- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Gordon Peterson will move to the anchor desk at WJLA-TV (Channel 7) in December after more than 30 years at WUSA-TV (Channel 9), where he became a Washington-area icon and one of the industry’s most respected newsmen.

Mr. Peterson will co-anchor WJLA’s weekday 6 p.m. newscast with Maureen Bunyan, his on-air partner at Channel 9 from 1978 through 1995, when they were the region’s top-rated news team.

WJLA, the local ABC affiliate, has given him a three-year contract. People familiar with the deal said he will have a six-figure annual salary, less than his yearly pay at WUSA, which was more than $1 million.

His severance will be about $700,000, these people said.

The move to WJLA will reunite Mr. Peterson with other Channel 9 refugees, including weatherman Doug Hill, reporters Mike Buchanan and Andrea McCarren and several behind-the-scenes staffers.

In addition to joining the anchor desk, Mr. Peterson will bring his long-running weekend political round-table show, “Inside Washington,” with him to WJLA.

“It’s like going back to camp,” Mr. Peterson said. “I really like what they’re doing at WJLA, and I’m thrilled to be able to work with Maureen and Doug and all the others again.”

WUSA had offered Mr. Peterson a new contract earlier this year. According to people familiar with the deal, the station — one of 22 owned by McLean media monolith Gannett Co. Inc. — wanted to slash his salary by as much as 80 percent and relieve him of his anchoring duties.

In September, the CBS affiliate pulled Mr. Peterson off its 11 p.m. anchor desk and replaced him with Channel 9 newcomers Tracey Neale and Todd McDermott. Mr. Peterson was permitted to keep his 6 p.m. newscast through Election Day.

“We really would like Gordon to stay. We offered him a role here. This was his decision,” said Darrell J. Green, WUSA’s president and general manager.

Since 2003, WUSA has fired several longtime employees, including Mr. Buchanan and sportscasters Ken Mease and Frank Herzog. The union that represents TV anchors and reporters recently began investigating the station’s hiring and firing practices.

Mr. Peterson said he has no hard feelings.

“Nothing stays the same forever. Change is the only constant in life. They treated me well for 35 years,” he said.

WUSA’s late-afternoon and early evening lineup, including Mr. Peterson’s 6 p.m. newscast, have struggled in the ratings in recent years, but viewership for its 11 p.m. news stayed strong during his watch.

Mr. Peterson is joining WJLA as it begins showing signs of life after years of struggling for viewers.

Since 1999, parent company Allbritton Communications Co. has wooed big names like Miss Bunyan and CNN’s Leon Harris to WJLA and spent more than $20 million to merge its newsroom with sister cable network NewsChannel 8.

Mr. Peterson will replace Mr. Harris as Miss Bunyan’s partner at 6 p.m., but “Leon will continue to be our lead anchor. Gordon is coming here knowing that,” said Frederick J. Ryan Jr., Allbritton’s president.

Staffers at WUSA were stunned when word of Mr. Peterson’s move leaked early yesterday.

Many newsroom staffers saw him as a father figure and said they were pleased he had found a new home at WJLA after what widely was seen as shabby treatment by WUSA.

Mr. Peterson’s last air date on WUSA’s 6 p.m. newscast will be Nov. 5. He will join WJLA during the first week of December.

WUSA will drop “Inside Washington” after the election. It will resurface on WJLA in December and be syndicated to other Allbritton stations.

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