Feder flashback: When ABC 7 fired a star sportscaster at the top of his game

Tim Weigel and Mark Giangreco

In a move that stuns his colleagues and angers his fans, an immensely popular sportscaster suddenly finds himself out of a job at Chicago’s top-rated television station.

Named in multiple viewer surveys as “Chicago’s best sports anchor,” he still has more than a year left on his contract when ABC-owned WLS-Channel 7 shoves him out the door without so much as a word of thanks.

“I will dedicate the rest of my career to making them regret that decision,” Tim Weigel declares on his way out.

Chicago Sun-Times (December 7, 1994)

It was front page news in December 1994 when ABC 7 fired Weigel, a hometown superstar, after a 17-year run as sports anchor (interrupted by a brief experiment as a news anchor).

In a raid that caught nearly everyone by surprise, station boss Joe Ahern lured a younger rising star from rival WMAQ-Channel 5 with a five-year, $5 million guaranteed contract the NBC-owned station couldn’t come close to matching.

That’s how Mark Giangreco landed at “Eyewitness News” 27 years ago.

Today Giangreco, 68, is on the verge of being forced out too. He’s been off the air since January 28 when he jokingly suggested that news anchor Cheryl Burton could “play the ditzy, combative interior decorator” in a fictional do-it-yourself fix-up show. Burton complained and Giangreco was suspended.

Talks are under way that could lead to termination of his contract, which still has 18 months to go.

It’s tempting to see this all as just an expedient opportunity to cut another salary from the budget. But really, did they have to kill the King and Queen of New Year’s Eve at the same time? Talk about a public relations fiasco.

No doubt Giangreco will have plenty of options once everything gets resolved.

But his ouster from ABC 7 feels like the end of an era for Chicago TV. An era when the 10 o’clock news was the biggest show in town and its colorful personalities became celebrities themselves. Johnny Morris led the way as the first seven-figure sports anchor in Chicago, but Tim Weigel came to personify a golden age in the business.

After only two months off the air, Weigel was hired in February 1995 as lead sports anchor at CBS-owned WBBM-Channel 2 and freelance sports columnist for the Sun-Times. “I think it’s going to be great,” he told me at the time. “I really feel liberated.”

Weigel spent the next six years proving to Ahern and the world he wouldn’t be discouraged. In 2001 he died of brain cancer at 56.

Thursday’s comment of the day: Gregg Juhlin: The word that keeps coming to my mind when I read all these stories about NewsNation, is “implosion.” Between people being let go, resignations, rebranding and minuscule ratings, they don’t seem to be doing many things right. I get the impression that the whole operation is a hot mess.