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Life After Local TV

Related: Dawn of the Post “Star Anchor” Era

Beau Baehman's workday is vastly different now than it was prior to leaving his sports anchor job at KMIZ Columbia, Mo., on Feb. 15. The director of marketing for Columbia Orthopedic Group, he spends his days meeting with referring doctors, issuing press releases and maintaining the group's Website. He punches out at 5 p.m.—a far cry from heading home after the late news almost every night of the week.

Unlike many anchors, Baehman, 36, was not pushed out by a cost-slashing parent company. But he does acknowledge the increasingly dark economic picture in local television, and how it might have affected negotiations as his existing contract came due. After 16 years in television, Baehman, like many, realized that there was a lot more to life than being a television anchor—especially with a baby boy at home.

“Hard times have hit the media business,” he says. “There are times I miss it, but I thought I'd miss it a lot more than I do. There is life outside of television.”

Indeed, while numerous anchors pound the pavement in search of their next TV job, many others—some forced out, some going on their own—are finding interesting careers away from the anchor desk. Many find that their recognizable faces are prized commodities for local businesses, or their area of expertise can be parlayed into lucrative projects, such as a major book deal or weather-related product.

Pink-slip barrage

It was just over a year ago that large numbers of anchors started seeing pink slips, beginning with the CBS-owned stations on March 31, 2008 (see cover story, "Dawn of the Post “Star Anchor” Era" ). Most notable was WBBM Chicago star Diann Burns; her agent and husband, Marc Watts, says she's “entertaining at least seven television projects,” but is contractually obligated to lay low.

Former WCBS New York reporter Andrew Kirtzman parted ways with the station last spring when the two parties failed to agree on a contract. His departure proved to be a blessing for Kirtzman, 47, who landed a deal in December to write a book on the Bernard Madoff scandal for a reported $300,000-plus.

Kirtzman, who previously authored Rudy Giuliani: Emperor of the City, says the Madoff project, taking up about 16 hours a day, is every bit as fulfilling and challenging as anything he did on television. “I'm living and breathing this book,” he says. “I'm loving every second of it—it feels like what I was put on Earth to do.”

Many departed anchors appreciate the relative freedom of life off the set. Former Bay News 9 (Tampa) anchor Jen Holloway shifted to the marketing department at parent Bright House Networks three months ago. Like many, she studied the sorry state of the television industry, imagined rising after dawn each day and pitched corporate on creating a position to make her the face of Bright House around town. Calling her role “cheerleader in the community,” Holloway's duties include riding shotgun on service calls, emceeing in-house functions and helping pitch potential clients on Bright House products like phone service. (In her free time, she's also hawking a piece of exercise equipment she created.)

It'll take time for Holloway, 38, to get back to her former pay grade. But she says she doesn't harbor a single regret—and certainly doesn't miss coiffing her 'do “the anchor way” each morning. “I felt I wanted to walk away from [on-air] loving it as much as I did when I got out of college,” she says. “I didn't want to burn out like so many people I know in the industry.”

Buzz was nice, but...

Granted, many former reporters miss aspects of their old lives—the camaraderie at the station, their celebrity in the market, the buzz of the newsroom. “I feel like I was born and raised in the newsroom,” Kirtzman says. “I loved everything about it—the look, the feel, the adrenaline, even the misery of it.”

But many seem to enjoy flexing new muscles in a fresh vocation. Former KHON Honolulu anchor Leslie Wilcox is president/CEO of PBS Hawaii; she took a pay cut to leave a No. 1 newscast for the opportunity to “create, acquire and present quality programming,” she says. Former KWGN Denver anchor Ernie Bjorkman is a certified veterinary technician. A year after getting laid off at WCCO Minneapolis, meteorologist Paul Douglas is growing the client list for his syndicated weather service, WeatherNation (B&C, June 23, 2008). The venture isn't profitable yet, but Douglas, 50, says it's moving in the right direction.

“There are still some incredible opportunities out there for broadcasters who want to reinvent themselves,” Douglas says, “and continue doing what they love to do.”

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Michael Malone
Michael Malone

Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.