The inside story of a meltdown
EVEN AFTER THE bikini photos, CBS 3 still thought it could save her.
Alycia Lane arrived at World Cafe Live on November 29th — five weeks before she would be officially “released from her contract” by the station — in the same kelly green blazer she’d been wearing an hour before, while she sat behind the anchor desk for the 6 p.m. broadcast of Eyewitness News. She now had on jeans and cute white sneakers, since this was a fund-raising event for Back on My Feet, the nonprofit running group for homeless people, and everyone was supposed to wear sneakers. Even Chris Booker was wearing sneakers. Booker — radio station Q102’s morning jock — was Alycia Lane’s new boyfriend, which was why he was leaning in so close to her at the bar, gently tucking a stray strand of her shiny dark hair behind her ear. Alycia Lane appeared to be happy. And sweet.
Station management had been encouraging Lane to make more appearances at feel-good events like this ever since May, when she had achieved national notoriety as a “witch,” a “home wrecker” and a “whore.” It all started, of course, when she sent those pesky e-mails of herself in a bikini to NFL Network anchor Rich Eisen and, by accident, his wife, which landed her in The Mother of All Gossip Columns — the New York Post’s Page Six — and temporarily transformed “Alycia Lane” into the second most popular search on AOL’s Hot Searches and the sixth most popular on Yahoo’s Buzz. Page Six had written about her before — an item had her posing “cozily” with Monaco’s Prince Albert. But in the wake of the bikini photos, the Post went on full Alycia alert — camping outside her Washington Square apartment last summer to snag shots of her and her then-new boyfriend, CBS network anchor Chris Wragge, and, in October, reporting that execs at CBS in New York, Lane’s own company, pressured Wragge to break up with her “because of her bad press.”
But CBS 3, whose newscast Lane had helped lift out of the ratings basement, wasn’t giving up on its $750,000-a-year investment, and thanks in part to events like the one at World Cafe Live, by the end of November, the damage control actually seemed to be working. The station’s 11 o’clock newscast, co-anchored by Lane and the very bronzed Larry Mendte, finished November sweeps just one shiny dark hair behind ratings-winner Action News.
So CBS 3 had a lot to celebrate at its afternoon holiday party on Sunday, December 16th. Until 4:07 p.m. That’s when a staffer manning the assignment desk saw the story by Daily News scoops Regina Medina and Dan Gross pop up on Phillygossip.com. The staffer ran to the party and pulled station president and general manager Michael Colleran aside. “Oh my God,” Colleran yelled when he saw the story. “Oh my God! This is bad!”
The headline: ALYCIA LANE ARRESTED IN NEW YORK FOR ALLEGEDLY ASSAULTING AN NYPD OFFICER.
WHAT HAPPENED TO Alycia Lane? When she arrived in Philadelphia four and a half years ago, she had “future network star” written all over her beautiful, high-cheekboned face. She was smart. Hardworking. A good reporter.
Today, Alycia Lane is a household name, though her celebrity has more in common with Paris and Lindsay than with Diane and Katie. Indeed, the incident that put the final nail in Lane’s coffin — allegedly assaulting that New York City cop — may have been the juiciest celeb meltdown since Britney shaved her head. According to reports, Lane, Booker and another couple were in a cab when one of the men got out and approached an unmarked police car at a stoplight. After police officers emerged from the car, Lane got out of the cab, pulled out a camera, placed it against an officer’s face, and started yelling. Police say she then struck one of the officers in the face.
That Lane, 35, was accused of violence shocked her co-workers. But losing her temper? Acting holier than thou? Yelling “I don’t give a fuck who you are. I am a reporter, you fucking dyke” — which Lane was accused of doing? (She has pleaded not guilty.) To many at CBS 3, that sounded a lot like the Alycia Lane they knew.
“If she perceives you to be above her, you get tears and doe eyes,” says one newsroom staffer who spoke on condition of anonymity. “If you are perceived to be below her, you get threats and cursing.”
As word spread of the New York incident, staffers just rolled their eyes at “another Alycia mess.” It’s not that people didn’t like her, but at least three staffers perceived that there were different rules for her. She could be late. She could miss meetings. She could make staffers wait for her. She could even send text-messages during commercials — at least, until news director Susan Schiller sent an e-mail to the staff, reminding everyone not to use phones on-set.
