News-3 sacrifices asset by dismissing Choi

Class got a kick in the … rump. And a TV market takes a boot in the butt.

Blunt imagery clashes with the elegance of Sophia Choi, yet matches the fate she was handed last week when Channel 3 canned the 4 and 6 p.m. co-anchor, tossing away one of its best assets. (Jeff Gillan and Jim Snyder, respectively, solo-anchor those newscasts for now.)

Word is Choi did absolutely zilch to trigger the firing that was part of Channel 3’s future “plan,” though an insider describes co-workers as “confused and disappointed.” Count this critic among them. News-3 GM Lisa Howfield says the station does not comment on personnel decisions, but an out-of-the-blue beheading certainly leaves staffers on edge.

Cut loose with about six months remaining on her contract, Choi also will be bound by a “noncompete” clause after it expires, barring her from joining any competing station in Las Vegas for another year.

Earlier this week, in a conversation posted on the R-J’s Vegas Voice blog, Choi — an ex-CNN Headline news anchor who also worked at KCBS in Los Angeles and joined News-3 in 2007 — spoke to me about the dismissal that “stunned” her. Among the highlights:

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

■ “Producers say, ‘You’re the hardest-working anchor we know.’ I never got bad reviews. It’s odd because I’m nominated for two Emmys right now for ‘Crime Tracker 3.’ “

■ “So many people have lost their jobs that I can’t feel too sorry for myself.”

■ “My agent is talking to some network people and larger markets, but if another station here wants me, I’d definitely consider that. I love Las Vegas. I really felt I connected with viewers.”

Station “plans” may succeed spectacularly, but from today’s vantage point, we respectfully ask News-3: Are you nuts?

Poised, dignified and journalistically solid, Choi embodied the better angels of this market. Few anchors so refreshingly contradicted the grating, self-important caricature of TV talking heads with a delivery and demeanor that rendered the day’s depressing headlines less frightening, subsequently leaving viewers less anxious.

Even inane anchor chatter between segments sounded almost sophisticated when Choi bantered with Snyder and Gillan. Such qualities are rare and to be valued, not discarded.

Was that, indeed, the issue? Sadly, Choi’s approach is counterintuitive to TV’s scare-tactic style. Combined with similarly inclined Kendall Tenney’s departure, one hopes this doesn’t indicate News-3 is heading down the melodramatic path stomped through by Channel 13’s drama queens. Speaking of which …

Though they’re separate decisions by separate stations, one wonders what to make of a market where journalistic sinner Nina Radetich remains on-air, while Sophia Choi is booted off.

Given contract stipulations preventing her from re-emerging on another local station for 18 months, we’ve likely seen the last of Sophia Choi on Las Vegas airwaves.

And this TV market should be rubbing that throbbing ache in the … rump.

Contact reporter Steve Bornfeld at sbornfeld@ or 702-383-0256.

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