Longtime WNBC-TV Sports Anchor Len Berman Let Go

by Neil Best New York Newsday

Len Berman, a New York television sports fixture since 1979, including for the past nearly quarter century at WNBC-TV, will leave the station sometime in the next 30 to 60 days.

The station and Berman, 61, had been discussing for months a settlement of his contract - believed to be the most lucrative among his anchor peers with an annual salary one TV industry source estimated at $1 million.

Berman suggested last night he was relieved to be done with the nightly grind and looking forward to a new phase in his career.

"This was something we have been talking about for a long time, and I think it benefits both of us," he said. "I've been sitting at that desk for 23 years, every night. It's unbelievable . . . I feel I have other talents besides just reading sports news. And my wife [Jill] is jumping up and down."

The departure of Berman is the latest in a wave that has reshaped local TV news, sweeping out many high-profile, high-priced personalities in an era of severe cost-cutting.Sports departments have been a frequent target, with the time devoted to reports dwindling and many avid fans more apt to get their news from ESPN or the Internet.

"The face of local news has changed, and sports has become less and less valuable in a way in local news," Berman's agent, Sandy Montag, said.

Sal Marchiano, a New York sports news veteran of 40 years, left Channel 11 at the end of last year and Channel 2 parted ways with its lead anchor, Ducis Rodgers.

Recently, Russ Salzberg has been doing the late sports reports for both Channels 5 and 9.

Berman's departure will leave only Bruce Beck as a sports anchor at Channel 4, where on one recent night news co-anchor Sue Simmons delivered the sports report.

Berman, who lives in Port Washington, took over from Marv Albert on the 6 o'clock news in 1986 and the 11 o'clock edition in 1987.

He was known for "Spanning the World," in which he showed highlights from the "wild and wacky" world of sports. He said that feature might live on in some form.

Berman has a Web site, has written a third children's book due this fall and is "open" to new projects.

"I work with some very special people on the air in Chuck [Scarborough] and Sue and Janice [Huff]," he said. "Everything has changed off the air. It's a different world. But there is no rancor. Both sides are happy. They're happy. I'm happy."