The network affiliates in Washington offer little good local television, and now comes word that one of the best of the programs, "The Carol Randolph Show," is being canceled.
It will be replaced in the fall with the syndicated, Chicago-based "The Oprah Winfrey Show."
Says Randolph, who has been on a roller coaster with her morning talk show on Channel 9 for nearly a year: "It's like a slap in the face. I was lulled [by station managers] into a false sense of security."
According to WDVM Vice President and General Manager Ronald Townsend, the station is talking with Randolph about other spots. "Carol will still be an integral part of our station and still be on the air in forms and formats we are not prepared to discuss," said Townsend. "It doesn't do us any good to let our competition know what we are planning."
But Randolph's lawyer, Amy Goldson, said the only concrete proposal management has made thus far is for Randolph to host a weekly half-hour program presenting issues of unique concern to the minority community. "Carol grew out of limited and restricted programming at least 15 years ago," said Goldson. "She'll always be responsive to the black community, but it's an insult to try to pigeonhole her again. She wants to be responsive to everybody."
With her longevity of 17 years on the air, an easygoing but feisty style, and informed, diverse and creative programming, Randolph is a Washington institution.
It wasn't easy. Arriving in Washington in 1967, Randolph worked in the city's antipoverty program and administered an employment program for two years before joining Channel 9's "Harambee," the city's first daily talk show on black affairs. Fired from "Harambee" without notice in 1971 in what management said was a "summer cutback," Randolph was rehired after demonstrators picketed the station. Since then she has cohosted "Everywoman," which evolved into "Nine in the Morning," and she later appeared on "Morning Break" as the lone host.
After the hour-long "Morning Break" vanished from the air suddenly last summer, creating considerable concern among Randolph's sizable coterie of faithful watchers, she returned to the air in September in "The Carol Randolph Show," which had been whittled down to 30 minutes.
While Randolph was working on building the ratings on her revamped show, she first heard the rumor that the station had purchased the talk show hosted by Oprah Winfrey. Winfrey, once a news anchor in Baltimore, shot to national fame last year in the popular movie "The Color Purple." Said Randolph in an interview, "Management told me they sometimes bought hot properties they didn't necessarily air, but the rumors persisted."
A month ago, management confirmed the rumors: Winfrey would be the new Queen of the Morning, with a 60-minute show following the King, Phil Donohue. Sally Jessy Raphael's show will be moved to another time slot.
"I was misled by the station," said Randolph. "I thought they were going to give me a chance to really do my show. I thought they really meant it when they said they wanted something new and different."
Ironically, Townsend, WDVM's first black vice president/general manager, was elevated to succeed Charles Pfeiffer just as Randolph learned that her show was being canceled, and he is overseeing the cancellation. "I can't tell you how much it hurts," said Randolph. "We have been talking about having blacks in top policy-making positions for so long. While blacks did not make the decision, they have not rescinded it. And I learned in 1971 that anything can be rescinded."
Randolph noted that her show continues to be the leading locally produced talk show, with ratings double that of WTTG's "Panorama." "If you say this is a business, do you take numbers like that and dismiss them? They're taking a woman who beats Donohue in Chicago, made a popular movie, and saying this is going to be okay in Washington because they're replacing one black woman with another."
It's ridiculous that they have to play one minority against another; there is enough room for two blacks on daily television here.
In a city with a dearth of local programming, it's sad to see a local show die. But it's tragic when it means shunting aside a woman who has looked at Washington not as the capital of the free world but as a local city, with a special sensitivity to its people, its history and its character.