While Leonard's enemies, of which there are plenty, would love to think that he was fired, he says the decision was his -- and the CEO of Local TV LLC, the company that owns the outlets, backs him up.
Granted, these comments are part of a press release. Interview requests have been made to Leonard, Fox/Deuce vice president of content Carolyn Kane and Local TV chief operating officer Pam Taylor; when and if they respond, this blog will be updated. In the meantime, we're left with a carefully crafted statement explaining why Leonard is leaving the stations after a stint that was undeniably eventful, as well as sometimes unintentionally hilarious.
In the aforementioned release, Leonard suggests that his main goals in Denver were to consolidate Channel 31 and The Deuce, and now that this chore is done, he can head east of the Mississippi again to reunite with his family.
"This has been the greatest challenge of my career, and I'm thrilled with everything we've accomplished," he's quoted as saying. "The team here is all but in place and the stations are on an upward trend. I am ready to reevaluate my priorities."
This spin is supported by Bobby Lawrence, Local TV's CEO, who says, "Dennis just recently made this decision, and we support him. His dedication to these two stations, the community and the television industry is unparalleled. Of course we understand his decision and the difficulty under which he's been working."
Adds Taylor: "What Dennis and his incredibly talented staff have accomplished in 18 months is stunning. The co-location of the stations and the merging of the cultures, simultaneous production of four hours of news each morning on KWGN and KDVR, the transition to high definition for both stations, all during the nation's worst economic recession in recent history has been a tremendous feat."
That's one way of putting it -- but veteran anchor Ernie Bjorkman and the thirty or so other folks Leonard sacked in late 2008, shortly after his arrival, would probably put it another way.
In an interview for a Message column published on October 22 of that year, Leonard played up his love of music and his desire to build camaraderie between staffers of the two stations amid the carnage. Nonetheless, the cuts continued, with prominent personalities like morning personality Steve Kelley and weatherman Chris Dunn getting brusque brushoffs.
And then there was his decision to rebrand venerable Channel 2 as The Deuce -- a term defined in the Urban Dictionary as "a crap measuring 2 lbs. or better." (Sample sentence: "My bung hole was torn by the deuce!") Leonard attempted to laugh off implications that the decision had been made without realizing this connotation, declaring in a Westword blog, "It's the shit, dude!"
So was the debut of News on the Deuce, the outlet's evening newscast, which was switched to 7 p.m. to prevent it from competing directly against the 9 p.m. broadcast of Channel 31's own update program. The show, anchored by Kellie MacMullan, strained to appeal to the younger viewers Leonard had decided to target in ways that any teenager would recognize as embarrassing and pathetic. And although the program is currently less awkward than it was during the early weeks, it remains a bastardized infotainment hybrid that succeeds mainly at inspiring viewers to change channels.
Despite this bumpy launch, the twin stations have cranked out more new programming, including Everyday, a chatty attempt to create a homegrown variation on The View, and Martino TV, in which longtime consumer advocate Tom Martino charges featured guests for his de facto endorsement -- a variation on his controversial website approach.
None of these efforts have generated much of a buzz, and some attempts to manufacture publicity, including allowing anchors Libby Weaver and Natalie Tysdal to pose for the cover of Denver Magazine looking like luscious lesbians in a Skinemax erotic thriller, raised eyebrows higher than ratings. And word that Leonard and other sales execs joined advertisers on an all-expenses-paid cruise at the same time staffers were forced to take furloughs wasn't exactly a positive PR bonanza, either.
Which doesn't necessarily mean that Leonard was forced out. His time at the stations did indeed correspond with one of the worst revenue scenarios in recent media history, and anyone required to eliminate redundant positions amid a merger would have generated bad blood. But we will have a better idea about his legacy in the coming months -- and if The Deuce is rebranded again, or if some of his programming notions are undone, we'll likely look at the official release below from a new perspective.
Here it is:
LOCAL TV DENVER MARKET PRESIDENT DENNIS LEONARD COMPLETES STATIONS' CO-LOCATION AND HIGH DEF CONVERSION
TELEVISION VETERAN TO TRANSITION STATIONS TO POST CONSOLIDATION TEAM
When Local TV's Dennis Leonard moved west of the Mississippi in September of 2008 to head up the company's newly acquired television megaplex in Denver, he knew the culture change... and demands of running two struggling television stations in a city of legacy network affiliates... would be a career high. Never one to back away from a challenge, Leonard left his 11-year post as Vice President & GM of #1 Fox affiliate WBRC-TV in Birmingham, Alabama to lead the company's Denver co-location of KDVR, FOX 31 and CW affiliate KWGN. Local TV's KDVR and KWGN -- owned by The Tribune Co. and managed by Local TV under a Local Marketing Agreement -- are two demographically and formatically unique television stations that, under Leonard's leadership, have successfully merged both physically and philosophically under one roof. During a four month construction program, Leonard combined the stations' news operations into a single newsroom, built out separate studios and coordinated the management and production of 69 weekly hours of news. The newscasts feature separate anchors but share producers, writers and reporters who collectively produce more local news than anyone else in the Mile High City. Says Leonard, "This has been the greatest challenge of my career, and I'm thrilled with everything we've accomplished. The team here is all but in place and the stations are on an upward trend. I am ready to reevaluate my priorities."
And that's exactly what Leonard announced to his staff of over 200 people at the sprawling East Speer Boulevard studios today. Dennis Leonard is returning to his home where his family awaits. "It is a really tough decision to leave Denver, great friends and the business associates I've developed here in a year and a half," said Leonard. "But I have been away from my family for over a year while working very long days to merge these two stations under one incredibly talented news director. The addition of our new Chief Engineer last month was the final link in the chain. My work here is finished at just the right time in my life. I'm ready to hand the keys over to the post-consolidation management team."
"It's all happened too fast for us to comment on who the next in command will be in Denver," said Bobby Lawrence, Local TV CEO. "Dennis just recently made this decision, and we support him. His dedication to these two stations, the community and the television industry is unparalleled. Of course we understand his decision and the difficulty under which he's been working."
President & COO Pam Taylor added, "What Dennis and his incredibly talented staff have accomplished in 18 months is stunning. The co-location of the stations and the merging of the cultures, simultaneous production of four hours of news each morning on KWGN and KDVR, the transition to high definition for both stations, all during the nation's worst economic recession in recent history has been a tremendous feat."
Local TV has appointed Senior Vice President, Operations Lynda King as the interim Denver Market General Manager as it launches a campaign to find Leonard's post consolidation successor.