If you tune into the WGN news for the next month, you might notice that anchor Mark Suppelsa is missing from the show.
Friday (May 4, 2012) Suppelsa announced that he is entering rehab for a month at the Hazelden alcohol addiction treatment center in Minnesota.
In a letter to WGN staffers and posted on the WGN website, Suppelsa was very open in explaining his need to address his addiction to alcohol.
"Simply put, I have been abusing alcohol at the end of my work day as my family slept," Suppelsa said. "It was my secret, and I became very accomplished at hiding it. I do my best to function at a high level and I know that it is my responsibility to correct anything that potentially interferes with my family or my work."
I personally applaud Suppelsa for having the courage to step up and ask for the help that he obviously needed.
It's not unexpected that someone in live TV would have a substance abuse problem, here's why. Working in live television is a nerve-wracking job, filled with highs and lows that can turn on you at the drop of a dime. The anchor is more than a well coifed hair piece reading off a teleprompter, but the proverbial eye of the hurricane.
I teach a broadcast journalism class at a university in Wisconsin. I have one rule for the class: “If you hand in an assignment 1 minute late, you fail for the semester.”
The reason isn’t because I am a strict teacher, but I am trying to teach the budding journalistic minds of the dairy state, that “news doesn’t care.” It comes on at 5:00, 6:00 and 10:00 regardless if you are ready or not, tired or not, pregnant or not, hung over or not.
Television news is a thankless task master that will reveal all of your mistakes to a live audience and if you are not ready, you will fail on a massive scale.
There is an adrenaline rush that is second to none, running, writing, editing and generally working your butt off to get the news on the air. When it’s over, the rush is still there and winding down can be difficult, especially when you work at night.
The show is over, it’s 10:00 or 10:30 and now what? When I was in news, I would head straight to the local bar for a quick “pop.” Because I was on TV, it was usually free and I had plenty of people to talk to. The options are limited on how to wind down.
I learned very quickly that I had to either control it, or let it control me and started to run at night, read and other co-ed activities.
Suppelsa has a great support group, though his colleagues were surprised by the announcement, the station management has given him their support.
"We are supportive of Mark's efforts to deal with this issue and look forward to his return," Marty Wilke, WGN vice president and general manager, said in a statement. "We, and he, appreciate the support from our viewers."
With any luck Suppelsa will be back on the air in June, clean and ready to “tackle the monster” that is TV news. In the meantime, we send him our support and good wishes as he makes his way back to recovery.