Sunday, May 30, 2004

The following was submitted by Ted Perzeszty and Gayle DePoli:

With Wolf, Ch.2 sends wrong signal

Bob Raissman NY Daily News

Veteran sports anchor Warner Wolf finds unique style and passion for his job are not enough for brass at WCBS-TV.

Warner Wolf walked into the WCBS-TV studio yesterday and was told his services were no longer wanted.
"I went to work as usual expecting to do my sports on the 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. news," Wolf told me yesterday. "The news director called me into her office and said, 'We've exercised our option, we're taking you off the air - immediately.'"

No more going to the videotape. At least for now.

Wolf's Ch.2 contract was set to expire in August. The suits at the station couldn't wait to pull the plug. They yanked it on a Friday, under the cover of a big holiday weekend when they believed no one was around or paying attention.

Out of sight. Out of mind.

Not when it comes to Warner Wolf.

For over three decades, his presence was felt on WABC-TV and Ch. 2, where he spent nearly 20 years during two stints (1980-92, 1997-yesterday). Wolf pioneered the video tape shtick, creatively using highlights when ESPN was simply four letters in the alphabet.

And then were those lines, delivered with Wolf's distinct inflection and animation.

"Gimme a break!"

"And the winner of the 9th at Aqueduct is ..."



"And look, Mr. G. was at the game."

"Of course it's a fair ball, it hit the fair pole."

Yesterday, Wolf, 66, might have also used his old "And you could have turned your sets off there." Except Ch.2 boss Lew Leone beat him to it.

"I'm not retiring," Wolf said. "This was not my decision to leave Ch.2."

No, this decision was made by Ch. 2 suits who clearly did not appreciate Wolf. (As quickly as they fired him, they took his bio off the station's Web site.) They apparently also do not understand his strong connection with New York sports fans.

In February, rumors began swirling that Ch.2 brass was going to bring in a Tapehead from a station in Houston to replace Wolf. The suits did nothing to discourage those rumors. Clearly, they were hanging Wolf out to dry.

And yet, Wolf is the first to say he's in a tough business. It's a stupid one, too.

Perhaps the most memorable moment on Ch.2 news in many moons occurred April 8, Opening Day at Yankee Stadium. On that afternoon George Steinbrenner broke down and cried. The man asking the questions was Wolf.

I'm not suggesting Wolf's questions brought The Boss to tears. No, it was more about Steinbrenner being around a man who he has shared on-air moments with since he purchased the Yankees in 1973. There was a comfort level.

Not only did Wolf have solid relationships with older, established sports personalities, he was working hard at making new ones with the younger generation. See, in recent years, it wasn't just about the studio for Wolf.

He was everywhere. Growing older made him hustle more.

The suits who fired him yesterday did not appreciate this. They had no respect for what Wolf can deliver. This happened once before, under a different Ch.2 regime. They pushed Wolf aside for Brett Haber, a younger Tapehead. Haber didn't exactly take the city by storm.

WCBS-TV brought Wolf back in 1997 to anchor the 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. sportscasts. He did his thing with even more passion, precision and good humor. It was not enough.

The broadcast business is subjective and superficial.

So, maybe Leone did not like Wolf's style. Or maybe he is looking for a more youthful on-air presence. If the latter is the case, Ch.2 is making a big mistake. The local sportscasting landscape is littered with broken egos of young Tapeheads who did not click with fans.

Another thing to consider, and this goes for almost every local TV station in the market: news directors have relegated nightly sportscasts to below secondary status. Tapeheads are given little time to present their reports. Or exhibit a personality that could attract viewers on a nightly basis.

The powers that be have given up the sports territory to ESPN. There actually is a segment of fans who would rather watch a Tapehead with credibility than a cat who should be wearing clown makeup while delivering the scores and highlights.

Warner Wolf could make you laugh, too. With the right story, he could also make you cry.

Most of all, he transmitted a feeling. He came to work, for all these years, each and every day, making you feel that he loved the life.

"I want to thank my loyal viewers," Wolf said. "I look forward to being on the air as soon as I can."

The sooner the better.

He gets blitzed


Warner Wolf

Beloved sportscaster Warner Wolf, who coined the phrase "Let's go to the videotape," has been unceremoniously dumped by Channel 2.
The local network's decision not to renew Wolf's contract may end a career that has spanned four decades, stamping him as a New York sports institution.

The high-profile 66-year-old commentator, who also appeared in movies and as a regular on the "Imus in the Morning" radio program, reinvented sports reporting with his jocular manner and use of videotape action - punctuating basketball highlights by exclaiming, "Swish!"

Wolf also was known for another catchy phrase, usually after blowouts. "If you had the Jets and 52 points, you lost!" he might say after a 56-3 Jets loss.

Channel 2 officials had no comment on the release of the three-time regional Sportscaster of the Year.

Rumors have been circulating for weeks that Wolf's contract would not be renewed. His answer: "I have no intention of retiring."

"You can't have thin skin to survive in this business," Wolf has said.

The son of a Washington vaudeville couple, Wolf was a teenage regular in the bleachers of old Griffith Stadium, watching the original, stumbling Washington Senators.

After stints as a play-by-play announcer for WTOP-TV in Washington, Wolf joined ABC as host of its "Monday Night Baseball," "Wide World of Sports" and "College Football Scoreboard" programs.

He also was sportscaster for Channel 7 from 1976 to 1980 before joining Channel 2. He left Channel 2 after 12 years for a gig at WUSA-TV in the nation's capital, then returned to Channel 2 for a second tour of duty in February 1997.

He's the author of "Let's Go to the Videotape" and "Give Me a Break" and played himself in "Rocky IV" and the CBS series "The Equalizer." He played an extra in "A Beautiful Mind" and several feature films.

The peripatetic Wolf, who long believed in the credo "Have voice, will travel," also broadcast live sports reports for Israeli television during the 1991 Persian Gulf War and reported from the 1976 Winter and Summer Olympics.

Wolf began his broadcasting career in 1961 at WLSI-AM in Pikeville, Ky., where he also served as disk jockey, news reporter, weatherman and sportscaster.

He has a communications degree from American University in Washington and served there as an adjunct professor.

Originally published on May 29, 2004