Channel 3’s Choi ‘stunned’ by dismissal

On the air. Out the door.

That was the harsh reality for Channel 3’s Sophia Choi last week after she was suddenly, unexpectedly fired by the station on Friday, reported on Saturday by Review-Journal columnist Norm Clarke.

Why? “Honestly, I don’t know,” Choi said when reached by the R-J Monday night. “I was stunned.”

Station general manager Lisa Howfield could not be reached on Monday.

Experienced at the national level as a CNN Headline News anchor who also worked at a major market for KCBS-TV in Los Angeles, Choi joined Channel 3 in 2007 and was co-anchoring the 4 and 6 p.m. weekday newscasts when she was dismissed, though approximately six months remain on her current contract. “They’re paying me to stay at home,” says the Korean-born Choi, who moved to Maryland when she was 7 and also worked at stations in Lynchburg, Va. and Birmingham, Ala.

“I started getting a sense they were not going to renew because they started taking all my promos off the air, even during the ratings book. Typically during a sweeps period, with ‘CrimeTracker 3’ being their strongest franchise, they would have me do more pieces but the last couple of ratings periods they didn’t let me.”

With two Emmy nominations for her “CrimeTracker 3” reports, and, she says, no conflicts with anyone at the station, the axing has left her dumbfounded.

“All the sales people and all the marketing people always said, ‘You make our jobs easier.’ Producers say, ‘You’re the hardest-working anchor we know.’ I never got bad reviews from my bosses, so I don’t think it was performance-related. Maybe it’s budget cuts, or maybe they’re going in another direction.”

An insider at the station said Choi’s departure left staffers “confused and disappointed.”

Once her contract expires, Choi is bound by a “noncompete” clause, barring her from working for other stations in the market for a year.

“My agent is already talking to some network people and larger markets. I may end up going back to network, but if another station here wants me I’d definitely consider that. I love Las Vegas. I really felt I connected with viewers. I never worked anywhere where viewers were so receptive and kind. I wanted to finally settle down here, but that’s never up to a contract player.”

Stressing that she tries not to lapse into self-pity given how many people are out of work in this economy, she sends this message to viewers:

“Thank you, thank you, thank you, I’ve so enjoyed it, it’s been such a privilege. Please don’t be shy about coming up to me.”

So one of the best and classiest anchors in the Las Vegas market is now off the air. Meanwhile Channel 13’s Nina Radetich -- who betrayed her colleagues by trying to direct her boyfriend’s PR services to the subject of a station investigation, a journalistic sin -- remains on-camera.

What’s wrong with this TV pictures? Lots.

For more, see the Mediaology column in this week’s Neon Thursday.