NEWSROOM OVERHAUL AT KCBS-TV
The new management team at KCBS-TV Channel 2, in an apparent attempt to improve the station’s sagging news ratings, is overhauling its newsroom roster and is set to hire former KNBC Channel 4 anchor Tritia Toyota.
The changes, according to one KCBS employee who asked to remain anonymous, are in keeping with what the source termed the station’s desire to feature “rock ‘n’ roll news.”
Though a spokeswoman for the CBS-owned station denied some of the hirings and firings Friday, other sources there have confirmed: that reporters Jim Mitchell and Sandra Eng and Joe (Greengrocer) Carcione did not have their contracts renewed, that consumer reporter Donna Deaner quit her job because of disputes with management and that Steve Bien, news administrator, has been reassigned and that a replacement, Joanne Corliss, has been hired for his position.
Mitchell, who specializes in investigative reporting, Deaner and Bien verified their change in status. Deaner, who has been at KCBS for three years, said, “I just believed it was time for a change.”
Eng could not be reached for comment.
Andi Sporkin, director of press information at KCBS, acknowledged that Carcione and Deaner had left the station but insisted that Mitchell and Eng were “still here.”
David Melbin, Carcione’s manager, said from San Francisco that the “Greengrocer” would peddle his produce on KABC-TV Channel 7 starting Monday.
He said Carcione, who he said has been on KCBS for six years, was dropped by the station because KCBS wanted “to structure news in a different way.” Sporkin, on the other hand, said Carcione “wanted more money than we wanted to pay.”
Toyota, who left KNBC March 1 when her contract expired, is expected to sign as an anchor with KCBS Monday. A clause in her KNBC contract prevented her from working for a competing station until June 1. She had been at KNBC for 13 years.
The changes at KCBS have come under the direction of a new management team. Frank Gardner, a former news director at WCBS-TV in New York, was named general manager 2 1/2 months ago. Erik Sorenson was named news director last October.
A station source said that they were reacting to “a very bad sales year.” The May Nielsen and Arbitron ratings placed KCBS’s afternoon news programs in third place behind KNBC and KABC.
The poor ratings, the source said, “have provided great economic pressure. No stories can be over two minutes. . . . Stories aren’t being judged on their importance, but on their audience appeal. If there is hard news, it has to be done very quickly. The emphasis is on short, flashy stories and lots of interviews.”
“There has been an exponential growth,” the source continued, “of reporters standing in front of empty buildings reporting on events that happened seven or eight hours ago.”
Another KCBS employee, who also asked to remain anonymous, said that the style of the station is increasingly “flash and trash. What we’re doing is much flashier . . . there’s a lot less substance. The 4:30 broadcast has become a mini ‘Entertainment Tonight.’ ”
For example, the source said, a KCBS interview with Roxanne Pulitzer, who appears nude in the June issue of Playboy, was an affront: “She’s interesting for about 10 seconds.” Pulitzer is the ex-wife of newspaper millionaire Peter Pulitzer. Their stormy and lurid divorce trial in 1982 created headlines across the nation.
The source added that a recent interview with Jay Bernstein, producer of “Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer,” starring Stacy Keach, led a KCBS news broadcast even though the piece was “long and boring.” At the time, Keach--whose agent is also Bernstein--had pleaded guilty to trying to smuggle a small quantity of cocaine into England.
KCBS commentator Bill Stout, who did not defend the newsworthiness of these two stories, did say that the station, under Gardner, was not “going soft.” “Quite the contrary,” Stout said. “In talking with him (Gardner) . . . everything he talks about is news. He objects to the quick hit, the froth. He wants solid and sensible news.”
Sporkin echoed Stout’s sentiments. “Frank has a news sense. . . . He’s a believer in a straightforward news broadcast. But he definitely feels there’s a place for specialists, to offer consumer reporting, to offer fruits and vegetables reporting.”
Gardner could not be reached for comment.
Toyota may not be the only KNBC star to relocate to KCBS: Rumor has it that she will be joined by weatherman Kevin O’Connell.