Channel 2 general manager Dennis Leonard on layoffs, a prime-time shift and the concept behind "The Deuce"
Yesterday's blog "Channel 2 General Manager Dennis Leonard on rebranding his station The Deuce: 'It's the shit, dude!' " featured an excerpt from a conversation with the aforementioned Leonard, who also oversees Channel 31 as part of merger that took place last year. (Get the skinny in the October Message column "Channel 2 and 31 Mix It Up.") Now, to paraphrase Paul Harvey, here's the rest of the story -- or at least a bigger chunk.
Like all local TV stations these days, channels 2 and 31 are running mighty lean. Note the item published earlier this morning, about Channel 31 citing "a Colorado Daily blog" in its coverage of the Ward Churchill trial, presumably because supervisors didn't (or couldn't) assign one of the station's own correspondents to sit in on this very big story. And the staffing situation is only getting tighter. Leonard confirms that "less than five" employees have been laid off over the course of the past week, including one on-air reporter he declined to name.
The reason for what Leonard terms "staff adjustments"? "We still find that there's economic challenges," he says. "It's the same reason we unfortunately don't have the Rocky Mountain News anymore. Every broadcast group in the country has had to make adjustments in their staffing and other areas, in a continuation of the economic theme that's getting old at this point."
Leonard laid off around thirty people last fall, around the time of the linkage announcement -- and shortly thereafter, he implied that no more job losses would follow. But he says subsequent events forced his hand. "We tried a lot of creative ways to reduce expenses, and it finally came down to more staff adjustments, which to me is the cruelest part of this entire situation."
Another change: Libby Weaver, half of the station's anchor team (along with Ron Zappolo), is now on the air Monday through Thursday -- just four nights a week, as opposed to her previous five. An insider suggests that Weaver insisted on the shorter schedule after being told she'd be subjected to a sizable cut in pay, but Leonard denies that. "We've restructured a new contract with Libby, and although we can't divulge any parts of that contract, we were accomodating Libby's wishes and our work schedule," he maintains. "We struck what we felt was a very favorable extension of her contract. We're very happy about it, and I think she's very happy about it."
How many other folks at the stations are similarly pleased is a matter of debate. The aforementioned source talks about incredible pressure on salespeople to make multiple appointments per day and work very long hours. Leonard laughs off the most extreme of these rumors, but he confirms that he's pushing his staff to "make more calls, make more sales -- and we're finding some good sucess stories with non-traditional advertisers who are looking to break through in times like these. We're not ringing up huge new-development dollars, but we are finding new advertisers, and we're excited about that."
He's just as psyched about rebranding Channel 2 as The Deuce -- a name whose naughty connotation (did you go number two?) doesn't concern him in the slightest. The slangy nickname, which he says was used by Channel 2 personnel behind the scenes, is intended to appeal to younger viewers of the sort who are already turning to the station to watch Gospel Girl, One Tree Hill, America's Next Top Model and other fare from the CW, a network that's made the less venerable demographics its targets. This approach will extend to the station's newscasts, which Leonard says will be distinct from those on Channel 31. As an example, he mentions the recent story of a Colorado student who died at a University of Kansas frat house after binge drinking.
"The way Fox 31 would cover that story would be to talk to parents and say, 'How would you talk to your children about these issues?'" Leonard allows. "And The Deuce would approach the story by talking to kids that age, asking, 'What kind of stress or pressures do you have? And is binge drinking a reflection of that pressure?'"
Frankly, any differences between the newscasts would represent a step forward. At present, the late updates on channels 2 and 31 both air at 9 p.m., and because they share content, it's entirely possible to watch a report on one outlet and then surf to the other one and see the identical package again. But an alteration is on the way. In the Message column linked above, Leonard hinted that he might shift CW programming out of its current 7-to-9 p.m. slot and into an 8-to-10 p.m. block, thereby allowing him to schedule Channel 2's late newscast at 7 p.m. This plan will come to fruition on or about March 30, when the Deuce rebranding will also go into effect. The date is fluid due to technical issues that still must be resolved.
Meanwhile, Leonard, a music fan, is excited about getting more music onto Channel 2's airwaves. The station's morning-news show, which continues to outperform Channel 31's offerings thanks in large part to the chemistry generated by anchors Natalie Tysdal and Tom Green, will become a local-music showcase, with a concert stage to supplement its main set. "I'm in the process of booking twenty bands," says Leonard, who doesn't dismiss the possibility of the station someday launching a show wholly devoted to music.
Other programming changes are coming, too, although Leonard isn't ready to talk about some of them. A question about a daytime show starring Channel 31 consumer advocate Tom Martino prompts a no-comment, even though Martino has been talking about just such a project on his KHOW radio show in recent days. Martino is also swapping KHOW time slots with syndicated irritant Glenn Beck, with the former being heard from noon to 3 p.m. and the latter stepping into the 9 a.m.-to-noon space. The date when this will take place? March 30.
Whatever happens with Martino, Leonard is excited about the Deuce, talking up the graphics package that will soon be unveiled and portraying it as an entirely new television concept. He says "it's going to be an alternative-TV station -- and we hope to get people involved who ordinarily wouldn't have a voice in our medium."