After 28 Years, Sportscaster George Michael and Channel 4 Part Ways

Budget cuts have forced Michael and WRC to part ways.
Budget cuts have forced Michael and WRC to part ways. (By John Mcdonnell -- The Washington Post)
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By Paul Farhi
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 25, 2008

George Michael, the dean of local sportscasters, said yesterday he has ended his 28-year career with WRC (Channel 4) after the station sought to cut the budget of the interview programs and segments he hosts.

Michael signed off as the station's lead sports anchor in March 2007 after rejecting demands by WRC's parent, NBC Universal, for deep cuts in his production staff. But he continued on the air with two weekly programs he created and produced, "Redskins Report" and "Full Court Press," as well as weekly interviews with Redskins coaches Jim Zorn and Joe Bugel on the station's 5 and 6 p.m. newscasts.

His abrupt departure yesterday ends not only his long association with the station, but also those of Redskins greats John Riggins and Sonny Jurgensen and sportswriters David DuPree, Michael Wilbon and Tony Kornheiser, all of whom were regular panelists on Michael's weekly shows.

The Michael-hosted programs have been long-running ratings winners for WRC, especially "Redskins Report," which has been on since 1980 and has at times been the top-rated program in Washington on Saturdays.

But WRC has been under extraordinary pressure from its parent company to bring down expenses, leading to the departures of several veteran reporters and anchors over the past two years.

Michael, known for his brassy and boisterous on-air style, said he decided to leave Channel 4 rather than accept a "significant reduction in salaries" for all the panelists. In addition, Michael would have had to lay off some members of the group, an action he deemed unacceptable.

"If I let one go, I might as well let them all go," Michael said yesterday. "We're a team. We've enjoyed success together."

He added: "John Riggins asked me, 'How can they fire us when we're number one?' I said, 'John, it's not about ratings. It's about money.' They simply wanted to cut overhead. When it comes to how you treat people, I have one way. And I don't waver on it."

Michael broke the news to his "Redskins Report" panelists on Tuesday during a taping of the program. None of the panelists mentioned the news during the show, which will air on Saturday, the day before the Redskins' final game this season, against the San Francisco 49ers.

"Apparently, they've seen enough of us," Jurgensen said in an interview yesterday. "Merry Christmas, eh?"

Added Jurgensen, "It doesn't add up to me. He got good ratings and things went well and people liked the show. Not a day goes by when I don't run into someone who says, 'I really enjoy the show and look forward to it on Saturday night.' "

Michael Jack, WRC's general manager, was on vacation and unavailable for comment yesterday. The station issued a statement from him: "We have been extremely fortunate to have had George lead these sports shows and thank him and each of the shows' contributors, Sonny Jurgensen, John Riggins, Michael Wilbon, Tony Kornheiser, and David DuPree, for the fine work they have done over the years."

Michael, a former radio personality, joined WRC in 1980 and became the city's best-known sportscaster as News4 grew into the region's most popular newscast, a position it still holds despite a steep decline in NBC's prime-time ratings.

In addition to his local sports-discussion programs, Michael created a trendsetting weekly highlight program, "George Michael's Sports Final," in 1980. A precursor to ESPN's popular "SportsCenter," the program was eventually renamed "The George Michael Sports Machine" and was syndicated to more than 200 stations at its peak before Michael ended production early last year.

"Redskins Report" and "Full Court Press" -- a general sports-discussion show -- were also instrumental in launching the television careers of Wilbon and Kornheiser. In 2001, they launched their own sports discussion show on ESPN, "Pardon the Interruption," which became a hit. Kornheiser, a former Post columnist, eventually became an analyst on ESPN's "Monday Night Football," while Wilbon comments on NBA games for ESPN and ABC.

Michael, who is 69, indicated yesterday that he is not ready to end production of his shows. "We may not just ride off into the sunset," he said, without providing any specifics.

In a separate development, WRC confirmed that former weekend news anchor James Adams has left the station. Adams has not announced his plans.

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