NewsNation.

Since former President Donald Trump declared the press “enemy of the people”, the door has opened to similar mistreatment not only by Republican politicians, but also by Democrats. Two weeks ago, Sinclair-owned Baltimore Fox affiliate WBFF – whose corporate owner is known for a conservative slant in their local newscasts, was the subject of a FCC complaint from City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby, who is an African-American Democrat. Her office alleges “blatantly slanted, dishonest, misleading, racist, and extremely dangerous” reporting by WBFF, as documented by The Baltimore Sun and Broadcasting & Cable with FCC Republican commissioner Brendan Carr blasting the complaint.

Since taking office, Lightfoot has often had frosty relations with the media corps regardless of color. Of course, she is not the first Chicago mayor to spar with the press. Predecessor Rahm Emanuel was notorious for feuding with the Fifth Estate but defended them on occasion. And former mayor Richard M. Daley bashed the media in a memorable press conference in 2008 after the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun-Times criticized his plan to move a children’s museum to Grant Park. But the same issues Lightfoot is talking about Chicago’s first black mayor also tried to address.

Harold Washington at a Department of Human Services press conference in 1987. (CPL/Harold Washington Archives)

During his time in office, Harold Washington often aired his grievances with the predominately white press corps, especially when he made his yearly appearance at a local television academy luncheon. According to a December 1986 Chicago Tribune article, Washington referred to the local press as “arrogant”, “abominable”, and “a bunch of slugs”. 

One time when he was running for re-election, he walked out of a WTTW interview after producers would not edit out the name of his political opponents in a video piece. A January 1986 press conference nearly turned into a free-for-all after Washington’s press secretary tried to bar reporters from using cameras and tape-recording devices. His relationship with black media outlets (Chicago Defender, Ebony, Etc.) were marginally better but not by much.

During a speech to the National Association of Black Journalists in Miami months before he died, Washington pointed out the need for more diversity in the city’s newsrooms.

And this is the exact same message Lightfoot is saying 35 years later. But the way she did this by publicly excluding white journalists was a massive PR blunder. The statement – again, taken out of context, gave conservative pundits just another reason to blast Chicago, which they do regularly on Fox News and other right-wing outlets – basically gospel to their audience as they love to feast on Chicago misery. The controversy adds to the dysfunctional atmosphere Chicago is long known for, and national cable news audiences can’t get enough of it.

However, Lightfoot’s message is spot on and run parallel to one I have been saying time and time again for the last fifteen years – the need for more diversity in Chicago media and the business in general, especially in newsrooms as they continue to be run by mostly white males. It’s no excuse in one of the most diverse metro areas in the country.

But the one thing Lightfoot and the scores of other people running their mouths on this issue missed are the current market conditions that makes it hard for a racially diverse workforce to thrive. Media consolidation continues abated, with TV station groups merging with each other in order to build scale against Netflix and Amazon. And speaking of big tech, they’re zapping revenue away from traditional media companies, making it hard to produce quality journalism. And now you have hedge funds taking over newspaper companies, who are gutting newsrooms nationwide by cost-cutting.

When companies are looking to lay off staff, they usually turn to people of color first to thin the herd. And the major network-owned local stations here and in the top six markets (Dallas ABC affiliate WFAA excluded as it is owned by Tegna) are now under the control of major media conglomerates of ViacomCBS, NBCUniversal, and Disney respectively, where local news stations aren’t exactly a priority as streaming is replacing linear TV as the main source of viewing. These companies are more interested in the streaming numbers Punky Brewster and Baby Yoda are racking up than anything in their O&O stations’ newsrooms.

Over the last two years, tensions have risen between Chicago’s communities of color and the city’s media in the wake of George Floyd’s death, calling into question whether media coverage of minority communities are fair. This included two rounds of looting in the city and a recent column published by Eric Zorn about the police shooting of Adam Toledo. But of course, the tensions have always been there – look what happened at CBS 2 in 2011 when a manipulated video featuring a four-year-old somehow made it onto the air.

While Lightfoot should be applauded for pointing out the obvious, keep in mind someone else did 35 years ago, so she shouldn’t take all the credit. But the way this was executed was awful beyond belief, knowing she can’t pick and choose who can interview her.

Or maybe, she wanted it this way.

