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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_7.JPGThe ax has fallen on four employees in NBC-owned WMAQ-Channel 5's research and promotions department and its sales department, sources confirm. These are the first of what are believed to be more cuts to come in the station's news operation, where everyone is in the process of being "rehired" and trained to do more than one job. WMAQ honcho Larry Wert maintains he has yet to determine how much the news department operation will shrink, but some worried staffers believe the reductions will be significant.

Meanwhile, a WMAQ spokeswoman said the station has gotten no word from its about-to-retire news anchor Warner Saunders about when he plans to return to the 10 p.m. newscast. Saunders has been on medical leave since early March, and was supposed to return in mid-April and work through the end of May, when he is slated to officially retire from the station. Bob Sirott, who is supposed to formally replace Saunders as a 10 p.m. news anchor in June, has been filling in much of the time since the ailing anchor has been on leave.

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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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