KTLA-TV Channel 5, whose broadcasts of local news for decades have been an essential part of daily life for many Los Angeles viewers, became the news this past week, after the departure of one of its high-profile news anchors, Lynette Romero, and the firing of another, Mark Mester.
The shakeup marks a tumultuous moment for KTLA, a station that values longevity and earlier this year celebrated its 75th anniversary. It has thrown the station's popular "Weekend Morning News" show into flux.
The abrupt departures have shocked many within the station, and the drama has reverberated throughout Southern California as a deluge of dedicated viewers have criticized KTLA's handling of Romero's departure and Mester's termination. Some viewers are saying they will no longer tune in.
"I think it obviously affected us in a very negative way, and that trust has to be regained over many years," said a station source who spoke to The Times on condition of anonymity. "It's not gonna be regained in a day, in a week, or in a month."
While the future of KTLA's "Weekend Morning" show and its standing with the community is uncertain, here is a brief timeline of the events of the past week.
Sept. 14 — KTLA announces Lynette Romero's exit
In a news broadcast at the end of its 10 a.m. show, the newsroom's director Pete Saiers handed entertainment reporter Sam Rubin a script announcing the departure of Lynette Romero.
“After nearly 24 years, Lynette Romero, our friend Lynette, has decided to move on from anchoring our weekend morning news,” Rubin said on air after a photo of Romero flashed onto the screen.
“KTLA management had hoped she would stay here her entire career, and KTLA worked hard to make that happen,” Rubin added. “But Lynette has decided to move to another opportunity elsewhere. Lynette, we wish you luck, we miss you and we thank you for everything you’ve done for KTLA. ... On behalf of everyone here, we wish you and your family nothing but the best.”
Station management had been in negotiations with Romero over the past several weeks. Romero no longer wanted to work weekends and had asked management to allow her to work a weekday anchor shift so she could spend more time with her family, but she was told there were no openings, according to station sources who asked to remain anonymous. Sources say she reportedly has been hired at KNBC-TV, L.A.’s NBC affiliate, as one of its weekday morning show anchors.
Praise and backlash from viewers
With KTLA's "Weekend Morning" show among the most popular local weekend programs on TV, Romero's departure sent shockwaves among the show's loyal audience. An outpouring of praise for Romero spread online, celebrating her storied career at KTLA that included winning six local Emmy Awards, with one of them recognizing her reporting on Latinos in L.A.
But her departure also drew intense criticism of the station.
Many questioned the station's decision not to allow Romero to say her own goodbye on air. KTLA had already lost favor with some viewers when news anchor Dayna Devon left the "Morning" program for a different show. Romero's departure was the tipping point for some viewers.
"Dayna AND Lynette gone now?" commented one user on Twitter. "No need for me to watch anymore."
Management offers a recorded goodbye
Sometime after the Sept. 14 announcement, newsroom and station managers at KTLA offered to send a camera to Romero's house to record her goodbye, which would have been aired on a later day. Romero rejected the proposal. Several station sources said her future employer KNBC had discouraged her from doing so.
Romero kept a low profile on social media since her KTLA exit, but she addressed fans Sept. 14.
“I will always be grateful for the love and affection LA viewers have given me,” she tweeted. “Stay tuned my friends I’ll be right back.”
Sept. 17 — Mark Mester goes off script
Producers had spent the last several days gathering a montage of Romero's work and a script for fellow "Weekend Morning Show" anchor Mark Mester to read during a farewell segment.
Mester, who had alerted his followers on social media that he was planning to address Romero’s departure on that morning’s show, had other plans.
He hired a plane with a banner to fly over the station with the message “We love you Lynette!” Mester had pitched producers to include footage of the plane in the segment but was rejected.
At the top of the 8 a.m. show, Mester ignored the script and launched into an emotional speech, criticizing the station's handling of Romero's exit and apologizing to viewers on behalf of the station. "What viewers experienced was rude, it was cruel, it was inappropriate, and we are so sorry," Mester said of the Sept. 14 announcement.
Mester also flashed a photo of the station’s general manager, Janene Drafs and mentioned her role in Romero's departure. Neither action was approved by producers.
He then apologized to Romero, whom he called his "best friend.”
“You did not deserve this, we are sorry, it was a mistake, and we just hope you can find it in your heart to forgive us,” Mester said, his voice cracking at times. With three colleagues alongside him, Mester's monologue lasted more than four minutes.
Sept. 17 — Outburst in the newsroom
Immediately after the show as Mester stepped off set, station management called him into their office for a meeting, which he refused. An assistant news director was forced to break the news of his suspension over voicemail. At one point, several staffers recalled Mester telling one of the news directors to “shut up” and refusing to leave the building after being asked to do so.
During the exchange with management, Mester allegedly yelled obscenities that could be heard by other staffers in the newsroom.
Several sources at the station said it was common knowledge that staffers were concerned about Mester’s temper and what was described as his “disrespectful” behavior to women and had complained to management.
Sept. 19 — News breaks of Mester's suspension
Industry trade publication Deadline reported Mester's suspension. Although KTLA and its Nexstar Media Group ownership refused to comment on the suspension, media outlets and the KTLA audience immediately began to draw the line between Romero's abrupt exit, Mester's impassioned speech and his suspension.
The suspension spurred further vitriol toward the station and praise for Mester, whom viewers saw as advocating for Romero.
However, in the newsroom, many staffers began to call for Mester's firing, saying that he had betrayed their trust.
Sept. 22 — KTLA announces Mester's firing
One day earlier, on Sept. 21, newsroom staffers saw Mester meeting with management. The next day, around 1 p.m., the station's general manager, Drafs called station employees together for a meeting where she announced Mester's firing.
"[Mester] is no longer at KTLA5," she said. Employees were given instructions to not speak with the media.
Mester has not responded to requests for comment and has remained silent on social media since his termination.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.