Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Ernie Anastos Jumps From WCBS To WNYW
This was an offer I couldn't refuse'

Ernie Anastos is local television's new $10 million man.

Anastos is set to make a stunning move ? he's walking away from his anchor gig at WCBS, his home of the past four years ? for WNYW.

He's jumping ship to WNYW with a new five-year deal estimated to be worth a whopping $10 million, the Daily News has learned. The hush-hush deal was hammered out in secrecy during the past month, with only the top executives at each station and a few others aware of the change.

Until now.

Anastos confirmed the shift when questioned by The News last night.

"Fox made me an offer I couldn't refuse," Anastos said, declining to discuss contract terms. "I am honored and humbled by their enthusiasm and commitment."

It's a deal that will change the local television landscape, leaving WNYW's Len Cannon without an anchor slot and WCBS's Roz Abrams partnerless.

That's because Anastos will become the Fox-owned station's lead anchor. He's expected to be teamed with market veteran Rosanna Scotto on WNYW's 5, 6 and 10 p.m. newscasts.

He also will develop specials for WNYW and the Fox Network, and he may have some ties with the Fox News Channel.

"This is a challenge, and a sense of renewal," Anastos said. "This is an opportunity to grow and develop. I enjoy what I do. ... I don't look upon my work as work."

WNYW's blockbuster deal to land Anastos is unusual, considering he still had two years to go on his pact with WCBS. WCBS officials granted Anastos' agent permission to talk with their rival.

And bagging Anastos is a major score for WNYW. He has been in the market since 1978 and is beloved by viewers and respected by colleagues.

Speculation is that he will start at WNYW later this year, meaning Cannon will be dropped as Scotto's co-anchor.

Scotto and Anastos have a history. They both worked at WABC in the mid-1980s, when he was an anchor and she a correspondent. They also have co-hosted telethons.

Pairing the two is the latest effort by WNYW News Director Scott Matthews to beef up the station's occasionally maligned news franchise.

WNYW has led the 10 p.m. news race for years but has not been as successful with its early-evening newscasts, which were launched in 2002. Under a previous news director, WNYW earned a reputation for going big on theatrics at the risk of credibility.

"I hope to bring all my years of experience in broadcast journalism to Fox and continue their tradition of quality, integrity and performance," Anastos said. "It's always humbling when someone wants you ? and shows you that respect."

Since Anastos arrived on the city's airwaves, he has generated a following ? and confidence ? with viewers. He has worked at WABC, WWOR and has done two tours of duty at WCBS.

"I love this city and the people who live in and around New York, New Jersey and Connecticut," Anastos said.

Anastos' departure leaves WCBS in a bit of a pickle. Anastos is currently paired with Roz Abrams on the station's 5 p.m. and 11 p.m. newscasts, and there's no obvious replacement in house. Former WNBC morning anchor Maurice DuBois, now co-anchor on the 6 p.m. news, could make the shift, but he just got there.

Likewise, word of Anastos' new deal comes just as WCBS launched a major promotional campaign built around Anastos, Abrams and other recent hires, such as weatherman John Bolaris, DuBois and sportscaster Chris Wragge.

Indeed, Anastos has been the one constant during a few years of ongoing change at WCBS, including the high-profile firing of Warner Wolf.

On a larger scale, his exit comes at a time when CBS, the parent of WCBS, is under a dark cloud because of the mishandling of a story about President Bush's military career by "60 Minutes Wednesday" and a $550,000 Federal Communications Commission fine for Janet Jackson's Super Bowl stunt.

And now, the lead anchor on the network's flagship station is leaving.

"There's absolutely no connection between the two," Anastos said of the CBS News flap.

Also, Anastos is leaving just as the station's key 11 p.m. newscast is gaining steam in the ratings.

"I've had a wonderful experience at CBS, I have a lot of friends there," he said. "I'm proud of our work. But this was a wonderful offer from Fox."