Same Old, Same Old
This time it's Warner's turn again
WCBS's Stalwart Is Gone
By RICHARD SANDOMIR
New York Times
There is no appropriate time to fire an icon, as WCBS did Friday to Warner Wolf. For months, the station had hunted for his replacement, and it finally found one: Chris Wragge, a Houston sportscaster for an NBC affiliate. Wolf knew he would no longer be welcome at the station after Aug. 4, the expiration date of his contract. He was prepared to fulfill his deal as he was preparing his early sports report when he got a call at 3 p.m. Friday telling him to go to the office of Dianne Doctor, the news director.
According to Wolf, Doctor said, "We're exercising your option and taking you off the air immediately." He collected his belongings, handed in his ID cards and went home. It makes one wonder if the station kept Wolf to help its sweeps ratings, which were up, and dispatched him once the sweeps ended.
Wolf said Saturday that the departure was not his decision.
"I didn't get to say goodbye," he said. "So I have to say goodbye to my loyal viewers through you."
So when is the right time to dismiss someone who has been a star in the market since 1976? When on-air brain lock is commonplace? When sportscasters transpose the scores of games? When they give the wrong narration to highlights? None of that happened to Wolf, who seems as fixed in time as Chuck Scarborough, who has been a co-anchor for the WNBC news since the 1970's, or as Chris Berman, the face of ESPN for 25 years.
And this from the NY DAILY NEWS:
With Wolf, Ch.2
sends wrong signal
By Bob Raissman
Warner Wolf walked into the WCBS-TV studio yesterday and was told his services were no longer wanted.
"I went to work as usual expecting to do my sports on the 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. news," Wolf told me yesterday. "The news director called me into her office and said, 'We've exercised our option, we're taking you off the air - immediately.'"
No more going to the videotape. At least for now.
Wolf's Ch.2 contract was set to expire in August. The suits at the station couldn't wait to pull the plug. They yanked it on a Friday, under the cover of a big holiday weekend when they believed no one was around or paying attention.
Out of sight. Out of mind.
Not when it comes to Warner Wolf.
For over three decades, his presence was felt on WABC-TV and Ch. 2, where he spent nearly 20 years during two stints (1980-92, 1997-yesterday). Wolf pioneered the video tape shtick, creatively using highlights when ESPN was simply four letters in the alphabet.
And then were those lines, delivered with Wolf's distinct inflection and animation.
"Gimme a break!"
"And the winner of the 9th at Aqueduct is ..."
"And look, Mr. G. was at the game."
"Of course it's a fair ball, it hit the fair pole."
Yesterday, Wolf, 66, might have also used his old "And you could have turned your sets off there." Except Ch.2 boss Lew Leone beat him to it.
"I'm not retiring," Wolf said. "This was not my decision to leave Ch.2."
No, this decision was made by Ch. 2 suits who clearly did not appreciate Wolf. (As quickly as they fired him, they took his bio off the station's Web site.) They apparently also do not understand his strong connection with New York sports fans.
In February, rumors began swirling that Ch.2 brass was going to bring in a Tapehead from a station in Houston to replace Wolf. The suits did nothing to discourage those rumors. Clearly, they were hanging Wolf out to dry.
And yet, Wolf is the first to say he's in a tough business. It's a stupid one, too.
Perhaps the most memorable moment on Ch.2 news in many moons occurred April 8, Opening Day at Yankee Stadium. On that afternoon George Steinbrenner broke down and cried. The man asking the questions was Wolf.
I'm not suggesting Wolf's questions brought The Boss to tears. No, it was more about Steinbrenner being around a man who he has shared on-air moments with since he purchased the Yankees in 1973. There was a comfort level.
Not only did Wolf have solid relationships with older, established sports personalities, he was working hard at making new ones with the younger generation. See, in recent years, it wasn't just about the studio for Wolf.
He was everywhere. Growing older made him hustle more.
The suits who fired him yesterday did not appreciate this. They had no respect for what Wolf can deliver. This happened once before, under a different Ch.2 regime. They pushed Wolf aside for Brett Haber, a younger Tapehead. Haber didn't exactly take the city by storm.
WCBS-TV brought Wolf back in 1997 to anchor the 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. sportscasts. He did his thing with even more passion, precision and good humor. It was not enough.
The broadcast business is subjective and superficial.
So, maybe Leone did not like Wolf's style. Or maybe he is looking for a more youthful on-air presence. If the latter is the case, Ch.2 is making a big mistake. The local sportscasting landscape is littered with broken egos of young Tapeheads who did not click with fans.
Another thing to consider, and this goes for almost every local TV station in the market: news directors have relegated nightly sportscasts to below secondary status. Tapeheads are given little time to present their reports. Or exhibit a personality that could attract viewers on a nightly basis.
The powers that be have given up the sports territory to ESPN. There actually is a segment of fans who would rather watch a Tapehead with credibility than a cat who should be wearing clown makeup while delivering the scores and highlights.
Warner Wolf could make you laugh, too. With the right story, he could also make you cry.
Most of all, he transmitted a feeling. He came to work, for all these years, each and every day, making you feel that he loved the life.
"I want to thank my loyal viewers," Wolf said. "I look forward to being on the air as soon as I can."
The sooner the better.
Originally published on May 28, 2004