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AT&T, Discovery announce blockbuster merger deal


Plans to merge assets with WarnerMedia to spinoff to own company

Here we go again. 

Sunday morning, Bloomberg published a report stating Discovery Communications and AT&T’s WarnerMedia would be merging assets, marrying Bugs Bunny and Friends with Oprah Winfrey and Chip and Joanna Gaines. 

The news was made official Monday, with AT&T spinning off those assets into a new, yet-to-be-named company. WarnerMedia owns cable networks HBO, TNT, TBS, TruTV, and CNN among others; and the Warner Bros. film and TV studio. Discovery owns Discovery Channel, Animal Planet, OWN, Food Network, the soon-to-launch Magnolia Network, and TLC, among others. The transaction is worth $43 billion with AT&T shareholders owning 71 percent and Discovery owning 29 percent. 

But the real driver behind this merger are their respective streaming services, with WarnerMedia’s HBO Max and Discovery’s recently-launched Discovery Plus.

Discovery CEO David Zaslav is assuming the same role in the new company. Warner CEO Jason Kilar will guide through the transition, but likely depart. The deal is expected to close in the middle of next year. 

Discovery is one of the last few independents left in media. The Discovery Channel and the company bearing the name launched in 1985, and grew by acquiring The Learning Channel (TLC) in 1991, launching Animal Planet and Science Channel in 1996, and acquiring Scripps Networks Interactive in 2018, after spinning off from former parent Scripps. 

The move by AT&T to spin-off their entertainment assets is a retreat for the Dallas-based conglomerate. Announced in 2016, AT&T bought the then-Time Warner in 2018 for $85 billion, but the two cultures never really meshed well. For example, numerous content creators who are with Warner weren’t happy with the way AT&T ran the studio, especially when it came to the way the studio distributed movies – Kilar was roasted by producer- director Christopher Nolan for releasing the 2021 slate of movies on HBO Max and in theaters simultaneously, despite the pandemic. Many in Hollywood are happy AT&T are jubilant about their exit from Tinseltown. 

The companies’ portfolios are starkly different – while WarnerMedia has a ton of scripted programming, a massive TV and film library and a huge movie studio, Discovery has mainly documentaries and reality programming – some of it quite cheesy (Sex Sent Me to the ER.) Discovery has sold reruns of its fare to broadcast diginets such as Court TV Mysteries and True Crime Network (formerly Justice.) 

It’s too early to tell if the streamers they own would combine or stay separate. Both have their shortcomings – Discovery Plus only has fifteen million subscribers globally, far behind HBO Max but the latter has been deemed a disappointment as both lag way behind Netflix who has 200 million subscribers globally. One proposal is to add CNN and Turner Sports’ content to Discovery Plus once the merger is finalized. Of course, the $4.99 price point for the streaming service would likely increase. 

Of course, there’s the usual regulatory hurdles with this type of deal as it must pass the Department of Justice’s review. But one agency who won’t is the FCC, as neither Warner Media or Discovery has any broadcast television licenses. The merger would generate annual revenue of $50 billion in revenue yearly and $14 billion in taxes and other liability-related issues. Warner-Discovery would own 23 cable channels as the DOJ could force them to spinoff a few due to anti-trust concerns. 

With WarnerMedia and DirecTV already spunoff, AT&T can now focus on rolling out 5G to phones and other devices. The original AT&T – as a landline phone company – was broken up in 1984 and split into five baby bells, leaving them with only long-distance phone service and a few other businesses. This version of AT&T bought TCI Cable in 1999, whose then-chairman John Malone – is currently chairman of Discovery. Renamed AT&T Broadband, they merged with Comcast in 2002 and wiped out the AT&T name. 

The current incarnation of AT&T is basically the former Southwestern Bell, or SBC, who acquired Ameritech and Pac Bell and took the dormant AT&T name in 2005.

So… what’s next? 

There is no doubt cord-cutting and streaming is driving this deal – something this space pointed out in 2016 when AT&T and TimeWarner first announced their merger. But there is a sense the television ecosystem is changing. Investors and media financial analysts wanted NBCUniversal/Comcast to swoop in and buy WarnerMedia, but the opportunity is now gone. 