But the day after Lane’s arrest, the general irritation turned to bona fide ire. Her co-workers were appalled to learn that as soon as she was released from jail — even before getting in touch with her boss, Michael Colleran, they heard — she tried to call Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell. For that, people wanted her gone. And on January 7th, they got their wish. “After assessing the overall impact of a series of incidents resulting from judgments she has made,” Colleran said, “we have concluded that it would be impossible for Alycia to continue to report the news as she, herself, has become the focus of so many news stories.”
Lane immediately revved up for a fight, hiring high-powered Philadelphia attorney Paul Rosen. “The station encouraged her personal life to become public, then used that against her,” says Rosen. He termed her firing “unfair” and “unwarranted”: “There has been absolutely no determination that Alycia is guilty of any wrongful conduct.” Lane, in other words, was merely a victim.
But that was no surprise. That was how she, and the station, had positioned her all along. A victim of Page Six. A victim of a celebrity-starved city. A victim, basically, of her own fame. They figured that if they could control her image, everything else would be okay; the celebrity itself was the beast that needed to be tamed. But there was another element in the equation that everyone seemed to ignore — one thing only Alycia Lane could be responsible for. Herself.
THE DAY BEFORE Alycia Lane’s life changed forever — May 1, 2007, when Page Six broke the bikini story — she sat in her office at CBS 3, mortified, holding closed-door meetings, trying to explain to her bosses what she knew was about to hit the press.
An editor from the Post had called Lane earlier in the day, asking about the photos she had e-mailed to Rich Eisen two weeks before. The Post had called Eisen, too. And then Eisen called Lane to say how sorry he was that their names were being dragged into a tabloid story. Two weeks before, Lane had gotten an irate e-mail from Eisen’s wife, Suzy Shuster, a college football reporter for ABC, while Lane was on vacation with her girlfriend Elizabeth Flores, staying at the trendy Mondrian in Los Angeles.
“Boy do you look amazing in a bikini … congrats!” Shuster had written. “Whatever you’re doing (Pilates? Yoga?) keep doing it — it’s working for you. Anyway, sorry but those seven e-mails you sent to my husband, Rich, well, oops, they came to the e-mail address we both use from time to time, but no worries, I’ll forward the beach shots as well as the ones of you dancing with your friends on to his main address … since you surely are trying hard to get his attention. I mean, what better way to get a guy’s attention than with skin!”
Lane and Eisen had met a decade earlier, when he was working for ESPN in Bristol, Connecticut, and was buddies with one of Lane’s colleagues at her first TV job, at Channel 12 in the Bronx. Eisen occasionally joined the Bronx crew when they went out after work. He and Lane had been in and out of touch ever since, last seeing each other when she flew to Jacksonville to cover the Super Bowl in 2005. Lane thought Eisen knew one of her friends. Eisen couldn’t place her, so while they chatted on the phone the night before her California trip, Lane e-mailed him some photos she had of her with her friend — shots of them at a club in Las Vegas and on vacation in South Beach. She told him she felt kind of weird sending some of them — Lane was wearing a bikini, after all. But Eisen assured her it was no big deal: “You’re like a sister to me.”
When Lane showed her friend Elizabeth Flores the e-mail from Shuster, Flores did think it was a big deal. If someone sent photos like that to her husband, she would flip. “I would have responded like anyone would,” Flores says. “You’d be like, ‘Um. Okay. Your friend is in a bikini? Why?’” But Shuster went a step further, dashing off the snarky response that every woman has, at one time or another, fantasized about sending to an “other woman” of her own.
Lane instantly darted an e-mail back to Shuster, which she later described to the Inquirer: “Oh my God. I think you’re misconstruing this. [Rich and I] are friends and I don’t think you know that. This is absolutely innocent. Please, let me put your mind at ease. … I would never want to inflict that on you.” She wanted Shuster to know she wasn’t that kind of girl. In fact, defending herself, she later told people that she hadn’t lost her virginity until she was 23.
