WTTG's national news reporter, Jan Smith, has resigned. Her last day will be Nov. 5.
Smith is one of four reporters who recently were told that they would begin taking turns doing weekend duty for three months each. The others are John Hanrahan, Karen Gray Houston and Beth Parker. All are on the Monday-through-Friday daytime shift.
Smith, wife of ABC News veteran Sam Donaldson, says the weekend duty was not why she resigned, but it nudged her to take a step she'd been thinking of taking for some time.
"I want to pursue more national in-depth coverage. The station is making it clear that its emphasis is increasingly in local news and less in national," Smith told The TV Column. "We used to have a strong nightly White House and Capitol Hill block; we no longer do that. I want to pursue my main interest," she said.
Channel 5 News Director Katherine Green concedes that she's using her local reporters less often on national stories, but not that the station is giving national news short shrift.
"We're not de-emphasizing national coverage at all; we're taking advantage of the improving Fox [network] national bureau in Washington and utilizing more of the talents of its national correspondents in our newscasts, which enables us to take our local reporters and put them on local stories and get the best of both worlds," she said yesterday.
And the weekend rotation, Green says, is part of an effort to stop using freelance reporters at Channel 5.
"I don't care for the concept of utilizing freelancers to supplement your staff, which means you have to use your staff to cover even shifts that people may not enjoy working as much," she said. "I believe that weekends, because there's less management presence, require more experienced people, not less experienced people--they make better decisions and have better judgment. So the rotation was designed to help us stop abusing freelance talent and at the same time make sure we put people who understood the news and the market on the shifts where there is less management presence."
Channel 5 named Smith national news correspondent in December '95, replacing Niles Latham, a former New York Post reporter who'd had the job since 1992. Smith had covered national stories for the Fox-owned TV station for years; she joined WTTG in 1987.
NBC will yank Monday's ratings black hole "Suddenly Susan," and CBS plans to nix new Friday sitcom "Love & Money" as the networks continue to shed low-rated shows in anticipation of the ratings sweeps that start Nov. 4.
Each network has vowed that its sitcom will be back.
NBC will run "Susan" once more in its 8:30 p.m. half-hour before plugging the slot with reruns of "Friends." CBS will stop its Friday gap starting tomorrow with "Candid Camera"--a bench-warmer so far this season, though it got a full-season order from the network. CBS plans to return "Love," about a rich snob's daughter who has a thing for the building super's son, in January in the Wednesday 8:30 p.m. slot that formerly housed "Work With Me," which CBS has canceled.
NBC has so far spared Susan's companion "Veronica's Closet," because "Veronica" manages to build on its "Susan" lead-in each week. The network will wait to see if the "Friends" rerun lead-in helps get Veronica off the ground in its Monday berth.
Meanwhile, CBS has given a full-season pickup to "Now and Again." The freshman drama series, starring Eric Close, is about a middle-aged insurance exec who's killed in a subway accident but brought back by the U.S. government in the body of a buffed 26-year-old and told he can't contact his wife and kid.
"Now and Again" is performing wonders for CBS on Friday. It's winning its 9 p.m. time slot in adults ages 18-49. CBS doesn't often win this time slot and hasn't done so on Fridays with a freshman series since "Beauty and the Beast."
Not coincidentally, "Now and Again" has the same "unrequited love" thing going and, I gotta say, Eric Close is a whole lot easier on the eyes than Ron Perlman was in that Beast get-up.
CBS is also winning the night, as viewers from NBC's 8 p.m. hit "Providence" zap on over to "Now and Again" at 9 and many then stick around at 10 for CBS's "Nash Bridges," which is enjoying the ratings equivalent of Viagra treatment this season. CBS has, in fact, won Friday nights three times in the past four weeks.
Three rival Jesus TV movies and miniseries (NBC, CBS and ABC) can be explained--millennium fever. Even dueling Partridge Family projects (ABC and NBC) can be explained away--millennium madness. Dueling history-of-rock-and-roll projects (CBS and NBC) are a no-brainer, given the success of last season's "Temptations" and music-driven "The 60's" minis at NBC as well as ABC's "Sonny and Cher Story."
But dueling Muhammad Ali TV movies?
ABC announced this week that it, too, has ordered a TV movie about the boxing great; Fox network has already planted its flag in the Ali movie genre.
ABC's will be called "King of the World" and will be based on David Remnick's Ali bio of same name. It will focus on Ali's early career, leading up to the 1964 fight in Miami Beach when Ali, then named Cassius Clay, defeated heavyweight champion Sonny Liston. Terrence Howard, now seen on the big screen in the feature "The Best Man," has been signed to star, ABC said. John Sacret Young, co-creator of ABC's drama series "China Beach," has written the teleplay and will direct.
Fox has a head start on its Ali TV movie, which will star David Ramsey. That network's unauthorized biography is being produced by Robert De Niro's Tribeca Productions.
And, unlike the Jesus projects, which are being spread over the TV season, both Fox and ABC hope to air their Ali projects during the February sweeps.
CAPTION: Posh frosh: "Now and Again," with Eric Close, left, and Dennis Haysbert.