It’s a run for the ages. Sue Simmons closes the book on her storied 32 years as WNBC anchor. She’ll sit alongside her legendary partner Chuck Scarborough one final time tonight for the 11 o’clock newscast.
Throughout the day, WNBC is proud to point out that it’s featuring clips from Simmons’ illustrious past.
However there is, arguably, a bigger story.
While the station is planning one day of on-air tributes, beyond that there is not much more than a “no comment.” Actually, let’s call it what it is–a gag order.
Management is showing perfunctory fan fare, but when no current colleagues, especially one half of the famed anchor team, are permitted to speak about such a presence in New York, we’re left to scratch our heads.
In a terse statement, a WNBC spokesperson said, “Chuck is not available for interview.”
Even more shocking is that GM Michael Jack would not offer a comment as the face of WNBC.
Simmons, 69, is being treated like she’s one of the Rosenbergs, who gave secrets to the Russians in the pre-Cold War era.
Since word got out in March that Sue’s contract would not be renewed, FishbowlNY attempted to speak to Simmons.
Typically when talent leaves, stations don’t permit interviews. However, there is nothing typical about this situation. Simmons, the popular, multi-award winning, triple-decade journalist, is one of the most beloved anchors New York has ever seen.
FishbowlNY made contact, or attempted to, with more than eight WNBC employees. Those that did respond kept in step with management’s desires, saying to get touch with the director of communications. However, FishbowlNY received an email from her detailing Channel 4’s plans to honor Simmons today.
When we followed up still seeking a quote from anyone in the company, including Jack, the publicist, Dawn Rowan, held firm, “This is our official information at this time.”
Not only won’t anyone go on the record about their iconic co-worker, we can’t understand why the gag order was instituted. (Station brass has also been mum about Simmons’ replacement. Afternoon anchor Shiba Russell has been the front runner, seemingly, since she joined Channel 4 in 2011.)
Fortunately, the silent treatment is lifted for anyone no longer working at 30 Rock.
Sue, of course, was most linked at the anchor desk with Scarborough, but Simmons was one-part of the trailblazing Live at Five. During the 1980s, she was teamed with Jack Cafferty, now with CNN’s The Situation Room.
“Sue’s longevity I think is due to two things: She’s good at what she does. More importantly, people like her,” Cafferty tells FishbowlNY. “She connects with viewers in a way that 95 percent of the talking heads on television don’t.”
Live at Five became must-see TV for local news, featuring a mix of hard hitting news and interviews with the biggest stars of the day.
Simmons did have some much publicized on-air missteps, one occurring last month during her lame duck period.
“Her ‘bloopers’ are a part of who she is. This is New York, after all,” Cafferty says. “The only people who will hold them against her are the ‘suits,’ who, in my experience, tend to be humorless.”
Another longtime colleague is sportscaster Len Berman, who also didn’t have his WNBC contract renewed in 2009. He recalls fondly being on set with Sue.
“She’s a great hostess, a terrific listener and a wonderful audience,” Berman says. “And most of all, she is one of a kind. It was a great joy working with her.”
Cafferty echoes the sentiments, and much more.
“Sue remains a dear friend of mine to this day,” Cafferty admits. “In all honesty, if it hadn’t been for Sue and Live at Five, I would likely be back in Reno, Nevada. I owe her a great deal.”