One possibility some publications hinted at is NBCUniversal merging with ViacomCBS in the future. Of course, numerous spin-offs have to take place for this as the Justice Department won’t let this happen with laws on the books probating the merger of the major broadcast networks. However, if a Republican administration retakes the White House in 2024 and both houses of Congress, then anything can happen as they could change any anti-trust rules and raise the station ownership cap past 39 percent. On the other hand, GOP politicians have an intense dislike for NBC’s and CBS’ news divisions, and that could be a potential roadblock.  

But perhaps the biggest takeaway from this is the potential loss of jobs from this merger – something we’ve seen time and time again as media consolidation continues unabated in the race to build scale against global tech giants Netflix and Amazon. With financial analysts only caring about what incentives are in it for shareholders, you start to wonder why anyone would want a career in media these days as the industry is no longer appealing to anyone who wants to build a stable career. 

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Media Notepad: Chicago radio personality Greg Brown to retire

Also: remembering Dick Kay; Broadcast networks makes moves

Longtime Chicago radio personality Greg Brown is calling it a career this week after five decades on the city’s airwaves, as first reported Friday by Radio Insight.

The current WLS-FM personality started his Chicago radio career in 1970. His longest tenures were thirteen years at WKQX-FM (during its CHR/Hot AC era); eleven years at WJMK-FM; and currently, fourteen years at WLS-FM. 

He’s also spent time at WBBM-FM, and the former WMET-FM and WYSY-FM. 

Brown’s retirement has triggered move not only at WLS, but also WKQX who both share a common owner in Cumulus Media. Taking Brown’s place effective May 24 is Erin Carmen, who is trading in her afternoon slot. Tim Virgin is staying in afternoons but at WLS instead of WKQX. 

WKQX is moving Jon Manley from nights to afternoons with Lauren O’Neill taking over for Virgin in afternoons. Continuing a troubling trend with radio these days, WKQX is opting to go the syndicated route by adding Greg Beharrell for evenings. However, there is a Chicago connection – Beharrell once worked at WKQX.  

WLS-FM is a classic hits outlet; WKQX is alternative rock. Ironically, Brown left WKQX in 1992 after the station flipped to alternative. 

Journalists are mourning the loss of Dick Kay, whose death was announced on Thursday. The longtime WMAQ-TV political editor, reporter, and anchor died of a brain hemorrhage at the age of 84. 

His career began in radio in Delkin, Ill. and later in Peoria, then moved to Green Bay, Wis. and became news director of then-NBC affiliate WFRV, where he interviewed then-candidate Richard Nixon. He later moved to WMAQ in 1968.

Kay spent 38 years at the NBC-owned station and in addition to the above duties, he was the station’s union steward and hosted the political show City Desk. He also covered the protests and chaos at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, and won a Peabody Award for his 1985 investigation into patronage in the Illinois General Assembly. Kay also was elected national vice-president of American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, or AFTRA. 

After retiring from WMAQ in 2006, Kay briefly worked for then-Gov. Rod Blagoveich’s administration before returning to broadcasting in 2008, getting a position at liberal talk station WCPT-AM, where he hosted a weekly Saturday talk show called Back On The Beat, where he was until two weeks ago when he was hospitalized. A tribute aired Saturday on WCPT in his time slot. 

Born in Tennessee as Richard Snodgrass, Kay is survived by his wife and three daughters, and a grandchild. 

It used to be a big deal this time of year – the broadcast networks usually would clear their “bubble shows” on the Thursday and Friday before upfront week, as this blog once dubbed it “Bubble Bustin’ [insert day of week here.]” 

But with so many changes in television now – not to mention a pandemic that has sacked traditional upfronts two years running amid plunging ratings, there doesn’t seem to be the same kind of feel. Still, the networks plan to announce new shows and schedules next week, and a few days ago, they cleared out the deadwood: 

ABC. The network canceled five shows Friday: American Housewife, Call Your Mother, For Life, Mixed-ish, and Rebel. ABC also announced the end of black-ish after eight seasons with reports stating only six episodes plan to be produced, though the exact number couldn’t be specified. 

CBS: The network pulled the plug on The Unicorn and All Rise, the latter the subject of behind-the-scenes problems involving a showrunner creating and tolerating a racist and sexist atmosphere. CBS is also moving Clarice and Seal Team to streaming service Paramount +. The network did renew new comedies B Positive and The United States Of Al

NBC: The network announced its 2020-21 schedule but with just three new shows but with no new comedies on the fall schedule in an unprecedented move. The biggest surprise is the absence of This Is Us, which is returning midseason and calling it quits after six seasons. 

