WPIX has dumped longtime 10 p.m. anchor Jack Cafferty, hiring WNBC weekend man Jim Watkins as his replacement.
Cafferty, a 20 year veteran of the Gotham market who has spent the past six years at WPIX, made his final appearance on the WB flagship station Monday evening. Watkins will ankle WNBC Oct. 18, making his WPIX bow opposite co-anchor Kaity Tong on Oct. 26.
The anchor shuffle comes as WPIX continues its campaign to displace longtime primetime news leader WNYW. While the WB outlet came very close to unseating the Fox-owned station earlier this year, WNYW’s 10 p.m. newscast — under the direction of a new general manager and news director — has resolidified its lead in recent months.
WPIX topper Paul Bissonette, however, said the hiring of Watkins was simply a matter of lucky timing for the station.
“It was a fortunate coincidence of Jim Watkins being available while, at the same time, our negotiations with Jack were making it fairly clear that our needs and his wouldn’t necessarily be coinciding,” he said. “It was a chance for us … to go after a guy we believe will be one of the stars of the future.”
While the timing of his exit comes earlier than expected, Watkins’ departure from WNBC is not a surprise. Last month, the anchor told Daily Variety he’d be ankling the station when his contract expired at the end of this year due to his unhappiness with his lack of advancement at WNBC.
Bissonette called Watkins “a multifaceted guy… (This) is going to give him the opportunity to bloom, more so than he had during the weekends … I think this is a chance for him to show the entire market … exactly what he can do.”
Watkins has been in the New York market since October 1995, when he joined WNBC as a reporter and substitute anchor. He later was upped to weekend anchor and was in line at one point to replace Matt Lauer as co-anchor of “Live at Five,” according to Gotham news insiders. That job eventually went to Dean Shepherd.