2017 Atlanta TV year in review: Ben Swann, Valerie Hoff, CNN vs Trump, Steve Harvey


Posted by RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com on his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog on Friday, December 22, 2017

Nobody will mistake 2017 as a normal year for TV in Atlanta. The White House turned into a reality show with Atlanta-based CNN as a primary foil, the N-word became newsworthy in not just one but two different local news situations and scripted productions multiplied in Atlanta in record numbers.

Trump vs. CNN: Donald Trump doesn't like news that isn't flattering to him. CNN has aired plenty of unflattering news about him. Trump watches a lot of cable news. Result: plenty of Trump insults directed at CNN, with frequent references to "fake news." Occasionally, CNN PR has responded back, defending CNN's efforts to be accurate. CNN wasn't perfect. It let go some investigative staff after a failure in the editing process led to a Trump-related mistake. It dropped Kathy Griffin from its New Year's Eve special after she posed with what appeared to be Trump's bloody head. The network also cancelled Reza Aslan's show after he made some pointed insults on Twitter against Trump. On the bright side, CNN and its two cable news rivals are raking in strong ratings numbers thanks in part to interest in the president. CNN has hardly lost a step from an already strong 2016 election year. Fox News continues its overall ratings dominance despite some prime-time turmoil over Bill O'Reilly's departure. And MSNBC's Rachel Maddow saw her rating skyrocket under Trump.

The #MeTooMovement: Starting with film producer Harvey Weinstein, Hollywood and media has been roiled by a succession of sexual harassment claims against powerful men, from Louis C.K. to Kevin Spacey to Matt Lauer to Tavis Smiley. So far, nobody from Atlanta has been taken down so far. Ryan Seacrest, who graduated Dunwoody High School in 1993, made a pre-emptive strike by denying "inappropriate behavior" with a stylist who has not come out publicly.

Ben Swann and Pizzagate: CBS evening anchor Ben Swann used to run a "Truth in Media" website, often airing "alternative" stories or angles that he felt mainstream media was missing. On CBS, he'd air occasional "Reality Checks" about topics often unrelated to Atlanta. One in particular about Pizzagate in January caught the eye of Media Matters and soon, The Daily Beast, which revealed that Swann's "Truth in Media" site was affiliated with a Republican PAC. He was suspended for a few days on CBS46 but remains an anchor. He deleted his "Truth in Media" website and affiliated social media pages, but he keeps one public Facebook page where he reposts conspiracy-related and anti-government memes from a site called the "Resistance Zone."

Amanda Davis' return: In January, the former Fox 5 anchor returned to the air for the first time since 2013 as morning host on CBS46. She had previously narrated a three-part series in 2016 about her drinking issues that led to her departure at Fox 5. She was joined in the fall by Gurvir Dhindsa, a former "Good Day Atlanta" host.

Valerie Hoff and the N word: Hoff, a long-time 11Alive reporter, was seeking video of cops beating a black man on Twitter and was private messaging a man who had posted it. He posted publicly that "news n****s" (using the more casual version of the N word) were trying to track him down for the video. Hoff jokingly wrote that she was one of those "news n****s" in her message. He was okay with that at first until he realized Hoff was white. So he put her on blast on Twitter. At first, she was quietly suspended but once the story went public, the station decided to fire her instead. She later sued the station, citing "breach of contract."

Sharon Reed and the N word: Earlier this month, the CBS46 anchor received an email from a person who used the N-word multiple times to describe her regarding her coverage of the mayoral run-off. Reed decided to put that person on blast on air during a 9 p.m. newscast. "On December 5, 2017, you think it’s okay to call this journalist a n*****,” Reed said. “I don’t. But I could clap back and say a few things to you. But instead, I will let your words Kathy Rae speak for themselves. And that will be the last word.” She got largely positive reaction, national press and a Huffington Post essay out of it.

'Good Day Atlanta' changes: Constance Jones, after just a year as a host on "Good Day Atlanta," returned to Miami, leaving the show in May with no explanation. Fox 5 in August replaced her with Sharon Lawson, also from a Miami station.

Anchor shifts at 11Alive: With Brenda Wood's retirement in February after 20 years at the station, the NBC affiliate swapped around some anchors. Shiba Russell moved in to take her place but a few months later, she moved back to morning. Newbie Cheryl Preheim was then sent to early evenings. Former morning host Vinnie Politan then took over the 11 p.m. with an unusual newscast heavy on crime and use of a cable network-like panel.

