HATCHET AT CHANNEL 5 REPLACES THE GLORY THAT WAS
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.
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.
the town's senior TV weatherman, jumped to Channel 9 last April in the wake of
management's efforts to trim his air time.
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
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."
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.
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."
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."