Weighing anchors

Pricey talent dropped in CBS cost cuts

Viewers may notice something different about their local news picture in coming months. A little less personality, perhaps.

In the most visible sign yet that local TV is feeling the pinch, CBS O&Os have bid farewell to some of their marquee names.

The cuts, disclosed last week, didn’t spare familiar personalities, whatever their tenure and prominence.

In Chicago, $2 million anchor Diann Burns is out at WBBM-TV. In Los Angeles, market vets Harold Greene and Ann Martin were let go from the Eye’s KCBS/KCAL duopoly. In Boston, at least 30 positions were eliminated, including legendary sports anchor Bob Lobel.

All told, CBS easily saved at least $10 million — and probably a lot more — by excising those hefty contracts.

And it’s no big surprise: With parent CBS’ revenues down and its stock price taking a beating, $1 million anchor salaries don’t make much sense — particularly when they don’t yield results.

In Chicago, Burns was lured from rival ABC-owned WLS to push perennial also-ran WBBM out of third place; but that didn’t happen. In L.A., Martin and Greene were hired at different points to anchor the key 11 p.m. newscast, but in recent years had been pushed to the less-visible 4 and 6 p.m. broadcasts.

Now, it’s unclear where anchors like Burns, Martin or Greene might land. With the latest round of cuts, the era of the high-priced, star local anchor appears to be on the wane.

Insiders note the age of several of the anchors who were let go, pointing out that they’re being replaced by younger, less-experienced staffers with much smaller salaries.

“It’s all about the bottom line,” says one agent. “It’s sad for the business.”

Eye execs say they’re still investing in local operations, but in different ways: KCBS/KCAL moved into new, technologically advanced studios just last year; the company also opened up its wallet to bring anchor Paul Magers to L.A., where he’s helped inject ratings life into the previously moribund KCBS.

Up until now, much of the belt-tightening at stations have been behind the scenes: In some cases, such as the KCBS/KCAL, KNBC/KVEA/KWHY and KTTV/KCOP duopolies in Los Angeles, merged operations have eliminated duplication.

On the national level, cuts continue at the network news operations — which are no strangers to downsizing. The latest round began in 2006 with NBC’s across-the-board cuts; since then, ABC News has announced plans to eliminate some jobs, and CBS News is doing the same.

Of course, all these layoffs come during a grim time for traditional media in general, as newspapers dash to plug this year’s revenue collapse and radio station groups like Clear Channel and Citadel Broadcasting cut major personalities as part of their own trims.

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