Dr. Anna Marie (Handout photo )
Dr. Anna Marie Chwastiak has returned to Baltimore TV after a nine-year hiatus — switching channels, dropping her surname and presenting her syndicated show on WBAL's digital channel.
The former WMAR health reporter, whose news beat focused on the area's medical institutions, has turned executive producer and host of "Your Life with Dr. Anna Marie," a half-hour show in which she offers advice and tips on subjects like exercise, relaxation and maintaining a healthful diet.
"Every week, I will talk about living life to the fullest in a way that is balanced, but not boring," she said.
When Chwastiak left WMAR in a 2001 downsizing, she started her own production company near her home on Rumsey Island in Harford County. "Your Life" now airs on dozens of cable stations across the country and started in this area last month. It airs in Baltimore at 3:30 p.m. Saturdays, then again at 4:30 p.m. on Sundays. She has also presented health tips on the Weather Channel since 2003,.
The 45-year-old podiatrist has combined medicine and journalism for nearly two decades, but the combination of professional roles has not always gone smoothly.
When WMAR canceled its specialty reporting, Chwastiak, who had been at the station for four years, was told her contract would not be renewed. Before she was officially let go, she tried to develop future program opportunities with hospitals on her beat. While she attributed those overtures to youthful enterprise and preparation for an uncertain future, her producers and media watchdogs publicly criticized her, calling those business contacts unethical journalism.
More recently, she has packaged her programming as "edu-tainment," rather than journalism, which has given her a free hand to add sponsored content to her segments.
On cable, she frequently promotes her sponsors' products — one spot features her pet Labrador retriever, whose joint problems disappeared, she said, after daily doses of a product developed by one of her sponsors. Any criticism of that relationship is unlikely in 2011, given the economics of the industry, said Douglas Gomery, resident scholar with the Library of American Broadcasting at the University of Maryland.
"All shows on cable are built around sponsors," Gomery said. "It's no big deal ethically."
He mentioned Oprah's book club, which has created overnight best sellers, and the home improvement shows sponsored by home improvement companies. Ethics questions would come into play if the show attempted to disguise the relationship with the sponsor, but that is rarely the case, he said.
"No one is pretending to be objective," he said.
Wanda Draper, WBAL director of programming, said personality driven shows fit well with the mix of programs the station airs on its digital channel. Chwastiak's show, which debuted Jan. 22, is holding its own and is expected to build, Draper said. She said she was not concerned by the circumstances of Chwastiak's departure from WMAR, calling it "really old news."
"We have more viewers on digital than on cable," Draper said. "Digital gives us an opportunity to air the lifestyle shows that focus on travel, cooking and health and often beat our competition's main channel programming."
Chwastiak has dropped her surname for professional and practical purposes — "It didn't fit on the screen," she said.
"Maryland has long been my home base, and now, finally, I am coming home," she said. "I am excited about returning to Baltimore TV."