Screen Test: KXAS to Court?

Ward Andrews: Not just another pretty face

A few years back, when Channel 5 (then WBAP-TV) had the highest rated news program in the Dallas-Fort Worth market, management followed a simple code: To hell with pretty faces, we want good reporters.

That attitude apparently went out the window in 1973 when the paternalistic Amon Carter Publications sold the station to Lin Broadcasting Co. of New York and WBAP became KXAS. The first significant indication of Channel 5’s cosmetic surgery was the removal from the screen of Frank Mills, a fixture on the noon news show, axed apparently because new management did not like his aging image.

The latest victim of the youth movement at Channel 5 is former prime-time anchorman Ward Andrews, who was recently pulled from weeknights and placed on weekend broadcasts. Andrews’ response was to quit, after giving the station an ultimatum: Either it reinstated him at weeknight anchor, or he would seek legal action. Andrews has hired an attorney and filed a National Labor Relations Board grievance which charges age and sex discrimination.

Andrews was replaced by 30-year-old Mary Ruth Carl-ton (who, some claim not co-incidentally, has dated the KXAS advertising manager), not a surprising choice given recent news talent trends toward youth and women. Andrews, 46 years old and a 22-year television veteran, not only was bumped to weekends, but suffered a pay reduction as well. “Station management,” says Andrews, “is telling people 1 got a promotion. How could it be a promotion when they cut your pay?” Andrews claims he is willing to take Channel 5 to court to get what he considers a just settlement. “Frank Mills [who also took legal action against the station] settled out of court for a booth announcer’s job [offscreen]. You can bet that I’m not going to settle for that.”

Andrews, whose viewers over the years have watched his hair go from real to wig, was apparently the victim of low audience ratings derived from the special personality-reaction tests that have become common in assessing on-air news talent (the same kind of test results that cost Jack Van Roy his job as Channel 8 weatherman). However, KXAS news director Lee El-sesser denies that Andrews was shafted, saying Andrews was “offered a position” as the editorial director for the station doing on-air editorials, a kind of Eric Sevareid of the Metroplex. “But,” says El-sesser, “he apparently didn’t like our offer.” Elsesser further defended the station’s position by saying that Andrews’ contention that the weekend news is the television graveyard is nonsense. Noting that there have been 36 personnel changes at the station in about 18 months, Elsesser claimed the decision to move Andrews was made partly to beef up the KXAS weekend coverage.

Because of Andrews’ steadfast position, it seems likely that the deposed anchorman is still going to stay in the news, even if only in the legal notices of the newspaper.

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