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Tuesday, August 18, 2009

CBS To The Rescue

We were incredulous. Sure, we’d heard the rumors that big bad CBS was going to buy our low-rated, signal-challenged independent TV station, but get real! They’d backed a winner in WTVJ Channel 4 for the past four decades, but now NBC was buying Channel 4, changing everything. We’d all speculated on what could happen if we were actually taken over by the Columbia Broadcasting System, but few of us really believed it would happen. But it did! The announcement came down on 8-8-88. It may have appeared 8’s were wild that day, but for us, everything was coming up 6’s. The takeover would become official come the new year. The ant that thought he could move a rubber tree plant finally had more than just high hopes, as the new owners planned to spend money, make improvements, and do anything they could to justify their investment. Bring it on, we said. Make us a contender!

Who at Channel 6 wasn’t affected by the change? For some, it was time to move up. For others it meant moving out, as the network boys brought in lots of new blood. For me it meant a move to the new special projects unit, and a chance to produce specials, series, and what have you. Anything besides the newscast grind (although I still had to produce the Saturday and Sunday newscasts.) I had the “pleasure” of producing the first Saturday 6PM show in Channel 6’s history. Unfortunately it followed basketball, and the game ran long, which meant… Channel 6’s first accordion show! That’s when the show has to be sliced, diced, then sliced-and-diced some more (depending on how little time was left between the end of the game and the start of network news at 6:30 sharp). Just one of the fun new things we had to get used to. The change meant more newscasts, expanded coverage, and much higher expectations – all good things, especially when you consider what a busy first month it was: Overtown civil disturbances. Miami’s first Super Bowl in ten years. Ted Bundy’s execution. An influx of Nicaraguan refugees, enough to fill Bobby Maduro Stadium to capacity. The first George Bush’s inauguration. Whew, we were busy. But help was on the way. We had already stolen Al Sunshine away from WTVJ, and soon some shiny new anchors would join the team. By April, J.D. Roberts (now Fox’s John Roberts) was brought in from Canada to anchor the news with Barbara Sloan (sending Jim Dyer to the weekends). Giselle Fernandez joined the team the following month, followed a little while later by John Hambrick, who had been WTVJ’s star anchorman. The new anchors raised the bar even higher, and so did the new management team.

CBS brought in Jay Newman, who presented a blueprint that would be hard to follow – but we sure tried. Newman mandated that anchor tags follow every reporter package. Producers were not allowed to change anchors between stories, without an on-camera tag as a transition. Every block of news had to have a light “ender”, to set the mood before the tease that followed. And all teases had to have at least two pieces of video in them. Lofty goals. By March the station had hired Ron Tindiglia as our consultant, to further refine our newscasts and make more mandates. Some of us called Tindiglia “The Guru”, because of the way he would hold middle management spellbound through the years. Tindiglia’s word was like the word of God around that newsroom. Thou shalt write to video at all times!

That first year under CBS brought rapid changes to our humble newsroom. I spent part of January training our two newest producers, Brian Jones and Zahir Sachedina. I was supposed to be part of the special projects unit, but didn’t get a sniff of a news series until April. Sachedina’s ulcer, and Jones being thrown into an in-depth series about the Overtown disturbances (“A Search For Answers”) kept me tied to the producer’s desk for several extra weeks. During this time I became close friends with one of our new associate producers, Marty Hames. It was then that I learned that when it came to our new owners, there was way more than meets the eye.

Hames, it turns out, wasn’t just an A.P., and she wasn’t hired by our Miami management team like the rest of us writer/producer types. She was personally placed at our station by CBS honcho Eric Ober. By the time she was introduced to us, her ticket to stardom had already been punched. Unbeknownst to us, she was here to learn the ropes of writing, and the ins and outs of news, before being placed in an anchor’s position somewhere in the CBS empire. (There was even talk about renaming her Rosario Velasco, to capitalize on her mother’s Latin heritage.) It turns out there were other secret apprentices. Our new anchor hires were all seen as future stars, and Miami was pretty much just a stop along the way. Hey South Florida, don’t get too used to these folks! The anchor-as-celebrity was already germinating on our airwaves, and the old guard – the Jim Dyers – was being pushed aside. That’s show biz, as they say. And show biz, it was. J.D. Roberts and Giselle Fernandez were terrific anchors and personalities, but I doubt if WCIX ranks high on their resumes. But they would give us the visibility we needed to make the transition from afterthought in the Miami market, to a future player.

Just the way the network planned it.

1 comment:

Paul Stueber said...

Nice to see the late Ron Tindiglia mentioned. He was the least "consultant-y" of all the consultants I ever worked with.

Many operate under the dictum, "When I want your opinion, I'll GIVE it to you"

Ron cared most about what YOU knew and how he could help you use it to do a better job AT your job.

We'd watch a newscast. If he hated something, it was, "Paulie, is that good?"

If he loved something, it was, "Paulie, that's GOOD, isn't it?"

He was genuinely interested in helping every single person in the newsroom reach his or her potential.

He passed away a dozen years ago, yet I hear his voice every day. A guru, indeed!