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A Real Disconnect

When CBS made its recent newsroom cuts at local stations around the country, I really didn't think twice about it. It seemed rational given the challenges at the network and through the TV business.

Then someone I grew up watching—and later in life got to interact with professionally—got the sack. Suddenly the cuts hit closer to home, and got me thinking.

There seems to be growing doubt about the value of the “big-salaried local newsperson.” But with home-market news, weather, traffic and sports information becoming more of a commodity all the time, hanging onto the people viewers actually tune in to see makes sense.

Whether it's a locally famous weather guy getting canned in a cost-cutting move, or NBC jettisoning Jay Leno from the money-printing Tonight Show, I'm just not sure now is the time to be wagering on timeslot loyalty. Audiences are more fickle than ever and if you have that rare talent-viewer relationship, I'd invest in hanging onto it.

To be honest, I don't even watch much local news here in Los Angeles—except for checking in on Paul Magers on KCBS-2.

That's because about 2,000 years ago my career began with a sports department internship back home at KARE-11 (NBC) in Minneapolis; at the time, Magers was the station's lead news anchor.

My first day on that job, Magers jokingly did something nasty to the sports department that I won't repeat. So my little revenge now is seeing him try to keep a straight face as he introduces the nightly Britney Spears Report as the second story in the rundown.

OK—the L.A. newscasts don't really have a Britney Spears Report…not every night, anyway. Plus, Magers makes as much per newscast as I do in 18 months, so he wins. But the point is, thanks to this viewer connection, I still tune in.

Something else memorable happened on my first day at KARE-11. I was logging a hockey game (watching it and picking out highlights) and one team suddenly scored a spectacular goal.

Being a 19-year sports fan—but a 19-minute news veteran—I did what came naturally, and still does to this day: I screamed at the top of my lungs like an idiot.

At that very moment, someone was walking by with a huge stack of tapes. The poor guy jumped out of his socks and tapes went flying.

That guy was the very well-known Minnesota weatherman, Paul Douglas. Atta way to start out my television career.

A couple of years ago I was making an appearance on WCCO Radio in Minneapolis. During a break in my 60-minute attempt to put an entire major market to sleep, Douglas came on to do the weather, as he had since jumping to WCCO-TV, the CBS affiliate.

I welcomed the opportunity to retell the story on-air and apologize after all these years. Douglas was into it and really funny. It turned out to be a fun bit between a big local celeb and a nobody like me.

As I write this today, only one of us still has his full-time job. And shockingly, it is the nobody: Douglas was let go as part of the CBS cuts.

I'm not saying the entire WCCO viewership is going to revolt with their remote controls (though in one local newspaper online poll, more than 72% said they'd try a new station now because of Douglas' ousting). And yes, I am biased because of my experiences with Douglas, but that's the point. So are viewers. Whether you know your favorite TV stars personally or not, it often feels like you do, and that's the connection every programmer craves.

It's getting harder to lure people to watch television at all, much less your station or network. So to throw away those relationships in this day and age—whether a local weatherman or a national late-night talk show host—feels like the wrong play.

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