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Channel 4 Steals Rival Programmer Marla Drutz: Programmer Was at WXYZ for Years

July 30, 2008

By John Smyntek, Detroit Free Press

Jul. 30–In a move that shook up the local TV scene, WXYZ-TV (Channel 7) programmer Marla Drutz has been named vice president and general manager of archrival WDIV Local 4.

In almost two decades at Scripps-Howard-owned Channel 7, Drutz was credited with building a solid daytime syndicated lineup. Channel 7 featured Martha Stewart and “Live with Regis and …” plus ABC’s “The View” and, in the evening, “Entertainment Tonight.”

The station also spearheaded large-scale local coverage of major events. Ironically, rights to cover the annual Thanksgiving parade and the North American International Auto Show were obtained by Channel 4 in bidding wars and are now Drutz’s again at WDIV.

Drutz is the first Detroit TV station veep-GM in quite awhile to come from the programming side; advertising-oriented television execs were the more common choice in the past decade as local TV stations faced the same challenges all advertising-based media face in the digital age. Local 4 is also involved in a news-gathering partnership with the Free Press.

Known as an indefatigable booster of WXYZ and its programming over the years, Drutz criticized her new employer for its once-tawdry daytime talk lineup of Jerry Springer, Maury Povich and Jenny Jones, which drew ratings but little prestige in the late ’90s.

But in a conversation Tuesday from her new downtown office, Drutz acted like a skilled debater who has to argue the other side. She spoke glowingly about such WDIV assets as the station’s 4 p.m. weekday newscast, a time period controlled for years by the syndicated “Oprah Winfrey” at Channel 7.

She even noted that Winfrey’s ratings have been fading somewhat.

Drutz termed taking command of Channel 4 “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.” She becomes the second woman to run Channel 4; Amy McCombs was vice-president and GM in the mid-1980s. And she becomes the latest in a long time of women to run TV stations here, joining names like Jeanne Findlater and Grace Gilchrist at Channel 7 and Sarah Norat-Phillips at WMYD-TV (Channel 20). At Channel 4, she replaces Steve Wassermann, who departed in January.

Drutz said she’ll emphasize “great local television,” complimenting both her current and past employers.

Asked about the challenges ahead, Drutz said “they are the same the whole industry faces. We’re in a community facing tough economic times. And digital transmission transition looms and we have to make sure viewers are prepared.” (In February, analog transmission of TV signals is due to cease, rendering many older sets not attached to cable or dish services useless without a new digital converter.)

She relishs going up against the TV juggernaut she helped build, saying “great competition makes for great TV.” Her arrival at Channel 4 was a reunion for her with former coworkers Chuck Gaidica, Guy Gordon and Steve Garagiola.

Channel 4′s news ratings have flagged over the past few years as NBC prime-time ratings teetered. But Drutz was quick to point out that the 11 p.m. newscast consistently leads all NBC affiliates nationally.

In her wheelhouse of daytime programming, she noted that WDIV will pick up the daytime version of “Who Wants to Be A Millionaire” with Meredith Vieira (now on Channel 62) plus the new daytime version of Howie Mandel’s “Deal or No Deal.”

Her former boss, Channel 7 vice president and general manger Bob Sliva, said in the interim that he’ll divide Drutz’s duties among several staffers. Drutz departs just before Channel 7′s two major summer programming efforts — coverage of the Woodward Dream Cruise in August and the Grand Prix on Belle Isle on Labor Day weekend.

Sliva replaced Gilchrist at Channel 7 upon her retirement late in 2007, perhaps preventing Drutz from ever getting the top chair there. Still, Sliva agreed Drutz had “a great opportunity” and was appreciative for her Channel 7 accomplishments. Drutz agreed there was little rancor over her departure.

Drutz graduated from Ohio University with a BA in journalism and communication. Her TV management career started with now-defunct Storer Communications, first at a Cleveland station and then with WJBK-TV here when Storer owned it.

She declined to give her age; “I’m young,” she said. Married to lawyer Ron Kaplovitz for 24 years, they have one son, David, 13. The family lives in Bloomfield Township.

JOHN SMYNTEK can be contacted at 313-222-5169 and jsmyntek@freepress.com.

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