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October 13, 1989 - Image 71

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1989-10-13

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.


Glenn Triest

Comeback Ti

Mort Meisner relishes the battle he faces at
Channel 2.



Special to The Jewish News

hen Mort
Meisner was
working in
the news-
, room at WLS-
TV in Chicago, he unwound
at night by doing a stand-up
comic routine at Windy City
Meisner, new director for
WJBK-TV, Channel 2 in
Southfield, has put aside his
comic routine. "News can be
distressing," Meisner, 35,
said. "You have to keep your
sense of humor."
That's especially true at
Channel 2 these days. Poor
management, unsettled
ownership, labor problems
and strong competition have
weakened the station's
ratings, including the news.
Meisner was hired in June
1988 to turn the news around.
Strong news can translate in-
to high ratings, which means
the station can charge a
premium for 30-second com-
mercials. If done right, news
is the most profitable product
of o TV station.
By mixing breaking news,

sex, crime, features and per-
sonality pieces, Meisner is
trying to pour life into a near-
comatose operation. One TV
critic said he is changing
news content at the expense
of in-depth and thought-
provoking news. "I think
Mort is a smart guy who
knows how to do good jour-
nalism," said Marc Gunther,
the TV critic for the Detroit
Free Press. "But like the
other TV stations, he has to
worry about ratings. Like the
others, he has to please the
audience and that means
crime, sex and Hollywood per-
sonality stories." Gunther
praised Meisner and Channel
2 for hustling, especially pro-
ducing good breaking new
Meisner doesn't apologize
for what he is doing. "Who
says news has to be boring?"
he asked. "It is 'infotainment'
— information presented in
an interesting and entertain-
ing way. I believe in what I
present, but I think I have to
do it this way in the market.
It is what people want to see.
You have to program (news) to
Winning, former Green Bay
Packers football coach Vince

Lombardi said, is "an all the
time thing." Lombardi's homi-
ly hangs on a wall over
Meisner's desk. Meisner is a
proven winner in news.
When he joined WLS in
1983 as director of news
operations, the station was
last in the new ratings. Eigh-
teen months later, it was first,
Meisner said. When he mov-
ed to KSDK-TV in St. Louis
in - 1985 as assistant news
director, second behind Steve
Antoniotti, now president and
station manager of Channel
2, KSDK was battling two
other stations for news
supremacy. When Meisner
joined Channel 2 in June
1988, KSDK was No. 1,
Meisner said. -
Meisner talks about his ag-
gressiveness and his will to
win as if they were medals:
"I'm very aggressive by
nature," he said. He admits to
being high-strung, a fact that
came through clearly in an
inverview. As Meisner sat on
a coffee table, he answered
questions about as quickly as
they were asked. He fidgets,
and his legs are constantly
But Meisner is also open,
warm and unpretentious.

Said the Free Press' Gunther:
"Mort seems to enjoy his job
and the competition. He has
a good sense of humor, and he
doesn't take himself too
That may not have always
been the case. Meisner, who is
on his third marriage, said his
hell-raising days are over and
his nightclub act retired, the
victim of both maturity and
age. "I lived a wild life," he
Meisner lived in Detroit un-
til age 11 when his family
moved to Oak Park. Meisner
said the greatest influence on
his life was his father, from
whom he gets his drive and
agressiveness. Morris
Meisner "never made more
than $15,000 a year in his
life," his son said, but worked
hard as a cab driver and col-
lections agency employee to
support his family. Meisner
recalled one happy
Thanksgiving when the fami-
ly ate hot dogs and beans.
Morris Meisner died in 1985.
Meisner attended Oak Park
High School, where he wrote
sports for the school paper
and played on the junior var-
sity baseball team. Upon
graduation, he entered the
University of Detroit to study
communications. Twelve
credit hours short and
academically "undisciplined,"
Meisner said he dropped out
of school.
At U-D, he said, laughing,
he was "only one of 97 Jews"
on campus. While there, he
did the play-by-play of U-D
basketball games on student
radio and became friends
with then-U-D coach Dick.
Vitale. Meisner said he and
Vitale are still friends.
Meisner, the hard worker,
held a variety of jobs
throughout high school and

Meisner doesn't
apologize for what
he is doing. "Who
says news has to
be boring?"

college. He sold hot dogs at
Tiger Stadium and promoted
rock concerts at the Grande
Ballroom, the old rock-and-
roll concert hall in Detroit.
Frustrated in school, Meisner
even decided to sell insurance,
a job that lasted one day. But
the communications studies
had given him the bug for
broadcast journalism. He
started hanging around the
office of WXYZ-TV, Channel
7, news director Phil Nye.
"Nye finally said, 'If I hire
you, will you leave me
alone?' " Meisner said.
In 1977, Meisner got his
first job in television, making


OCT. 13-OCT.19


Dearborn, "Fifty Years of
TV," through Jan. 2,
admission, 271-1620.
Temple Israel, "Head
Over Heels," Wednesday,
Oct. 18, 11:30, admission.


13750 Tireman, Detroit,
The Ron Coden Show,
8:30 p.m. and 1 a.m.
Fridays and Saturdays,
through Oct. 21,
admission, 846-0737.


6600 W. Maple Road,
West Bloomfield, West
Side Story, Oct. 26-Nov. 5,
admission, 661-1000.
2480 Opdyke Rd.,
Bullshot Crummond,
Thursday through Oct.
28, admission, 471-7700.
Rochester, Perfect Frank,
through Oct. 21,
admission, 375-1390.
21728 Grand River,
Detroit, Sandwiched
Light, through Oct. 28,
admission, 5374010.
32332 W. 12 Mile Road,
Farmington Hills, Mr.
Roberts, through Nov. 18,
admission, 538-1670.
Wayne State University,
Detroit, The Philadelphia
Story, through Nov. 11,
admission, 577-2972.
Wayne State University,
Detroit, Mister Roberts,
through Oct. 15,
admission, 577-2972.
135 E. Main Street,
Northville, The Desert
Song, through Oct. 29,
admission, 349-8110.



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