Urge to merge: WTTW combines national, local program staffs

Claiming it will create “a more cohesive and efficient unit,” Chicago’s leading public television station is putting all its production eggs in one basket.

WTTW National Productions, which brought the world Soundstage, Sneak Previews, The Frugal Gourmet, The New Explorers and The McLaughlin Group, is being combined with WTTW11 Local Productions, the local programming department of WTTW-Channel 11, according to Dan Schmidt, president and CEO of parent company Window to the World Communications.

“With this new focus, we are better able to leverage the creativity, experience and expertise of our existing staff to develop programming that appeals to local, national and international audiences,” Schmidt wrote in a memo to staffers.

The new WTTW Production division will be led jointly by Parke Richeson, senior vice president of WTTW National Productions, and Dan Soles, senior vice president and chief television content officer, Schmidt wrote, adding: “They will work in tandem with our production team to focus our efforts, define development and funding priorities, and create more efficient production systems.”

The consolidation is effective this month.

It’s not clear how many jobs will be combined or lost through the “more efficient production systems,” but Schmidt insists Channel 11’s local programming won’t suffer.

“We are not decreasing our commitment to local programming — Chicago Tonight, Check, Please! and other Chicago-centric content,” he wrote. “It will mean that we will identify core projects — such as Soundstage and 10 Buildings — and deploy the appropriate energy and resources necessary to make them happen at the highest level.”

Once a vital hub of national and local production, WTTW has undergone numerous cutbacks in both areas over the past decade. The last major programming initiative to emanate from 5400 North St. Louis Avenue, Ebert Presents At the Movies, was withdrawn after one year last December when producers were unable to secure sufficient funding.

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Laura Baginski, Editor (@TimeOutChicago)