You might have seen the promo. “So Thrilling. So Explosive. So Brash. So Bold. So Fresh. So Fox.”
And now it must be said of the Fox News affiliate in Los Angeles: So diminished. So wretched. So . . . so.
Executives at Channel 11 announced the layoff of roughly one-quarter of the news staff a couple of weeks ago, a “Black Friday” bloodletting that had veteran reporter John Schwada regretting the loss of “a lot of good young people, with energy and dreams.”
No local media outlet, including this one, has been immune from a merciless recession and the revolutionary, Internet-driven realignment of advertising revenue. Virtually every L.A. newspaper, radio station and TV outlet has slashed employees.
But the impending losses at Fox 11 (the pink slips don’t take effect until September) hit a television sector already reeling from consolidations and earlier cutbacks. Yet, illogically, anorexic local TV operations remain the primary news source for a huge number of Angelenos (and, one survey showed, for roughly one in seven Americans).
KTTV and KCOP Channel 13 General Manager Kevin Hale told me that the station “will continue to do the good job we do right now, but in a different manner.” Another Fox rep earlier assured me, “There will be no on-air talent leaving.”
So rest easy, Los Angeles, we stand no chance of losing, for example, Jillian (Barberie) Reynolds, Fox 11’s “weather and lifestyle anchor,” the Medusa-haired, wailing siren who epitomizes the noxious celebrification of what we once called news.
Reynolds, 42, shimmers as Fox 11’s star of stars; known as much for her weight loss ads, reality ice-skating turn and pro football sideline commentary as for the frothy patter, fashion insights and viewer advice segments (just Thursday she fielded a query about interracial dating) she dispenses weekday mornings on Fox’s “Good Day LA.”
It’s long since been established that entertainment reporters will grasp at celebrity every bit as fiercely as the stars they cover. One might ask: Is L.A.'s signature tele-diva even capable of amazing us, after 14 years on the air?
Apparently so. At least that was my reaction, when I (belatedly) heard what Reynolds said on Howard Stern’s show on Sirius satellite radio. During her extended visit with the shock jock a few weeks back, Reynolds spared no detail professional or, in particular, sexual.
She came to the show ostensibly to promote a new reality program, “Househusbands of Hollywood,” in which she appears with her actor husband. She turned away very few of Stern’s questions about her erotic turn-ons and prattled about her extreme disdain for one of her KTTV co-hosts, Dorothy Lucey, whom she pegged as “very Christian and Bible-thumpy.”
Particular highlights among the lowlights: Reynolds’ description of a celebrity she had “done,” others she made out with, and her recollection of fantasy play with her husband, including the time he held a gun to the back of her head. (“I don’t even care that it’s loaded. I said, ‘Don’t even tell me. I don’t care.’ ”)
When I asked Fox GM Hale about all this, he assured me that Reynolds “adheres to our guidelines” for professional conduct when she appears on Channel 11 (from 7 to 10 a.m.).
But I’d say there appears to be a bit of a disconnect when it comes to her conduct outside the studio.
The TV hostess has said often over the years that she has been asked, and would like to shoot, a nude pictorial in Playboy magazine. Her darned bosses at Fox are just too stuffy to let it happen.
Saying he didn’t recall ever fielding such a request in his six years at the station, Hale nonetheless said he was certain a Playboy shoot “would be unacceptable within the Fox station group.”
Well then, I said to Hale, wouldn’t talking about bondage with the aplomb of a porn star at least press the edges of the Fox code of conduct?
The news boss paused for a long moment, then answered: “I have a policy that I don’t discuss our personnel matters here with outside people.”
Reynolds’ rep, meantime, said she had no comment.
Hale didn’t have a lot to say, either, about the 95 people slated to lose their jobs in September. He rejected the thoughts of a reporter I interviewed, who worried that the station would be less capable of stretching to multiple news scenes.
And the GM added that he “absolutely” rejected Schwada’s tart assessment about the reductions.
In a blog on Fox 11’s website, Schwada said last week that union rules had led the station to cut the young and promising and to keep old-timers, including a few who “can be seen several times a day playing solitaire in your edit bay, have boozy breath and are operating on autopilot.”
Other Fox 11 employees wonder quietly why management shouldn’t share more in the painful cuts. They also wondered whether any of the hefty-salaried “talent” would ever trim their paychecks to help save worker bees.
But no one I talked to thought there was even a remote chance that Reynolds would suffer at all.
The Canadian-born Reynolds remains firmly planted in a show that insiders said still delivers a healthy chunk of the coveted 18- to-49-year-old demographic. And she’s key to what fans see as “Good Day LA’s” gothic psychodynamic: the troublesome, unpredictable younger sibling who constantly tests boundaries laid out by veteran anchor/father figure Steve Edwards and entertainment anchor/bubbly older sister Lucey.
Reynolds’ sometimes hipper-than-thou affect comes through clearly when she buries her gaze in a magazine or a text message, as her colleagues deliver the news.
People who know Reynolds tell me that very little -- from the outrageous outbursts, to the pronounced disinterest -- is studied, or an act. “This is just the way she rolls, as she would say,” said one, who asked not to be named, in order to maintain a cordial relationship with Reynolds. “She is sincere.”
One could psychoanalyze the roots of her relentless exhibitionism. Reynolds has spoken before about growing up in foster care and suffering sexual abuse. She seemed to grant herself license in the Stern interview by acknowledging she is the “same idiot goofball” she has always been.
But, girl, you’re middle-aged and expecting a second child (as announced on the air this week).
You are working for a station where dedicated newspeople are soon to be out of work and suffering, mostly in silence.
Isn’t it time to grow up, just a little?