WTTG, Channel 5, continued its dominance of the local Emmy Awards Saturday night for the seventh straight year, this time taking home 16 statues, more than twice as many as its closest competitor. But it was an ex-employee who created the night's biggest buzz.
Tracey Neale, the former anchor at the Fox station who officially left this spring after a lengthy contract dispute to join rival WUSA, Channel 9, won the award for best anchor for her work at her old station, for the third year in row. Neale beat out her possible successor Shawn Yancy, who currently anchors the station's early morning news, and Mary Beth Marsden of Baltimore's WMAR, Channel 2.
Neale paid tribute to her former colleagues, who gave her a standing ovation. "This is extra special," Neale said. "This has been a year of major transition for me. I'm proud to have worked with all of you. I wish you all the best."
Earlier in the evening, Neale shared the stage with WTTG News Director Katherine Green when they both received an award along with producer Terri N. Tolliver in the category of investigative reports for their profiles of Washington area snipers John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo.
Onstage, Neale and her former boss gestured to each other to speak first amid nervous laughter from the crowd of 4oo people at the Omni Shoreham in the District. Green finally took to the microphone to praise Neale as one of the "most talented" reporters in the market. "We miss Tracey," she added.
As in years past, WTTG sent in significantly more entries than rival stations -- 90 entries compared with 53 for the next most entered station, WJLA.
Another of its winners was weathercaster Sue Palka, who beat out a co-worker: "I wish this had gone to Gwen Tolbart," Palka said. "On the other hand, I haven't had one in a while." And WTTG's Dave Feldman easily claimed the honor of best sports anchor, since he was the only nominee in the category. WTTG's 10 p.m. news, formerly co-anchored by Neale, beat WUSA's rookie "USA Tonight" for best evening news program, and its morning news won over the 6 a.m. newscast of WRC, Channel 4, in the early-to-midday category. WRC, which remains the area's most watched newscast in nearly all time slots, went home empty-handed.
WJLA, Channel 7, conquered WTTG in the category of spot news/team coverage for its wall-to-wall coverage of Hurricane Isabel last September. The station also won in the categories of specialty reports and public service announcements.
But WJLA's biggest winner of the night was Frances Cole, the station's afternoon and evening receptionist for the past 55 years, who received the annual Glenn Brenner Award honoring "professional excellence." WJLA reporter John Harter, who presented Cole with the award, told the crowd she hadn't taken a sick day in her long career there. "When Frances came to Washington, she was a model. She's still great-looking," Harter added.
WB affiliate WBDC, Channel 50, won its first two Emmys ever, in the categories of graphics and promotions.
Baltimore's Fox affiliate WBFF, Channel 45, was second in the Emmy count with six, including best news program in a medium market for its 10 p.m. newscast. Maryland Public Television took home five statues, including one for Robert Heck, who hosts the children's show "Bob the Vid Tech." Comcast SportsNet also claimed five trophies.
The awards, sponsored by the National Capital/Chesapeake Bay chapter of the National Television Academy, recognize stations in the District, Maryland and Virginia. Entries are judged by panels from outside the area.