WFLD hires Phyills Schwartz as new news director

Carol Fowler bounced from station after three disastrous years

In a move that was pretty much expected, Fox-owned WFLD has fired news director Carol Fowler and replaced her with Phyills Schwartz, who held the same position for five years at ABC-owned WLS-TV.

The changeover is effective immediately.

Schwartz was at top rated WLS-TV for thirteen years with five of them as news director. Schwartz was later named President and General Manager of NBC-owned KNSD in San Diego, which generally placed second in the market. Schwartz was later promoted to executive vice-president of news, promotion, and original content for the NBC O&O stations. In 2009, she left NBC to run her own consulting firm.

Before she landed at WLS, Schwartz was assistant news director at WBBM-TV and two stints at WMAQ as a news producer and as vice president of news and creative services.

As for Carol Fowler – who became news director of the station in January 2009, her departure ends a three-year tenure that can be summed up as a disaster. Ratings for the stations’ newscasts in various dayparts declined significantly under her watch. Many were surprised when she was named news director of WFLD to begin with after a similarly disastrous run at WBBM – one where she was directly involved in a scandal with former WMAQ reporter Amy Jacobson, who was videotaped by WBBM coming out of suspected killer Craig Stebic’s house.

And what were Carol Fowler’s “accomplishments” since arriving at WFLD in 2009?

– Led off the March 11, 2011 newscast with the start of the since-resolved NFL lockout instead of the huge earthquake and subsequent tsunami that rocked Japan, which killed thousands.

– On a recent newscast, veteran anchor Robin Robinson blurted out that Santa Claus did not exist.

– A midday newscast in November was besieged with technical problems. 

– A revamp of the station’s Good Day Chicago morning show with new hosts Corey McPherrin and Anna Davlantes has been a ratings disaster – on some mornings, the station barely registers in the ratings and the 9 a.m. hour is often beaten by reruns of Perry Mason – on a digital subchannel.

In 2011, WFLD’s newscasts were ranked second only behind Allen Gregory (another Fox disaster) in T Dog Media’s Top 10 worst TV show list, the first time any newscast has ranked on any kind of a list on this site.

On the bright side, the station did win some awards during Fowler’s tenure including a Peabody, some Emmys and two from the Associated Press (winning an award from the AP is like winning one from TV Guide.)

WFLD released a statement acknowledging Fowler’s “achievements”: “Fox Chicago (WFLD) appreciates all of Carol’s hard work and dedication during her time with the station” and was leaving “to pursue other opportunities” (we all know this is a bunch of bunk given Fowler’s contract was up and she wasn’t well liked there. This is nothing but “spin” from the PR department – something Fox knows a lot about…)

Yours truly wrote about the station’s woeful newscasts and the overall lackluster performance of the station in a Think Tank last March titled Fox News Chicago: Major Fail.

While Schwartz is indeed an upgrade over her worthless predecessor, she will have her work cut out for her trying to restore WFLD’s news department back to credibility (if it had any to begin with.) WFLD’s newscasts still trails its competitors in basically all dayparts, and the news operation is the weakest in the entire Fox O&O chain (also keep in mind not all WLS alumni are miracle workers: ask anyone about Joe Ahern’s stint at The Church Of Tisch (especially any employee who had to pay for his lunch.)

As for the future career prospects of Carol Fowler, don’t worry about her – she’ll likely land another position in a failing atmosphere.

I hear FM News 101.1 is hiring. And it that doesn’t work out, she can always land a assistant managerial position at the nearest Arby’s.

(Updated at 11:35 pm on 2012-01-06 – added links, photo, and made other corrections. Originally posted as a rough draft.)