Sportscaster Lindsay Czarniak's career trajectory is only headed up

By Paul Farhi
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, April 12, 2010

Lindsay Czarniak learned a great many things about sportscasting from her mentor, George Michael. One of the biggest was: Make it look like fun.

So here is Czarniak at the end of a 14-hour workday, delivering the sports news on Channel 4's 11 p.m. broadcast. She's been on the go since early morning, starting with a news conference at Redskins Park in Ashburn to introduce Donovan McNabb, the team's new quarterback. Czarniak went "live" from the presser, then co-hosted a special report on it at midday. She's led the 4, 5 and 6 p.m. newscasts with the story, in addition to doing her regular sports segments.

Now she's on her last broadcast of the day, the bell lap, and she's not fading. "Donovan McNabb was really leading by example," she reports brightly, after anchor Jim Vance tosses to her. "He was at Redskins Park working out at 7:30 this morning!" Under a new coach, she says, McNabb hopes to become "John Elway Number 2 in a burgundy and gold jersey."

Connect with the audience, Michael told her. Don't just read the prompter. Know it. Say it. Believe it.

Czarniak sets up clips of the Capitals-Penguins hockey game: "The Alex Ovechkin-Sidney Crosby rivalry never really gets stale, ever!" And remember, it's just sports, not war and peace. Sell it, kid, he said.

The godawful Wizards win one against the godawfuller Golden State Warriors, the second in a two-game winning streak -- "a mini one! It's a mini one!" laughs Czarniak, as footage of the game rolls. "Pretty impressive!"

Michael didn't just hire Czarniak five years ago and school her in the Ways of George; he essentially bequeathed her his throne. When Michael quit News4 in a huff in 2007, grumbling about personnel cuts and WRC's shrinking commitment to sports, he was still the most popular sportscaster in town, lord of all the teams he surveyed nightly. He handed the job to Czarniak and another of his telegenic proteges, Dan Hellie, making them the most visible sportscasters on the most-watched news station in town.

In other words, he set Czarniak -- pretty, blond, perpetually sunny -- on her present trajectory, which seems to be stratospheric.

The girl next door

It's hard to have a conversation about Czarniak with anyone involved in local sports without the talk eventually turning to where she's headed next. Her contract expires next spring, and it's almost an article of faith that Washington and Channel 4 are too small to contain her. She's already done network-level work (for Channel 4's owner, NBC, and for TNT, for whom she'll host a weekly NASCAR program this summer). The expectation is that Czarniak will soon be outta here, perhaps to follow the path of ESPN's Erin Andrews, another camera-friendly golden girl.

"I think her career arc is unlimited," says Ted Leonsis, owner of the Capitals and part-owner of the Wizards and Verizon Center. "She's got so much upside. . . . I could see NBC saying, 'We're going to recommit to sports and we'll have a bigger show and a bigger setting for her.' She's young, she's articulate and she's passionate, and that just comes across."

Czarniak, 32, is grateful to Michael, who succumbed to cancer in December, and acknowledges her debt. "He kicked my butt," she says one morning at a favorite coffee shop near her home in Dupont Circle. His not infrequent late-night phone calls critiquing something she had done (or not done) were bearable because "I came out smarter on the other side. I think he really sharpened me. I really got him and I think he got me. I really valued his high standards, and I learned from them."

But in the next breath, she declares her independence: "Everyone has their own style. Everyone does things their own way. I know I do."

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