It was the year that I pulled a Jay Leno and returned to the equivalent of my old time slot after close to three years away from this newspaper.
When I told friends that I was coming back to The Buffalo News in March, television writer-producer Tom Fontana replied: “Really? Where’s your delivery route? No, seriously that’s great news.”
Nine months later, I’m not sure everyone – or anyone – in the local media agrees.
After all, it’s my job – to paraphrase an increasingly annoying Channel 2 slogan – to keep the local media accountable when they work for someone they cover, pose for a photo with a disgraced politician or try and spin questionable ethical behavior.
Here are some of the best, worst and important moments of 2013.
The Ron Burgundy Award: To Channel 2 anchor Maryalice Demler, who had a shot of “Anchorman” Will Ferrell behind her as she defended her on-air commentaries with an egotistical, unintentionally funny explanation: “What you see before you is a 21st century news anchor. My job – like our mission – has evolved over the past 30 years. My commentaries are what you, our viewers, have been asking for.” In other words, you asked for it and it is your fault.
Happy Anniversary, Ed: Channel 2 had a little on-air celebration for Sports Director Ed Kilgore celebrating his 40th anniversary at the station. Kilgore’s old friend John Beard remarked, “Nobody can ever say my buddy doesn’t know how to hold a job.”
Goodbye, Ed: After Kilgore was the host of a news conference about the HarborCenter with Buffalo Sabres owner Terry Pegula three days after he accepted a job to work for one of Pegula’s companies, station management realized Beard’s buddy had to go a month earlier than planned because of “perception.” It really should have known that you can’t cover a team after agreeing to work for its owner.
Happy Anniversary, Mike: TV is a tough business. Shortly after celebrating his 30th anniversary at the station, Channel 7 cut Mike Randall’s hours, apparently so he could have more time to do his Mark Twain act in local community theaters.
Food Fight: When Channel 4 promoted a well-researched series, “Dicey Dining,” about health code violations at area restaurants, Channel 2 tried to undercut it by reprising a similar series it had done earlier without as much detail.
The Yo-Yo Award: Channel 4 anchor Diana Fairbanks was moved from the early evening and 10 p.m. newscasts to the morning program, and just as she got comfortable with those ungodly hours, she was moved back to her old newscasts.
The Mitt Romney Flip-Flopper Award: Channel 2 anchor-reporter Pete Gallivan left to work in public relations for the Cuomo administration, only to return to WGRZ a few months later.
Lottery Loses Here: Channel 2 stopped carrying the local lottery winners live because it took too much time away from news. So far neither of its major news rivals has picked it up.
Darcy Regier Award: Channel 7 General Manager Bill Ransom retired. He arrived 18 years earlier when the station was powerful and left when it was a mess and essentially owned by a hedge firm that apparently is trying to sell it. It is hard to know how much the station’s decline is Ransom’s fault and how much his hands were tied. But station staffers were amused when he landed in the New York State Broadcasters Hall of Fame. Channel 4 General Manager Chris Musial also retired. He is much younger than Ransom, which led to speculation that leaving wasn’t entirely his idea.
Eerie Debut: Channel 2 reporter Danny Spewak landed at a local hospital on his first day on the job after his earpiece got stuck in his ear. “I’ve been here for 15 years and it is the best first day story I’ve ever heard,” said Channel 2 News Director Jeff Woodard. “It is a funny story that he’ll remember the rest of his career.”
May Day! May Day!: Famed Buffalo Sabres play-by-play man Rick Jeanneret is working a reduced schedule for three years that will end in his retirement. With the season the Sabres are having this year, even Jeanneret’s enthusiasm level is dropping and you have to wonder if he wishes he had called it quits after last season.
Key Hellos and Goodbyes: Channel 4 said hello to new meteorologist Todd Santos and new morning anchors Jordan Williams and Teresa Weakley and goodbye to meteorologist Amelia Segal and reporter Anthony Congi. Channel 7 said hello to new morning co-anchors Tiffany Lundberg and Cole Heath and goodbye to former morning anchors Ginger Geoffery and Patrick Haney and reporter Kyla Igoe. Channel 2 said hello to anchor-reporter Kelly Dudzik and goodbye to Kilgore and meteorologist Mary Beth Wrobel.
History Maker: Channel 4 anchor Jacquie Walker quietly celebrated her 30th anniversary at the station and unofficially became the longest-running female anchor on primary newscasts in local history.
Reversing a Silly Practice: Channel 2 ended its foolish practice of giving 10 news stories on its 10 p.m. newscast in the reverse order of importance.
Morning Disaster and Morning Glory: Channel 7’s new morning program “This Morning” with Lundberg and Heath has quickly tanked. Channel 4’s new morning cast has led to “Wake Up!” tying Channel 2’s “Daybreak” in the November sweeps.
Traffic Report: Dave Cash left Channel 7 to give traffic reports on Channel 2 to tell people in front of their sets (instead of in traffic) what is going on in the roads.
Weathering a Career Change: Channel 2’s fun feature guy Kevin O’Neill got a degree in meteorology and has filled in on weather recently with mixed results. Like the weather, he can’t help but improve over the next several months.
Time Warner Gives Subscribers a Tier Test: The local cable company put its channels in themed tiers, which has moved some subscribers to tears when searching for their favorite channels. I figure I’ll have it all figured out by the end of 2014.
Hardly Talkin’ Proud: A Bills fan made national news when he tried to do something that Olympian snowboarder Shaun White couldn’t have pulled off on a railing at Ralph Wilson Stadium and fell on another Bills fan on a lower deck. The guy got 30 seconds of fame on network newscasts, but the public relations firm that he works made a questionable snap decision to protect its image and fired him.
Picture of the Year: It had to be Maryalice Demler’s decision to tweet a picture with disgraced Toronto Mayor Rob Ford at the Bills game in the Canadian city and add that the admitted crack cocaine user was “a sweetheart of a guy.” Some readers of my blog unfairly called Demler – who is on the board of directors of Kids Escaping Drugs – stupid. She isn’t stupid. She is an excellent news reader who has become so full of herself that she does stupid things. I have been told that she was smart enough to realize that she had to apologize even before management told her she needed to do it.