Charles Perez, who only spent two years at WABC/Channel 7, was believed to be groomed for the main anchor gig.
In his new book, Confessions of a Gay Anchorman, Perez discusses his coming out and how his TV gigs were affected by it.
For the chapter on his stint at WABC, (lasting all of 12 pages), however, Perez’s focus was not on his sexuality, at least not on the surface.
But Perez, hardly a memorable name in the annals of Eyewitness News history, took one jab after another at his former colleagues.
“To me it’s not about any of the people I mentioned,” Perez tells FishbowlNY. “It was about how shocked I was to get to a place that I thought was going to be about professionalism and journalism. In my experience, it was about ego more than anything. It was a culture of inflated egos and inefficiency,”
In the book, Perez calls WABC’s shop “by far the most overstaffed facility I’d ever worked in.”
In response, Perez joked, “How many people does it take to put in a light bulb?”
Faced with breaking news, Perez says he was forced to be at the cameraman’s beck and call.
“I could sit down there waiting for a photographer for a freaking hour and a half before he would actually get in the truck and pull out,” Perez alleges. “Everybody was moving like snails.”
Large newsrooms and inactivity notwithstanding, Perez just wanted honesty.
“WABC, I felt like they were pretending they were something that they weren’t,” Perez says.
“I’m not a believer in sacred cows. I don’t believe somebody is so untouchable that you can’t have a reasonable conversation with them,” Perez says. “But there I found that there are sacred cows.”
Arguably, heading the station’s “sacred cow” list was Sam Champion, at the time the main weatherman (and now with Good Morning America).
As referenced in his book, Perez recalls filling in as anchor one weeknight. Leading into the weather segment, Perez talked about tornadoes in the Midwest. After the next break, Perez writes that Champion blew up, hurling several expletives at him and adding, “The weather’s mine, not yours!”
“Even writing it, I thought, ‘Do I want to go here?’ Because it could be perceived as a catty, gay man on gay man, cat fight,” Perez says. “And it’s not. It was never a cat fight.”
Perez says sexuality aside, he and Champion, are just “cut from very difficult cloths.”
Perez writes that following that tiff with Champion, he was brought into the office of news director Kenny Plotnik. According to Perez, Plotnik told him, “I don’t care. It doesn’t matter. Right or wrong, Sam wins. The station’s investment is in Sam.”
“I was very disturbed by the lengths to which people there, including Sam, would go to whack me,” Perez tells FishbowlNY.
Perez, in the book, takes Champion to task with anchor Liz Cho. He says that the duo were notorious for taking long dinner breaks between newscasts, and returning with bags from Bergdorf Goodman and Jimmy Choo at 10 p.m.
“Well, it’s one thing to take your three-hour dinner break and quite another to, in essence, rub the fact into everyone’s face,” Perez writes.
Perez also documented his initial on-air appearance with veteran anchor Diana Williams.
“The first time I sat next to Diana at the anchor desk, I felt the cut of her knife,” Perez writes. “I was suddenly swimming with the sharks, and I was naively unprepared.”
Perez says he has received calls and emails from former (and some current) WABC staffers thanking him “for speaking the truth.”
The only anchor that Perez had no venom for is Sade Baderinwa.
“I liked her. I like who she is,” Perez says. “I think she’s a good person… She is not out to get people or destroy people. She has the best interest for the viewer at heart. I just think she has her priorities straight.”
But Perez’s relationship with Baderinwa was not enough to keep him grounded at Channel 7.
“I had concluded that this was not the place for me,” Perez tells FishbowlNY. “I decided just to put a smile on my face, do my job and be polite.”
While, putting on a happy face for the latest edition of “happy talk,” Perez was also putting out feelers.
He had the opportunity for a return engagement to Miami, this time as the main anchor at the ABC affiliate. (He was a weekend anchor earlier in his career for the Fox station.)
As he writes, “I knew that Bill Ritter wasn’t going anywhere for a very long time.”
Additionally, “I didn’t feel like we were actually reporting [at WABC]. We were transcribing press releases.” Perez tells FishbowlNY. “It was frustrating.”
So, Perez, in 2006, who already re-signed with WABC, sought permission from general manager Dave Davis to visit the station in Miami. Because it was an ABC affiliate, Davis complied.
Despite that, according to Perez’ writings, Ritter did everything in his power to get him fired, reportedly speaking to the Daily News.
Days later, an article in the newspaper billed Perez as an “enormous flop.”
“When Davis and Plotnik had to go to my defense, to my rescue basically, to the New York Daily News to get them to print another piece, that told me something,” Perez recalls. “They would not have done that if I was a shmuck who couldn’t do my job.”
Perez, who is out of broadcasting since getting fired from that Miami gig in 2009, isn’t worried that his brief WABC stint will tarnish his credibility.
“Most people don’t get to be on the inside,” Perez says. “I was in the make-up room with them. I was in their offices with them. We sat next to each other and we talked. I was in the middle of it.”
(It should be noted that Perez refers to Gene Shalit as the “legendary mustached ABC movie reviewer,” instead of the late Joel Siegel.)
A WABC spokesman says the station would have no comment about any accusations leveled in the book.
Throughout his career, Perez has prided himself on getting along with co-workers at other organizations. But at WABC, it appeared that he was behind the eight ball from the get-go.
“From the moment I walked in it was, ‘Ok, you better watch your back.’ I’d never felt that before, and I never felt that after that,” Perez tells FishbowlNY. “There was something there that was really difficult for me.
“I’ve had a great reputation my entire career. So this is the one little, strange anomaly,” Perez admits. “I feel like I fell into an alternate universe.”
In the end, Perez realizes that breaking rank with WABC will cause backlash.
“I think what I’m doing is treasonous on a level that I should be drawn and quartered,” Perez laughed.
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