(originally published in the Chicago Sun-Times, May 12, 2005)
More cutbacks feared as Channel 11 regroups
May 12, 2005
BY ROBERT FEDER, SUN-TIMES COLUMNIST
Rocked by the departures of two key executives last week, WTTW-Channel 11 staffers are bracing for more cutbacks and fearing a return to malaise at the public television station.
Randy King, whose hiring from Fox-owned WFLD-Channel 32 in 2002 signaled a grand plan for creative expansion at Channel 11, resigned in frustration as executive vice president of television.
After early success in revamping the flagship "Chicago Tonight" and developing "Soundstage," "Legends of Jazz" and "Word World," King found the rest of his ambitious agenda stymied by lack of funding. While such franchises as "Wild Chicago," "ArtBeat" and "Chicago Stories" were pulled from production, plans for "Sound Opinions," "Comedy Tonight" and other new series were stillborn.
"I had gone as far as I could go and felt it was time for me to step aside and move away from Channel 11," said King, 43, who'll serve as a consultant while forming his own company.
With King no longer overseeing program development and production at Channel 11, his role will be reassumed by Dan Schmidt, president and chief executive of parent Window to the World Communications. That's bad news for viewers who recall Schmidt's bungled programming efforts under his Network Chicago fiasco.
King's move followed the abrupt firing of Mike Leiderman, 60, as executive producer of "Chicago Tonight." He'd joined Channel 11 to produce "Chicago Stories" in 2000 and was promoted in 2003.
Although official reasons cited for his dismissal were unspecified "budget and management issues," sources said Leiderman also came under fire for allegedly making racially and ethnically insensitive remarks.
Declining to discuss specifics, Leiderman said: "I was very proud of the work I did at WTTW at 'Chicago Tonight' and 'Chicago Stories.' "
With his salary off the books, Leiderman's duties have been assumed by Mary Field, who's executive producer/news.
The sudden departures of King and Leiderman amid deficits and cutbacks could mean trouble for Bob Sirott, whose contract as host and managing editor of "Chicago Tonight" expires in June. Talks are under way on a renewal with Sirott's agent, Jimmy deCastro.
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