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TV Managers of the Year: WPVI, Philadelphia

Apr 13, 2008  •  Post A Comment

TelevisionWeek’s TV Managers of the Year award for the Northeast region goes to WPVI-TV in Philadelphia, an ABC O&O with a signal that covers 18 counties in southeastern Pennsylvania, southern New Jersey and northern Delaware.
WPVI broadcasts 4½ hours of news most days, and its early news show (mornings at 6:30) consistently outdraws its competition.
Unlike the other TelevisionWeek honorees, however, WPVI’s highest-rated shows are not targeted mainly to local news. “We consider ourselves full-service when it comes to the news,” said News Director Carla Carpenter. “We do everything—national, local, world. It’s very high output.”
It can also be very stressful. Ms. Carpenter said she has been at WPVI for 11 years, “which is 5½ times the average lifespan of a TV news director. I liken it to being on the floor of the Stock Exchange, with all the noise and the stress,” she said, “only it’s for 14 hours a day.”
WPVI’s news is so-called “Action News,” a format the station, then using the call letters WFIL-TV, developed in 1970 to compete with a rival station’s highly successful “Eyewitness News.” The action news format, with its tight, 90-second segments, was created to give viewers access to more news topics. But that format, said General Manager Bernie Prazenica, has evolved to give viewers a better grasp of what’s going on in the world.
“Certainly in a traditional sense, [our format] is faster-paced,” Mr. Prazenica said, “but we try to do it from a viewer’s perspective. It’s a stylistic connection to the news, and it has evolved over the years. The product has to reflect the times.”
“It’s not a huge secret,” he said of WPVI’s ratings success. “We haven’t sat around and said, ‘This doesn’t look how it looked five years ago.’ We have a basic approach to providing the news. We bring people in and everyone who comes here—both in front of the camera and behind it—learns the way we do it. And viewers know exactly what they’re going to get from us.”
If she had to define what makes WPVI a success, Ms. Carpenter said, “It would have to be long-term strategy. An awful lot of managers go for short-term wins, but we’re going for the long term.”
Mr. Prazenica, who was sales director for WPVI from 1994 to 2002, returned in November after a stint as general manager of WTVD-TV in Raleigh-Durham, N.C. He agreed with Ms. Carpenter’s assessment, adding that WPVI’s strategy “has been in place years before me. [The station] has a sensibility about the community and about who we are.
“We haven’t changed formats just because something was in vogue,” he added. “The long-term approach has been to give people consistently good programming that reflects their community. Sometimes we’re not as innovative as we could be, but we deliver what people expect from us.
“We have good competitors,” he added, “and we keep working hard.”
The station’s Web site “allows us to communicate better with viewers,” Mr. Prazenica said, noting the station also has “digital channels populated by 24/7 weather reports and community service.” In the coming year, he said, he would like to increase the community service outreach for those digital channels.
Mr. Prazenica might find himself hard-pressed to make that wish for his broadcast team, however. In terms of local outreach, WPVI—like each of TVWeek’s honorees—makes it a habit to contribute to the community.
“Right now we’re part of ‘Oprah’s Big Give,’” said Director of Programming Caroline Welch, “and we do an annual food drive in conjunction with the Thanksgiving Day parade. In the spring we do a ‘Baby Bundles Initiative,’ gathering diapers and baby wipes and bibs for new moms.”
But it’s the off-camera public service that unites the employees at the station, she said. “It goes back to the longevity here. We do a lot of stuff for the Police Athletic League and other charities.
“I don’t think you could walk through this building and find a single person who’s not personally involved in a charity.”
“You have to be very committed to serving the community,” Ms. Carpenter said. “Every person in this newsroom has a commitment. They don’t just go out as newscasters and editors, but as public servants. It’s, ‘What can we do today to help the community?’”
“This region is where we live, not just where we work,” Ms. Welch said, “so we have a lot of community initiatives. I think we’re most noted for being where we’re needed, for taking the viewers there when it’s important, whether it’s our partnerships with local charities or the debates we host during election season, or myriad other issues and events that are vital to this area.”
Philly’s Thanksgiving Day parade is “the longest-running in the country,” Ms. Carpenter noted, “and was in danger of ending in the ’80s. The station stepped in, and since then, we have not only broadcast the event, we have produced it—from the first balloon to the last marching band—because it’s a Philadelphia tradition and it’s important to all of us.”
WPVI, a fixture in the nation’s fourth-largest Nielsen market, boasts a rich history of local programming, dating back to its production of “Bandstand” starting in 1952; that show garnered national attention when ABC picked it up as “American Bandstand” five years later.
“I’m sure all these [TVWeek honorees] can say this,” Ms. Welch said, “but this is one big family in a building. I came here when I was 26 and I’ve never left. We’ve gotten married together and had children together. That’s an atmosphere that’s rare in any business, but especially in television, which doesn’t have a reputation for longevity.”
The station’s new building, next door to its present location, will be completed next year, Mr. Prazenica said, and will enable the off-camera staff and newsroom to be in better physical contact. The new facility, he said, also will better allow the station to continue evolving with new technology.
WPVI will host a Democratic presidential debate on Wednesday, but Mr. Prazenica downplayed the idea that the station “won” that opportunity, citing ABC and in particular former WPVI General Manager Dave Davis as the big dogs in that operation.
The station will, however, use the debate to foster its commitment to public service.
“We’ll do a live Web chat, followed by a local news hour post-debate,” Ms. Welch said, “so local
voters know they have a voice and that what they say matters.”

25 Comments

  1. Sat. evening 3-15 the news said they would
    be back for the shuttle lift off at 7:30 which
    never happened and I sadly missed the lift off.
    I actually saw in person a lift off in FL. and to
    see and experience a lift off is extremely exciting and I didn’t want to miss seeing another one if only on TV.

  2. April 12, 2009
    This morning I found the sound greatly diminished for the broadcast of “This Week “. In case it was my hearing, I checked other channels and they were much louder than ABC.
    I do have a converter box installed, but your company should transmit the programs so the audience can not only see them, but hear them at a reasonable level.
    Please fix this problem.
    (Mrs.) M.H. Wagner

  3. wpvi is a station that has succeeded in pulling the wool over viewers’ eyes.
    they haven’t updated their story telling
    and, they perpetuate a myth that their on air people care about viewers..they’re some of the most arrogant people I know
    I have heard carpenter blame murder victims because of the boyfriends they had
    a disgrace

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