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KNBC lowers the boom as anchors shuffle

Shocknek, Vara ankle as station looks to cut costs

As part of a major revamp of the on-air lineup on NBC’s Los Angeles O&O KNBC, the co-anchors of the station’s local morning show “Today in L.A.,” traditionally the time period ratings leader, are out.

Kent Shocknek, who has anchored the 5-7 a.m. show since it debuted in 1986, and Kathy Vara, who joined Shockneck as an anchor seven years ago, will be exiting the station in March.

Anchors Kelly Mack and David Cruz will replace them on the ayem shift, and Mack and Cruz also will anchor the 11 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. newscasts for the station.

While Cruz already anchored the 11 a.m. newscast alongside reporter/anchor Ana Garcia, Garcia will segue to reporter-only duties, where she’s been covering the California energy crisis.

Rival doubts

Some rival local TV execs questioned the move. “The first rule in a new job is you take six months to watch,” one exec said. “That’s the number one morning show they’re changing around.”

“Traditionally, what local TV viewers don’t like is change,” another exec added.

Paula Madison, NBC’s veepee of diversity, who joined KNBC as prexy/GM in November, said the changes are “overwhelmingly motivated by having anchors anchor more than one newscast” for the station.

The changes, which also affect several other members of the KNBC newsteam, also have to do with the company-wide mandate recently set forth by NBC chairman Bob Wright for all departments to cut costs by 5%-10%.

“Certainly what you are seeing is a part of that,” Madison said. “And it’s unusual not to have anchors reporting on multiple newscasts.”

Some local insiders also interpreted the moves as attempts by Madison to enhance the ethnic diversity of the station’s on-air lineup.

Indeed, Madison ruffled a few Peacock feathers — but also won praise — for being aggressive in incorporating diversity on newscasts at WNBC in Gotham, where she was the news director before moving West.

However, Madison said that that’s not necessarily what happened here, pointing to the morning swap, where the ethnic balance of the newscast will remain unchanged.

“I can’t honestly say increasing diversity (was the goal); what I can say is this was a process,” she said. “Nancy (Bauer Gonzales, KNBC’s VP/news director) and I looked at our anchor lineup, watched the broadcast, and frankly I am very much impressed with David Cruz’s relationship with the audience, his outreach to the community. If anything, our anchors are going to be seen more in our community and that’s really what I wanted.”

The news revamp incorporates a new beat system among reporters and in-studio “Newsmaker” interviews, which, contrary to outside perception, Madison said don’t save pennies.

New lineup

Among the changes to the KNBC reporter-anchor lineup are the following:

  • Michelle Ruiz, who currently anchors at 4 p.m., will join Chuck Henry at 6 p.m., replacing Mack, whose duties will be the early ayem and 11 a.m. shift;

  • Anchor/reporter Tracie Savage will be leaving the station in March, and reporter Joe Rico has already ankled. Both had been working without contracts;

  • Longtime staff pilot Bob Pettee, who sources indicate is the highest-paid helicopter reporter in Los Angeles, is also leaving the station when his contract expires in September;

  • Paul Johnson, currently a traffic reporter in the mornings and weekend weathercaster, will continue as traffic reporter. He is, however, likely to move off weather duty, as the station is seeking a meteorologist to do weather who also is qualified to do special reporting on earth science subjects. Johnson does not have meteorologist credentials.

Paul Moyer and Colleen Williams will continue to anchor the weekday news at 5 p.m. and 11 p.m.

Nerissa Witherspoon is joining the station from WDJT Milwaukee to anchor the weekend versions of “Today in L.A.” with Jim Giggans, while Furnell Chatman and Diane Diaz will continue to anchor the afternoon and 11 p.m. editions.

Rebecca Nieto has been named senior news producer for Community Coverage.

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