Elliott Wiser, who created local cable news channel Bay News 9, on Thursday was named general manager of St. Petersburg CBS affiliate WTSP-Ch. 10.
Staffers at WTSP were told in a 9 a.m. meeting that Wiser will succeed retiring general manager Ken Tonning, starting the job July 8. The move was a surprise to many who never expected Wiser to leave cable provider Bright House Networks, where he served as vice president of local programming and has worked since coming to the Tampa Bay area to launch Bay News 9 about 16 years ago.
"I started in broadcast TV; my plan was always to return to my roots," said Wiser, 57, who noted that WTSP owner Gannett Broadcasting could offer more opportunities if things go well locally. "I always said I would move for the right job. And this is the right job."
The change — which may be the first time in recent Tampa Bay TV history a top executive has moved to a rival news outlet in this same market — promises to shake up the local television scene.
Bay News 9 has never had a top executive besides Wiser, who developed the channel after working at a similar operation, Northwest Cable News, in Seattle. And Wiser has long credited Rich Pegram, general manager at Tampa ABC affiliate WFTS-Ch. 28, as a mentor for promoting him into a news director's job in Richmond, Va. Now Wiser and Pegram will compete as rivals.
Bright House spokesman Joe Durkin said the news, announced in a press release by WTSP owner Gannett Broadcasting, was largely a surprise at the company.
The cable provider doesn't expect to announce an interim replacement for Wiser, despite the fact that general managers for both Bay News 9 and sister channel Central Florida News 13 in Orlando were let go in January. As vice president of local programming, Wiser has overseen both channels along with a wide array of related platforms.
"Bay News 9 and (Central Florida) News 13 are well-oiled machines," Durkin said. "Each station has a news director and staff which are handling our day-to-day operations very well. We wish Elliott well."
WTSP faces a number of challenges as Wiser comes to the helm, struggling for ratings in morning and early evening hours.
At times, the station's journalism seems divided between the more traditional reporting of longtime newshounds such as Mike Deeson and the splashier, more sensational coverage of staffers such as anchor Charles Billi, a veteran of WSVN-TV in Miami. Longtime morning anchor Ginger Gadsden is leaving the station this week; she resigned after the station declined to move her to a later schedule.
Wiser, who once had a reputation as a tough, hands-on manager, said he won't live up to that label at WTSP.
"One of my strengths is putting together a good team (at Bright House)," he said. "At the end of the day, you can't be hands on; you have to trust your people."