Boston duopoly doubles on local news

Sep 10, 2001  •  Post A Comment

Viewers in Boston are finding more surprises on the local news landscape.
What was a once a stable, traditional market continues to evolve as the business of local television becomes a world of duopolies. CBS-owned WBZ-TV launched Boston’s only 7 p.m. newscast on its sister station, UPN affiliate WSBK-TV, on Labor Day, in what is the market’s first and only duopoly.
The newscast, which boasts a new set, is anchored by WBZ’s veteran anchor Jack Williams along with Kim Carrigan, the former anchor at NBC affiliate WHDH-TV, marking her debut as a WBZ and WSBK anchor.
“The direction we gave the producer is [to] produce a show for people who have not seen any news all day,” said WBZ General Manager Ed Goldman, who has also been running WSBK for about a year, since CBS acquired the Paramount stations. “Whether it’s local or national, start with the most important events of the day. People are working longer hours, not getting home till 7. Before this, they didn’t have an opportunity to watch the news at that time.”
Labor Day also marked the debut of “Wheel of Fortune” and “Jeopardy!” on WSBK from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m., leading into the 7 p.m. newscast. Both syndicated shows were formerly on WHDH.
In June, WSBK staffers moved into trailers on the WBZ lot so the old WSBK building a mile away could be renovated to house Infinity radio station WODS-FM. The radio station will move from its current home at WBZ studios in November. Since the duopoly was created, all departments of WBZ and WSBK, except for sales, have been combined. The WBZ newsroom, which also houses WBZ-AM all-news radio, is producing the new 7 p.m. newscast.
The duopoly synergy is visually apparent to viewers. The lower-third graphics during the 7 p.m. news state the anchors’ names and will also include the “UPN 38” logo. But all the reporters out in the field doing live shots, whether they are from WBZ, CNN Newsource or CBS Newspath, will have a “WBZ 4” logo in the graphic next to their names. The microphone flags also show WBZ’s call letters. Even in the opening voice-over introducing the 7 p.m. news, the announcer says, “From the studios of WBZ 4, this is the 7 o’clock news on UPN 38.”
“We want viewers to know this is a very mature news product. This is not a start-up,” Mr. Goldman said. “We make it visually clear that the genesis of the product is a WBZ product. The distribution system happens to be UPN 38. So we’ve extended our brand across two TV stations.”
WBZ has begun an aggressive campaign to inform viewers through promotions on WBZ and WSBK about the 7 p.m. newscast as well as the move of “Wheel of Fortune” and “Jeopardy!” to WSBK. The promotion campaign includes 10 radio stations, billboards, buses and subway stops. “People are coming back from vacation and getting their kids back to school and getting back to work themselves-and they will be bombarded this week,” Mr. Goldman said.
Capitalizing on the duopoly synergy, every night on the 7 p.m. newscast WBZ anchors Joe Shortsleeve and Lisa Hughes tease viewers about what will be on WBZ’s 11 p.m. news. The 7 p.m. newscast will also tease viewers, telling them they have a choice at 7:30 p.m. to continue watching WSBK, which airs “Frasier” reruns, or turn to WBZ, which airs “Entertainment Tonight.” WBZ, in turn, will use its newscasts to promote WSBK’s 7 p.m. newscast.
The WBZ anchor lineups were reconfigured because of the WSBK newscast. Mr. Williams and Ms. Carrigan will anchor the 5 p.m. news on WBZ and then anchor the 7 p.m. news on WSBK. Mr. Shortsleeve and Ms. Hughes will anchor the 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. news on WBZ. Sports anchor Bob Lobell is seen on all the evening newscasts on WBZ and on WSBK’s 7 p.m. news. Meteorologist Ed Carroll forecasts weather on all the evening newscasts on both stations.
“Everybody that works in our building that is on the air can be on the air at either station,” Mr. Goldman said. “All the anchors and reporters that are employed here cut both ways. Everybody works for the two stations in one building, in one newsroom.”
WBZ recently hired former WHDH meteorologist Mish Michaels, making it the only station in that market to have four certified meteorologists on the air. She will keep her gig at The Weather Channel two days a week and do some weather forecasting at the WBZ duopoly, but she is not assigned to a regular newscast. She will work on periodic half-hour weather specials that will air on the duopoly and will write a weather almanac, which WBZ will help publish. She will do community outreach for the local stations and continue teaching meteorology at Harvard University.
“She’s so credentialed and so good at what she does, and the fact that she was interested in getting back into local TV, it was too good an opportunity to pass up,” Mr. Goldman said. “She is very committed to our community and wanted a mechanism to get back involved in the community, and we were delighted.”
Mr. Goldman said many of the calls and e-mails that have come in so far have been favorable toward the 7 p.m. news. But it may take a while for viewers in Boston to get acclimated to having a duopoly in the market. “Generally, whenever there is any change in programming in any TV market, people are confused,” Mr. Goldman said. “They’re getting used to seeing promotion on both stations. At first they didn’t know why they were seeing promos for WBZ on Channel 38.”
The syndication community will also be watching WSBK, because it is unusual for “Wheel of Fortune” and Jeopardy!” to air in the 6 p.m.-to-7 p.m. time slots on the East Coast, where they will compete with local newscasts. Usually the two shows air against other syndicated product in the 7 p.m.-to-8 p.m. access period.
“It’s going to be very interesting for the national syndication community to see what happens, to see the success of `Wheel’ and `Jeopardy!’ at 6 and 6:30 in an Eastern market up against local news,” Mr. Goldman said. “For the past 20 years, `Wheel’ and `Jeopardy!’ have competed with other game shows or magazine shows or off-network comedy shows.”
Mr. Goldman said he plans to launch more newscasts on WSBK. “The 7 o’clock news is intended to be our initial platform for creating a destination for news on UPN 38,” he said. “After that has been created in the minds of our viewers, then anything else is possible.”