Steve Harvey leaves town for L.A.: The TV and radio host this past year uprooted his syndicated radio show from Atlanta to Los Angeles. He did the same for "Family Feud." He has so many TV hosting jobs on the West Coast, he felt he had no choice but to move operations out there. Harvey also had to fend off a fair share of controversy, from meeting with Donald Trump to insults to Asian men to a stray joke about the Flint water crisis. But he still hosts his annual summer camp for black male teens in metro Atlanta.

Karen Graham launches sign-language network: The former Fox 5 anchor, active in the deaf community since the 1990s, has started a news network for folks who use sign language called Sign1News, which is available online and receives help from CNN. She has chosen to stay behind the scenes, hiring sign-language experts as anchors.

Local news moves: Channel 2 Action News' Ross Cavitt became a Cobb County communications director. WSB's Jodie Fleischer left for an NBC station in D.C. 11Alive's Jaye Watson became director of brand awareness for the Emory Brain Health Center. Former CBS46 evening anchor Stephany Fisher is now a MARTA spokeswoman. Former CBS46 chief meteorologist Jim Kosek has the same job now at the NBC affiliate in Columbus, GA.

Locals on reality competition shows: Grant Park's Amanda Faber won ABC's "The Great American Baking Show." Johns Creek's Angelica Hale, a mere 10 years old, sang like an angel on "America's Got Talent" and came in runner up. A popular Atlanta singer who went on the show as a clown called Puddles Pity Party landed in the top 36. Westminster grad Lilly Chin won the 2017 Jeopardy College tournament. Atlanta's Rusty Hamlin of Zac Brown and Atkins Park fame finished second on "Food Network Star.' Kenya Freeman finished fifth on "Project Runway" with finely tailored, well-fit clothes for all sizes of women.

"The Walking Dead" hits 100 but sees ratings slide: Metro Atlanta's most popular show, which reached a milestone 100th episode this fall, has steadily lost viewers this year as a meandering war between Rick's crew and Negan's Saviors drags on with critics bemoaning Negan's cartoonish behavior and tiresome debates over morality. And while food may be scarce in the zombie apocalypse, gasoline and ammunition remain plentiful.

Familiar faces back on "Real Housewives of Atlanta": The producers decided to bring back two familiar faces who helped turn the series into a hit: brash NeNe Leakes and cynical Kim Zolciak on a part-time basis. This fall, both have made their mark, with Zolciak going after Kenya Moore and Leakes clashing with Porsha Williams. In the meantime, long-time cast member Phaedra Parks was cut after alienating the entire cast with her lies and innuendos.

Tyler Perry moves: The Atlanta mogul had his usual busy year, releasing his 10th "Madea" movie, riding high with hit drama "The Haves and the Have Nots" and expanding use of his Fort McPherson studios. In July, he struck an exclusive deal with Viacom, including BET, starting in 2019, a big blow for the Oprah Winfrey Network, where he has multiple comedies and dramas on the schedule.

Emmy winning: Former Stone Mountain resident Donald Glover pocketed two Emmy's for his FX show "Atlanta" for best comedic male actor and best directing in a comedy series. This is the first time a show shot in this area won either category. The scripted series, which blends comedy, drama and surrealism, aired its first season in 2016. Glover was too busy shooting "Star Wars" and "Spider-Man" movies to actually finish the second season in time for 2017 so season two is set to come back in 2018.

A sampling of new TV productions shot in metro Atlanta in 2017: Netflix's "Ozark" (Jason Bateman, Laura Linney), Syfy's "Superstition," ABC's 'Kevin (Probably) Saves the World, Amazon's "Lore," the CW's 'The Gifted" and "Valor," Discovery's "Manhunt," IFC's "Brockmire,"  BET's "The Quad," WE-TV's "Growing Up Hip Hop,' HGTV's "Flip or Flop Atlanta," syndicated "Couples Court With the Cutlers"

Shows that closed shop this year: The most notable departure from the Atlanta scene was the CW's "Vampire Diaries," which was one of the first scripted shows to commit to the area in 2009 after the state passed sweetened tax credits. For a time, the supernatural drama was the CW's top-rated show and turned Nina Dobrev into a star. Others that retired this year: VH1's "T.I. and Tiny" (six seasons), OWN's 'For Better or Worse" (five seasons), Fox's "Sleepy Hollow" (four seasons), Starz "Survivor's Remorse" (four seasons), AMC's "Halt and Catch Fire" (four seasons), TLC's "Too Close to Home" (two seasons), Fox's' "24: Legacy" (one season), VH1's "Daytime Divas" (one season)

R.I.P.: Steen Miles, a former 11Alive reporter and Georgia senator, passed at age 70. Former 11Alive pilot and reporter Bruce Erion died at age 71. Atlanta fashion designer Mychael Knight from "Project Runway" passed at age 39.


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