On the Monday night after the Post called, Lane couldn’t sleep. She sat in bed in the $674,000 condo she shares with her two dogs in the Lippincott building, on Washington Square, holding her computer on her lap, logged onto the Page Six site, waiting. And waiting. And then, around four a.m. on May 1st, it appeared: BIKIN-E-MAILS RATTLE TV WIFE. There was no mention that Lane and Eisen were friends, or that she knew he was married. No mention of the response Lane had sent Shuster. There was just the story of the bikini photos and then Shuster’s e-mail, verbatim.
Alycia Lane couldn’t breathe. She was so distraught, she later told people, she wanted to die. Literally.
The next day, Lane left messages for both Eisen and Shuster, begging them to explain to the world what had happened, but she never heard back from either one. “This entire issue could have been avoided had Mr. Eisen just called the Post and set the record straight,” says Lane’s attorney Rosen. Eight months later, Eisen finally did address the issue — though he didn’t say much. “I’ve known Alycia for many years as a broadcasting colleague and as a friend,” he says, through his publicist. “I wish her nothing but the best.”
When someone from the New York media gossip website Gawker.com sent Lane a snitty e-mail about the story, she wrote back: “Yes, you are right I wish I could disappear. … Maybe I will disappear … maybe that would make you feel better.”
At CBS 3, everything was disrupted by management strategizing about how to handle the situation. There was talk of maybe even leading the 11 o’clock broadcast with the photos — it was May sweeps. But instead, Lane released a statement characterizing her relationship with Rich Eisen as “purely platonic.” She didn’t apologize for sending the photos, or for showing poor judgment. She didn’t apologize at all, saying only that it was “unfortunate that there was a misunderstanding over some harmless pictures of myself and my friends on vacation that I shared with him.”
That refusal to take responsibility was typical, says a source who knows Lane well: “No matter what the situation is, it’s not her fault.”
WHAT LANE DIDN’T understand when she moved to Philadelphia was this: Philadelphia. In her first weeks here, her colleagues tried to warn her: This city is obsessed with TV newspeople. But Lane didn’t seem to get it, and was surprised to see her face on SEPTA buses and all over the Daily News, which published her stats: five-foot-five, 118 pounds, size two. “It was a shock to her that she was being written about,” says Elizabeth Flores, who worked with Lane in Miami. “Here in South Florida, it doesn’t happen.”
Over the years, and then particularly after the bikini incident, Lane often told people, “I didn’t sign up for this.” She thought she was under an unfair microscope. But as Inquirer gossip columnist Michael Klein tried to explain to her time and again, “Once you hit the New York Post, you’ll always have hit the New York Post.”
The strange thing is, Lane never set out to be in front of a camera. At SUNY-Albany, she wanted to be a magazine writer. Fresh out of college, with not much more on her résumé than a bartending job and an honors thesis, she applied for a position at Modern Bride.
“She was smart and articulate and enthusiastic,” says Linda Platzner, then the head of sales and advertising at the magazine. But it was Lane’s aggressiveness that convinced Platzner to hire her. A year and a half later, Lane took off for grad school in magazine writing at Northwestern’s prestigious Medill School of Journalism.
She loved reporting. She got her first-ever byline in April 1997, when the Illinois Times published an article she wrote about a teacher convicted of marijuana possession. A friend framed the story for her; it still hangs in her apartment. But she kept crossing paths with the students in broadcasting, and listening as they talked about “editing tape” and “cutting video,” which seemed even more exciting than what she was doing.
So she switched to TV, and tried to catch up fast. When she graduated and sent out her résumé tape — broadcasts of her covering scintillating stories like the marriage tax proposal and capital gains — she would have taken a job anywhere.
A friend passed her tape to Roberto Soto, who was putting together a news station in the Bronx in 1998. With the large Hispanic population there, Soto was glad to find a Spanish-speaking reporter like Lane. Lane’s mother is Puerto Rican; her father, who worked at Macy’s, is Welsh. She’d grown up on Long Island, with two older brothers and younger sister Nicole, who always tagged along with her “seeeeeester,” as they still call each other today. They shared a bedroom, building forts out of their twin beds, spending hours doing each other’s hair for the dances at Daniels Top-O-The-Poconos resort, where the family vacationed in the summer. Nicole was only cool in high school by proxy, hanging out with her über-popular big sister and her sister’s football-player boyfriend and cheerleader friends. “Everybody talked about my sister,” Nicole says. “She’s beautiful. She had a great personality. A lot of people were drawn to her.”
