Photo: Rodney Ho/Radio and TV Talk
Photo: Rodney Ho/Radio and TV Talk

2018 TV year in review, Atlanta edition: Ben Swann, Ted Turner, Anthony Bourdain, Vinnie Politan

Originally posted on Christmas Day, 2018 by RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com on his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog

TV in Atlanta this year featured ownership changes for Turner and the Weather Channel, the usual turmoil at CBS46, sad news for Ted Turner and flagging fortunes for “The Walking Dead” and “Real Housewives of Atlanta.’ 

In the meantime, TV production continued to grow in the metro area with nearly 100 active TV shows in the area, up from about 80 last year and 25 in 2011. There were no big-time breakout new hits out of the city this year but “Ozark” and “Atlanta” did have second seasons (while the third season of “Stranger Things” wont be out until 2019.)

Here were some of the top stories I covered:

Ben Swann leaves CBS46. The evening anchor was known for unorthodox views on stories, sometimes veering into alt-right conspiracy theories. He did a Reality Check segmetn  in 2016 about PizzaGate that led to his suspension and removal of his Truth in Media website and most of his social media platforms. Swann in early 2018 quietly began raising funds to bring back his Reality Check stories using cyber currency Dash. When CBS46 found out he was doing this without his boss’ knowledge, Swann was promptly fired. For several months, he did Reality Check videos on YouTube, funded by Dash. But the last one he did was four months ago. He has since been contributing regularly to RT, a Russian-funded English-language news network.

Sharon Reed and Thomas Roberts on CBS46

Other major changes at CBS46: The station, which is known for rapid turnover, replaced Swann with a much more credible journalist: Thomas Roberts, formerly of CNN and MSNBC. It named a new general manager Lyle Banks in January, replacing Mark Pimental, who lasted three years. And after the unexpected death of morning host Amanda Davis late last year, she was replaced by Shon Gables in the mornings. Gables later in the year moved to evenings, with long-time CBS46 anchor Tracye Hutchins moved back to mornings with Gurvir Dhindsa. On the bright side, the station did win the most Southeast Emmy’s ever at 11, with Adam Murphy pocketing five. (Others who left local Atlanta TV: CBS46’s Keith Whitney for a communications job at the City of Atlanta, 11 Alive’s Jennifer Leslie for a PR job11 Alive’s Melissa Long for a tech start up, Channel 2 Action news meteorologist Karen Minton for retirement, Channel 2’s public affairs director Jocelyn Dorsey, also for retirement. )

Ted Turner sings while on stage during his 80th birthday party at the St. Regis Atlanta hotel on Saturday, Nov. 17, 2018. He turns 80 on Monday, Nov. 19.
Photo: Branden Camp/Special to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Ted Turner has dementia. Turner announced in September on CBS Sunday Morning that he has Lewy Body Dementia, a gradually debilitating condition that impacts a person’s mental and physical capabilities. The once brash CNN founder and philanthropist also celebrated his 80th birthday at the St. Regis Hotel in Atlanta with his former wife Jane Fonda and a raft of celebrity friends including Al Gore, Andrew Young and Jeff Zucker. 

Vinnie Politan is hosting a new "Atlanta Alive" morning show August 4, 2014 from 5 to 7 a.m. CREDIT: 11 Alive
Photo: Rodney Ho/Radio and TV Talk

Vinnie Politan departs 11Alive for Court TV revival: Politan, a former prosecutor and commentator and host for Court TV, joined 11Alive four years ago as a morning host. The station last year tried to reinvent the 11 p.m. newscast with Politan as the central figure but it didn’t move the needle. He left in the fall. Politan’s heart was always in crime and courts. So when Atlanta-based Katz Networks bought the rights to the intellectual property of Court TV from Turner, the owner re-hired Politan, who gladly jumped aboard. Politan will be back on air on the new Court TV in May, 2019. 

