- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 13, 2003

WJLA-TV will revive its “Seven on Your Side” consumer-news franchise next month, when reporter Ross McLaughlin and photographer Shawn Hoder join the ABC affiliate.

“Seven on Your Side” was a local television institution from the late 1970s until the early 1990s, when then-anchor Paul Berry helped Channel 7 viewers resolve disputes with Washington area businesses. Mr. Berry’s signature was to show up with a camera crew on the doorstep of merchants who wouldn’t return his calls.

Other stations soon copied the popular “gotcha” format. In recent years, WJLA drifted away from that style of consumer reporting, although it continued to use the “Seven on Your Side” slogan in some stories.

“Seven on Your Side is still something people talk to us about. It’s something they want to see us do again,” said Bill Lord, vice president of news for WJLA and its sister cable network, NewsChannel 8.

Mr. Berry, now a radio talk-show host, said viewers sent him as many as 60,000 letters a year at the height of the format’s popularity. Three assistants helped him resolve the complaints, although not all the cases made it to the air.

The new unit will be composed of Mr. McLaughlin and Mr. Hoder, who will also help produce the reports. The duo is expected to churn out two to three stories a week, beginning in mid-June.

Elizabeth Manresa, WJLA’s current consumer reporter, will continue to work on product recalls and other consumer features.

Mr. McLaughlin — who learned his trade in his native Canada as a consumer reporter dubbed “The Troubleshooter” — said he won’t “be confrontational just for the sake of the camera. We’ll only do that when it’s necessary.”

Fox affiliate WTTG-TV (Channel 5) and NBC affiliate WRC-TV (Channel 4) also have consumer units. CBS affiliate WUSA-TV (Channel 9) disbanded its unit last year to create an investigative reporting team.

WJLA recently disbanded its I-Team investigative unit, but Mr. McLaughlin and Mr. Hoder will help fill that void by doing some occasional investigative reports, Mr. Lord said.

The three men worked together at CBS’ Seattle affiliate in the mid-1990s. Mr. Hoder is still with that station, while Mr. McLaughlin reports for the syndicated magazine series “Celebrity Justice.”

Steele magnolia

Alexandra Steele has a new job down south. The popular weathercaster, who left WJLA in November, joined the Atlanta-based Weather Channel as a morning forecaster last week.

A Weather Channel spokesman said viewers may also see her on the season finale of NBC’s “Friends” tomorrow evening. The sitcom’s producers asked the Weather Channel to provide a clip of a forecaster for one scene, and the cable network shipped them a tape of their newest hire.

Welcome back, Tony?

Speaking of Miss Steele, WJLA is talking to Tony Williams about replacing her on “Good Morning Washington.”

We’re referring, of course, to the Tony Williams who was a weekend weatherman at WUSA from 1992 until 1995 — not the Anthony A. Williams who occupies the District mayor’s office.

Local television hasn’t been the same since Tony-the-weatherman departed WUSA, where his perpetually tousled hair and boyish charm made him a viewer favorite. He spent the last eight years at the CBS affiliate in Los Angeles, but he was canned in a staff shake-up last month.

Mr. Williams, a native Washingtonian and son of legendary defense lawyer Edward Bennett Williams, could not be reached. Mr. Lord declined comment.

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

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