- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Now that we know Tracey Neale isn’t returning to her anchor chair at Fox affiliate WTTG-TV (Channel 5), the big question is who will succeed her: Shawn Yancy? Laura Evans?

Or both?

Ms. Neale commanded WTTG’s anchor desk on its weekday 5 p.m. and 10 p.m. newscasts until her contract ended in December and she left. She is expected to jump ship to CBS affiliate WUSA-TV (Channel 9), but legal wrangling between the stations has kept the move on hold.

Those matters could be resolved this week. But whether or not Ms. Neale moves to Broadcast House, one thing is certain: She isn’t returning to her old job.

This creates a nice opening for Ms. Yancy, a WTTG morning anchor, and Ms. Evans, a weekend anchor. Since Ms. Neale signed off, the women have taken turns sitting next to anchor Brian Bolter on the 5 p.m. and 10 p.m. newscasts.

The chatter around WTTG is that management may tap both women to replace Ms. Neale permanently. According to people familiar with this scenario, one woman would co-anchor with Mr. Bolter at 5 p.m., and another would sit next to him at 10 p.m.

When the women aren’t anchoring, they would report, the sources say.

WTTG’s ratings have been mixed without Ms. Neale. During the February ratings sweep, its 10 p.m. ratings fell, but its 5 p.m. ratings rose, according to Nielsen Media Research.

News Director Katherine Green could not be reached, but staffers cite her reputation for promoting within WTTG’s ranks. They also say Fox hasn’t paraded any newcomers into the newsroom to try out for Ms. Neale’s old job, although the name of Lori Stokes — a rising star at the ABC affiliate in New York who once anchored for WJLA-TV (Channel 7) here — has been tantalizingly tossed around.

As for the press-shy Ms. Neale? It must be nice to know it takes two people to fill your chair.

Gangs special slated

WJLA will air “Gangs in Our Suburbs,” a locally produced news special, tomorrow night at 8. Let’s hope the one-hour program has more heft than the show it pre-empts, ABC’s “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.”

For “Gangs,” WJLA sent investigative reporter Andrea McCarren to El Salvador to see how the Central American nation’s crackdown on gangs has sent some members fleeing to Northern Virginia.

The station aired some of the footage Mrs. McCarren and cameraman Walt Crawford collected in February, but we’re told it saved the best stuff for tomorrow’s special.

Fran Murphy produced “Gangs,” which also features reports from Leon Harris, Gail Pennybacker, Kevin Schultze, Greta Kreuz and Sam Ford.

WJLA, which Allbritton Communications Co. owns, is making a habit of chucking ABC’s lower-rated prime time programming for its own news specials.

In February, for example, the station dumped a “Celebrity Mole: Yucatan” installment for a report on the Washington area’s health care problems. The special performed dismally in the ratings, but since it was a WJLA production, the station didn’t have to share any advertising revenue from the show with the network.

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

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