When Soto offered Lane around $28,000 a year to be a reporter at News 12, she felt lucky to land so close to her family. She was in good company professionally, cutting her teeth with other pretty newbies like Taina Hernandez (currently co-anchor of ABC’s World News Now) and Natalie Morales (now on The Today Show). But there was nothing glamorous about News 12. All the reporters were one-man bands. They shot, wrote and edited their own material.
“Alycia was always volunteering: ‘I’ll go there,’” Soto remembers. “And we’re talking about areas of the South Bronx — I mean, not the safest community in the country.” And there Lane would be, all by herself, often at night, carrying the bulky camera and a mike stick.
It all paid off when high-profile talent agent Gregg Willinger called. At their initial meeting, he knew Lane had huge potential. Very soon after she signed with him, she had an offer to more than double her salary as a reporter at WSVN, the tabloidy Fox affiliate in Miami.
Lane hadn’t been in Miami a year when her personal life started to catch up with her professional one. At a barbecue at her apartment building, she met a guy who said to her, right off, “I’m going to marry you.” Dino Calandriello, then a minor-league baseball player, was charming like that. And tall. And good-looking. And, “He cooks me dinner,” Lane told her sister on the phone. “You guys are going to love him.” It was no surprise to anyone that Lane fell hard and fast for Calandriello. When she wanted something, she went for it. “She wanted the white picket fence, and the dog, and the kids,” says her sister. “She’s always been like that about love.”
Lane and Calandriello quickly got married in 2000, all fairy-tale-like at Miami’s swanky Biltmore Hotel. Lane looked like a model in her strapless white gown, her smile so enormous it seemed nothing could ever make it go away. She was so convinced she was fulfilling her destiny that she quit the job she’d worked so hard to get, instead traveling with her husband on the minor-league circuit.
Two things brought Lane back to TV: the fact that her husband wasn’t making enough money to support them, and the Elian Gonzalez story. She was watching the Cuban boy’s saga play out from the road, regretting that she wasn’t in Miami to cover it herself. She went back to WSVN, and the following year moved over to more substantive NBC station WTVJ as a general assignment reporter. Her boss, Don Browne, thought her tape was “not great, but solid.” He was, though, extremely impressed with her writing and old-school philosophy about the business. She was more into being a hard-core reporter than being an anchor.
“She really was so afraid of the performance part of it,” Browne says. So he coached her: Relax. Slow down. Enjoy the texture of what you’re saying. Not only did she take the criticism; she asked for it, especially after Browne put her on-air as a substitute anchor, then a weekend anchor.
Lane got used to the anchor seat. She even started to like it, and felt she was ready to be a prime-time player. But WTVJ was up to its ears in female anchors, one reason why Lane told her agent to send her tapes around. The other reason was more personal: Her marriage was breaking up.
Calandriello “broke her heart,” says her sister. “She wanted to get out of Miami.”
Fortunately, within weeks of sending out Lane’s tapes, Willinger was getting calls about her. When she interviewed in Philly, she already had some very attractive feelers — most notably at WABC in New York and KABC in L.A. But Philadelphia made sense to her — CBS 3 was offering her the evening time-slots she wanted, she’d be close to her family, and the position wouldn’t require her to work crazy hours and travel all the time. “In Philly,” her sister Nicole says, “she could still have a life and do what she loves.”
ON SEPTEMBER 15, 2003, Team Mendte and Lane debuted on Eyewitness News. Lane’s main role at CBS 3 was quickly apparent: to look gorgeous and fix the troubled station brand. At first, she was flattered by being called “the hottest story in local TV.” But it didn’t take long for viewers to e-mail CBS 3 and call her snooty and impersonal. Most of the e-mails were from women — not a good sign, since TV stations vie for a coveted demographic of females ages 25 to 54. And she wasn’t exactly making friends with everyone in the newsroom. In front of several people, she screamed at a production assistant who was fresh out of college, causing the woman to cry at her desk; another time, while shooting a promo, she got so angry she hurled her earpiece, which ended up hitting a staffer in the forehead.
