- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 25, 2004

WUSA-TV (Channel 9) hired Tracey Neale yesterday, ending a bitter three-month legal battle with the news anchor’s former employer, WTTG-TV (Channel 5).

Ms. Neale is expected to become Gordon Peterson’s co-anchor on WUSA’s weekday 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. newscasts, probably in August or September. She will replace his partner of the past 31/2 years, Gurvir Dhindsa, whose contract ends in the summer.

Managers at WUSA, the Washington area’s CBS affiliate, described Ms. Neale’s deal as a “multiyear” contract, but declined to be more specific. Her salary will be higher than it was at WTTG, which paid her more than $300,000 annually, sources say.

“I’m fulfilling a personal goal by coming back to Channel 9. I always wanted to work here,” said Ms. Neale, who interned at WUSA while attending James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Va.

Ms. Neale generally is regarded as one of the brightest new stars in local television news, which has encountered increased competition from the Internet and cable television. She won local Emmys for anchoring in 2002 and 2003.

Ms. Neale joined WTTG, the region’s Fox affiliate, in December 1994 and became one of its most popular anchors.

Her last airdate was Dec. 9, nine days before her contract ended.

People familiar with the situation said Ms. Neale often disagreed with WTTG’s news director, Katherine Green. WTTG matched WUSA’s salary offer in a bid to keep Ms. Neale, triggering a legal battle that did not end until WTTG agreed this week to release her.

Ms. Green could not be reached yesterday.

A clause in Ms. Neale’s WTTG contract does not permit her to appear on WUSA’s airwaves until late spring, but Channel 9 managers said she will begin reporting to work Monday.

Managers introduced her yesterday to staffers, who gave her a standing ovation.

Ms. Dhindsa chose to stay home yesterday, some staffers said. She could not be reached, but several co-workers praised her for maintaining her poise while local newspapers reported on the station’s efforts to replace her.

Ms. Neale joins WUSA as the station continues its struggle to recapture the Nielsen ratings crown from NBC affiliate WRC-TV (Channel 4), which surpassed Channel 9 as the region’s first choice for local TV news in the mid-1990s.

WUSA announced several other new hires yesterday, including Emily Schmidt, a reporter from Fox’s Baltimore affiliate.

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