- The Washington Times - Monday, August 9, 2004

WUSA-TV (Channel 9) is preparing to replace iconic broadcaster Gordon Peterson on at least one of its newscasts with Todd McDermott, a reporter and anchor at the CBS station in New York, people familiar with the situation said yesterday.

The change comes as WUSA, the Washington area’s troubled CBS affiliate, prepares for the September debut of Tracey Neale, a popular anchor who left WTTG-TV (Channel 5) in December to join WUSA.

The station’s managers and its corporate parent, Gannett Co. Inc., hope Ms. Neale will reverse WUSA’s steep ratings decline.

The station has worked all summer to assemble a new group of anchors to join her on the set. By October, they hope to have Ms. Neale, Mr. McDermott and a new chief sportscaster in place.

Topper Shutt is expected to continue as the station’s chief meteorologist.

Darryll J. Green, WUSA’s president and general manager, declined comment.

The station has been dealing with slumping viewership and morale all summer.

Last week, news director David Roberts was ousted and Mr. Green told morning weathercaster Hillary Howard her contract will not be renewed when it ends in mid-October.

Mr. McDermott is expected to sign a deal this week to join WUSA in September.

He probably will be paired with J.C. Hayward on the station’s weekday 5 p.m. newscast and with Ms. Neale on its 11 p.m. program, although that could change, the sources said.

Mr. Peterson has co-anchored Channel 9’s weekday 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. newscasts since 1971, most recently with Gurvir Dhindsa, who was fired in July and will move to WTTG’s morning shift for at least three months, beginning today.

Mr. Peterson — whose contract ends in December — is negotiating a new deal with WUSA, but it is not clear what role management wants to give him.

One source said WUSA wants Mr. Peterson — a 35-year Channel 9 veteran — to remain with the station at least through the end of the year, long enough to “bless” Mr. McDermott as his successor.

Other sources have said WUSA wants Mr. Peterson to relinquish his 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. anchor duties and focus on “Inside Washington,” the weekend political round-table show he has hosted for Gannett since 1988.

Mr. Peterson has declined to discuss his future at WUSA. His attorney, Robert B. Barnett, would say only that “negotiations are continuing.”

Mr. McDermott reports for the CBS station in New York and co-anchors its weekend newscasts. He also has worked as a reporter and anchor in Baltimore, where he once lost a regional Emmy award for anchoring to Mr. Peterson and Jim Vance of WRC-TV (Channel 4).

His wife, Melissa McDermott, was an anchor at WJLA-TV (Channel 7), the Washington area’s ABC affiliate, from 1998 until 1999.

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