By John Maynard
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 18, 2007
WUSA's Tracey Neale, the station's highest-profile personality, who arrived from rival WTTG more than three years ago, will no longer anchor the station's 6 and 11 p.m. newscasts as of next month, WUSA announced yesterday.
Neale, who's nearing the end of a four-year contract, is being replaced by reporter and weekend anchor Lesli Foster, 33, a six-year veteran at WUSA (Channel 9), who will co-anchor the two newscasts with Todd McDermott beginning Jan. 7. Neale's last day as anchor will be Jan. 4.
Neale will remain for now with the Gannett-owned CBS affiliate, but her role has yet to be determined, said Allan Horlick, the station's president and general manager. "I am engaged in ongoing conversations with Tracey about the possibility of a different assignment that would allow her to maintain a relationship with WUSA," Horlick said yesterday by phone.
Horlick said the decision to replace Neale evolved last summer as she was adopting two 13-month-old twins from an orphanage in Ethiopia. Neale took an extended leave to bring the children home.
"She had been having very private discussions with [WUSA news director] Mike Ward and with me about her own concerns as to whether she would be able to do everything she wanted to with the adoption . . . as well as the enormous duties of anchoring at 6 and 11 p.m.," Horlick said. "She came to her own very personal decision that the best thing for her and the kids right now would be for her to relinquish those anchoring duties to focus on the kids."
In an interview last night by phone, Neale, 40, said that becoming a single mom to 1-year-olds has been "pretty overwhelming."
"Working at night has been difficult. My preference is to be home at night with my children," Neale said. She added, "My primary job is at night . . . and you can't change the hours."
The move marks the most significant change since Horlick took over the reins at the struggling station this year. In October, WUSA announced that Neale was being replaced as the 5 p.m. co-anchor by Anita Brikman, a popular 13-year veteran with the ABC affiliate in Philadelphia. Brikman will co-anchor both the 5 and 7 p.m. newscasts with Derek McGinty starting next month.
Neale arrived at WUSA in 2004 after a lengthy contract dispute with Fox-owned WTTG (Channel 5), where she had been an anchor for nine years.
Once at WUSA, Neale was first paired with legendary anchor Gordon Peterson at 6 p.m. and McDermott at 11 p.m. Peterson left the station later that year to work at WJLA (Channel 7), giving Neale and McDermott the 6 and 11 p.m. newscasts. Neale eventually added the 5 p.m. newscast.
Despite some fluctuation over the past three years, the low ratings have generally remained flat since Neale and McDermott took over the main anchoring duties. The station often is last locally at 5 and 6 p.m., but has finished as high as second at 11 p.m. In the most recent November sweeps, WUSA was the only station in town to show year-to-year increases in all its newscasts among the advertiser-cherished 25-to-54 demographic.
WUSA also announced yesterday that Foster will oversee a new consumer unit and that Brikman will lead the station's new health team.