Almost two years after his television career appeared dead, Roger Hedgecock, a cat with a seemingly unlimited number of public lives, is back.
The newest chapter to the ex-San Diego mayor’s continuing saga began Monday with the official announcement, made during his KSDO-AM (1130) talk show, that he will play a major role in a new 4:30 p.m. newscast being developed by KNSD-TV (Channel 39). The program, scheduled to debut in March, will feature former KFMB-TV (Channel 8) anchorwoman Allison Ross as anchor, with Hedgecock in a separate studio conducting interviews and, possibly, hosting phone-in segments.
Hedgecock envisions that his role on the show will embrace many of the populist themes common in his popular morning radio talk forum.
“The challenge is to try to translate the public involvement we have achieved here in radio to television,” Hedgecock said.
Hedgecock’s first foray into television, a Phil Donahue-style talk show for KGTV (Channel 10), ended abruptly and bitterly in February, 1989, and appeared to spell the end of his television career.
In November, however, Hedgecock’s long legal problems stemming from his 1983 campaign for mayor came to an end when he reached a deal with the district attorney’s office. The deal came in the wake of a California Supreme Court decision that overturned 12 of the 13 felony convictions that drove Hedgecock from the mayor’s office in 1985 and leaves him with a clean criminal record.
The timing of the deal with Channel 39, six weeks after Hedgecock’s settlement, is “not a coincidence,” Channel 39 general manager Neil Derrough said. “During the later part of the year, we didn’t know how that was going to turn out. He’s a free and clear guy.”
With the Channel 39 deal, Hedgecock is once again on the rise, just five years after his political life crashed and burned.
“I have learned that everybody is on a roller coaster,” he said. “Mine just happens to have deeper valleys and higher highs than some.”
Many thought Hedgecock’s public career ended in December, 1985, when he stood outside a San Diego courtroom and announced his resignation from the mayor’s job, following his conviction on 13 felony counts stemming from allegations of illegal contributions to his 1983 campaign for mayor.
Yet, a few days after his abrupt departure from political life, Hedgecock, in his own words, “re-invented” himself. He became Roger the radio guy, the archetype talk-show host for KSDO-AM (1130).
With his high-visibility, opinionated style, Hedgecock looked like a sure bet to take the natural step into the big-money, high-profile world of television. The Channel 10 show was announced in December, 1988, during a live KSDO press conference, similar to Monday’s announcement, and garnered Hedgecock a wave of publicity.
But in February, 1989, the show was abruptly canceled after only one episode when Hedgecock and his representative, Mel Buxbaum, couldn’t resolve a contract dispute with the station. Hedgecock’s roller coaster went for a nose dive.
Bitter accusations flowed from both Hedgecock and the station after Hedgecock used his radio show to stir up resentment against the station’s decision to drop the show.
Fade to black TV career No. 1
Channel 39 executives were more than a little aware of the incident with Channel 10. A source at the station confirmed that the Channel 10 incident made the station extremely wary of entering into a deal with Hedgecock.
Hedgecock says he was “naive” about television when he entered the ill-fated Channel 10 experience.
“I thought we’d just turn on the camera and do a show,” Hedgecock said.
Hedgecock says the on-air KSDO discussion about Channel 10 was a “truthful analysis,” sparked by callers, not him. He stopped far short of apologizing for it.
“The show being canceled was a shock, not only to me but to my audience,” Hedgecock said. “They expressed themselves, and I said, heck, let the chips fall where the may.”
But those who actually listened to the broadcasts know Hedgecock did little to correct speculation that Channel 10 canceled the poorly reviewed show because it was too controversial. If anything, Hedgecock seemed to encourage viewers to complain, which incensed Channel 10 management.
Twenty-two months later, Hedgecock’s television career is being revived.
“From the conversations Roger and I have had, I think he’s probably learned a lot from the (Channel 10) experience,” Derrough said.
Hedgecock’s deal with Channel 39 is far different than what he had at Channel 10. At the latter, Hedgecock and Buxbaum attempted to maintain complete control of the product.
“It was like a one-station syndication deal,” Hedgecock said. “It was too complex, too strange.” At Channel 39, Hedgecock will be an employee, “integrated into a news format.”
Hedgecock’s selection is a natural choice for Channel 39, which is searching for ways to boost the ratings for its 5 p.m. newscast. The station has used Hedgecock as an analyst for election night coverage in the past, and the popularity of his morning radio show--not to mention his political background--gives him a tremendous amount of credibility.
“Dealing with personalities with his caliber that are intrusive and, to some degree, polarizing and in many ways high-profile, they have the ability to generate interest,” Derrough said.
Hedgecock hopes to transplant the lively atmosphere of his radio show, a forum fueled by calls from listeners, to the new show.
But exactly how the show will accomplish that goal hasn’t been worked out. Hedgecock will do interviews, but, beyond that, the format is unclear. Hedgecock would like to do phone-in segments, but he admits they often don’t work well on television. He also would like to do a “tele-poll,” similar to the regular phone-in surveys conducted by KSDO.
“We’re searching for ways to get the ordinary viewer back into the debate, into the process,” Hedgecock said. “I think (the show) will be an evolving process.”
On KSDO, Hedgecock has forged a reputation as an activist talk-show host, often helping organizers of certain causes. He has attracted heat and praise for fueling protests against San Diego Gas & Electric and the “Light Up the Border” campaign.
Channel 39 management and Hedgecock have already discussed the issue, and Hedgecock doubts he will take such a strident approach on television, although that doesn’t mean he will back off during his radio show.
“We’re not going to stay away from issues, but I’m not sure the broadcast should be used as a platform for Roger to organize events,” Derrough said.
There are no plans to have Hedgecock do commentaries in the style of Channel 10’s “Perspective” pieces, but that doesn’t mean he will be a neutral, objective moderator.
“When we have a debate, people will know where I stand,” Hedgecock said.
The talk-show host, who is entering the last year of a three-year deal with KSDO, has a guaranteed deal for one year with Channel 39, with two one-year options. Although no financial details were available, Hedgecock said, “frankly, the money is not that good.”
Derrough has already expressed the station’s hopes that the show can be taken to an hour, but there will be little pressure on it at first. It will replace a syndicated program, “Personalities,” which bombed in the latest ratings.
But the station is not taking it lightly. It will air opposite “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” a ratings monster on Channel 10. Planning has already started for the new show, and Hedgecock says they will probably produce several mock episodes, which will be watched by selected members of the public to help mold the show before it goes on the air.
“We don’t want to turn it into two people on a couch,” Derrough said. “If it gets a little raucous, that’s OK.”