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What's next for Wayne?

Wayne Dolcefino unexpectedly leaves Channel 13 in surprise announcement, but why?

Wayne Dolcefino finger
Wayne Dolcefino was never one to hold back. And the former TV news star told plenty while receiving a fraud fighting award.
Wayne Dolcefino
Wayne Dolcefino in a promo photo that appeared on the Channel 13 site when he worked there. Courtesy of KTRK

In an oddly timed announcement that came at the start of the Thanksgiving holiday, Channel 13 officials announced that investigative reporter Wayne Dolcefino has left the station.

"It's a sad day here at 13," anchor Dave Ward said on the 10 o'clock news Wednesday. The announcement had been previously made on Channel 13's 5 p.m. news.

 "In my opinion, Wayne Dolcefino is the best at what he does and we will really miss him," Ward said on-air in a closing tribute.

 The hardcharging Dolcefino had headed the ABC-owned station's 13 Undercover unit for nearly 26 years and won a boatload of Emmy Awards. Focusing on government corruption, Dolcefino set his sights on politicians, schools and such institutions as the Port of Houston, which he dubbed the "Port of Plenty."

His investigations led to the resignation of Harris County Commissioner Jerry Eversole and the recent indictment of Harris County Constable Victor Trevino.

Ward said that Dolcefino's work had led to "millions of tax dollars being saved as well as numerous government officials investigated for possible wrongdoing."

"In my opinion, Wayne Dolcefino is the best at what he does and we will really miss him," Ward said on-air in a closing tribute.

Longtime political observers recall that Dolcefino was a key figure in the outcome of the 1991 Houston mayor's race between businessman Bob Lanier and State Rep. Sylvester Turner. A week before the election, Dolcefino aired a story that dubiously linked Turner to a $6.5 million insurance scam. Turner lost the race and sued the station for libel. He won a $5.5 million verdict in 1996. It was subsequently overturned by a court of appeals, a decision that was upheld by the Texas Supreme Court.

 "Telling the truth can sometimes be controversial," Dolcefino said in a statement.

 Dolcefino is usually a fixture during "sweeps" — the time when stations put their most sensational programming on in hopes of garnering higher ratings that translate into higher advertising rates — but has not appeared on the station during the most recent ratings period this month. When news of the indictment of Trevino came down last week, TV observers found it odd that Dolcefino was not on the air to announce it.

"I have fought hard to honor the long tradition of Eyewitness News," Dolcefino said in a statement issued by the station and acquired by the Houston Chronicle. "I thank the people at Channel 13 who have helped me expose those who betray the public trust and who waste the public's money. After 26 years you are like family. Telling the truth can sometimes be controversial."

The big answered question is why did Dolcefino leave at this time?

Mike McGuff, whose popular blog covers Houston's media scene, reported that the "general consensus is that he (Dolcefino) and the higher ups butted heads over his stories. Let's face it, Dolcefino has an aggressive, provocative, hard hitting and sometimes comical style that just doesn't exist much on TV anymore. More often than not in television news these days, the story's promo is more interesting than the actual content."

McGuff speculated that Dolcefino might end up at Channel 11, although it is believed Dolcefino's contract contained some sort of non-compete clause. "I can't imagine a colorful character like Dolcefino would just retire at this point, but then you never know," McGuff wrote.

Dolcefino's departure certainly seems to signal the end of an era when larger-than-life figures, including Marvin Zindler (who died in 2007), Red Duke, Shara Fryer and Elma Barrera (to name a few), gave Channel 13 its unique personality and led to ratings dominance throughout the 1980s and 1990s.

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