It was an ugly end to a glorious chapter for Jim Watkins. The affable anchor completed a 13-year run at Tribune-owned WPIX/Channel 11 in October. Watkins, who teamed with Kaity Tong for a dozen of those years. was reduced to weekend anchor for the final 12 months of his tenure.
For the first time since his departure from WPIX, Watkins talks about his time leaving the station.
“It got a little complicated there at the end,” Watkins says. “The vast majority of my years at Channel 11 were terrific years, and that’s what I take away from it.”
News director Bill Carey wasted little time in his new role, hiring market veteran Jodi Applegate, late of News 12 Long Island as solo, weeknight anchor in October 2010.
“As the main face of the station, you have to …say, ‘I did my best, I got my skills and my connection with the audience, and my dedication to my craft,'” Watkins says. “The other things that happened, they just happened.”
Now, the accomplished anchor who also spent four years at WNBC, has his sights on future plans. Watkins is executive producer of a huge undertaking, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the 1964 Army/Navy Game. The project includes a documentary in which Watkins is heavily involved, a book to coincide with the release in late 2013, and a feature film or miniseries.
Watkins and producer Screen Gems tell the story of how servicemen at West Point went from the battlefield on the gridiron to the battlefield in Vietnam.
“This project sort of came to our attention,” Watkins says. “It’s a fantastic topic.”
It’s one of these events that you usually hear like the Kennedy assassination, as if there was one America that existed before that,” Watkins says. “And it was another America that has existed ever since.”
Still early in the process, Watkins wasn’t certain if he would provide the narration for the documentary, but has conducted several interviews with former players, including Navy quarterback, and Dallas Cowboys great, Roger Staubach.
“It’s a very rich topic from everything from a Rocky story involving a huge upset in the football game to Vietnam things that haven’t really been addressed so much,” Watkins admits. “…Not so much about what has been done with this elite, rarefied class of individuals.”
Despite linking the project to the game’s golden anniversary, Watkins says Vietnam is always topical.
“[It] never goes out of fashion,” Watkins says. “It is an American obsession that each generation long afterward that comes along deals with in its own way.”
For Watkins, helming this documentary is rewarding, albeit unique
“[There are] a lot of moving parts to a documentary, unlike my usual work, it’s not over with at 11 o’clock at night,” Watkins laughs. “It’s a long-range thing.”
Before moving forward, one more look back at Watkins’ former employer.
“Having Kaity and I as a team broken up [and given] different assignments, you’d have to think that something is going on there,” Watkins admits. “I think anybody in this business, on any level, would see going weeknights to weekends as a demotion.”
Watkins remains close with his former on-air partner Tong, who assumed the weekend anchor role upon his dismissal.
He’s thrilled to receive so much positive feedback (including comments on FishbowlNY) about his work, and the “superb chemistry” he shared with Tong. (See clip from their final newscast together below)
“We hated to see that end,” Watkins says. “We had a great time together. A real, terrific professional time together.”
To that end, FishbowlNY readers showed their love for the personable tandem, selecting “Jim and Kaity” number three in a January poll of New York’s favorite all-time anchor teams.
While he may never recapture the on-camera magic with Tong, Watkins is hopeful for a TV return.
“That door is absolutely not closed,” Watkins says. “I can’t really say much more about that right now. I still have a lot to give.”