WNBC Gets Extreme Makeover at 5
NBC flagship swaps longtime newscast for luxury and lifestyle fare
By Michael Malone -- Broadcasting & Cable, 9/14/2009 2:00:00 AM
Unless the Fashion Week gala becomes the site of a murder mystery, don't expect WNYC New York to feature hard news at 5 p.m. this week for the first time in years. In place of WNBC's 5 p.m. news—formerly bearing the iconic Live at Five brand—is a program that trades traffic jams and governor scandals for fashion, food and hunky personal trainers. The live, hour-long LX New York debuts Sept. 14 and strips a little more grit out of the WNBC brand.
“We said we'd do something different at 5 p.m.,” said WNBC VP of Content and Audience Development Vickie Burns during rehearsals Sept. 8, “and all signs point to us keeping our word.”
Live at Five launched in 1980 and became one of the premier local news brands in the country. But WNBC's newscasts have been on a downward slope for some time. In July, it posted a 1.4 household rating at 5 p.m., third behind WABC's 4.4 and WCBS' 3.4; it was fourth in adults 25-54.
WNBC dumped its 5 p.m. news in September 2007, moving the Chuck Scarborough-anchored program to 7 p.m. Scarborough later began anchoring the 7 p.m. news on WNBC's new digital channel, New York Nonstop, in March.
The NBC O&O has expanded its news reach through platforms such as taxicab newscasts and the digital channel. It's also decreased the amount of news on the broadcast channel in favor of lifestyle fare. NBC Local Media acquired the broadband video outfit LX TV in January 2008; the WNBC Web site was relaunched to favor fashion and celebrities (all the NBC-owned station sites underwent a similar overhaul), and the LX presence has grown through shows like Open House and 1st Look.
WNBC has shown it doesn't need blockbuster news ratings to make money. According to BIA Financial, WNBC led the New York revenue pack in 2008 with $293.6 million, ahead of news leader WABC's $278.5 million. NBC's New York rivals find the figures hard to believe.
NBC Local Media Senior Vice President/LX TV General Manager/Founder Morgan Hertzan uses words like “fun” and “different” to describe the debutante. LX New York's primary competition for women in the city and suburbs, Hertzan says, is reruns on cable channels such as Food Network and HGTV. “People are clearly looking for a fun alternative [at 5 p.m.],” he says.
LX New York's promos, described by Burns as “modern retro,” show broccoli stalks bouncing on seesaws, giant psychedelic lipsticks, and the slogan “Get away from it all this fall.” The hosts are LX TV veterans Sara Gore and Siafa Lewis, along with Michael Flocker, author of Metrosexual Guide to Style.
Recurring segments include the business-focused “Mommy MBA” and “Word on the Street,” which shows outspoken New Yorkers being outspoken New Yorkers. Advertisers include the grocery chain Fairway and travel and fashion retailers.
This first week features a major dose of Fashion Week, New York's semi-annual festival of couture duds in Bryant Park. The hosts will anchor from the tent, viewers will get catwalking lessons, and LX New York will launch a hunt for the city's hunkiest trainer.
LX New York, which Hertzan says costs more to produce than news, will also avail itself of the vast celebrity resources within NBC Universal. First-week guests include Late Night host Jimmy Fallon, Community star Joel McHale and Jay Leno, who appears Sept. 14 to dish about his own program also debuting that day. “NBC Universal has been 100 percent behind the show,” says Hertzan, who won't say if NBC Local Media will order up local LX shows for its other stations.
Rival station executives say LX can't do much worse than the newscast did, and question the logic of using relatively unknown hosts at 5 instead of Gotham icons Scarborough and Sue Simmons.
Frank N. Magid Senior V.P. Bill Hague says LX sounds like a local version of NBC's failed iVillage Live, but believes there are enough females near a TV in the #1 DMA to make a good program fly. “If it gets some buzz, people will find it,” he says. “If they couldn't make it work with news, maybe they can make it work with entertainment.”
LX New York will feature one news cut-in each half hour, but otherwise will be bereft of hard news. Showcasing frilly dresses and beefy trainer types at 5 may rankle some WNBC newshounds, but Burns, formerly the VP of news at WRC Washington, says the station's commitment to news remains unbowed. “There's first-rate news on WNBC, New York Nonstop and all of our other platforms,” she says. “There's no lack of news at WNBC.”
E-mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org
After viewing your new entry, "LX New York" for several airings, my comments are as follows:
WNBC what were you possibly thinking?
Vickie Burns, being a former loyal viewer of WRC in Washington, D.C. for almost 20 years and now WNBC in New York City for over 30 years -- shame on you! You are one of the top professionals in television management -- how could you possibly allow this kind of horrific stuff on the air?
"LX New York" is fluff at its absolute worst. The flamboyant nature of your male "talent" especially was an insult and an embarrassment -- and I say this not only as a top professional, but as a gay male viewer as well!
For this junk, we are asked to give up 5 additional hours a week of Sue Simmons? Please get Sue and David back on the air before you completely ruin any integrity that remains at WNBC.
For almost 30 years, Sue Simmons has been the face of WNBC at 5:00 p.m. With less then 1 1/2 years left on her contract, how could you possibly replace such a beloved New York institution with such horrific garbage? Not only is this a slap in the face to your loyal viewers, but an unthinkable way of rewarding Sue Simmons for her total dedication to NBC-Universal and its viewers since her remarkable career began at WRC in 1976! Now in the twilight years of her incredible 33 year career with NBC-Universal, as the premier female local news anchor in America, you replace her legendary presence at 5:00 p.m. with pure junk.
Wake up WNBC, you are replacing your contracted New York legends with stuff that would not even make it on public access cable! Perhaps I should remind you, that one day in the not too distant future, Chuck and Sue will be gone...who could possibly replace these two great WNBC news pros? You had better be more concerned about this issue then producing garbage like "LX New York". I suggest that you make the best use of your existing legendary contracted talent, because when they are gone, sadly there will be little left to WNBC except for the great memories of its glorious past.
NGS - 9/30/2009 4:18:07 PM EDT
I watched 5 minutes of this new show and I turned it off. It has little to no entertainment value at all. To drop a news program for this is disgusting. Channel 7 here I come. Big mistake in programming period!
Martin Hersch - 9/16/2009 7:20:51 PM EDT
What a disgrace WNBC has become. An embarrassment. Their license should be taken away. Whoever is making these decisions will not be long for the job. What a shame for such a former media crown jewel of NYC.
Michael Schwartz - 9/16/2009 12:20:45 AM EDT
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