Sunday, January 18, 2009

Sportscaster Sal Marchiano insists he's not done yet

by Bob Raissman
NY Daily News

Nearly a month ago, Sal Marchiano picked up a newspaper and read he had "retired" from his job as nightly sports anchor for WPIX-TV, a position he held for 14 years. This was like a living, breathing somebody reading his obituary.

"Sal made a decision to retire at the end of this year, and last week was Sal's last week on the air as our sports anchor," a WPIX-TV spokeswoman told the Daily News in late December.

Thursday, Marchiano, who for 41 years (at Channels 2, 7 & 11), provided highlights, wisecracks and sarcasm to those inclined to "keep it where it is," chuckled at the notion he had decided to call it quits.

"Reports about my retirement were - and are - inaccurate," Marchiano said.

"When I ended my 'last' sportscast (Dec. 18) I said: 'I'm going on a vacation to search for my long-lost shaker of salt.' What I didn't - and couldn't - say was I was taking this 'vacation' because the Tribune Co. (PIX's parent company), which declared bankruptcy (last month), did not renew my contract," Marchiano said. "So, I'm a free agent."

Just a guy forced out of his job. This all goes back to last fall when an executive from another outlet told him all local stations were losing money. The suit warned Marchiano, "Watch out, a storm is coming."

"But I thought they (PIX) would renew me," Marchiano said. "To the very end, Hyundai sponsored my sportscast every night. I always thought that (selling cars) was the reason I was there."

Outside of that warning, Marchiano had no reason to believe otherwise. He remained popular, had an ally in PIX news director Karen Scott ("It wasn't her decision to put me out to stud, which in my case is redundant," Marchiano said), and was willing to be flexible when it came to contract negotiations.

Reality visited Marchiano on Oct. 30. The day defined the true meaning of mood swing. In the morning his daughter, Sam, gave birth to a boy, Cal. Marchiano arrived at work feeling just how a new grandfather should feel.

A few hours later he was in no mood to pass out cigars.

"That afternoon," he said, "they told me I was out - finished. They were not renewing my contract. The order came down from the top. You might say I had a bittersweet day."

An understatement from a man who rarely deals in that genre. Yet, his reluctance to talk about the end at WPIX, while that December spin about him "retiring" was being spread, was just business. Clearly, he was waiting for those checks to clear.

Marchiano's termination is more about what's happening in the local TV news business than it was about his performance. Industry sources say all six local stations, which for decades were cash registers, are losing money - big money. This has led to cutbacks. It has also led to major players, including local sports anchors making mid six-figures and up, either taking drastic pay cuts or, in Marchiano's case, being fired.

For years now, local sportscasters have been on the endangered species list. Many news directors - some genuflecting to consultants who have mistaken New York City for Iowa City - have attached a low priority to their nightly sportscasts.

"The sports guys are tolerated, but minimized. But the local sportscasts are still important. We are all still viable because we offer, through highlights and commentary, a local slant....That's why I lasted for (over) 40 years," Marchiano said. "Look, I'm not the greatest guy there ever was, but the point is you knew it was me. I'm known by first name."

Familiarity has been devalued. The suits would rather bring in a rotating cast of know-nothing wannabes practiced in the art of awful ad-libs, smarmadukes who have no connection with their audience and no feeling for the marketplace.

Now, there is not even a trace of bitterness in Marchiano's voice. Considering that other local sportscasters, on the outside looking in, still constantly complain about their demise, this is fairly remarkable. Or is it? Marchiano said he ain't looking back, only ahead to the next gig.

Four months ago, he had emergency knee surgery to repair a torn meniscus and is finishing up his rehabilitation. Soon, he will head for South Florida to visit friends.

"But I'm only a phone call away. It's peculiar not going in to do a sportscast every night," he said. "What I dwell upon is my brand, which is familiarity and credibility. So, I'm hanging out my shingle."

All of a sudden, it seemed like it was around 10:50 p.m. on Ch. 11. He blasted Woody Johnson for not meeting with Bill Cowher. Tore up the Giants' and Jets' PSL plans. And wondered who would fill all those expensive seats at Citi Field and the new Yankee Stadium.

Right then you hoped someone with a clue would do the right thing.

And return Sal Marchiano back where he belongs.

braissman@nydailynews.com

1 comment:

JOSEPH TOMASELLI said...

WELL, SAL HAS TO REMEMBER THAT HE REPLACED JERRY GIRARD WHO WAS A MUCH MORE PERSONABLE AND BETTER SPORTSCASTER.
POOR JERRY. THAT WAS HIS LIFE. HE DIED SOON AFTER. THAT IS THE WAY THINGS GO ON TV. IT'S A CRUEL WORLD. YOU HAVE TO BE PREPARED FOR THE WORST EVERY DAY ESPECIALLY WHEN YOU HAVE TO DEAL WITH THE BEAN COUNTERS AND INEPT EXECUTIVE PRODUCERS WHO ABOUND IN THE INDUSTRY.
THAT'S LIFE SAL. TV IS A VAST WASTELAND!!