Ever since Bob Sirott walked away from the main anchor job at WMAQ-Channel 5 last year, there's been little doubt about whether he'd land at another station in town. The only real question has been where the Chicago broadcast veteran would turn up next.
While Sirott, 60, still may be the hottest free agent in town, signs are pointing to a return to WFLD-Channel 32, the Fox-owned station where he anchored its last worthwhile and relatively successful morning show, "Fox Thing in the Morning," from 1993 to 2000 (and where he met and married his co-anchor, Marianne Murciano). This time, insiders say, Fox bosses may be looking for Sirott to anchor a revamped version of their 9 p.m. weekday newscast.
It's not clear how the addition of Sirott would affect the show's current anchors, Robin Robinson, Jeff Goldblatt and the recently-hired Anna Davlantes. But such a move would coincide neatly with previously disclosed plans by Mike Renda, vice president and general manager, and Carol Fowler, vice president and news director, to overhaul the format into one emphasizing a few stories examined in some depth. It's also one that would allow Sirott to draw on his experience with "Chicago Tonight," the newsmagazine he hosted from 2002 to 2005 on public television WTTW-Channel 11.
Despite efforts to refocus the newscast and recruit some high-profile reporters, Channel 32 continues dead last in the late-news ratings. Even with the benefit of such Fox hits as "American Idol" and "Glee, the 9 p.m. newscast's 2.6 Nielsen rating in April was down more than 20 percent from the previous year.
If the station has any hope of improving its fortunes and becoming competitive in the market, hiring Sirott and building a smart, alternative Chicago news show around him could be the key. (And just imagine how much fun it would be to see Sirott go up against Mark Suppelsa, the former Fox anchor who now fronts the 9 p.m. newscast on Tribune Co.-owned WGN-Channel 9.)
Although rumors of a deal have been going around for quite a while now, Sirott won't contribute to the speculation. "Nobody has made any offers," he said Thursday. "I'm just enjoying my summer and keeping my agent busy."
Like so much of what's happened throughout the industry, Sirott's situation would have been hard to imagine a year ago.
His departure from Channel 5 last June caught many by surprise since he'd already settled into the NBC-owned station's 10 p.m. anchor chair vacated by Warner Saunders, who retired. But when NBC insisted on rewriting the multiyear contract Sirott had signed the previous fall, he refused to settle for less than he'd bargained for. Instead, Sirott held his bosses to terms of their original deal, reportedly triggering a payout that continues to this day -- with no strings attached.
Even after he left Channel 5, Sirott had a daily presence on the air as host of the hourlong noon show on Tribune-owned news/talk WGN-AM (720). But that ended in a round of cutbacks last January, leaving Sirott with only the Sunday night talk show he hosts with Murciano, occasional fill-ins as morning host, and some voice-over work.