ABC 7 sacks Mark Giangreco after ‘ditzy, combative’ comment about Cheryl Burton

Mark Giangreco

Mark Giangreco officially ended his 27-year run as the top sports anchor at ABC-owned WLS-Channel 7 Friday with a settlement on the remaining 18 months of his contract and a farewell memo from management.

His dismissal followed a complaint by ABC 7 news anchor Cheryl Burton that Giangreco referred to her on the air as someone who could “play the ditzy, combative interior decorator” on a hypothetical do-it-yourself show.

It’s unlikely those words alone would have cost Giangreco his job, but in light of his disciplinary record that included three prior suspensions for comments or tweets deemed inappropriate, the latest incident proved fatal in the current corporate climate, according to all accounts.

Cheryl Burton

Giangreco, 68, had been on administrative leave since that broadcast January 28. Until now ABC 7 would not comment on the absence of its No. 1 sportscaster from Chicago’s top-rated newscast.

Terms of Giangreco’s separation were not disclosed, but his firing ends one of the longest and most successful runs of any sports anchor in Chicago. Every ABC 7 newscast he appeared on was No. 1 in the ratings.

John Idler, president and general manager of ABC 7, confirmed Giangreco’s exit in an email to employees that did not address the reason for his termination. “Mark Giangreco, who has been as influential on the Chicago sports scene as the athletes he’s covered, is moving on to a new chapter,” Idler wrote. “I want to thank Mark for his many contributions to ABC 7 and our viewers. I’m sure you will all join me in wishing him the very best.”

The email also included a statement attributed to Giangreco: “It’s been a great run. Working at Chicago’s top station, in the country’s greatest sports town with some of the best people in the business, would be a perfect trifecta for any sports anchor. I’ve had all that and more. But I assure you I’m still going to be having fun doing other things. I want to especially thank my colleagues at ABC 7. You have made this such an incredible ride. I’m deeply grateful to all of you.”

Idler, Giangreco and his agent, Joel Weisman, would not respond to requests for comment Friday. The settlement is presumed to include a nondisclosure agreement.

A native of Buffalo, New York, and graduate of the University of Dayton, Giangreco joined ABC 7 in 1994 after 12 years at NBC-owned WMAQ-Channel 5. He was lured by a five-year, $5 million guaranteed contract that made him the highest paid sports anchor in the market.

Mark Giangreco and Janet Davies

For 20 years Giangreco also co-hosted ABC 7’s top-rated New Year’s Eve countdown show with Janet Davies. Tuning in for their good-natured banter and awkward smooch at midnight became an annual ritual for thousands and a social media touchstone. Last month Davies announced that her contract was not renewed after 37 years at ABC 7.

Wearing irreverence and sarcasm as comfortably as his tailored suits, Giangreco was known for comments that sometimes went too far. A succession of bosses understood that a big part of Giangreco’s popularity was his impertinent attitude and occasionally sharp tongue. If he sometimes crossed the line, they figured, it was an acceptable risk.

Until January 28.

A recording of the 10 p.m. newscast that night showed Giangreco wrapping up a story about Canadian hockey star Spencer Jenkin painting his house while on roller skates and saying: “Gotta get him a show on DIY Network. We’ll call it ‘House Fix with Sticks,’ and Cheryl can play the ditzy, combative interior decorator. I got it all worked out.”

Colleagues said Burton had felt disrespected by Giangreco for years and took his “ditzy, combative” joke as another personal slight. Whether intended or not, directing those words at her evoked sexist and racist stereotypes about Black women, they said.

Burton, 58, who joined ABC 7 in 1992 and anchors the station’s 5 and 10 p.m. newscasts, did not respond to a request for comment.

Last week Burton tweeted: “#ThankfulThursday. Grateful for the #Blessings already on the way and for those unseen #Faith. God is so Good!!! #ThankYou,” and followed that with: “#HappyBirthday Chicago — 184 years celebrating the most beautiful city in the world, where I was born and raised and where my dreams came true! I love you Chicago #Grateful.”

The breakup does not affect Giangreco’s ongoing role as a contributor to Tom Waddle and Marc Silverman’s afternoon show on Good Karma Brands ESPN sports/talk WMVP 1000-AM. Now that he’s a free agent, Giangreco may look to expand his radio activities or pursue other platforms.

Jim Rose

He’s still slated for induction later this year in the Silver Circle of Chicago TV Academy, an industry honor normally attended by the recipients’ employers and co-workers. In 2013 Giangreco won the prestigious Ring Lardner Award for Excellence in Sports Journalism.

Odds-on favorite to replace Giangreco on the 10 p.m. newscast is Jim Rose, 67, who’s been a sports anchor at ABC 7 since 1982. Rose signed a three-year contract renewal in September. Coincidentally, Rose and Burton were married from 1986 to 1995.

Here is the full text of Idler’s email to staff:

I have some news I would like to share about a longtime member of the ABC 7 family. Mark Giangreco, who has been as influential on the Chicago sports scene as the athletes he’s covered, is moving on to a new chapter. During his career, Mark has been there and done that’ covering daily highlights and championship play for every major sports franchise in this city. He has been widely recognized for reporting sports with both passion and insight. I want to thank Mark for his many contributions to ABC 7 and our viewers. I’m sure you will all join me in wishing him the very best.

Below is a note Mark wanted me to share.

Dear colleagues and friends,

It’s been a great run. Working at Chicago’s top station, in the country’s greatest sports town with some of the best people in the business, would be a perfect trifecta for any sports anchor. I’ve had all that and more. But I assure you I’m still going to be having fun doing other things. I want to especially thank my colleagues at ABC 7. You have made this such an incredible ride. I’m deeply grateful to all of you.

Cheryl Scott, Alan Krashesky, Cheryl Burton and Mark Giangreco