Joint effort in television land

Sep 17, 2001  •  Post A Comment

“Synergy” became the unspoken operative word for TV stations throughout coverage of the terrorist crisis last week. Fox remained at the heart of the synergistic mindset as broadcasts of Fox News took over the Fox Sports networks, FX and a number of UPN stations that Fox recently purchased from the Chris-Craft Industries station group.
In fact, the fledgling members of the Fox family drew praise from TV executives and audiences alike for drawing on their newfound resources, even from rival company executives.
“We are absolutely OK with the Fox News Channel news feed airing on the former Chris Craft stations,” said Steve Carlston, executive vice president of affiliate relations for UPN. “We encouraged all of our affiliates to figure out how to best fulfill their public service responsibilities to the community. We were not upset for a day or two days of this sort of coverage. In the interest of well being, we had no strategic or economic concerns whatsoever.”
But nowhere was that synergy more at play than in New York, where WNYW-TV came face to face with rival WWOR-TV for the first time as its sister station. According to James Clayton, who only recently inherited the job of general manager of both stations after moving from WJBK-TV in Detroit, the conduct couldn’t have been more cooperative, given the tragic circumstances.
“It’s been an interesting baptism as GM over here,” Mr. Clayton said. “But I’ve never seen anything like this in my days in the business. The first thing that happened was that our sister stations elsewhere in the country sent their reporters here. Some we took in at NYW and others we diverted to WOR.
“People came in from Boston, Philly, Greensboro [N.C.], Birmingham [Ala.], to name a few, and with all hands on deck, the company marshaled out all of the resources. We ended up using sister station reports and even used reporters back and forth between WWOR and WNYW, even sharing reports.”
Both newscasts were able to maintain their own image and brand throughout the coverage in the normally cutthroat world of newscasts, but this time, Mr. Clayton said, “everyone had the same uniform on.”
Among the shared resources tapped by both stations in the market, WWOR lost use of its cable heads, only to be helped by WNYW engineers to share the wiring of that station. On the flip side, WNYW tapped WWOR’s satellite truck as well as the use of its helicopter during the coverage. “Unions for the two stations also allowed us to do what we needed to do to get news up on the air,” Mr. Clayton said.
“It was strange to see WWOR reporters on the air on our own WNYW and vice versa, but everyone stepped up to the plate, and what was once a rivalry ended up becoming a blessing as everyone shared resources,” he said.
When the FCC finally approved the merger of the station groups, Fox Stations Group Chairman and CEO Mitch Stern was quick to name news as a primary benefactor of the duopolies, easing concerns that rival newscasts would be shut down.
“My goal is to increase news in general on all stations, whether it’s on Fox or UPN or whatever. Right now I think as a group we produce more news on a weekday than anyone else,” said Mr. Stern after the merger announcement. “We do over 120 hours of news a day across a very large group, and this just gives us a larger platform to do just that.”
Michael Freeman contributed to this report