WGN news writer helps viewers make sense of the world

Anne Marie Saviano

“You can’t deal with this stuff day after day and not have a sense of humor,” says Anne Marie Saviano, news writer, producer and UIC grad. Photo: Matthew Kaplan

By Micki Leventhal

“Living in a city like Chicago with the high murder rates, crimes and scandals — plus everything going on in the rest of the world — you have to do a morning show like ours,” says WGN news writer Anne Marie Saviano about the WGN Morning News, the top-rated broadcast show known for peppering the hard news with quips, pranks and practical jokes.

“People need something to smile about; in addition to reporting the news, our job is to let them know it’s ultimately okay. You can’t deal with this stuff day after day and not have a sense of humor.”

Saviano should know. A 1997 UIC grad in English, she has been a member of the “WGN family” since 1996, when she landed the morning news show’s first writing internship.

Saviano said she “took it seriously and worked my butt off” for the next year, “running, filing, working the assignment desk, getting coffee,” as well as gaining on-the-job, fast-track experience in both “feature and funny writing.”

She was hired as a writer shortly before graduation and over the years has contributed to the morning and midday news, starting out as a traffic producer and moving to writer and segment producer.

During a stint as entertainment producer she interviewed Matt Damon, Robert De Niro, Johnny Depp and other celebrities.

She was on duty Sept. 11, 2001, and the day of the Newtown school shootings.

“It is a powerful and humbling experience. Our viewers are at home trying to make sense of the world and we are here gathering information and getting it out and also trying to make sense of it all,” Saviano said.

“In the old days folks would be smoking and drinking in the studio. We keep ourselves sane with humor.”

Anne Marie Saviano and Frank Holland

Anne Marie Saviano and Frank Holland at work in the WGN newsroom. Photo: Matthew Kaplan

Saviano won an Emmy Award for the recurring comedy segment “Get Over Yourself.”

“We would take a celebrity that had made the news and just rip them apart. Paul Konrad sat at a ‘commentary desk’ and took on whatever stupid thing they had done. People got mad at Paul, but I was the one behind the scenes writing the really mean things.”

Filled with confidence from the Emmy win, the 20-something Saviano cold-called “The Daily Show” and pitched herself for a writing job.

“They turned me down, but were kind enough to actually read and critique my work. That’s when I decided to enter the Second City writing program.”

She completed the Second City writing and directing programs, then assistant-directed shows on the Second City Mainstage and e.t.c. stage and lived for a year in Las Vegas producing Second City Las Vegas.

She teaches classes for the Second City Training Center, including “Writing Strong Women,” a course she developed to create strong female characters who are funny and “not just the silly wife who sits there and bats her eyelashes.”

“It is such an important way to look at comedy: the idea that you can wear a dress and still be hilarious,” said Saviano.

Saviano is constantly creating. In addition to her intense 25-30 hours per week at WGN, where she now writes for the Midday News, she has a string of independent projects.

She is working on a couple of scripts “on spec” and wrote the epilogue to the recently re-released book, Killer Clown: The John Wayne Gacy Murders. She co-created the long-running satire “Oprah! A Comedy!” at the Annoyance Theatre.

“My freshman year at UIC I was a theater major. I wanted to be an actor,” she said.

“But after thinking about it, I realized that I love writing. I love the power of writing. I love creating my own material. And I’m a much better writer than actor, so it is weird that I have ended up doing some acting on WGN. Around Oscar time we do these ‘Angry Newswriter Theater’ bits when we satirically re-enact nominated films. It is purposely poorly produced and that is part of its charm.

“Honestly, of all the stations in Chicago, nothing is as great as this place. It is so Chicago,” said the native Southwest Sider of WGN.

“The idea that I work for a TV station that I grew up watching, that my parents and grandparents watch, is super cool.

“I hated living in Vegas because it wasn’t Chicago and I came home.

“I love that I am a city girl and that I’ve had completely Chicago jobs and went to school in Chicago where I had this great training and wonderful network that led me to this job. I love writing the local news because I know what I am talking about. I still live on the South Side near Archer and Austin with the cops, firemen and schoolteachers.

“And I landed in this awesome life while I was still a student. I have been here forever, and I’m not yet 40. I treasure that fact every day.”

To learn more about offering or applying for internships through the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, contact Robin Hursey, rhursey@las.uic.edu.

— Reprinted from AtLAS, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences