Politics Show on Viacom Agenda

Sep 6, 2004  •  Post A Comment

In what could be a step toward a bigger commitment to presenting informative, newsy programming on UPN stations, the Viacom station group announced last week that for the next nine weeks it will produce a half-hour show on politics called “Make It Count.”

The show runs up to the presidential election. The half-hour summary of the week in politics is aimed at a young-skewing audience and will air Sunday mornings beginning Sept. 12 on several company-owned UPN network stations.

CBS News will produce “Make It Count,” and Lynda Lopez, an entertainment reporter for Viacom’s WCBS-TV in New York, will host. Ms. Lopez also recently added weekend anchoring duties for the station. She is a sister of singer-actress Jennifer Lopez, and the relationship is expected to help with name recognition among the 25- to 34-year-old audience that UPN most often targets.

The show, considered an experiment, is also a way to expand the role of CBS News and get UPN, which does not have a news organization, involved in informational programming.

“It’s great for CBS News,” said Fred Reynolds, president and CEO of the Viacom Television Stations Group. “It’s another outlet. We don’t have a cable news channel. And they can experiment with this stuff. They are so charged up.”

At CBS News, the show will be executive produced in New York by Patricia Shevlin, who helms the weekend “CBS Evening News,” under the oversight of John Frazee, senior VP of news services. It will feature reports and interviews from network reporters following major candidates, polls designed exclusively for “Make It Count” by the CBS News Election Survey Unit and contributions from local stations.

Viacom stations set to air “Make It Count” as well as repeats of CBS News’ “Face the Nation” include WPSG-TV in Philadelphia, WSBK-TV in Boston, WBFS-TV in Miami and KTXA-TV in Dallas. The program won’t air, however, on KCOP-TV, the UPN affiliate in Los Angeles, where the show instead has been placed on indie KCAL-TV.

Mr. Reynolds said other UPN affiliates-even Fox-owned UPN stations-can pick up “Count,” which may also run on Sunday afternoons. But sources familiar with Fox’s local programming philosophy say “Count” is unlikely to show up on Fox-owned WWOR-TV in New York or WFLD-TV in Chicago, where it has not been picked up.

For the Viacom station group, “Count” represents another test of adding young-skewing information content to the lineup. Approximately eight of the 18 Viacom-owned UPN stations this month are picking up “The Daily Buzz,” a three-hour-long daily morning show that has been syndicated by Acme and Emmis Communications since December 2003.

“I think that the 25- to 34-year-old audience that we reach out to every day is an under-served segment,” Mr. Reynolds said. “I hope over time that we will have a morning news on our … that we’ll take `The Buzz’ to the next level. This is where these younger people will get their news, and I think it will be authoritative but it will be slightly different.”

These moves come in a climate where some elected officials and Federal Communications Commission Chairman Michael Powell have complained that broadcasters are not devoting enough airtime to politics.

The Viacom stations have worked previously with CBS News on specials about the Emmys and Grammys and on recent convention coverage. During the Democratic and Republican conventions, CBS News anchor Dan Rather collaborated with WCBS-TV correspondents. On opening night of the GOP convention last week, the local station aired an hour-long special that pre-empted “CSI: Miami.”

If “Count” does connect with its audience, the Viacom stations and CBS News would like to make it a permanent part of the schedule. “My hope is there’s enough interest that we change it from `Make It Count’ to a sort of weekly update that we’ll run 52 weeks a year if there’s an audience for it,” Mr. Reynolds said, “and I hope there is.

“I’m real excited about [`Count’] because I think it’s an important thing to do locally, and I think the stations are excited about it. We’ll see,” Mr. Reynolds said. “It may suck. It may be the worst idea in the world, but that’s what I think is fun about television: We can try it. I think there’s nothing bad that’s going to happen. We may not get a dollar of revenue out of it. So what?”

Mr. Reynolds said he and station group Executive VP and Chief Operating Officer Dennis Swanson “love experimenting with this stuff, and this just seemed like a great idea at the right time, because it’s a very unusual presidential election.”