WBZ-TV4 announced this past week that long-time sports anchor Bob Lobel and veteran arts-and-entertainment anchor Joyce Kulhawik will be among the 30-plus employees to lose their jobs in the station’s latest round of layoffs and buyouts. Some reports are already speculating that WBZ’s number-two sports anchor, Steve Burton, will be tapped to fill Lobel’s shoes, but Kulhawik is the last of her kind, at the station and in Boston.
Kulhawik began covering the Boston arts scene for WBZ in 1981. Others soon followed: Dixie Whatley at WCVB-TV5, Sara Edwards at WHDH-TV7, and Naamua Delaney at WFXT-TV25. As late ’90s budget cuts turned into layoffs, however, big-name A&E reporters were some of the first casualties. WCVB let Whatley go in 2001 (she’s still reviewing film for WMJX, but spends most of her time as an artist; some of her sculpture is currently being shown at L’Attitude Gallery on Newbury Street), and WHDH did the same to Edwards in 2003 (she’s now senior producer/reporter for CN8’s regional Backstage with Barry Nolan). Delaney ended her four-year tenure in Boston in 2003, and now works for cnn.com. Details of Kulhawik’s buyout, including her last day, have not been announced.
“There is no question that the quality and quantity of television-news coverage of the arts has declined over the years,” says Jim Torres, director of marketing and public relations at Boston’s SpeakEasy Stage Company, by e-mail. “Now we are lucky to get Joyce in to see maybe three of our five shows each season, due to the demands on her time, or the disinterest of the folks running the newscast.”
At the Boston Symphony, managing director Mark Volpe credits Kulhawik with a gift for storytelling, context, and range. “Joyce was one of the few people who could cover popular entertainment and be equally comfortable with [Evgeny] Kissin, Yo-Yo Ma, [James] Levine, and an Opening Night at Symphony.”
Without full-time arts reporters minding the store, many news broadcasts now equate “arts and entertainment” with Hollywood gossip, not local culture. “We live in a society with such tremendous focus on pop culture,” says Boston Lyric Opera General Director Janice Mancini Del Sesto. “It is quite depressing.”
Make no mistake: Kulhawik is no stranger to Hollywood. She interviews the big stars when they’re in town, and movie reviews have always been central to her reports. (When Gene Siskel passed away in 1999, she was one of a rotation of guest critics brought in to work with Roger Ebert on his nationally syndicated review show, drawing serious consideration for the job that ultimately went to Richard Roeper.) But her producer at WBZ for nearly 20 years, Marji Borkow, says Kulhawik knew how much her coverage meant to the city’s smaller arts groups, and always made sure they got a seat at the table.
“Joyce resisted the pressure to cover showbiz gossip stories,” says Borkow. “It was a balance.”
Late Monday night, there was no entertainment news on WBZ. Earlier in the evening, however, WHDH’s Lauren Przybyl reported from Newbury Street, where Kate Hudson was shooting Bride Wars, one of several movies to be filmed here this year. Przybyl was waylaying fans there hoping to bump into the star — no doubt the first of many celeb-sighting assignments to come.
Bride Wars is the story of the calamity that ensues when two best friends — gasp! — pick the same wedding day. Przybyl summed things up: “Yup, it could get ugly.”