Veteran WDIV anchor Carmen Harlan to retire

Stephanie Steinberg, and Holly Fournier

Besides the thousands of evening newscasts, WDIV Channel 4 anchors Carmen Harlan and Devin Scillian have broadcast 20 Detroit auto shows, 20 Detroit fireworks shows and 20 America’s Thanksgiving Day Parades.

“Everybody has a Thanksgiving family tradition. She’s mine,” said Scillian, laughing despite the station’s bittersweet news hours earlier on Thursday that Harlan plans to retire after a career spanning four decades. She will anchor her final newscast on Nov. 11.

Scillian knew his co-anchor’s retirement day was coming, and it’s not a day he’s looking forward to.

“When I first came to Detroit, if you told me we’d be 20 years together, I’d say, ‘Well, that’s just not possible,’ ” he said, lounging on a red Channel 4 couch. “That doesn’t happen anymore. It’s been a pretty extraordinary couple of decades.”

In a statement, station vice president and general manager Marla Drutz said Harlan approached her about 18 months ago, saying she wanted to retire.

“I wanted to pretend that I didn’t hear her,” Drutz said. “There is only one Carmen Harlan, and I wish she would stay forever, but I understand her desire to spend more time with her children and their families.”

“She is a class act who has been a true booster for this city.”

While the station hasn’t announced who will replace her, Scillian says it won’t be easy to fill her chair.

Harlan, a native Detroiter, got her start in local radio before becoming a WDIV general assignment reporter in 1978. She later was promoted to news anchor alongside Mort Crim.

For over 20 years, Harlan, 62, has been partnered with Scillian, 53, making them “Detroit’s longest running anchor team,” according to station officials.

Harlan, in a statement, she said her retirement will give her time to focus on family.

“As a grandmother of three boys, ages 7, 4 and 2, it’s important for me to be able to spend quality time with them while they are young,” she said.

Her colleagues say she leaves behind a legacy.

“In the newsroom, Carmen is often called ‘The Queen’ because she is,” news director Kim Voet said. “She is a true professional who can go between the hard-hitting stories that Detroit and Local 4 is known for, to creating levity on set and bringing out the best in our anchor teams. She always nails it. She will be tremendously missed by every person at our station.”

Over the years, Harlan has participated in station events including Detroit 300, Home 4 the Holidays and two Olympic torch relays. Scillian says their favorite days are not the ones in the studio on Lafayette, but when they’re broadcasting on a rooftop for the fireworks or from Cobo Hall for the auto show.

“She gets this giddiness, and she’s just a ball of energy, and I’ll miss her in those big moments because she just loved them so much,” he said.

Harlan also has played a role in some of the station’s biggest stories, from Pope John Paul II’s visit in 1987 to presidential inaugurations and Detroit’s bankruptcy.

“Local 4 is the station viewers turn to for the big story, the important story. I’m proud to say we have maintained our dominance over the decades, and I’m proud to have been a part of this team,” she said.

Media analyst Matt Friedman, co-founder of public relations firm Tanner Friedman in Farmington Hills, worked as a Channel 4 producer for two years in the ’90s. He recalled one breaking news story of a shooting at an auto plant. Friedman produced five straight hours with Harlan on air and says she handled the situation with “such ease” — sans script and teleprompter. She was “never frazzled, never rattled,” he says.

“I think Detroiters have always realized that that’s who she is, and that translates through the television,” he says. “She is on TV like she is in real life and vice versa.”

Harlan will not entirely disappear from Channel 4. She will transition to an “ambassador” role with the station, allowing her to participate in promotional and special events, officials said. First up are plans to host this year’s Thanksgiving Day parade — much to Scillian’s relief. “Thanksgiving without Carmen would be a little weird for me,” he admitted.

On Thursday, Michigan public figures and local viewers took to social media to express their well wishes and sadness over losing a respected TV personality who will no longer enter their living rooms at 5 p.m.

Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing, tweeted, “We will all miss seeing Carmen Harlan on @Local4News! Best wishes!”

As of 6 p.m., the WDIV Local 4 Facebook page had nearly 1,000 comments on their news story about Harlan’s retirement.

Ron Stefanski of Detroit wrote that the city’s “most spectacular voice” is leaving the airwaves. “Carmen brought something to the news that is so lacking generally in the media — grace and integrity. She is a one of a kind talent and will be sorely missed.”

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