Tuesday night marked the debut of a bright star as co-ancor of the Fox News
at 9pm. All of us at Eli’s Cheesecake were delighted to see Mark Supplesa move
up to the “Big Chair” (more about Mark in Rob Feders’ Column below from the Sun
We wanted to celebrate this great event with a special Eli’s Cheesecake so we
presented Mark with his own ceremonial cheesecake shortly before he went on the
September 7, 2004
BY ROBERT FEDER
From “bright newcomer” to “rising star” to “heir apparent,” lots of labels
have been attached to Mark Suppelsa over the years — all of which pointed to
bigger and better things for him in Chicago television news.
For a decade at WMAQ-Channel 5 (where he patiently waited his turn behind Ron
Magers and then behind Warner Saunders) and for the last 18 months at
WFLD-Channel 32 (where he patiently waited behind Walter Jacobson), Suppelsa was
the broadcast equivalent of the high school whiz kid voted “most likely to
succeed.” It was only a matter of time before destiny concurred.
Tonight, the prophesy comes true.
Mark Eugene Suppelsa, Lincoln-Way Central High School Class of 1980 and the
pride of Chicago’s suburbs, officially ascends to the No. 1 news anchor job at
Channel 32, succeeding the legendary Jacobson and joining Robin Robinson on the
Fox-owned station’s marquee 9 p.m. newscast.
In so doing, he fulfills a lifelong dream in his own hometown — a city that
turned Bill & Walter, Ron & Carol and John & Diann into household
names and millionaire icons.
Suppelsa, 42, a graduate of Marquette University, joined Channel 5 in 1993 as
weekend anchor and reporter after solid runs at KSTP-TV in Minneapolis and
WFRV-TV in Green Bay, Wis.
He distinguished himself in a variety of ways at the NBC-owned station,
winning the respect of colleagues and critics alike, not just for his reporting
and anchoring skills, but also for his personal integrity and professional
ethics. Suppelsa scored extra points one night in 1997, when he more than held
his own in a live, crackling exchange with Jerry Springer on the very 10 o’clock
newscast that the notorious talkmeister had defiled as a commentator.
So confident were Channel 5 bosses in Suppelsa’s future at the station that
they failed to anticipate other suitors at his door. When he left to accept a
bigger and better offer from Channel 32 in March 2003, NBC was caught totally
If he had stayed at Channel 5, in all likelihood, Suppelsa would still be
wearing the “heir apparent” tag and still waiting for his day to come.
Instead, that day is here now at Channel 32, where Jacobson has shifted into
a new full-time role as commentator and host of “Fox Sunday Perspective” and
relinquished his seat to Suppelsa. The transition has been, by all accounts,
smooth and gracious.
On the eve of the biggest promotion of his career, Suppelsa reflected on his
job, the challenges he faces and the state of local television news:
Q. After 20 years in the business, you’re stepping up to the top anchor
job in your own hometown. Does that make it especially meaningful to you?
A. Well, if all else fails, at least Mom’ll be there watching. [Laugh] It
really is the exact dream opportunity I wished for when I got into this business
a couple of decades ago: “Wouldn’t it be amazing to work in my hometown in front
of my parents some day, sitting in the big chair?” I couldn’t be happier.
Q. Most anchors don’t do much reporting. As you assume your new position,
how important is reporting to you? Do you plan to continue “A Closer Look”?
A. I’d be bored stiff and certainly less of an anchor if I didn’t report as
well. Yes, Fox let me hire my own producer to team up on my “Closer Look”
reports. We’ve done close to 70 of them since I arrived here. You’ll see many
more to come on the 9 p.m. news.
Q. How does it feel to follow a legend?
A. Walter is a legend and should be treated as such. He’s a journalistic gem
in this town. Filling the huge footprint he’s left at the anchor desk is near
impossible for any successor. I’ll just do the best I can to carry that torch
into the next generation.
On the other hand, I’m thrilled that Walter will continue doing the
“Perspective” reports that have made him such a legend. Our viewers count on
seeing that, and they won’t be disappointed.
Q. Fox news is currently running fifth in a five-way race in the market.
Does that put additional pressure on you to succeed?
A. Any news anchor who tells you they’re not scared to death about what the
ratings will be when they’re in the chair is lying to you. But all I can do is
get up there, try to make the viewers comfortable with me and work hard. Every
newscast is losing viewers to the Internet, cable, TiVo or busy lives. If I can
help make our newscast a little more relevant to those lives, so they make us
part of their daily habit, then this might work out.
Q. I thought you were supposed to succeed Warner Saunders. What went
wrong at Channel 5? Do you miss your friends there?
A. Nothing went wrong. Fox just pitched a better five-year plan to me. It was
wonderful, so I went across the street.
I do miss my friends at Channel 5, but we stay in close touch.
Q. How is Fox news different from other stations in the market?
A. We have this terrific opportunity called time. An hourlong newscast to a
guy like me who’s worked within nothing but half-hour newscasts for 20 years is
marvelous. More stories, a wider range of stories, longer stories. As one
extremely well-respected competing TV journalist just told me: “You guys have
the best first block of news in the city.”
Q. What’s your overall view of local news these days? Is the business
better or worse than when you started?
A. Sadly, probably worse. It’s true the bean counters cleaned up unnecessary
expenses that big newsrooms got away with for years — flying Learjets to
stories to get there three hours quicker. But they’ve gone way too far over the
years. Cutting salaries of older and wiser reporters, forcing them to quit the
business. Plus, we reporters have to fight a continuous effort to narrowcast to
a particular demographic when we should be broadcasting the best stories.
The financial pinch has also led newsrooms to get lazy and cover the cheap,
easy police-blotter news that’s packaged as late, breaking and live. To most
viewers, that stuff is irrelevant, so we lose them.
Q. How are you and Robin Robinson getting along? What is she like as a
A. Robin is one of the best pure anchors I’ve seen. Ever see that woman
flustered on the air? She’s been particularly graceful in welcoming the new guy
into the newsroom and to the anchor desk. She’s also a fun-lovin’ cut-up who is
so easy to work with. I’ll just try to keep up with her.
Q. What would people be surprised to learn about you?
A. That I’m vegetarian? I don’t know. Other than that, I’m pretty much, “What
you see is what you get.”