Longtime WMAR-TV weatherman and features reporter Tony Pagnotti will be leaving the station's news division, although he will remain with Channel 2 to work on unspecified projects.
News that a familiar face at WMAR would be taken off the air seemed to support fears that a wide-scale shake-up was imminent at the station, which rates a distant third in the ratings among Baltimore's big-three network affiliates. In August, the station announced a buyout package aimed at reducing the payroll at the Scripps-Howard-owned ABC affiliate, and rumors pop up every few days that one big name or another at the station is on his or her way out.
Although he declined to deal in specifics, Station Vice President and General Manager Steven Gigliotti said the buyout package met his goals, meaning there will be no layoffs at the station. Employees who accepted the buyout offer will leave Channel 2 between now and the end of the year, he said, noting that departure includes no on-air talent. And he stressed that, despite rumors Pagnotti's days at WMAR were numbered, he remains a key player.
Gigliotti also said he had no plans to try to restructure the contracts of any of WMAR's on-air staff.
Pagnotti, 46, who has spent almost 15 years at WMAR, will continue doing features reporting and the weekend weather for now. But when his current contract expires in April 2000, an agreement he reached over the past week with station management calls for him to revert to part-time status and concentrate on projects outside the news division.
"Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated," said Pagnotti, borrowing a line from Mark Twain. "I've had people from both channels 11 and 13 call me, saying they were so sorry to hear I was being let go. One day, I wore a button around the station that said, `No comment.' "
Gigliotti said he was not prepared to elaborate on his plans for Pagnotti, other than to say they are in line with his goal of putting more locally produced programming on the air.
Pagnotti admitted to spending some hours lying awake since it became clear his position at WMAR was being reconfigured. And while reluctant to give up the good-news features reporting he says has become "more my life than my livelihood," he professed satisfaction with the new agreement.
"I would have liked to continue checking our weather together on weekends and the features, but that wasn't possible," he said. "I've been approached by corporations in the past, people who have wanted me to do things for them, but I haven't been able to do that, because of my contract. Maybe I'll have some chances to do that now.
"Regardless of what the future holds, it's going to happen in Baltimore," Pagnotti said. "My family and everything, my heart is here. I just have too much invested from a personal standpoint.
"I've been in this business 25 years," he added. "Sometimes, you have to reinvent yourself."
Under the new agreement, Pagnotti said, his pay will be reduced in line with the amount of work at the station; he's guaranteed a minimum of 24 hours a week, but that could increase. Gigliotti said he hoped to have Pagnotti's future mapped out well before his contract expires in April and that there may be enough work to bring that figure up to 40 hours quickly.
Pagnotti will continue as host of "Around the House," a home-improvement program that airs Saturdays at 7: 30 a.m. on WMAR.