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Tuned In: Few answers in Coscia's sudden exit from KDKA

Thursday, March 29, 2001

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

The Pittsburgh television community continues to chatter about the short-lived tenure and dark-of-night departure of KDKA news director Joe Coscia, who packed up his office and left the station late last Wednesday.

Only three months into the year and already two news directors have been forced out of Pittsburgh TV stations. First Tom Burke at WPGH and now Coscia. Both were talented men who deserved better.

Before Coscia's arrival at KDKA, staff members privately attested to low morale. But with a can-do attitude that accentuated the positive, Coscia had begun to improve newsroom spirit. He'd just started to make changes noticeable to viewers, particularly an improved morning show, the only one in town to include interview segments.

KDKA suffered ratings setbacks in February, but no one in his right mind could blame Coscia: He wasn't there long enough to warrant much credit or blame. KDKA general manager Gary Cozen did not return a call seeking comment on the latest newsroom shuffle.

On the heels of Coscia's exit, news production coordinator Steve Joyce, a 15-year veteran of the station, gave his notice Monday.

CBS vice president of communications Dana McClintock said Coscia's departure was due to conflict between Coscia and Cozen.

"The news director and general manager have parted ways and cited creative differences as the reason," McClintock said.

What those differences were, no one will say. But it's clear Coscia and Cozen had contrasting philosophies.

In this space in December, Coscia didn't make a huge fuss about the contests other stations run during sweeps, preferring instead to work toward making KDKA's newscasts contest-proof. He also expressed a hope that future hires would have the "Hometown Advantage," but said he was more interested in finding the best person for the job.

Those are sensible stands to take, but they conflicted with Cozen's anti-contest crusade and preference for hiring locals.

Joel Cheatwood, executive vice president of news for the CBS station division, said he was disappointed Coscia didn't work out.

"Joe is a very bright guy and certainly has a history of doing very well where he's been," Cheatwood said in a phone interview yesterday. "It's not uncommon when you have an important position like news director that it's often times a crapshoot -- will the person mesh and will the GM be able to work with the news director? You never know until you do it, and this is one of those occasions where it didn't quite work."

Cheatwood, who said he would not be opposed to hiring Coscia at another station in the company, had conversations with both Cozen and Coscia and tried to help them find common ground.

"They were both saying exactly the same thing," Cheatwood said. "It was a philosophical difference they couldn't get beyond. I offered suggestions and solutions to things that appeared to be solvable, but in the end it was pretty obvious there was a philosophical disconnect."

Though Cheatwood had positive things to say about both men, ultimately Cozen remains and Coscia is gone.

"We're really committed to local control of our stations," Cheatwood said. "Gary is the general manager, and he is held accountable for the station's performance. It's his call as to the troops that work underneath him. We really believe that's the way our stations need to be run. If a general manager has a problem with a department head, it's his prerogative to deal with it as he sees fit."

Coscia's departure has rankled some in the newsroom who, off the record, said they found his approach to be a refreshing change of pace. Cheatwood said he understands their feelings.

"As important as that is, if you have a philosophical problem between news director and general manager and if it's not resolved, it could basically tear apart the core strength a station has," he said. "In the best case you have longevity and consistency. Unfortunately, a lot of stations have to choose the long-term benefit of the station over the short-term morale and feelings of the folks that work there.

"At KDKA they've established a pattern of consistency, and regardless of who the news director ends up being, folks in the newsroom need to take heart in that," Cheatwood said. "It's a strong station ... and they will regain the top spot in the market news-wise. I don't think fixing KDKA is a difficult task at all. It's all there."

That's almost exactly what Coscia said in December.

NEW LATE NEWS ANCHOR? Moving from departures to possible arrivals, Channel 11 may finally pick a replacement for Darieth Chisolm. The 11 p.m. female anchor spot has been open since summer. The two strongest in-house candidates remain morning anchor Newlin Archinal and weekend anchor Jodine Costanzo.

Archinal is a better fit with Johnson, but with improved ratings for the morning show, will WPXI mess with success by promoting her to late night?

Plus, there's another contender for the spot -- former WTAE reporter Gina Redmond, who recently tested with anchor David Johnson. Redmond no longer works at WFAA in Dallas, where she went after leaving WTAE in late 1995.

That brings another issue to the fore: Should station executives promote from within, generally a good thing for morale, or should they put a higher priority on diversity and hire Redmond, who is black? It's not an easy call. WPXI executives were unavailable for comment.

THE WHOLE POOP: If you've ever watched "The Daily Show" on Comedy Central, you know it can be a spot-on parody of local news. It makes fun of both the style of local news reports and the citizens interviewed.

Watching WTAE news earlier this week, I thought I'd stumbled onto the "Daily Show." Recent arrival Emily Ryan reported on the problem of "goose poop," as it was described in a promo (Ryan more tactfully called it "goose droppings").

I'm not criticizing the entertaining report, just pointing out that it was a wildly weird story. The more people Ryan interviewed about the problems caused by geese droppings near a Derry reservoir, the funnier it became.

"We're not trying to kill the geese or hurt their feelings or anything," said a resident and member of a goose poop cleanup committee. "We're hoping to have a goose poop patrol so people can walk around and wear proper identification and say, 'Please don't feed the geese.' "

Whether it's Channel 4's Action News or "The Daily Show," I supposed what's good for the goose is good for the gander. Sorry, I couldn't resist.

"JUST" PICK AN ENDING: Tonight's "Just Shoot Me" (9:30, NBC) might remind some viewers of the 1985 movie "Clue." Remember? When it came out there were three endings, and depending on the theater you saw it at, you got ending A, B or C.

In tonight's episode, Nina (Wendie Mallick) gets a visit from her sister Erlene (guest star Brooke Shields). It's not a great half-hour ("Just Shoot Me" rarely is), but it has the added gimmick of picking from one of three endings.

Web surfers can visit http://justshootme.nbci.com until the mid-point of tonight's episode to choose from these options: a) Finch sleeps with Nina's sister; b) Finch gets dumped by Nina's sister; and c) Don't pick this one -- things get weird.

Having seen all three endings, if you do vote, by all means pick the last one. It's not hugely better, but it is more unusual.

Rob Owen can be reached at 412-263-2582 or rowen@post-gazette.com. Post questions or comments about TV to www.post-gazette.com/tv under PG Online Talk.

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