More information will be released in the coming days, but let’s face it…with viewers cutting the cord and moving to streaming in record numbers, the idea of upfronts and “fall schedules” is quite antiquated. 

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The CW expands to Saturday nights

A bold move on a low HUT-level night

In a surprising move, The CW announced Thursday it is expanding their prime-time lineup to Saturdays starting in October, giving the network its first full seven-day-a-week schedule in its history.

No decision on what programming would fill the first and second hours of prime-time, but The CW did announce it is airing the IHeartMedia Music Festival on Saturday, October 2 and Sunday, October 3. The 2021-22 lineup will be unveiled in a virtual upfront presentation May 25.

The CW already programs Saturday mornings, but it’s a three-hour time buy from Litton Entertainment for E/I fare.

“As The CW expands and thrives, so do our affiliate partners, and everyone sees the tremendous value and the clear excitement behind the opportunity to brand and identify as a seven night network on both a national and local level,” said Betty Elen Berlamino, who is The CW’s executive vice president of network distribution.

In order to expand to Saturdays, The CW had to get approval from its key affiliate partners, including Nexstar (who operates The CW’s two largest stations – WPIX New York and KTLA Los Angeles, respectively), Sinclair Broadcasting, and Weigel Broadcasting, owner of CW affiliate WCIU here in Chicago and WCWW in South Bend, Ind.

Currently, WCIU airs syndicated repeats of off-Fox adult animation sitcoms on Saturday nights as they have for the last decade or so, dating back to when they were an independent station. WCIU joined The CW in 2019 after the network had an unsuccessful three-year stint at Fox-owned WPWR-TV and beforehand, a ten-year run at WGN-TV.

The move is a bit bold given homes-using-television levels on Saturdays have been low for decades. Once the home to top-rated series such as All In The Family, Mary Tyler Moore, The Carol Burnett Show, and The Golden Girls, HUTs have declined steadily since the mid-1980s as the broadcast networks gave up programming the night some time ago, with the exception of college football on ABC and Fox, and an occasional SEC game on CBS. The low HUT levels were one of the reasons predecessors The WB and UPN passed on programming Saturday.

Even Fox had trouble programming Saturdays at launch in 1987; affiliates KMSP in Minneapolis and KPTV Portland, Ore. dropped the network entirely after feuding over the night’s lackluster programming (both returned to the fold in 2002.) Fox however, did find success later with Cops and America’s Most Wanted. While The WB and UPN never made it to that seven-night-a-week plateau, Fox did so in 1993 after six years in operation. Later in the year, they shocked the world by stealing away the NFC football package from CBS.

MyNetworkTV – formed in 2006 by stations left behind in the WB-UPN merger, briefly programed Saturdays with its telenovela recaps, but lasted only a few months as they quickly dropped out of the genre and handed the night back to stations. MyNetworkTV became a weeknight programming service in 2009, mainly airing off-network crime dramas.

In exchange for the affiliates agreeing to clear their schedules for Saturday network prime-time programming, The CW decided to end programming a weekday hour block, giving it back to stations to program locally. Since 2018, the hour (whose time slot varied by market) has been filled with reruns of Jerry Springer’s talk show, replacing Robert Irvine’s failed show. A separate rerun package airing in syndication from NBCUniversal is expected to continue (the series went out of production as Springer moved on to Judge Jerry.)

In 2018, The CW returned to Sunday evenings after a nine-year break.

While you can argue no one watches television on Saturdays, expanding to a full week in primetime gives The CW increased clout with advertisers and marketers, knowing they’re in business every night of the week, even though linear TV is steadily losing viewers to other options, including streaming. Sports pre-emptions aren’t much of a problem these days as most teams’ games air on regional sports channels although WPIX does air Yankees and Mets games on a few Saturday nights.

And while syndicators lose a spot on prime-time Saturdays, they gain a weekday hour, which is more beneficial for their business as they mostly produce game, court, and talk shows – fare stations generally don’t run on Saturday nights.