Michaela Pereira has been with CNN's morning show "New Day" for three years. CREDIT: CNN
Photo: Rodney Ho/Radio and TV Talk

HLN changes. Poor HLN. The network, since it dropped its classic 30-minute newswheel in 1999, has struggled to find a consistent, defined identity as CNN’s sister station, trying various attempts at “news and views,” often with an emphasis on crime (thus, Nancy Grace.) There was even a brief moment when the network chased Millennials to no avail. Its latest incarnation focused on live news for Middle American (and less about D.C. politics) with all-female anchors, plus crime-oriented series. But the network, in cost-cutting mode, recently cancelled its live shows in Los Angeles and New York and retrenched to Atlanta. This is rare good news for Atlanta operations for Turner because the company (recently bought up by AT&T) had largely moved its power base away from Atlanta to New York. 

"Dumplin' " starring Danielle Macdonald as an overweight teen whose mom takes pageants very seriously.

Netflix in Atlanta: Even with $8 billion this year to spend on production, the temptation to save a few bucks by coming to Georgia didn’t escape Netflix. The network continued to add more shows in the area. On top of the second season of “Ozark” and production of the third season of “Stranger Things” (including an amusing remake of Gwinnett Place Mall), Netflix released “Insatiable” and “The Haunting of Hill House.” It also filmed its hit Jennifer Aniston film “Dumplin’” featuring several Dolly Parton songs here as well as an upcoming Parton anthology series and the first two season of the revival of “Queer Eye.” 

Andrew Lincoln as Rick Grimes - The Walking Dead _ Season 9, Episode 5 - Photo Credit: Jackson Lee Davis/AMC
Photo: Jackson Lee Davis/AMC

‘The Walking Dead’ struggles: Zombies are hard to kill and so is this AMC show. But the entire Negan/Rick battle tested the patience of its most ardent fans and the show has shed a whopping half its audience in just two years, from about 20 million a week to 10 million. That still makes it a huge show but few shows lose that many viewers in that brief a time. With Rick leaving season nine and a time jump of six years, the show has found fresh footing under a new show runner. But is it too little, too late? 

Shamari Devoe makes a spectacle of itself on RHOA.

‘Real Housewives of Atlanta’ turnover: 2018 was probably the toughest year to date for this decade-old franchise. Ratings flagged toward the end of season 10 so the producers dumped Kenya Moore and Sheree Whitfield, two housewives who had great instincts in terms of generating conflict. They brought in two younger newcomers - Eva Marcille and Shamari DeVoe. Halfway through season 11, neither have proven to be a panacea. While ratings this season have been flat (which is better than falling), the first eight episodes have been an utter snoozefest. 

CNN said it won't air the episode of "Parts Unknown" Anthony Bourdain filmed in France when he died.
Photo: Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images

R.I.P. Anthony Bourdain: CNN a few years back began airing docuseries that weren’t tied to breaking news to help supplement ratings during slow times. Bourdain’s Emmy-winning “Parts Unknown” was their best and most reliable pick up, swiped from the Travel Channel. He was a unique, empathetic, super articulate host, who used cuisine as an entry point into all sorts of culture worldwide, from the Appalachian mountain world of West Virginia to the conflict zones in Libya to late-night street food in Thailand. His shocking death left the world far less rich though his TV episodes do remain

CNN vs. Trump, continued: President Donald Trump, feeling besieged by the unrelenting eye of often negative media coverage, continued to take special umbrage toward CNN. Trump mostly watches Fox News but still checks in on CNN, run by his former “Celebrity Apprentice” boss Jeff Zucker. (Yes, it’s in part, personal.) This year continued Trump’s Tweet hate toward the network, with frequent references to “fake news” and special critiques of Don Lemon, who he dubbed “the dumbest man on television.” The network’s chief White House correspondent Jim Acosta briefly lost his “hard pass” access after Trump became upset by his aggressive approach to questioning. The network, as a result, has also become a target for bomb and death threats. But CNN as a whole remains a serious money-making center for what is now AT&T, estimated to bring in $1.2 billion in profits this year

George Eads, who plays former CIA agent Jack Dalton on 'MacGyver,' is leaving the third-season, CBS action drama (No word on whether it's on a jet plane).

