By John Maynard
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 17, 2006
George Michael, the dean of local sports broadcasters, who's been with WRC (Channel 4) since 1980, will leave the sports anchor desk early next year, the station announced yesterday.
Michael said he rejected a new contract after he learned that some of his staff members would be laid off as part of larger moves by parent company NBC Universal.
"NBC made me an extremely, extremely beyond-my-wildest-dreams offer to stay and sign a new deal," Michael, 67, said by phone yesterday. But he added: "If I have to lay somebody off . . . I have to take the first bullet. It's that simple."
Michael's last day as a daily anchor will be March 1, although he will continue to host weekend sports panel shows. "George Michael Sports Machine," which went into national syndication in 1984, will go off the air in March.
One source at the station was not surprised by Michael's decision. "He has a very loyal team and he's not going to put up with any short-circuiting of his staff," said the source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he still works for WRC.
Last month, NBC Universal announced that 700 jobs would be cut nationally and $750 million trimmed from its budget. Last week the network news division laid off about 30 employees, including about 15 "Dateline" staffers, some of whom worked in Washington.
At WRC, more than half of the sports staff's 20 members are being let go, including senior producer Joe Schreiber, who's been with the station for 23 years. Michael, who's worked with Schreiber at Super Bowls, World Series and NBA Finals, called him "the best sports producer in America. He's not a good producer -- he's the best."
Schreiber said he understands the layoffs because "it's the business." But, he said: "The regretful thing is that we were still doing extremely well in the ratings."
WRC's general manager, Michael Jack, would not comment yesterday because station policy is not to discuss personnel matters. Vickie Burns, the station's vice president of news, did not return a phone call.
The announcement comes less than a month after it was reported that technology reporter I.J. Hudson, a 21-year veteran of the station, would leave at the end of the year. Over the summer, longtime sports anchor Wally Bruckner also announced his departure from WRC.
In what he calls a unique deal with the station, Michael will continue to host the panel shows "Redskins Report" (with former Redskins Sonny Jurgensen and John Riggins and The Washington Post's Michael Wilbon) and "Full Court Press" (which features local journalists). Michael also will continue his live Monday interviews with the Redskins' coaching staff.
"We are thrilled that he will remain a part of the WRC-TV family and continue to host many of our high-profile sports shows," Burns said in a statement.
Michael's departure from the desk will mark the breakup of Washington's longest-serving and often top-rated news team; Michael, Jim Vance, Doreen Gentzler and weatherman Bob Ryan have been together since 1989.
Michael said he is not considering a position with another station, explaining: "I already turned down a generous offer from Channel 4 -- why would I do it anywhere else?" He also said he would never again do a day-to-day sportscast.
Michael announced his plans to leave the anchor desk at the conclusion of yesterday's 6 p.m. newscast, saying, "When there's a rumor in Washington, you'd better address it."
Recent on-air hires Lindsay Czarniak and Dan Hellie will remain with WRC, but the station has not indicated who will replace Michael.
Michael introduced the local, late-night "George Michael's Sports Final" in 1980; the highlights show evolved four years later into the syndicated "Sports Machine."
From early on, Michael made liberal use of the highlights reel. As sportswriter Norman Chad wrote in The Washington Post in 1985: "He's the only guy in town who can show you five minutes of tape in a four-minute sportscast."