WTTW discards broadcast treasure Rich Samuels

December 30, 2009

Rich Samuels

He may be Chicago's most literate and thoughtful broadcast journalist, but there's no room anymore for Rich Samuels. After more than 35 years on local television news --  including the last 18 on Window to the World Communications' WTTW-Channel 11 --  he's out as a correspondent for "Chicago Tonight," the public station's flagship news program.

It's another significant loss for Channel 11, which suffered setbacks earlier in the year with the death of longtime host and revered elder statesman John Callaway and the resignation of "Chicago Tonight" correspondent Christian Farr. Neither has been replaced.

Samuels was notified earlier this month that his contract would not be renewed when it expires this week because of what sources called a "seven-figure shortfall" in the station's budget. Samuels, who made his last appearance on "Chicago Tonight" Dec. 23, has been on a previously scheduled vacation since then. Beyond confirming his departure, he declined to comment Tuesday.

Samuels, 68, joined Channel 11 in 1991 after 17 years as a reporter for NBC-owned WMAQ-Channel 5. His documentaries, investigative reporting and writing have won countless national and local honors, including 13 Emmys and six Peter Lisagor Awards. Ron Magers, the dean of Chicago news anchors, once called him "the best writer for television I've ever worked with."

A North Shore native and Yale University magna cum laude graduate, Samuels earned a doctorate in Italian Renaissance history from the University of Chicago. He put his training as a historian to work as curator of a website he created "to preserve Chicago's illustrious history as a broadcast center." It includes a virtual tour of the former NBC studios in the Merchandise Mart exactly as they appeared when they opened in 1930.

In nominating Samuels for induction last year in the prestigious Silver Circle of the Chicago Television Academy, longtime colleagues Carol Marin and Danice Kern wrote:

"Talk to Rich once and you come away with two things: One, he's some sort of genius. Two, he's one of the shyest, most unassuming guys you'll ever meet. Maybe it's that crazy mix of intellect and modesty that makes him and his reporting so memorable. . . . He's kind of a Dvorak or a Matisse or a Niels Bohr in the editing room --  and, as anyone who's worked with him knows, just as passionate and brilliant."

Just the other day, Samuels posted a comment here on the ouster of Magers from his afternoon gig with Roe Conn on Citadel Broadcasting news/talk WLS-AM (890). "That was the part of the show I always tuned in for," Samuels wrote. "But at age 68, I'm demographically irrelevant."

No you're not, Rich. It's the television news business that's becoming irrelevant.

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