Station Break

All news is local. Contact Dan Trigoboff at (301) 260-0923, e-mail or fax (413) 254-4133.

Piette Tops WCCO-TV

Minneapolis— Dennis Swanson's talent search shook up Twin Cities television last week as the Viacom Stations Group Executive VP replaced WCCO-TV General Manager Rene LaSpina with KSTP-TV-KSTC(TV) boss Ed Piette.

LaSpina's tenure at the station had been stormy. Hired in 2002 after running the immensely successful WNEP(TV) Wilkes-Barre–Scranton, Pa., she and her news director, Maria Reitan, generated some negative feeling at the station—and protracted negative publicity locally—when popular Amelia Santaniello got the short end of an anchor shuffle following a maternity leave. Santaniello did sign a contract extension, however, for which she credited group-management efforts.

Station sources said complaints had made it to Swanson, and, for months, rumors circulated—mostly by unhappy station staffers—that LaSpina would be replaced. Although speculation on changes at the station abounds, particularly regarding news, Piette says he has made no decisions yet.

He says he had been approached about jobs before but what made it different this time was that it was in this market and that the rules of the game have been changed to favor the bigger companies even more. Piette praised his former bosses at Hubbard but believes smaller broadcasters "will eventually get swamped." After the FCC's rule changes in June, "it was a whole lot easier to say I was interested this time."

Hubbard President Stanley S. Hubbard said he was disappointed by the abrupt departure and by Piette's comments, which he said made the Hubbard company look "like we're behind the curve." Hubbard has expansion plans, he said, and Piette, as a key member of management, was aware of them. "We are not a takeover target. How does a private company become a takeover target?"

KFOR-TV Anchor Sues for Freedom From Noncompete

Oklahoma City— KFOR-TV anchor Tammy Payne has sued her station, hoping to be free of a noncompete clause in her contract in order to look for another job. Payne asserts that her claim of sexual harassment brought retaliation from News Director Mary Ann Eckstein. The New York Times-owned station had no comment and had not yet filed a response last week.

According to her attorneys, Payne complained that inappropriate remarks were directed toward her and that she filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission prior to filing a lawsuit.

Payne is currently in the third year of a three-year contract, earning $92,000 per year. Under the noncompete clause, she would have to pay the station damages were she to accept employment in the market within six months.

Ray vs. Ray

New York— WPIX(TV) last week boasted that Ray Romano fans love Raymond
even more in late night. On two nights last week, the station says, syndicated Everybody Loves Raymond
episodes beat "not only their late-night competition but also every regularly scheduled prime time program on New York TV, according to Nielsen Station Index (NSI) overnight household ratings." That includes, the station says, the prime time airing, albeit a summer rerun, of Raymond

The annual Major League Baseball All-Star Game did surpass Raymond's late-night numbers, however.

A Long Way From Punxsutawney, Pa.

Onetime Chicago resident Bill Murray joined WMAQ-TV meteorologist Andy Avalos for an impromptu weathercast on the NBC-owned station. Murray was in town for a charity golf outing. Avalos said he spotted Murray—who played a Punxsutawney, Pa., weatherman in the film Groundhog Day—in the studio, and "made eye contact. Then I knew he was going to do something." The comic actor "helped out" in providing temperatures and conditions for several Midwest areas. "We ended up going long," naturally, Avalos says. And although the weather info was no longer applicable, the spot ran again on later newscasts.