“MacGyver” issues: This was a tough fall for the third season of this hit CBS series, a reboot of the original series starring Richard Dean AndersonA stunt coordinator was seriously injured over the summer. Then in a surprise, second lead George Eads announced he was bowing out after two and a half seasons, say he needed more time at home with his family in Los Angeles. He also had a reported altercation on set in October, which didn’t help matters. 

Byron Allen, comedian, television producer and the founder and chief executive officer of the U.S. television production company Entertainment Studios, at his Los Angeles office in June 2018.

The Weather Channel gets a new ownerByron Allen, who started his entertainment career as a comic and TV host, has been a behind-the-scenes producer and TV station owner for the past quarter century. In March, he purchased Atlanta-based Weather Channel for a reported $300 million

The cable network was not a great investment for its previous owners: two private equity firms - Bain Capital and the Blackstone Group - and media giant NBC/Universal since 2008. They purchased the network at the time for an estimated $3.5 billion.

To add a layer of confusion, the owners in 2015 sold off the Weather Channel's digital assets to IBM for an estimated $2 billion. This means the current purchase doesn't include weather.com or the Weather Channel app. The cable network now licenses the Weather Channel brand from IBM.

Atlantans on reality TV in 2018: It was a banner year for locals in the reality world. 

- Robotics professor Christian Hubicki and Atlanta social media specialist Davie Rickenbacker lit up the just concluded “Survivor: David vs Goliath” on CBS...

Scottley Innis and Gizzy Barton on “Hell’s Kitchen” made an intriguing rivalry since Innis took over for Barton at South City Kitchen...  

- Super nice Dallas (GA) country singer Caleb Lee Hutchinson finished second in “American Idol” and ended up dating winner Maddie Poppe... 

- Controversial flight attendant Bayleigh Dayton didn’t win “Big Brother” but ended up getting engaged to fellow castmate Chris “Swaggy” Williams... 

Fierce Kennesaw rap star Sharaya, who underwent treatment for state 2 breast cancer while competing on Fox’s “The Five,” came in second. 

- Another Kennesaw rapper and “Rap Game” vet Flau’Jae got a golden buzzer hit on “America’s Got Talent” but was eliminated in her first live show vote...

- Speaking of Lifetime’s “The Rap Game,” Jermaine Dupri chose Atlanta’s pint-sized talent Street Bud as winner of the fourth season. 

Bra store entrepreneur Molly Hopkins divorced Luis Mendez of the Dominican Republic after a whirlwind romance on TLC’s “90 Day Fiance.”... 

- The first two seasons of “Queer Eye” featured an array of metro Atlantans getting makeover, including Clarkson mayor Ted Terry. 

- Keshia Knight Pulliam was second to go on “Celebrity Big Brother” after she got homesick and requested to leave.

Quani of Buford came in third on “Masterchef Junior” while Atlanta’s Londyn Green came in second on “Top Chef Junior.” 

Anthony Williams won Lifetime’s “Project Runway All Stars.” Three of the five finalists were from Atlanta. He beat out  Edmond Newton (fifth place) and Ken Laurence (fourth place). This was the first time the final five were all men of color. 

Photo: Rodney Ho/Radio and TV Talk

Sampling of new TV productions in Atlanta in 2018“Cobra Kai” (continuation of the “Karate Kid” story line) and “Step Up: High Water” (a play off the film series) on YouTube Premium, “Queen America” with Catherine Zeta-Jones on Facebook Watch, “ATL Homicide” on TV One,  “Divorce Court” in syndication“Forged in Fire: Knife or Death” with Bill Goldberg on History, “Love Is_” on OWN (which was renewed, then cancelled after allegations that an executive producer stole ideas from an ex lover surfaced), “Legacies” on the CW, quirky “Lodge 49” on AMC, “Paid Off” game show that helps folks in college debt win some cash on truTV, 

Some shows that ended their runs in Atlanta in 2018: “The Originals” on the CW after five seasons, “Hap and Leonard” on Sundance after three seasons, “Spartan: Ultimate Team Challenge” on NBC after two seasons, “The Quad” on BET after two season, “Kevin (Probably” Saves the World” on ABC after one season.

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About the Author

Rodney Ho
Rodney Ho
Rodney Ho covers radio and television for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
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