This was posted Monday, December 26, 2016 by Rodney Ho on his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog
This was a busy year for anchor changes at Atlanta TV broadcast stations, a big year for CNN and a breakthrough year for local TV production.
Here’s a quick summary of the major goings on in local TV this past year:
Fox 5 shifts: The popular Fox morning show “Good Day Atlanta” saw two major anchor changes this year. Veteran newscasters Gurvir Dhindsa and Karen Grahm left. Fox 5 hired Alyse Eady from Little Rock and Constance Jones from Miami as replacements. Anchor Lisa Rayam also departed but nobody has officially taken over her job full time.
Amanda Davis travails: The former Fox 5 anchor departed after 26 years in 2013 after a DUI arrest. She was about to return last year on the CBS “Just a Minute” commentary team when she was arrested again for a DUI. She entered rehab and received probation. In May, she aired a three-part special on CBS46 about her alcoholism. Earlier this month, she was named the new morning anchor on the network but was arrested yet again. But this time, there was no alcohol: it was a suspended license she forgot to reinstate. She got that straightened out and will be anchoring for the first time in four years on January 2.
Angry departure: Davis’ morning anchor predecessor at CBS46 Gloria Neal left in November before her two-year contract was over. She posted a video earlier this month saying she her departure was “most unfortunate and inexplicable.” She added: “For those who know what’s in the works for me, legally or otherwise, then you know that. We will let that process take its course.” She ultimately took the video down.
Channel 2 Action News changes: Popular 4 p.m. anchor Erin Coleman moved to Philadelphia earlier this year to be closer to home and landed a job at an NBC affiliate. Weekend anchor and reporter Wendy Corona took over. Other departures: Erica Byfield and Lori Geary.
11Alive buyouts and a major retirement: 11Alive lost three veteran reporters who took a buyout this spring: Keith Whitney, Donna Lowry and Kevin Rowson. Lowry found a new job as director of communications for Cobb County Schools. Rowson landed a public affairs specialist gig at the FBI. Whitney is still pondering. Venerable evening anhor Brenda Wood said she is retiring in February after 20 years at the station. Shiba Russell, who came from New York this summer and worked briefly in mornings, is taking over.
Weather Channel moves: Sam Champion moved off the morning show and is now doing a weekly weather show out of New York. Jim Cantore celebrated his 30th anniversary at the station. And veteran meteorologist David Schwartz passed away from cancer.
HLN refocuses on hard news and away from Atlanta: HLN added a new show out of Los Angeles (“Michaela” from 11 to 1 p.m.), one from New York (“On the Story With Erica Hill” from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.) and another from New York at 8 p.m. (“Primetime Justice with Ashleigh Banfield”). Atlanta-based Nancy Grace left voluntarily in October after 12 years. This leaves just Robin Meade remaining at CNN Center in Atlanta on the weekday lineup with Lynn Smith covering weekends. Meanwhile, the network continues to air copious amounts of “Forensic Files” repeats.
Massive CNN ratings: CNN, whose weekday on-air personalities are now all out of D.C. and New York but is still ostensibly headquartered in Atlanta, celebrated its most watched year in its history thanks to the contentious and colorful presidential campaign. It ranked No. 8 among all cable networks. (Fox News was No. 1.) Not everything was peachy. A group of current and former employees filed a class-action lawsuit against CNN, Turner Broadcasting and parent company Time Warner for racial discrimination in December.
Zombie peak? “The Walking Dead,” produced largely in and around Senoia and Tyler Perry’s Fort McPherson studios, continues to be the most popular scripted drama among 18 to 49 year olds for a fifth year in a row. But its popularity appears to have peaked. A “Who did Negan kill?” cliffhanger in the spring fueled massive ratings in October for the season seven return,. Unfortunately, the gory deaths of Glenn and Abraham was followed by a major dropoff in viewership as the season dragged along.
Netflix embraces Atlanta: Netflix generated a surprise summer hit with “Stranger Things.” The 1980s era drama featuring Winona Ryder and a bunch of cute pre-teen kids paid homage to “Stand By Me,” “The Goonies” and “Poltergeist,” to name a few. And though Netflix doesn’t release ratings, the show generated a ton of buzz and critical acclaim. Upcoming: Atlanta-produced drama “Ozark” in 2017.
Donald Glover’s gamble pays off: The quirky “Community” actor, who grew up in Stone Mountain, has spent years trying to create a show about the hip-hop scene in Atlanta. FX finally bit and called it “Atlanta.” And the results have been gratifying: solid viewership, award nominations and love from critics, who found his combination of off-beat humor and off-kilter dialogue unique.
Oprah! Oprah! Oprah! Oprah Winfrey debuted her first non-Tyler Perry drama on OWN “Greenleaf,” a family drama based in a black church shot in Atlanta but set in Memphis. “Atlanta is the shooting capital of the world now,” said Winfrey in an interview I did with her in the spring. “We love those tax breaks hey hey! And we love the South! I just love Southern people! I just do.”
Atlanta reality show winners: Lithonia’s Tregaye Fraser won the 12th season of “Food Network Star.” Miss Mulatto took home the crown on the first season of Lifetime’s “The Rap Game” hosted by Atlanta rap producing legend Jermaine Dupri. Atlanta’s Stevie Baggs was WE-TV’s “Match Made in Heaven” but he didn’t find his match on the show. But Atlanta’s Josh Murray found a romantic partner on ABC’s “Bachelor in Paradise” this past summer.
Former locals done good: Atlanta native Elle Duncan, best known as a V-103 host, landed a coveted ESPN “SportsCenter” anchor job this spring. And North Atlanta High School gradaute RuPaul won an Emmy as best reality competition host for his Logo show “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” Athens native Tituss Burgess was nominated as best supporting actor in a comedy on Netflix’s “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” while University of Georgia graduate Kyle Chandle was nominated for best dramatic actor for Netflix’s “Bloodline.” And while Dunwoody High School graduate Ryan Seacrest lost his gig as host of “American Idol,” which ended its run after 15 years in April, shed no tears for him. He still produces the Kardashian TV empire and will host ABC’s New Year’s festivities as usual in Times Square.