- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 15, 2004

It hasn’t been the rosiest spring for WUSA-TV (Channel 9). First, the CBS affiliate suffered a disappointing May ratings sweep, including a cringe-inducing fifth-place finish for its 5 p.m. newscast.

Now the station must return one of the four Emmy Awards it collected Saturday night.

The president of the National Television Academy’s local chapter said yesterday that WUSA must surrender its National Capital/Chesapeake Bay Community Service Award because it was given the trophy in error.

WUSA and WETA-TV (Channel 26), the local PBS station, were the only nominees for the award, which honors broadcasters for their community outreach.

WUSA, for example, sponsors projects such as “Buddy Check 9,” a breast-cancer awareness campaign led by anchor Andrea Roane.

WETA has “Hometown Heroes,” a monthly award it gives to local do-gooders.

Stations used to do these kinds projects all the time, in part to impress the Federal Communications Commission when it came time to renew their broadcasting licenses. The FCC is a fairly toothless lion these days, so the idea that stations such as WUSA and WETA still do community service is really pretty quaint.

But back to the Emmy mixup.

On Saturday, when chapter President Joy Zucker opened the envelope to announce the winner of this year’s Community Service Award, the card inside listed WUSA.

That’s the name she read, although WETA’s clip was shown on the video monitors near the stage.

“That was the wrong clip, but that’s OK, because this is the right statue,” said WUSA’s vice president of community relations, Khalim Piankhi, when he reached the podium.

A member of the chapter’s accounting firm, Lively, Ostrye & Worch PC, came into the office the next day — a Sunday, no less — and checked the votes again. He determined WETA won the award, but a clerical error resulted in WUSA’s name being read at the ceremony, Miss Zucker said.

It was just like Election Night 2000, only the fate of democracy wasn’t hanging in the balance.

“This is something that never happened before. It will never happen again,” Miss Zucker said yesterday, stressing that the chapter doesn’t blame its accounting firm. “I’d hire them again.”

All of the Emmys that the chapter awards are judged by broadcasters from other cities, except for the Community Service Award, which is voted on by a panel of local civic leaders.

Miss Zucker called managers at WUSA and WETA yesterday to apologize and to tell WUSA that it will have to give its award back.

Mr. Piankhi offered to deliver the trophy to WETA himself. “I thought that was incredibly gentlemanly of him,” Miss Zucker said.

Managers at WUSA and WETA said they have no hard feelings.

And why would they? Everyone makes mistakes.

Just ask the WUSA flack who issued a press release Monday congratulating its Emmy winners and announcing that new anchor Tracey Neale will debut on Channel 9 in July.

Moments later the station issued a corrected release, announcing an August debut for Ms. Neale.

Call Chris Baker at 202/636-3139 or send e-mail to cbaker@washingtontimes.com.

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