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Bob Sirott exits WMAQ-Channel 5

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Respected veteran Chicago broadcaster Bob Sirott is out at NBC-owned WMAQ-Channel 5. WMAQ Station Manager Frank Whittaker informed the station's staff this morning of Sirott's exit. Sirott was expected to be a 10 pm news anchor alongside Allison Rosati, but negotiations apparently hit a snag over a clause in Sirott's contract that promised him a boost in salary along with his increased responsibilities. Sirott was scheduled to go on vacation today. He will not return to the station.

X00090_9.JPGSo now we are in a holding pattern as suspense builds about who will anchor NBC-owned WMAQ-Channel 5's 10 p.m. newscast. No announcement is expected until next month. But what once seemed a given -- that veteran newscaster Bob Sirott would assume a role as a 10 p.m. anchor -- suddenly seems somewhat less so. And whether it wanted to or not, WMAQ has raised the ugly specter of Rosati and Sirott possibly duking it out for a solo anchor assignment at 10 p.m.

At least a couple of factors make a potential battle for WMAQ's 10 p.m. anchor job(s) a messier matter than it might otherwise be. For one thing, well-informed sources say Sirott has a clause in his contract with WMAQ that specifically promises him a 10 p.m. anchor role in the post-Saunders era at the station. If, for whatever their reasons, WMAQ management doesn't offer him the 10 p.m. job, things could get ugly. Or at the very least, costly, if they have to pay off Sirott.

Furthermore, sources who know and respect long-time WMAQ on-air talent Rosati say she definitely should not be counted out in any fight that might ensue over the 10 p.m. anchor job Though her on-air demeanor couldn't be pleasanter, Rosati is apparently one tough cookie who developed a close bond of mutual admiration with Saunders over many years, but who also, sources say, fiercely guarded her right right to be seen as Saunders' equal on the 10 p.m. newscast. "She would count the 'reads' she and Warner would get each night on the newscast and make very sure he wasn't getting more than she did," said one source who knows Rosati well.

Should things take a somewhat surprising twist, and Rosati winds up fronting the 10 p.m. solo, it would mark only the second time in recent history that a woman has had such a role in the Chicago TV market. Sun-Times columnist Carol Marin fronted a groundbreaking 10 p.m. newscast on WBBM for a while. But perhaps in large part because of its unusual format, that newscast never caught on, and Marin left WBBM.

X00096_9.JPG.jpgWarner Saunders, the co-anchor of NBC-owned WMAQ-Channel 5 flagship 10 p.m. newscast, has been selected as one of the Chicago Defender newspaper's "Men of Excellence." The honorific acknowledges and celebrates African-American men who personify the qualities of respect, responsibility, passion, brotherhood and leadership.

Saunders anchors WMAQ's 10 p.m. newscast with Allison Rosati, and they are the longest-running 10 p.m. news team in Chicago. Saunders is expected to step down from his anchoring duties at WMAQ later this year. In his 30-year career, Saunders has won more than 20 Emmy Awards for his work in news, sports, documentaries, talk shows and community town meetings. A reception is slated for the Hotel Allegro in Chicago, on Jan. 15, to honor the Defender's 2nd annual group of Men of Excellence.

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Lewis Lazare has written the Media Mix column for the Chicago Sun-Times for the past seven and a half years.

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