When KRIV-TV General Manager D’Artagnan Bebel came to the Fox-owned station in January 2000, he brought with him “Building Better Minds,” a programming idea that was successful when he worked at WHBQ-TV, Memphis, Tenn.
The segment airs each Monday during KRIV’s 9 p.m. newscast and is repeated three more times on other newscasts during the week. Each segment focuses on unsung heroes and teachers in the community who have made a difference in people’s lives. KRIV airs a half-hour special each quarter featuring the best segments of the past three months.
With its first half-hour special in November, KRIV received a 4.0 Nielsen Media Research rating and 6 share. Last month, the half-hour show earned a 4.2/6.
“The vision for the product is quite simple: We want to identify and highlight excellence and achievement and people who are helping to make a difference in young people’s lives,” Mr. Bebel said. “If you watch a segment, there might be an idea that can apply to your daily life.”
KRIV’s main anchor team, Mike Barajas and Melissa Wilson, host the special. KRIV Special Projects Producer Aprille Meek said while the program was only launched in August, KRIV gets a steady stream of about 50 responses a week.
One recent feature that drew more than the usual amount of mail was about a math professor at the Houston Community College who was interviewed on his philosophy of teaching math by making it more a part of every day life.
“He was a fascinating man,” Ms. Meek said. “He’s from Nigeria and went through some rough times as a youth in his country’s turmoil. He teaches a system of math he taught himself … making it a little more real.”
Another outstanding-teacher segment featured a 90-year-old from Galveston, Texas, who has been teaching for 60 years. She retired from the public and Catholic school system and now teaches at a private school that has no retirement age.
“It differentiates me from the competition because no one is doing this in the market,” Mr. Bebel said. “It’s original, it’s not syndicated, nor have I seen anything like it in other markets. I see plenty of education-oriented things that are syndicated. We’re doing it, we’re executing it, we’re digging up the stories.”
A recent segment covered a technology center at the Boys and Girls Club facilities for use after school and on weekends. That sparked calls from viewers for more information on the subject. Other stories were about parents who donated money to build a science lab at their child’s school and an adopt-a-grandparent program set up by a middle school coach where students go to nearby retirement homes.
One of KRIV’s most popular “Building Better Minds” segments was on Nuestra Palabra, an organization run by a University of Houston professor and a group of Hispanic writers who meet at a theater once a month with local teens. The group encourages young writers to come and read their works in English and Spanish. Local writers and actors, including Edward James Olmos, listen and critique the work.
“It’s nice to see positive stories about our schools-that’s the comment I hear the most,” Ms. Meek said.
In addition to becoming a popular vehicle for advertisers, the program has given KRIV some clout in the market as a station that cares about the community. This comes after some Fox stations around the country have encountered backlash over the quality of some of the network’s reality-based programming and stations’ tabloid-like newscasts.
“It was something I had in the back of my head for years, and once I was in a position we got it up and running,” Mr. Bebel said. “I like creating things that are sponsor-friendly because obviously that’s a business we’re in also. It’s a notion of the unique assets and resources of a TV station to do something that’s positive in a community. Oftentimes people accuse the media in general of reporting on the gloom and doom, and many times my response is, `We don’t create the news, we just report it.”’
Mr. Bebel said the program has been endorsed by the mayor and his city’s youth council.
“We’ve gotten a phenomenal response from the community,” Mr. Bebel said. “It’s been very, very positive. People like the fact that it’s positive. They like the fact that it’s education-oriented-the notion about building better minds, it’s implicit in the name.”
The station is also pleased with the show’s respectable demo numbers. In February, Mr. Bebel said for adults 18 to 49 the show earned a 3.3/8, and for adults 25 to 54 it got a 2.6/6. For women 18 to 49 the show earned a 3.8/9, and for women 25 to 54 it got a 3.6/7.
“We think it’s got a particular appeal to women, with children obviously,” Mr. Bebel said. “I would have done this even if we didn’t have a sponsor-and the thing is sponsors love to associate themselves with positive news, and this is a unique news segment.”