When C.R. Douglas left the Seattle Channel earlier this year after 14 years as ubiquitous host of the civic TV station’s public affairs programs, he was ready for a change. But he had no known professional destination. “I had seriously considered getting out of television,” he said recently between sips of diet cola at a restaurant in South Lake Union.
The Seattle Channel’s flagship programs on cable channel 21 — "Ask The Mayor," "City Inside Out," and "Council Edition" — were largely shaped and driven by Douglas, a 40-something Bellevue native and Stanford grad who brought to his tasks a cerebral peppiness for local issues.
Though Douglas may have been ready to let go of TV, TV wasn’t ready to let go of him. Now he’s quickly landed on his feet with two gigs that will keep him busier than he’s ever been on the small screen. The main gig is a full-time job on KCPQ-Channel 13’s two-month old 5 pm weeknight newscast (“Q13 Fox News at Five”), for which Douglas serves as an analyst. He gets about five minutes each evening to interview newsmakers and add his two-cents on the politics and other posturing behind the news.
Nationally speaking, Channel 13 isn’t alone in this more muscular approach to covering local news. A recent New York Times article about trends in local broadcasting finds viewership up and stations investing more in coverage, including the revival of news analysts, once a mainstay of stations such as KING-TV. But in the Seattle market, adding analysis is something of an anachronism, which suits Douglas just fine. “The other stations don’t regularly offer the kind of analysis that I get to do,” Douglas says. “I’m not a reporter, and I’m not an anchor. It’s perfect for me.”
Douglas credits his late mentor, legendary KING Broadcasting executive Ancil Payne, with an inspirational comment made many years ago that has guided his career choices. According to Douglas, Payne said that he knew how to get the public to take and interest in local issues and politics: the reporters covering public affairs should put the same amount of energy and enthusiasm into local issues and politics as the sports guys put into their reports. Making the jump from a city-only cable channel to a regional broadcast station gives Douglas his best chance to test Payne’s concept for a 21st century audience.
As for the detractors who say that Douglas has sold out by jumping from lofty civic television to lowly commercial TV (and to a Fox affiliate, no less, though Q13 is owned by Tribune Media, not by Murdoch), Douglas can point to his other new gig. That is a just-announced post with public TV station KCTS, where Douglas will host four of what he calls “Fred Friendly-style” forums a year. Fred Friendly was a radio and TV producer and media executive best known for his work with Ed Murrow (George Clooney played a ruggedly handsome version of Friendly in “Good Night and Good Luck”), and for his groundbreaking work in the early days of national public television, including a series of moderated discussion forums.
The actual format for the KCTS programs is still not quite baked, but the idea to have Douglas be the host of quarterly forums came from KCTS’ recently hired VP of Content John Lindsay.
Douglas’ bosses at Channel 13 are fine with his appearing on a public station, as the highbrow exposure can only serve to boost their analyst’s community profile and reputation as a serious journalist. And Douglas is thrilled to be at Channel 13. “They ‘get’ me,” he says, with a laugh. He is also clearly jazzed to be associated with KCTS, which is something he’s thought about for many years.
Meanwhile, over at the Seattle Channel (where I used to work), the station is searching for a permanent replacement for Douglas and is in the midst of a major changing of the guard. In addition to Douglas departing, station manager Beth Hester has left to work as Mayor McGinn's communications director; and Hester’s predecessor, Gary Gibson, who had been promoted to manager of the city’s web and TV operations (and who remained actively involved with the Seattle Channel), retired last month. The station promoted longtime production manager John Giamberso to station manager earlier this summer. Giamberso says he hopes to have a replacement for Douglas hired in time to start a new season of "City Inside/Out" and the other public affairs programs at the end of September.
UPDATE: Seattle Channel's Giamberso has offered the hosting job to Brian Callanan, who is the morning news reporter at KCPQ, though the deal is not yet signed.
Put in simple numerical terms, Douglas has gone from Channel 21 to Channel 13 plus Channel 9. Call it his own personal Channel 22.