Monday, April 18, 2011

From Fox Out to Outfoxed

Meteorology has always been an interest of mine. Growing up in Miami, FL, I was always interested in hurricanes and meteorologists.

I grew up watching a couple of the best on-air meteorologists in the country: Don Noe & Brian Norcross of WPLG. There were plenty of other on-air meteorologists in South Florida: Walt Cronise (classy), Bob Soper (creep), Cliff Morrison (clueless), Bob Weaver (fixture), Gary Travers (panicky). Soon, I wanted to be a meteorologist myself, and after graduating high school, attended Florida State University to pursue a degree in Meteorology in 1990. 

I was a huge fan of The Weather Channel too. A friend of mine and I used to watch a guy named Dave Schwartz and we'd joke about whatever euphemisms he'd use for any particular forecast.

Long story short, I got my degree in Graphic Design from FSU but meteorology is still my first love.

I moved up to CT in 1995, following my college sweetheart up here after graduating FSU. I found a place to live in Fairfield, CT and soon I was looking for a new source for my local TV news.

I chose WTNH Channel 8, which was an easy choice, mostly because of a guy by the name of Geoff Fox. 

Geoff had a way of delivering a forecast (or recap) of weather that in my mind, always went above and beyond. He found a way to make his five minutes of a news broadcast, ENTERTAINING and at times, funny. He'd offer tidbits of information here and there as to why some weather phenomena occur, and would always do it in a way that viewers could understand. He ENGAGED his viewers.

With Geoff Fox being on the air for so many years (27 of them to be exact with all of them at the SAME station), it shouldn't be a surprise to anyone that Geoff had built up a following of LOYAL viewers, including me. From a transplanted southerner's point-of-view: people in New England can't be pushed around; they like things a certain way and if they're done wrong, they ain't gonna stand for it. The British learned this the hard way about 200+ years ago when they got their hineys kicked out of New England.

Well, some people don't know their history all too well. In the summer of 2009, Mark Higgins became the general manager of WTNH, and soon, things began to change. Your opinion may differ, but from my perspective, dresses got tight, cleavage became in season and make-up looked more fit for the bedroom than the newsroom. 

Yes, the times they were a' changing at Elm St. 

Desiree Fontaine (traffic & 'fashion' reporter) did herself in and I saw a perfect opportunity for WTNH to bring in a tremendously talented traffic person who recently had her contract expire at WXII in Raleigh, NC (Jennie Stencel). I wrote to decision makers at WTNH, and campaigned for her. Her on-air segments are the stuff of legend, this was a perfect opportunity to bring her into a market that would appreciate someone with such a gifted sense of humor. 

These links refuse to embed, but trust me, you must watch these. Hilarious.

So did I ever get a reply from anyone at WTNH? :)

WTNH's new traffic reporter arrived in a large ginormous wooden crate. You'd almost think the Tasmanian Devil was inside. The promos hyping the new traffic reporter were constant. Teresa LaBarbera was announced as WTNH's new traffic reporter. From my perspective, she was cherry-picked from another station. I don't know any specifics but that's just my point-of-view.

Then there was word that meteorologist Matt Scott wasn't getting renewed. 

People started groaning about these changes, things were heading in a direction that loyal viewers of WTNH began to detest.

And then it happened. A single tweet from the New Haven Register announced that Geoff Fox was not going to have his contract renewed after 27 years at WTNH.

I was incensed. Who takes a CT fixture after 27 years and sh*tcans them? The simple answer to that question is Mark Higgins.

I wasn't having it. I hit twitter and started tweeting.

Turns out it wasn't just me that felt this way. Someone on Facebook (Debra) started a "Keep Geoff Fox on Channel 8" Facebook page and everyone now had a place they could organize. Sponsor lists were put together, I provided email addresses of the people in the 'ivory tower' at LIN Media for people to contact and share their opinion on the matter.

I certainly shared mine using all available means of social media & professional email communications possible.

People began to exponentially join the effort. The story got legs. The WTNH page on Facebook began to get peppered with angry viewers, threatening to boycott WTNH if Geoff Fox was not renewed. WTNH could have posted a story about a kitten being rescued out of a tree and 9 out of 10 comments were about how people wanted their Geoff Fox back. This went on for weeks!

Geoff had taken a couple of weeks off, that were already scheduled to be taken even before all of this went down. He still had time on his contract left, and viewers were anxiously looking forward to his return. Especially in light of the kind of winter CT was dealing with. There were snowstorms every 3-4 days. BIG snowstorms.

Then Mark Higgins dismissed viewers, addressing people like me as 'distractions', and put it out there that Geoff Fox would not be returning on-air for the remainder of his contract. That pretty much tossed gas onto an already healthy fire.

It's probably around this time that a station in the same market began to seriously consider what many were already saying: "Wouldn't it be great if Geoff Fox went to FOX CT?". I dismissed such a notion, knowing that Rachel Frank had recently been renewed, and the FOX CT bullpen was filled for all intensive purposes. The management at FOX CT had taken notice and from what we know now from Geoff Fox himself, "created the position for me out of thin air".

But getting back to the lunacy of WTNH management, I remember finishing dinner one night and turning on Wheel of Fortune and this is what I saw:

Dr. Mel, the guy who you have always heard "Wrote the book on CT Weather" was basically singing the praises of Geoff Fox's replacement and complete endorsed him 100%. It was truly bizarre. I know if I was Dr. Mel, and management came to me and asked me to participate in such a promo, I'd tell them where to stick it. Yet, there he was.

I'd wondered what Geoff thought of all of this when he got wind of it and saw the promo for himself. I got my answer to that when he was a guest on WPLR's Chaz & AJ morning show last week. 

"Your father just died…but LOOK! I have a PUPPY!" Geoff Fox said during the interview when questioned about the Dr. Mel promo.

WTNH & LIN Media did indeed go on to sign two replacement meteorologists to fill the spots that were open from two contracts that were left to expire (Scott & Fox). And while having social media platforms, WTNH & LIN Media never offered their perspective on the situation, or bothered to address viewers other than calling them 'distractions'.

WTNH & LIN Media management threw out the baby with the bathwater. FOX CT was smart enough to realize it and not only snatched up Geoff Fox, but pretty much all of his disillusioned viewers who were hung out to dry just like Geoff himself.

I've been watching FOX CT since January, and can tell you first hand that things are managed much better compared to WTNH. More live shots, a faster pace and more resources to utilize to gather news. Now, there are still some VERY talented people at WTNH, which is why I want to make this abundantly clear: WTNH & LIN Media management are the real boneheads here with Mark Higgins at the helm. 

Every ship that has ever sailed has had a captain. Some ships capsize, at times due to a direct or indirect decision made by a captain (or person(s) in command during a watch). There's a moment in time when a ship is sinking that the captain of said ship realizes it's a done deal. I can only imagine what could be going through their mind while they are going "down with the ship" (if they do at all). I'm in the camp of thought that Captain Mark Higgins would be scampering about looking for a lifeboat of his own before allowing women and children to abandon ship first. 

Unfortunately for Mr. Higgins, all of those lifeboats are gone and have made it safely over to FOX CT…including Geoff Fox who had to walk the plank to get there.

@jimbodunky on Twitter

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Monday, April 11, 2011

Blog 00001: A Work in Progress

My first blog post...hmmm, well, as you'd expect, it's not a whole lot to look at. For now, I'll just start out with a few words and some water and see what grows. Yeah, I'm officially one of those "bloggers" you hear about in the news once I hit that "publish post" button. Here we go...