No fuss, no surprise guests, no tears. Susan Banks' 20-year career at WKBW-TV ended with her winking at the audience in an upbeat, goodbye message concluding Wednesday's 11 p.m. newscast.
Surprisingly, it was taped.
"I wanted to make sure I said everything I wanted to say without getting emotional," said Banks, adding she got preshow advice from legendary anchor Irv Weinstein. "He said, 'don't dissolve in tears and embarrass (her husband) and the rest of us.' "
She added she asked the station to look at it. 7 News had a ratings spike at 11 p.m. to a second-place 9.4 rating, behind first-place WIVB-TV (12.7).
You could have expected a little more fanfare than the hastily-arranged goodbye, which came a day after Banks' decision to leave was announced.
"That's OK, I don't like fuss," said Banks on Wednesday before a final broadcast that included a brief compilation of clips from her Channel 7 career that focused more on her hairstyles than her reporting. "It does seem abrupt. But I don't like to drag things out."
The end of her final 6 p.m. news was slightly more sentimental, with many Channel 7 staffers standing behind her at the end of the broadcast.
Banks' abrupt departure was an indication of how quickly the decision to leave was made. She apparently was done in by her high salary, the parent company's financial problems and low ratings. It is difficult to assess whether corporate bosses also weighed her involvement in the embarrassing, premature 7 News declaration Aug. 31 that State Trooper Joseph Longobardo had died after being shot by fugitive Ralph Phillips. "It didn't," said Banks.
Some Channel 7 staffers expected Banks to remain even in a reduced role at a lower salary. But leaving might have been the best option. With Channel 7's owner, Granite Broadcasting, in bankruptcy protection, things are unlikely to get any better soon. In the long run, she could be the lucky one at 7 News.
Banks had said in April 2005 that she signed a new three-year deal. However, a source said some contracts typically only have 13-week guarantees, which might have enabled Channel 7 to change the monetary terms of her deal. Her likely replacement, Joanna Pasceri, is unlikely to earn anywhere near what Banks earned, if and when Pasceri's contract is renewed.
The departure of Banks also sends a message to the anchors at rival stations, most of whom attended her going-away party at a downtown establishment after Wednesday's newscast. With Buffalo having fallen to the No. 49 market in the country, owners of all three stations have ammunition to lower salaries.
LIN Broadcasting, the owner of news lead-in WIVB-TV, already has sent the message that it no longer wants to give its top anchors the bonuses they've come to expect.
Then there's the unspoken issue about Banks' departure -- age. She is the second popular, veteran female anchor (Channel 4's Carol Jasen left four years ago after getting remarried) to leave the news at a time it was reasonable to expect that women would be allowed to age on TV in the same way that Keith Radford, Don Postles, Don Paul, Ed Kilgore and Kevin O'Connell have aged.
With Banks' departure, Channel 4's Jacquie Walker is the only female anchor on the air in the age range of the men listed above. Banks, who declined to discuss anything about her contract or her abrupt exit, doesn't believe the end of her 30-year TV career says anything about the age issue among women in broadcasting.
"I never felt that was an issue," said Banks. "If I feel it was an issue, I wouldn't be starting a new business. I'd be going to The Home. I feel really good about everything."
Walker, who called Banks' exit a "sad day," understandably tip-toed around an issue that has been raised nationally as higher-salaried veteran news staffers have been exiting the business.
"It's an era of cost-cutting," said Walker. "I think (Banks' leaving) is a concern anytime you lose a veteran broadcaster. Whether or not the fact she is a female had anything to do with it, I do not know. But it is an appropriate question."