This is where the station bosses made their first Alycia Lane mistake. They seemed to give her a pass after the incidents, worried about their star anchor’s feelings. Plus, they figured some staffers were jealous of the new girl, who was pretty much a sensation before she even walked in the door. This sent a very clear message to those around Lane: She was special; don’t mess with her. It also sent a very clear message to Lane: You can do as you please.
The station did have to address that female-viewer disconnect, though. So in spring 2004, then-general manager Peter Dunn sent Lane to Los Angeles to interview Dr. Phil McGraw. To promote his new series Relationship Rescue Retreat, Dr. Phil had granted interviews to reporters in several large markets.
Lane and a cameraman sat in the Dr. Phil studio, watching as two upcoming episodes were taped. Then, with the audience gone, the interview began. It started out as a regular Q&A. But then something happened. Lane asked Dr. Phil, who knew that her divorce had been finalized in November, “Why is divorce so hard?” Her voice cracked. Her chin quivered. She wiped a tear running down her cheek. “You’re crying for the man you wish he was, not the man he was,” Dr. Phil told her. At the end, she hugged him.
Back in Philly, when people at the station watched the raw tape, they realized Lane was suffering more than anyone knew. But management was aware that other stations in Philly were having lots of success with female newscasters airing first-person stories about their own struggles. The previous fall, pregnant NBC 10 anchor Renee Chenault-Fattah brought cameras to her ultrasound. And it was May sweeps.
Lane expressed her misgivings about the footage — she hated to appear weak. “She didn’t want it to air,” says her sister Nicole. But Lane also knew that the station had spent lots of money to send her to L.A. Plus, if viewers saw her in this light, they might stop calling her an ice queen.
The station advertised Lane’s segment — titled “Demons of Divorce” — during CSI and Without a Trace, with Lane’s face filling the screen, that tear running down her cheek. Portions of her interview aired for two days. “I was bawling my eyes out just to see how much pain she was in,” Nicole remembers. Lane never watched it, though it aired while she was on-set. Instead of looking at the monitor, she turned around in her anchor’s chair and plugged her fingers in her ears. Even so, she got thousands of e-mails of support from viewers. People stopped her on the street and hugged her.
The Dr. Phil interview gave the station its highest Nielsen ratings of the month. It was CBS 3’s best May sweeps since 1995.
ALYCIA LANE DIDN’T realize her appearance with Dr. Phil would haunt her. Yet once she let the genie of her private life out of the bottle, there was no way to shove it back in, no matter how often she told reporters, “I don’t discuss my personal life.”
“Whenever she used to complain about the coverage I was giving her, I’d say, ‘Alycia. You went on Dr. Phil,’” says the Inquirer’s Michael Klein. “She has a very complicated relationship with the press, in that she does want publicity, and then she doesn’t.”
Two months before she interviewed Dr. Phil, she’d met a new guy in Miami. Jay Adkins, an insurance entrepreneur from North Carolina, saw her on the beach. “[Jay] came in with roses and flares. Literally,” Lane’s sister Nicole recalls. “He swept her off her feet. She said, ‘This is it. I found the guy that I’m going to spend the rest of my life with.’”
“My world stopped when I met her,” Adkins says.
The Daily News trumpeted their engagement on December 20, 2004. In pure Lane fashion, it was less than a year after the two had met. Dan Gross called in the story while on vacation; he was tipped off — presumably by Lane herself — just a day after Adkins gave her “a ‘big and beautiful’ diamond solitaire” in Miami. She agreed to fly back to Dr. Phil’s studio, with fiancé Adkins in tow, when the station suggested a follow-up interview, to give closure to the story from the previous year. It was a smart move on CBS 3’s part: A happily married gal would be far less appealing to the gossip columns than a single one. Plus, the follow-up would air during May sweeps.
For now, Lane and Adkins only saw each other on weekends, traveling back and forth between Philly and North Carolina, but the plan was for her to move south. Her sister and parents had already relocated to Raleigh to be near her, and she’d landed an offer at the number-one station in the market — though she didn’t much like moving from the fourth largest market in the country to the 29th. “She says she doesn’t like all the attention on her, but she ate it up,” says a source who knows Lane well.
