Watkins to leave WNBC over management rift

Anchor claims airtime 'paradox'

WNBC weekend anchor Jim Watkins will ankle the station when his contract expires at the end of the year.

Watkins, who has been with the Peacock’s Gotham flagship for three years, said he’s leaving because of differences with station management over his on-air role. Specifically, he says that while ratings for the weekend newscasts he anchors have been increasing, he’s been getting “less and less airtime” in the past two years.

“It’s time to end this paradox,” Watkins told Daily Variety. “It would be foolish to continue this situation.”

While Watkins declined to get into personality specifics, he left little doubt that station manager/VP Dennis Swanson and news director Paula Walker — who assumed their current positions roughly two years ago — did not share previous WNBC management’s vision of Watkins’ future at the station. “The arc of my career changed radically two years ago,” he said.

Indeed, when Watkins first joined WNBC, there was rampant speculation that he would eventually replace Matt Lauer on the station’s 5 p.m. newscasts once Lauer went to NBC’s “Today” show full time. But when Lauer left, Watkins didn’t get the promotion; instead, the job went to Dean Shepherd.

Speculation that Watkins would be exiting WNBC began to surface a few months ago after industry insiders reported that Watkins was talking to other Gotham outlets about job opportunities. Watkins said he’s still mulling his next career move, but that his “choices are mounting.”

Watkins said he has enjoyed his tenure at WNBC. “I love working with the people there. They’ve treated me like a king, from Katie Couric to the custodians,” he said, adding that his experience at WNBC “has been 95 percent positive.”

“This is all about the people who run the station,” Watkins explained. “It’s the will of two people vs. 200.”

A WNBC spokeswoman said Watkins remains an anchor and reporter at the station, but added that if Watkins indeed plans to leave, “We wish him all the best.”

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