In the manner of a two-bit, small-town television station, our powerful, influential and well-respected WDVM (Channel 9) has apparently let one of those jive network syndicates "persuade" it to cancel "The Carol Randolph Show."
I had heard about this earlier in the year but figured Randolph would battle back as she had after the "Harambee Show" was canceled and after "Morning Break" was cut back to a half-hour.
But this could turn out to be a fatal assault on this show, which won two of the station's 32 Emmy Awards Saturday night. More importantly, it is also an assault on the Washington area viewing public -- whether we watch her show or not.
It appears that out-of-towners are taking over our television programming. Not all syndicate stuff is bad, but, frankly, most of it is. The reason they get away with it is simple: They think that if we have only their stuff to watch, we will watch it. So far, they have been correct.
But if the syndicates are successful in getting rid of Randolph, who will be next? Maury Povich at WTTG (Channel 5) already has one foot out the door. How about saying goodbye to James Adams? You too Bruce Johnson? Bye Paul Berry. Maureen Bunyan, J.C. Haywood, Susan Kidd: Are you still there?
Ellen Kingsley just won the prestigious Ted Yates award for her documentary on breast cancer, but before that her dedication to local consumer affairs would qualify for an Emmy any day.
Apparently a lot of folks like silly Steve Doocy. But can he joke his way around the syndicates? Gordon Peterson, George Michael and Susan King think they are safe. But the fact is, an apathetic viewing public leaves them all vulnerable.
Some of you might be tempted to remind me of Rene Carpenter, the Channel 9 cohost on "Nine in the Morning," and Doug Llewellyn, who were summarily dropped from the local television roles back in 1976 -- without so much as a whimper. Alas, I know: TV is a tough business. With big-time contracts, the stars come and go.
But I'm talking about something bigger than any television personality here.
I appeared on Randolph's show one day, and I must be candid: It wasn't the greatest show of all time. But on any given day, and we're talking about hundreds in a year, her show touches on subjects that are of genuine interest to local people. The people who make the news that affects our lives on a daily basis appear on her show. People who understand what is happening in and around our communities appear on her show. And we, the viewing public, are invited to sit in the audience and appear on her show.
I don't care that the syndicates are using one black woman to try to replace another, or that a black man, WDVM general manager Ron Townsend, is overseeing the fall of the ax on Randolph.
The issue is not race. The issue is programming, and the need for the public to have more input on what is aired locally.
The decision to replace Randolph with Oprah Winfrey has nothing to do with either woman's talent. And neither does it have anything to do with any of our needs.
It's a money-making gimmick for the syndicate, pure and simple.
For my time, I say get rid of Phil Donahue (the so-called heavyweight of the syndicate package deal) and let the women have the morning shows. Donahue has been wearing thin ever since he left Chicago. The stuff he brings to us from New York is boring and irrelevant.
If the people who run WDVM do not know how to make money without hacking the heart out of our morning public affairs program, then the station's license should be revoked -- and sold to someone more responsible.
After 16 years in the local television business, Randolph ought to be given some breathing room to let the Washington community, through her show, come to life. If there was anything wrong with the show, it was that the station kept her pent up against a wall, frequently threatened with cancellation or reductions in time.
That's no way to treat her -- or us.