As the August wedding approached, Lane and Adkins’s relationship started to unravel. “Promises he had made, he took back,” Nicole claims. She encouraged her sister to hold off on the ceremony. Lane thought plans were too far along, and she swore everything would work out.
But Adkins says that once they got married, she pushed him into a corner. They both wanted children, but all of a sudden, “She wanted kids immediately. I didn’t,” he says. “She said she wasn’t going to move unless she was pregnant. She said that over and over.” He came to believe she’d only married him so she could have kids.
Lane’s camp tells a different story. “From the outset of the relationship, Adkins was unfaithful and dishonorable,” says Rosen. “He cheated on her,” Nicole says. “She said, ‘What’s wrong with me? Why do these guys come after me, make me fall in love with them, and then break my heart?’”
“That is definitely not true,” Adkins says. “I loved Alycia with all my heart. Ending that relationship was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life.”
Lane’s broken heart didn’t stop her from screaming at her ex-husband-to-be on the phone from her office at the station. Her colleagues could hear the f-bomb tantrums even through her closed door. And Adkins wasn’t the only one she was yelling at. “When I was working on a story about her and Adkins separating, she sorta lost her shit and told me, ‘You’re cut off! You’re cut off!’ and then hung up on me,” says Dan Gross. “I’m sure the whole situation was upsetting, but I felt like she didn’t get that if I reported on the marriage, I had to report on the breakup as well.”
NOT UNDERSTANDING THE allure of her celebrity? That was understandable. Almost overnight, Lane had gone from being one of the crowd in Miami to being a veritable rock star in Philadelphia. But not understanding why a reporter would need to write the follow-up to a previously reported story? That didn’t make sense, not for someone who always said she was “a journalist first.” And she had been a journalist first. But since coming to Philly, Lane hadn’t been doing much journalism.
Her primary job wasn’t to hunt down stories, like she used to do. She wasn’t really expected to work sources or dig up leads. “When stuff hits the fan, you don’t want her without a teleprompter,” a newsroom staffer says. “[Larry] Mendte and [just-retired Marc] Howard? If the lights went off, they could keep reporting the news. Not her. And that’s okay. That’s what TV news is.”
This past fall, in the midst of the campaign to repair Lane’s celebrity image, Michael Colleran stood onstage at the Back on Your Feet fund-raiser at World Cafe Live to welcome the sneakered masses — the station co-sponsored the event — and listed the members of his Eyewitness team who’d made appearances that night.
“We’ve got Larry Mendte, and Alycia, and Kathy Orr,” Colleran said.
Just “Alycia.” Like Lindsay. Like Britney. It was his $750,000 single-name brand: “Alycia.” Once a person is on Page Six, a person’s on Page Six.
And now that they’d all made it through to the other side, now that the situation was under control and Lane was smiling hopefully at new beau Chris Booker in the back corner of the dance floor under a gigantic disco ball, maybe Colleran was thinking that a little Page Six wasn’t so bad for the station after all.
ALYCIA LANE COULD have been fine.
And she would have been fine — if she’d been laying low, tempering her impulsiveness, keeping herself under control. In other words, Alycia Lane would have been fine if she hadn’t been Alycia Lane.
Because it was Alycia Lane who chose to get out of that cab in New York around 2 a.m. on December 16th. It was Alycia Lane who got involved. It was Alycia Lane who, after thinking this through all night in jail, tried to call the Governor — right around the time she was supposed to be at the CBS 3 holiday party with the people who’d been working so hard for so long to save her face.
So the outcome was inevitable. Alycia Lane got out of the cab. She stepped onto the street, the same streets in the same city where she’d started 10 years before, when she was getting paid $28,000 and begging to go out and get the story, all alone, carrying her own camera. Except that person was long gone. In her place was Alycia, out with her celebrity DJ boyfriend and a powerful radio exec, wearing that expensive black designer jacket, her makeup as perfect as it always was on-air, pulling out her iPhone and snapping shots of what she must have thought was news. And then she said the words that both begin and end the story of Alycia Lane, the words that describe who she had been, and had lost, that might actually sound somewhat poetic, in the desperate way that famous last words always are.
“I’m a reporter.”