Mike Landess, who's been among the biggest stars in Denver television news since the 1970s, has announced that he'll be leaving his current role as anchor for KWGN/Channel 2 at the end of the November sweeps ratings period.
His complete goodbye letter to his colleagues is on view below. But an excerpt reads, "Leaving at the end of November will be a 'long goodbye' and bittersweet."
Landess started his broadcasting career in his home town of Tyler, Texas, while he was still a high school student. Within four years, he was an anchor at WFAA in Dallas, after which he moved to WKYC in Cleveland and then, in 1977, to Channel 9 in Denver. (At the time, the station's call letters were KBTV; they're now KUSA.)
For the next sixteen years, Landess teamed with Ed Sardella at the station. Their styles were a study in contrast, with Sardella coming across as tough and pugnacious and Landess looking like the classic TV-anchor archetype: handsome, charming and dressed to impress.
But the combination was a ratings juggernaut, leveling all competition for so long that it seemed as if 9News would never relinquish its dominance in the marketplace — and the station's evening newscast still regularly finishes first in audience share to this day.
Nonetheless, Landess eventually moved on, anchoring in Atlanta and Washington, D.C., before returning to Denver in 2002, this time as the anchor for Denver7, the outlet that had been the city's most popular until 9News began its run.
And while Landess wasn't able to push the station back to the top of the mountain, he offered a steady presence for a decade-plus — and earned kudos for going public about his battle against prostate cancer.
In 2014, Landess left Denver7 in what was characterized at the time as his retirement — but shortly thereafter, he took an anchor position at KYTX in Tyler, a job he already had in his pocket when he departed Denver, he subsequently acknowledged.
When Landess returned to Tyler, he figured on staying there for a while. But in 2016, when he was hired at Channel 2, he told us that "I always had one toe in Colorado. We sold our house in Washington Park for an obscene amount of money — because all of the house prices in Washington Park are obscene — and took that money and bought a condo in Fort Collins, since my wife's two grown daughters and five grandchildren are up there. So we did the betwixt-and-between thing for a while — but then we figured out a way to get back here."
Instrumental in making that happen was then-Channel 2 news director Holly Gauntt, a colleague of Landess's at multiple stops along his career path. "She was an intern at KUSA when I was there, and she was the assistant news director at WTTG in Washington, D.C. We worked together through the 2000 election and 9/11, which we covered like it was a local news story — because for us, it was. We have a very intense personal bond" — so much so that Landess spoke at the funeral of Gauntt's mother.
In July 2017, about a year after Landess took the Denver gig, Gauntt made a move of her own, becoming the news director at, of all places, Denver7. The transition took place after Channel 2 and its sister station, Fox31, were purchased from their longtime owner, Tribune Media, by Sinclair Broadcasting, an ultra-conservative company with a history of forcing highly ideological material on stations in its portfolio.
Over the year that followed, negotiations took place to sell Fox31 to Rupert Murdoch's 21st Century Fox in an effort to make the Sinclair deal, which originally involved 42 Tribune outlets and a reported $3.9 billion, more palatable to federal regulators. Meanwhile, rumors of a Sinclair plan to use its new purchases to launch a conservative news network capable of challenging cable giant Fox News suggested that the Channel 2 news operation could be wiped out entirely by the end of 2018.
That didn't happen. In August, the Sinclair deal fell apart, leaving Channel 2 under the Tribune umbrella. But what will happen next at the station remains uncertain.
None of this sturm und drang is referenced in Landess's note to co-workers. Instead, he focuses on pride in what's been accomplished at the outlet over the two years since he came aboard. As for what he plans to do come December, he teases: "New adventures await."
Here's his email:
7 weeks from now, I'll be leaving KWGN/KDVR.
The original commitment was for a couple of years and what a couple of years it has been.
I've loved working in this building and with this staff.
There's great satisfaction in doing powerful stories and a half-hour special on the Opioid crisis that continues to grip our communities. That topic wasn't a ratings builder, but it was important and the right thing for our stations to do.
I've been incredibly proud of our efforts during breaking news, in particular the coverage of the shooting at the Walmart in Thornton. We came together as a team that night and led the way on a story that had tremendous impact on our community.
Our coverage of the Deputy shootings early this year was powerful and thorough. The incidents raised questions among some of us about the quality of body armor. Those questions lead to a partnership with Shield 616 and Safeway that raised 100's of thousands of dollars to buy better gear for Colorado Law Enforcement.
Being part of the outreach to our neighbors in Northern Colorado through the Fortitude 10K for the last 2 years has been very gratifying. It's been good community outreach, good television and a lot of fun.
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Leaving at the end of November will be a 'long goodbye' and bittersweet.
While I've treasured working with all of you, new adventures await.
Thanks for everything.