Dick Fletcher's Death Caps a Tough Year for Tampa Bay Area TV Industry
This was a sentiment which came up repeatedly Tuesday, as I juggled interviews with local TV personalities about the death of WTSP-Ch. 10 weather forecaster Dick Fletcher: the Tampa Bay area TV industry has had a rough year.
Starting with the suicide of WFLA-Ch. 8 forecaster John Winter last April through the arrest of suspended WFTS-Ch. 28 general manager Bill Carey, the retirement and DUI arrest of former WFLA anchor Bob Hite, the death of former WTVT-Ch. 13 anchor Hugh Smith, the retirement of WTVT anchor Bill Murphy and the revelation that WTVT anchor Tom Curran has been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease, the local news industry has seen the roughest string of headlines in a long while.
Fletcher's death Tuesday morning, eight days after suffering a massive stroke in his home, seemed an awful culmination of a terrible trend.
That may help explain why WTSP devoted so much airtime Tuesday and today to the 65-year-old meteorologist's passing. It was a flood of coverage I have never seen before for a local TV personality, with special broadcasts at 10 a.m. and 8 p.m., along with lots of coverage in the station's regular newscasts.
The on air reports seemed most effective when Fletcher's co-workers shared stories. Meteorologist Sherry Ray's emotionalism and obvious closeness to her boss made an impact, along with well-chosen anecdotes from longtime pal Mike Deeson, who knew Fletcher for 26 years. Other testimonials seemed a bit of a stretch -- like the interview with the woman who served Fletcher nachos every morning at a local convenience store.
I didn't get to see as much of the coverage as I would have liked; traveling back to the area from a conference in North Carolina, I had to beg my wife to record some of the tributes on our DVR for later viewing.
I wondered how a forecaster who seemed to focus so much of his work on THE work of informing viewers would feel about so many minutes devoted to him personally -- especially when there were fierce storms locally and power outages in south Florida which reached all the way up to parts of the Tampa area.
Still, the reports were obviously a catharsis for a staff -- and many viewers -- caught off-guard by this unexpected tragedy. Fletcher's passing also marks a further changing of the guard in local TV, as yet another long-tenured personality who forged a lasting connection with viewers leaves the airwaves in a market where the big names rarely leave.