Lee Schulman...

"Camelot to Sand Lot"

By Roger Lee Miller

Lee Schulman replaced Bob Lemon in 1972. The bald Schulman was un-affectionately called "Chrome Dome." The following story, written in 1974 by Gary Deeb, TV and Radio critic for the Chicago Sun Times, summed up the situation:


Something is wrong, critically wrong, at WMAQ-Ch.5. And it cuts a lot deeper than just the local ratings, which have been slipping in a slow but steady glacial pattern since 1969.

Good, talented people are bailing out of Channel 5 in droves. The station's portrait gallery, once a crowded section in the Channel 5 reception area, keeps dwindling and closing ranks. Staff morale is absolutely deadly. And the only jokes being cracked are of the gallows-humor variety.

If CAMELOT was the Channel 5 theme song during the glory days of the '60s, then the station's current signature tune has to be "Exodus." What once was the most open free wheeling station in town has degenerated into a den of fear, paranoia, and walking-on-eggs.

And at the center of this alarming transformation stands Lee Schulman, Channel 5's general manager, who, according to informed sources at the station, is the "black hat" - the primary cause of discontent among the past and present employees.

The lineup of superb but unhappy broadcasters who have left channel 5 in the last year is staggering . . . and probably unprecedented. Consider:

Len O'Connor, a Chicago landmark for 35 years, defected last month to WGN-Ch. 9. The slashing commentator climaxed his seething hate affair with Schulman by ridiculing the G.M. on the 10 o'clock news.

Harry Volkman, the town's senior TV weatherman, jumped to Channel 9 last April in the wake of management's efforts to trim his air time.

Program manager Harry Trigg, a classy, dedicated TV executive, stunned everybody by quitting last winter for a similar job at Channel 9. A personality clash with Schulman was the key to Trigg's departure after 24 years.

Producer Ed Spray, an 8 1/2-year Channel 5 veteran responsible for many splendid documentaries, left in November to become program manager at WBBM-Ch. 2.

Bill Heitz, a first-rate 12-year man who produced SORTING IT OUT and the old SUNDAY NIGHT SPECIAL, resigned in October and joined WTTW-Ch. 11.

Bud Prather, Channel 5's station manager got "banished to Siberia" a year ago when he was named engineering director for NBC radio in New York. Reliable insiders agree that Schulman was behind that move.

And now Scott Craig, the brilliant film maker who produced some of Chicago TV's greatest documentaries, is leaving Channel 5 after 10 years. In a few months he will become Channel 2's executive producer.

The astounding talent drain is no accident. As one broadcaster told me: "For many years we all felt that we had a kind of paradise at Channel 5. There were all sorts of local documentaries being telecast in prime time. We were having great fun and doing good work. Now that's all over. Morale over there is just terrible. I've gotten to the point where, when I go downtown, I don't even want to stop up there anymore. It's too depressing."

Things started going downhill 2 1/2 years ago when Schulman succeeded Bob Lemon as Channel 5's bossman. Lemon, extremely well-liked by the troops, was a tough act to follow, and Schulman's own personal abrasiveness made the transition even bumpier.

"Schulman affected the news department right away," recalled an ex-Channel 5 man. "He built a new set and started playing around with the news - and a lot of people in the newsroom didn't like him messing around."

At that point, a half-dozen news employees quit, most of them going over to the TVN news service.

"It was really sad," continued the source, "Channel 5 had come thru a Golden Age of local television in terms of what we did during the Bob Lemon regime. When Schulman came in, all that prime-time documentary programming dried right up. We just weren't doing things anymore. Schulman's feeling was that there wasn't anybody in Chicago who knew anything about television. He was arrogant."

Schulman's chief contribution to local programing at Channel 5 has been 'Chicago Camera,' a live-remote Sunday afternoon series that, at its best, is pretty dismal.

The overall feeling among the station's rank-and file is that Channel 5 has ceased to be a great TV station. Local programming in prime time is either absent or innocuous. The station is devoid of spirit, and journalistic enterprise is suffering.

In fairness, there are some people who insist that Schulman carries out his monetary corner-cutting and other programming edicts under strict orders from his NBC superiors in New York, and that he doesn't deserve his hatchet-man reputation.

But another year like 1974 could reduce Channel 5 to a weak-sister status that could take years to shake off. It's time to put away the hatchet. And remember past glory."

Gary Deeb's report accurately summarized Schulman's regime.

Next: The move to the NBC Tower...

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