Graves concern: Who’ll close gender gap at ABC stations?
For every winner there has to be a loser. But when the prize is the biggest job in Chicago television, even losing can have its rewards.
On Monday, the big winner was John Idler, newly named president and general manager of WLS-Channel 7, the top-rated and top-billing station in the market for more than 25 years. It’s a plum job if ever there was one.
After four and a half years as president and general manager of WTVD-TV in Raleigh/Durham, North Carolina, Idler returned to the ABC-owned station where he started as an account executive in 1998 and had a second run from 2002 to 2007 as vice president and sales manager. ABC 7 staffers greeted his appointment this week as a welcome home. (Idler has not yet responded to a request for comment.)
Although clearly the front-runner, Idler wasn’t the only familiar figure angling to succeed Emily Barr, who stepped down to become president and CEO of Post-Newsweek Stations. Also vying for the top job were two insiders — Vincent Sollecito, vice president and general sales manager, and Jennifer Graves, vice president and news director.
Despite the rejection, Graves still might have a shot at becoming a general manager, thanks to the opening at WTVD in Raleigh/Durham created by Idler’s promotion. As Rebecca Campbell, president of the ABC Owned Television Stations Group, considers candidates for the job, Graves could be a serious contender for the No. 24 market.
One factor that may work in her favor is that ABC, a unit of Walt Disney Co., has no women running any of its eight owned television stations. (At one time, there were three — Campbell in New York, Barr in Chicago and Valari Staab in San Francisco. Now all three women are heading various station groups.) “ABC had a great reputation for promoting women, so it’s a fact that can’t go unnoticed,” a source said. “I’m sure in her heart of hearts, [Campbell] does not want to have eight white males running television stations.”
Graves, who started at ABC 7 as an executive producer in 1992 and worked her way up to news director in 2001, has not been especially popular as a newsroom manager. Though Barr once called her “the smartest, most strategic news director I know,” and praised her news judgment as “impeccable,” insiders describe her as temperamental and impatient.
So while the rank and file might privately cheer Graves' departure after two decades, it could complicate matters for Idler just as he’s settling in to his new job. There’s enough on his desk already without the perilous task of replacing his news director right off the bat.