Wednesday, March 31, 1999

I-Team chief did fine work at Channel 9




BY JOHN KIESEWETTER
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Mr. Zarchin quit as Channel 9 news director two years ago to run E.W. Scripps' Cinetel Productions, the Knoxville producer of shows for HGTV, Food TV and other channels.

        Mr. Zanger, 47, will resign Friday as news director to be a full-time dad and an assistant coach of his daughter's soccer team. He's leaving journalism after 30 years, tired of the 70-100 hours a week it takes to manage the multimillion-dollar profit center of today's TV station.

        “I've decided that time is a precious commodity. I want to go home and have dinner with my family, and take a walk with my wife,” says Mr. Zanger, who lives in Montgomery with his wife, Karen, and two daughters, Emilie, 17, and Jessica, 13.

        “Some folks wait until the doctor says they have cancer, or that first heart attack. I decided to do it now.”

Award-winning work
        He can walk out of Channel 9 having done it all, and then some.

        The Z-Team, hired in 1988 by former general manager Frank Gardner (now a Scripps senior vice president), produced an impressive array of I-Team stories. They nailed lazy building inspectors and pothole crews, rebuilt wrecked cars, exposed exorbitant funeral costs and problems at the Metropolitan Sewer District.

        Their stories cost inefficient people jobs. Their reports reached far beyond Channel 9's signal.

        They won a prestigious Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Award in 1993 for exposing Mazak, a Florence company that relabeled Japanese machine tools as “Made in the USA.”

        Their 1992 report on rebuilt wrecks — cars declared a total loss, then fixed and sold by dealers — won a national Society of Professional Journalists award and the attention of Congress and the Ohio legislature, which quickly changed state law to identify salvaged cars' titles.

        CBS' 60 Minutes picked up both topics from the I-Team.

        The Z-Team's premise was a simple one — have a couple of reporters dig around and see what they come up with, if anything. Newspapers have done it for decades, but it was (and is) a foreign concept for TV stations that must fill five newscasts a day.

Copycats failed
        Competitors embarrassed themselves imitating I-Team hidden cameras. Channel 12 fired a reporter and suspended two new managers in 1993 for hiding cameras in Hamilton County courtrooms without judges' permission. Channel 5 apologized to Rogers Jewelers in 1994 after hidden cameras caught an employee appraising a “$1,750 ring” at $400. The ring turned out to be worth only $400. Channel 5 hadn't checked the facts.

        The Z-Team did it right, and became one of the most identifiable TV brands in the Tristate.

        “This is not a gimmick. We did the journalism first,” Mr. Zanger said. “First came the reporting, then came the ratings.”

        Mr. Zanger's decision to jump out of TV news, before it ran him over, came last year as he was recovering from a herniated disc. He would spend 90 minutes a day in traction thinking about how a second with his family was a billion times more valuable than any Super Bowl commercial.

        He would think about sleeping at Channel 9 on a cot during sweeps. Or about dealing with things they never taught in journalism school — personnel matters, labor lawyers, graphics, promotion, marketing and hiring weather forecasters.

        He would rather be helping Emilie pick a college, pacing the soccer sidelines and teaching college.

        “The I-Team, thanks to Stuart, will go on and on and on,” Mr. Gardner said. “And that's the best legacy he could leave.”

        Mr. Zanger has no regrets.

        “I've had a ball. I have lived a dream, being able to start an investigative unit. To do solid, straight-ahead, no-apology investigative work. To have an impact, do something that really matters.”

        Now he can do the things that matter much more.

        John Kiesewetter is Enquirer TV/radio critic. His column appears Monday and Wednesday. Write: 312 Elm St., Cincinnati 45202.