One of the Bay Area's most recognizable TV news personalities, Frank Somerville, could be contemplating an exit from the station he has called home for three decades. But how this drama will play out is still anyone's guess.
News of Somerville's suspension at KTVU spread rapidly across social media over the weekend, in large part because the action seemed unjustified in the eyes of many fans. The reason, as the Mercury News reports via inside sources, was an argument that Somerville got into with station brass — reportedly News Director Amber Eikel — over a "tagline" he wanted to give after reporting on the murder of Gabby Petito in Wyoming. Somerville had wanted to address what many on social media and elsewhere had been discussing — what the late PBS news reporter Gwen Ifill coined "missing white woman syndrome — in the wake of the national frenzy of coverage of Petito's case. Somerville, who has an adoptive daughter of color, wanted to say something about the many missing persons cases involving people of color that go un- or under-reported every years.
Eikel allegedly suggested that this subject deserved more complete coverage, and did not belong in just a 46-second tagline. She was then reportedly angry to learn that an edited, 26-second version had made it into the news script last week, but was then cut and Somerville obeyed orders, as the Chronicle reports, but the following day he was informed he was being suspended indefinitely from the station.
Local media blogger Rich Lieberman, who had previously been in touch with Somerville during his June and July suspension — following a bizarre Memorial Day Weekend newscast in which he slurred words and seemed to have difficulty reading from the teleprompter — noted last week that Somerville's disappearance from the anchor desk followed another "shaky" broadcast last Tuesday night in which he appeared visibly tense or distracted.
Somerville returned to the anchor desk without any comment or explanation about his nine-week absence in early August, and neither Fox nor KTVU commented on it either.
Now, Lieberman is saying he believes Somerville and the station are all but certainly headed for "divorce." And Lieberman has some choice inside rumors about the newsroom overall, and about co-anchor Julie Haener's alleged fatigue with all the drama.
KTVU's "10 O'Clock News" is the most-watched news broadcast in the Bay Area, and Somerville is typically anchoring from Sunday to Thursday night. He took over the anchor seat from Bay Area legend Dennis Richmond in 2008, when Richmond retired, and Somerville has been on the air at the station since 1991.
The Mercury News also notes that Somerville has a far larger following on Facebook than Haener or any of his colleagues, with 600,000 followers. Julie Haener has 6,800 followers on Instagram and 33,000 on Facebook.
Somerville has not yet commented on the suspension. Lieberman surmises that he'd be snapped up in a heartbeat by KPIX, whose news ratings have been in decline.