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Ernie Anastos Pushes Positivity in Syndicated Weekend Series

Ernie Anastos
Ernie Anastos (Image credit: Ernie Anastos)

Iconic New York news anchor Ernie Anastos is taking an upbeat original syndicated show national, starting with stations owned by Gray Television.

Anastos, who anchored for WABC, WCBS and WNYW over four decades on TV, has developed Positively America With Ernie Anastos, a half-hour weekend program set to have its debut Sept. 10.

Pharmaceutical company Regeneron has signed on as the show’s charter advertiser.

The show is designed to give viewers information that could help improve their lives and inspire them through interviews with experts and celebrities. Anastos will also ask his familiar “man on the street” questions and use inspirational quotes to explain the show’s philosophy.

“It’s an extension of what I’ve done while anchoring the news,” Anastos told Broadcasting+Cable. “I’m just the kind of person who likes to look for the positive side of whatever's going on, even when it’s difficult.”

Given that this is a particularly stressful time for many people, with the news filled with pandemics, school shootings and wars, a show like this is needed more than ever. Anastos said COVID strengthened his sense of purpose and drove him to put something on the air to balance all the negativity. “We’ve got such an amazing problem right now in our country,“ Anastos said. ”I don’t have to tell you, we need positivity.

“People are not watching, particularly late at night. They’re worried about tuning in and watching something that’s going to scare them,” he said, acknowledging he sometimes contributed to that anxiety. “I went on the air for so many years and said, ‘good evening,’ and then proceeded to tell them why it’s not.”

Anastos said that on his newscasts at Fox flagship WNYW, after delivering the news of the day in the early blocks, he was able to provide the kind of uplifting content he wanted to bring to viewers. 

His production company, Ernie Anastos World Television Inc., also periodically produced Positively Ernie specials that ran on WNYW.

Anastos stopped appearing on WNYW in June 2020 and took a course at Harvard Business School. After completing the program, he decided to pursue this project and got together with Todd Pettengill, a longtime radio host in New York. The new show is being produced in association with Pettengill Productions, with Pettengill as executive producer.

Gray became involved through Chuck Armstrong. Armstrong produced a local talent show called Star of the Day in Boston and Anastos brought it to New York as New York Star Of The Day. Armstrong also bought the rights to the classic kids show Wonderama. He revived it and it’s now airing on about 40 Gray stations. 

Armstrong started his career at Katz Television, where Gregory Conklin, VP, corporate programming at Gray TV, worked for 16 years. Armstrong asked Conklin to meet Anastos.

“I lived in New York my whole life, so I certainly know who Ernie is. When you get a chance to talk to somebody like that, it’s kind of cool,” Conklin said.

Anastos pitched the show to Conklin. “I think it’s exactly what we need right now. With the way the world is now, I’ll take anything that’s positive,” Conklin said. “I’ve been doing programming for a long time. My whole adage has always been ‘just give me something different.”

Gray has stations in 113 markets. Positively America won’t be on all of them, but Conklin said it will be on in about 50 Gray markets, including most of its biggest —Atlanta, Portland and Kansas City — which is a good start for a new show.

But between network programming and programs that Gray produces itself, on many stations there’s just no room for a new series, especially at a time when many stations are adding additional news hours to their schedules, Conklin said.

Conklin sees the show as a good match for weekend morning local newscasts and weekend network newscasts. He might also pair it with The Broadway Show in some markets, to give the stations “an hour of positive energy,” he said. Most of what runs on most TV stations on the weekends are syndicated dramas that have run forever. Conklin said he had no problem giving Anastos’s new show a shot. “I’d rather try something new and positive than sit there and watch the 18th episode of Forensic Files,” he said. “Give me something new and bright. I don’t want to watch Intervention or anything like that. I don’t like that dark stuff on our stations.” 

Is anyone going to watch it? “We don’t know. With weekend shows it’s hard to say,” Conklin said. “I’m hoping it takes off and does well.”

Anastos recently showed Conklin the show’s open. “It looks really nice,” he said. “Knowing what he’s done in the past, this should be a good show.”

Anastos is looking to get the show on the air in markets where Gray doesn’t own a station. Talks are going on about airing the show in New York, he said. 

As a sponsor, Regeneron will get open and closing billboards. Anastos wants commercials on the show to follow more of a PBS model, so he’s pitching foundations and other public-spirited organizations. He’s also talking to rep firms that can help sell spots on the show.

Anastos plans to start taping episodes in August and he said he’s got about 50 guests already booked for the show. The list includes Marie Osmond, Bob Costas, Extra TV host Jennifer Lahmers, filmmaker Ken Burns, HGTV host Alison Victoria, former Mets manager Bobby Valentine, TV host Joan Lunden, celebrity chef Lidia Bastianich and publisher Steve Forbes.

The guests will appear remotely. “The technology is there. The production is terrific. It’s going to be a split screen with some very nice effects,” he said. “The set looks great, the colors are beautiful and I think the format is set up in a way that will be very personal in the way I talk.”

When an interview ends, key takeaways will appear as bullet points on the screen so viewers can follow up and take advantage of what they just heard.

Anastos is hoping the stations that carry the show will promote it. He’s also thinking about having uplifting stories from those stations as part of Positively America, so they can reach a national audience.

Anastos will also be appearing on segments on Wonderama, talking to kids and helping to build viewer awareness.

Early in his career, one of Anastos’s inspirations and mentors was legendary CBS Evening News anchor Walter Cronkite. Anastos once asked Cronkite how he decided which story led the newscast and Cronkite said he thinks about how many people’s lives a story touches.

“I think what we’re doing touches everyone,” Anastos said. ■

Jon has been business editor of Broadcasting+Cable since 2010. He focuses on revenue-generating activities, including advertising and distribution, as well as executive intrigue and merger and acquisition activity. Just about any story is fair game, if a dollar sign can make its way into the article. Before B+C, Jon covered the industry for TVWeek, Cable World, Electronic Media, Advertising Age and The New York Post. A native New Yorker, Jon is hiding in plain sight in the suburbs of Chicago.