- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Gordon Peterson, the face of the television station WUSA news department for more than three decades, will relinquish some of his anchoring duties to station newcomer Todd McDermott next week, signaling the end of an era in local broadcasting and a new strategy for the struggling CBS affiliate.

Mr. Peterson will step down as the anchor of WUSA’s 11 p.m. newscast tomorrow, the station announced yesterday.

He will report on national politics for WUSA and continue to anchor its 6 p.m. newscast, but knowledgeable sources said that assignment might continue only through the Nov. 2 election.

Mr. Peterson will continue to host and produce “Inside Washington,” the weekend political-roundtable program he has moderated since 1988.

The announcement capped weeks of negotiations between Mr. Peterson’s attorney, Robert B. Barnett, and the station, which wanted to move its longtime star out of his anchor chair and build a new team around Tracey Neale, a television station WTTG anchor who jumped ship to WUSA in the spring.

“These are management decisions. I’ve been around a long time. I know how these things work,” Mr. Peterson said.

He declined to reveal whether he was reluctant to give up the anchor desk or to discuss his role after the election, saying, “It’s up in the air.”

Mr. Peterson said he is eager to report on the presidential race.

“I’d much rather be talking to politicians than talking about them,” he said.

In addition to confirming that it hired Mr. McDermott — an anchor and reporter at the CBS station in New York — WUSA also confirmed yesterday that it has hired Brett Haber as its chief sportscaster.

The Washington Times reported Aug. 10 that WUSA was preparing to hire Mr. McDermott. On Aug. 25, The Times reported that Mr. Haber would succeed Frank Herzog, who was told in July that his contract would not be renewed after more than two decades at Channel 9.

WUSA staffers said they were relieved to learn that Mr. Peterson — a popular figure among viewers and colleagues alike — would continue to have a role at the station.

“As long as he’s happy and he’s being treated right, we’re fine,” one staffer said.

Mr. Peterson’s annual salary is said to be more than $1 million. His contract ends in December, and Mr. Barnett said he is talking to the station about a new deal.

Mr. Peterson joined WUSA as a reporter in 1969 and became its main anchor in 1971.

His calm delivery and easygoing chemistry with the other Channel 9 stars, such as the late sportscaster Glenn Brenner, made the station the viewers’ top choice for local news through the mid-1990s.

Since then, WUSA — one of 22 owned by Gannett Co. Inc. — has struggled with frequent on-air turnover and management changes.

Ratings for the station’s afternoon and early evening newscasts have suffered in recent years, but its 11 p.m. program generally finishes second to television station WRC, the local NBC station.

WUSA declined to make Ms. Neale, Mr. McDermott and Mr. Haber available for interviews yesterday. A spokeswoman said photographs of the newcomers were unavailable.

Darryll J. Green, the station’s general manager, did not return calls.

Ms. Neale will sit next to Mr. Peterson on the 6 p.m. newscast and next to Mr. McDermott on the 11 p.m. program, and Mr. McDermott will co-anchor the 5 p.m. show with J.C. Hayward.

Mr. Haber and chief meteorologist Topper Shutt will appear on all three shows.

Ms. Neale and Mr. McDermott will debut Monday, but Mr. Haber will not join the team until Nov. 1.

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