There are broadcasting legends, and there is Sue Simmons. FishbowlNY caught up with the iconic anchorwoman for a rare one-on-one interview, as she was being named a Black Media Legend at the Plaza Hotel Friday.
Simmons left WNBC in June after more than three decades at the anchor desk. Three months earlier, word broke on what many considered an unthinkable story – Simmons would not get a contract extension.
“I already knew my contract was up and I got threatened with suspension,” Simmons says. “I didn’t say a word until after I left.”
Once Simmons’ future status was published it caused her nothing but angst. “The last several months from March to June was pretty much a nightmare for me,” Simmons admits. “Because after you’ve worked with your teams and your friends for that long it’s very difficult to come to terms with the fact that it’s not going to be anymore.”
Simmons adds that there was no bitterness as she began the “farewell tour” at WNBC. “How would you complain about 32 years at one job, in television, in New York City, and being part of the longest running anchor team in New York’s history?”
If it were her choice, Simmons says viewers would still be watching Chuck Scarborough and her each night. “Part of me was hoping that. Unfortunately, I got mixed signals and I thought at the very end that I was going to stay,” Simmons says. “It turned out to be not true. People start talking; I just got the feeling that they had softened their position. So that was a bit of a jolt at the end.”
The feelings were so strong in the final weeks that emotions would get the best of her. “I couldn’t talk about it without tearing up,” Simmons admits. “So, I’m just finally glad that’s over.”
Her good vibes at 30 Rock had dissipated in recent years after Comcast announced it was acquiring a controlling stake in NBCU in 2009, approved by the FCC in 2011.
“We started to see the handwriting on the wall as soon as we did a tremendous downsizing. We were not a newsroom anymore.”
Before Comcast took over, WNBC management created the “content center” for multiple platforms. Digital channel New York Nonstop was launched (recently changed to Cozi TV running classic TV programs. News 4 New York at 7 still airs each evening).
“The cutbacks were so severe that we knew that they would look at the people who made the most money to see where they could cut.” Several reporters were shown the door. Most notably, longtime sports anchor Len Berman was let go after nearly a quarter-century.
“Our counterparts in Los Angeles were dropping one by one, so we kind of knew,” Simmons tells FishbowlNY. “We didn’t how they were going to do it, whether it was going to be one of us, or both of us [Scarborough] at the same time. But we talked about it.”
Since the Comcast takeover, however, WNBC brought back the 5pm news, added a noon newscast, expanded Sunday’s late newscast, hired 20 people, mostly in the news department, moved to a new studio, purchased four new trucks, new LiveU backpack units and brought back Chopper 4. “All these investments are making the station stronger and better able to compete in the market,” says a WNBC spokesperson.
But going back to 2008, Simmons recalls an executive saying they wanted to “phase her out” within two weeks. “Four, five years went by and then it started getting a little bit more pointed.”
While that chapter has concluded, Simmons hopes to write additional passages to her career. “I want to be on television in some way,” Simmons says. “I think I’ve had enough news. What else could I do? I don’t know. I have my life in front of me.”