Local newsmagazines making a comeback

May 28, 2001  •  Post A Comment

Stations across the country that produce their own local newsmagazine shows are finding that viewers are responding favorably to the format.
Ratings have been steadily increasing recently for locally produced shows such as “Chronicle,” which airs weeknights at 7:30 p.m. on ABC affiliate WCVB-TV, Boston. The show has regularly beat “Jeopardy!” and “Entertainment Tonight” in its time slot since the July 2000 sweeps period. This month, it achieved its first-ever May sweeps win, with a 7.6/14 in its time period.
Produced by a staff of 25, the show began 20 years ago and has now become one of WCVB’s signature shows, which “demonstrates the continued viability of strong, quality local programming,” said WCVB General Manager Paul LaCamera. “When we launched it 20 years ago there was no model for it. Each show is a single subject with a single theme,” he said. “It’s not a traditional magazine-style program, it’s much more of a daily documentary. What makes it work night after night is that it is quintessentially New England.”
In San Francisco, CBS-owned KPIX-TV’s “Evening Magazine” was on the air for 15 years starting in 1976. After a seven-year hiatus, the half-hour show was brought back in September 1998 and airs weekdays at 7 p.m. It, too, has seen a steady increase in ratings since May 2000, when it got a 2.9 Nielsen Media Research rating and 6 share, up from the previous May when it had a 2.6/5. In November it earned a 3.3/6. The show also recently won a local Emmy.
Locally produced newsmagazines were popular years ago but became less common in recent years as local stations looked for ways to cut costs. Frank Graham, president of Convergent Communications Consultants, said he encourages clients to think about creating such local programs because they can actually help a station build its audience.
“If they created it from scratch, it would be expensive, but from our perspective it’s certainly a good idea for any station to explore, because it’s another way for a station to solidify its connection with the life of their local community,” Mr. Graham said. “We find in the research when stations have those kinds of programs that it helps to enhance their image as an important institution in the community.”
Mr. Graham said many stations are once again thinking about these programs because they realize localism is their ticket to surviving in the current multimedia universe. KABC-TV, Los Angeles, has maintained its ratings on its Saturday half hour “Eye on L.A.” with a 4.5/8 in February and a 5.3/10 in March. Its Sunday half-hour “Vista L.A.” had a 3.4/8 in March, up from February when it had a 1.6/4.
KABC General Manager Arnie Kleiner said he’s proud of the station’s locally produced shows. “We see our shows as another opportunity to better serve our community,” Mr. Kleiner said. “Our shows focus on the diverse people, places and things that make Southern California a great place to live, work and play.” Seattle’s NBC affiliate KING-TV airs its half-hour “Evening Magazine” daily at 7 p.m. Not only have the show’s ratings steadily grown, but the program is also gaining ground on its competitor, “Wheel of Fortune.” In February it earned a 6.6 Nielsen Media Research rating and 12 share, while “Wheel” got 9.0/16. This May, “Evening Magazine” earned a 6.01/11 , narrowly beating “Wheel’s” 5.96/11 for the first time.
“Our show changes with the community-`Wheel of Fortune’ can’t,” said Mark Erskine, executive producer of local programming at KING. “It’s the only way our station can differentiate itself from the rest.”
Mr. Erskine had produced “Evening Magazine” at CBS-owned WBZ-TV, Boston, when the then-franchise show aired on Westinghouse stations and other stations. “KING-TV was the only station that kept the `Evening Magazine’ franchise going,” he said. “I was at WBZ working on `Evening Magazine’ there from 1982 to 1990 when it closed down. At the time it wasn’t making enough money for them. It was also a different television world-`Hard Copy’ was very big at that time.”
Stations such as KING, which kept a production department that worked on long-format shows, are reaping the benefits that a syndicated show wouldn’t bring them, according to KING General Manager Dave Lougee-high visibility in the community.
“Evening Magazine” rebroadcasts on sister station Northwest Cable News each night at 8:30 p.m., 10:30 p.m. and 12:30 a.m. KING also produces a spinoff of “Evening Magazine,” the annual one-hour special “Best of Western Washington.” KING pre-empts network programming to air the special, and it’s one of the station’s most popular shows. The “Best of” format lets viewers choose their favorite places in the area to be featured on the program.
KING’s local programming unit, which assembles the “Evening Magazine” and “Best of Western Washington” shows, has a total of 21 staffers in addition to “Evening Magazine” host John Curley and Mr. Erskine. The department was nominated for 36 local Emmys this year.
Three years ago, KING’s production department began a new local show, “Northwest Backroads,” hosted by former “Eight Is Enough” actor and Seattle resident Grant Goodeve. The show, which features unique places and tourist spots, also rebroadcasts on Northwest Cable News, Portland NBC affiliate KGW-TV and Spokane’s CBS affiliate KREM-TV.
“The way `Northwest Backroads’ came to be is we had an open time period on the weekend where we could have created something locally or purchased syndication,” said KING Program Director Jay Cascio. “Not only were we able to create this efficiently, we were able to create it so that we were able to air it in other Northwest markets where we had Belo stations.”
“Northwest Backroads” has a spinoff, a one-hour annual show, “Great Escapes,” where viewers choose their favorite spots through the station’s Web site. This year Mr. Lougee said KING will be “leveraging the value” of that special when it airs July 31. It will be rebroadcast for the first time in other markets on KGW, KREM, Northwest Cable News and independent KONG-TV, Seattle.
Mr. Lougee said “Evening Magazine’s” inventory was 90 percent sold out for the first quarter.
“`Evening Magazine’ sells very well. We were No. 1 in adults 25 to 54 in November-up against `Wheel’-for the first time,” Mr. Lougee said. “Local advertisers know it. It’s unique, it’s not part of the clutter on the air, it really stands out than more syndicated access shows do. A lot of stations abandoned it in the early ’90s and late ’80s, and I assume they wish now they hadn’t.”
For the past three years, NBC affiliate KPRC-TV, Houston, has aired “Dateline Houston,” which looks almost like the network newsmagazine “Dateline NBC. Anchored by 6 p.m. and 10 p.m. news anchor Linda Lorelle, the show airs once a month. There is no set time slot for the program, but KPRC does pre-empt an hour of network programming to air the show during the week.
“This is the only show of its kind in Houston right now,” said KPRC General Manager Steve Wasserman. “We thought there was a need. It was an opportunity for us to do longer pieces that we couldn’t do on the newscast.”
A station that created a successful local daily show from scratch is ABC affiliate KATV, Little Rock, Ark., which launched “Good Morning Arkansas” in January 1999. KATV hired five people to help produce the show and promoted its news reporters Steve Powell and Joan Early to hosts.
KATV General Manager Dale Nicholson said “Good Morning Arkansas” remains the only station in the market to have a long-format show outside of news. Airing weekdays at 9 a.m., the show is produced in a studio on a street in a revitalized area downtown that runs along the Arkansas River. The show received a 3/6 for its first sweeps book in February 1999 and has maintained similar ratings ever since.
Mr. Nicholson said 80 percent of the show’s ad sales are from local businesses. “Even though you may not do the numbers `Oprah’ would do, you don’t have the cost of having `Oprah,’ and you’re able to be connec
ted to the community through live shows,” he said. Mr. Nicholson, who has been at KATV for 39 years and has been general manager for 20 years, said with the show’s success, he is thinking about more ideas for local programming at the station.
“The pendulum always swings, and we’re in the process of becoming local again,” Mr. Nicholson said. “In the days to come, what we do locally is what we’ll be remembered for-I believe it.”