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Former WTMX co-host Melissa McGurren heads to US 99

Former WTMX personality to co-host morning show with former sports producer and podcaster

Audacy-owned country music station WUSN-FM – better known as US 99, announced Thursday they were hiring former WTMX personality Melissa McGurren as their new morning host, starting Monday. The news was first reported by Robert Feder.

Born in Portage, Ind. and residing in west suburban Riverside, McGurren is being paired with podcaster and Nashville native Austin Huff, whose last gig was producer for sports radio station WXOS in St. Louis. Together, they will host The Melissa and Austin Show weekday mornings from 6 to 9 a.m.

As you recall, McGurren was a longtime contributor and co-host on WTMX’s morning program, on Eric & Kathy and Eric In The Morning until her disappearance and subsequent departure last year under a cloud of circumstances. After her Hubbard bosses released a statement on her departure, McGurren took to social media to tell her side of the story, disputing their take.

This marks the third morning show in nearly five years at the country station. In 2016, the then-CBS Radio bosses transferred Stylz & Roman from sister station B96 (WBBM-FM) to morning drive at WUSN, lasting until 2019. They were replaced by Jason Pullman and Katie Bright, who lasted all of ten months. Interim morning host Drew Walker shifts to a late morning slot, from 9 a.m. to noon, replacing two hours of syndicated content.

In the latest total-day PPM numbers, WUSN finished thirteenth in total-day PPM numbers and fifteenth in mornings. The station hasn’t benefited much from the elimination of former rival WEBG-FM (now WCHI-FM/Rock 95.5) as one-half of their former morning duo made headlines recently for getting a tattoo of the station he worked for on his arm – and then getting fired by the same station days later.

A tip for McGuren and Huff – don’t get any US 99 tattoos.


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Weigel bounces in MeTV Plus to replace Bounce

Replaces Bounce as digital network heads to Ion’s WCPX 

It’s not just an expansion – it’s now a boom.

Yet another new multicast network was announced with the launch of MeTVPlus from Weigel Broadcasting, scheduled to debut May 15.

As first reported by Robert Feder Monday, MeTV Plus features off-network dramas and sitcoms that hasn’t aired on MeTV in years, including the original versions of Mission: Impossible and Hawaii Five-O, and some new titles including Vega$, the 1978-81 drama featuring Robert Urich and Phyllis Davis.

MeTV Plus is also planning to run MeTV’s successful Toon In With Me at 11 p.m. weeknights, for those who are not able to watch every morning at 6 a.m. where it usually airs.

The new channel replaces Bounce, who is moving to a digital tier of Ion Media’s WCPX-TV.  MeTV Plus is being slotted on over-the-air 26.5 and channel positions on Comcast, Mediacom, RCN, Spectrum, and Wow, positions Bounce currently occupies (MeTV is available on Dish and DirecTV, but it’s carrying the signal of low-power WWWE-CA, as both typically don’t carry digital subchannels.) Unless WCPX can secure cable carriage, Bounce would be off these systems entirely.

The change was expected as Ion parent Scripps is moving Katz’s multicast networks to channels it owns in order to reduce distribution costs as this was the main purpose of acquiring Ion last year for $2.65 billion. WCIU was a charter member of Bounce, who launched in 2011.

This isn’t the first time Weigel has launched a companion channel to MeTV. In 2008, Weigel launched a local spin-off channel called MeToo (over WMEU-CA), featuring off-network programming and briefly split the channels between dramas and comedies until MeTV went national in 2010. After losing the rights to several programming libraries, MeToo shuttered in 2014 when it became an affiliate of Heroes & Icons, an action-drama digital network Weigel launched.

The decision to brand the channel MeTV Plus and not MeToo is very obvious since the name has a completely different meaning now than it did in 2008.

Like the original national launch of MeTV, Me TV Plus is operating only in Chicago and in another market (Phoenix) for now. Weigel plans to add MeTV Plus to the digital tier of its owned stations in Milwaukee, St. Louis, and South Bend, among others in the months to come.

MeTV Plus is the latest in a flood of new digital network launches in the last year. Among those announced or have already launched include Fave TV (CBS); The Grio.TV (Allen Media Group); Defy (Scripps); TrueReal (Scripps, formerly Doozy); Twist (Tegna); and just last week Rewind TV (Nexstar.) Like MeTV Plus in some cases, these new multicast networks are replacing those on stations who lost a Katz/Scripps network to their local Ion affiliate.

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