In one swift move, recently appointed KABC-TV general manager Alan Nesbitt Monday axed news director Roger Bell and program director Vic Heman.
The bloodletting, already dubbed Black Monday on the Prospect Avenue lot, had been anticipated since former KABC G.M. Terry Crofoot exited in September under pressure from the Alphabet web O&O’s president Larry Pollock.
Crofoot put the two execs, both long-time station veterans who will likely receive huge pay-outs, into their posts shortly after hemoved into the general manager’s suite in November 1988.
When Nesbitt arrived this past November, it was assumed that he would move quickly to put his own senior management team in place.
In addition to Bell and Heman, Crofoot appointee Rick Swanson, KABC creative services director, has ankled his post. He will start next week as marketing and program director for NBC affil KRON-TV in San Francisco.
As for replacements, Dave Davis, news director of the astronomically rated ABC-owned WPVI in Philadelphia, is considered the favorite to take over.
Nesbitt, who formerly served as G.M. of WPVI and ABC O&O WTVD in Raleigh/Durham, N.C., hired Davis as news director in both of those markets.
But Davis, whose association with Nesbitt began in 1986 when he moved to WTVD from his exec producer slot at KTRK in Houston, is a rising star within Capital Cities/ABC and may be headed for another post.
Some doubt Davis would want to leave a fairly comfortable post in Philadelphia for L.A., a highly competitive arena with more big stations than any other market. Also, all seven primary broadcasters here have major news operations.
Although KABC fought its way back to the top under Crofoot and Bell, it has seen its news ratings slip in recent books as second-place KNBC-TV gained ground.
Nesbitt, who wouldn’t comment on his reasons for firing Bell and Heman, said the field of candidates for all of the newly vacant open posts is “wide open.”
KABC, seeking to avoid a prolonged and costly license challenge fight, signed a precedent-setting hiring agreement with the National Hispanic Media Coalition in early November.
That pact includes a provision requiring KABC to hire a Hispanic department head within five years. Nesbitt emphasized that minorities would be considered for all the open posts.
At least two Hispanics are believed to be in the running: assistant news director Becky Martinez, currently serving as acting news director, and assistant program director Connie Borge.
There is speculation that Nesbitt may be considering WPVI promotion head William Burton to fill the creative services director post.
The timing of the dismissals struck some as odd, since KABC will be left without three key execs through the May sweeps.
May is traditionally the toughest book for the station, which skews younger than its rivals and has many of its viewers outdoors with the longer daylight hours.
Nesbitt declined to elaborate on his reasons for the dismissals, but said he hopes to expedite the search for their replacements. He said it will likely take several weeks to find a news director.
‘Stunned and shocked’
During a Monday meeting to inform staffers about the departure of Bell and Heman, sources said Nesbitt indicated that no more managers reporting directly to him would be let go. But that failed to calm nerves.
“People are stunned and shocked,” said a KABC news staffer. “People had thought Roger weathered the storm. He certainly had been here long enough and tried hard enough to get through the May book.”
Sources said Bell, who’d been at the station since 1976 (except for an ’87-88 stint as news director of CBS affil KMGH in Denver), learned of his fate on his first day back from vacation.
Both he and 14-year vet Heman were told to be off the lot by noon, but a station insider said the partings were “amicable under the circumstances.” The pair would be allowed back to retrieve their belongings and say goodbye to colleagues, sources said.
The atmosphere in the KABC newsroom is “kind of grim,” said another staffer. “Even people who didn’t really like (Bell) were surprised by the coldness of it all.”
On-the-air and behind-the-scenes staffers brought in by Crofoot and Bell are worried about their future at the station.
“Everyone is looking around and wondering if they’re next,” a source said. “Remember, we’re No. 1 here. Imagine if we were No. 2 or 3.”
Several positions in the news department, including a weekend anchor, have yet to be filled by the new management regime — tasks that will apparently be left for the next news director.
One longtime KABC insider said, “Things like this didn’t happen” under former general managers who came from the ABC side of the company.
“Now they’re doing it the CapCities way,” the source said.