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10/21/2001 08:00:00 PM Eastern

TV stations in the Houston market seem to take literally the state's antilittering slogan, "Don't Mess With Texas." They are fiercely competitive. Their weapon of choice: local programming.

With no news leader, station news operations are aggressive. Reporter Anna Werner of Belo-owned CBS affiliate KHOU-TV, for instance, earned several national awards for her work in breaking the Firestone tire scandal. Post-Newsweek NBC affiliate KPRC-TV often rolls out viewer contests to draw ratings for local shows, including newscasts, during sweeps periods.

On the entertainment side, Debra Duncan, a local morning talk show on ABC O&O KTRK-TV, normally tops rivals Jeopardy
and Hollywood Squares
in the target females 25-54 demo. KPRC-TV recently launched a series of lifestyle specials starring its former showbiz reporter Roseanne Rogers. And new rookie syndicated strip Texas Justice
is taped at Fox O&O KRIV.

KHOU-TV GM Peter Diaz credits the intense local activity to the diverse owners. "You have a lot of strong players willing to spend money so they can do things right. It's incredibly competitive."

He likes it that way. KHOU-TV won the 10 p.m. news race last November only to see KTRK-TV grab the crown in May, but "it keeps you on your toes. This is high journalism."

Current local ad-market uncertainty could hamper the programming competition. Prior to Sept. 11, relatively high oil prices kept Houston's energy-driven economy fairly strong, but now "all bets are off," says KTRK-TV GM Henry Florsheim, noting falling oil prices since the attacks. Also, Houston-based Continental Airlines will likely trim its work force.

Still, the market is trying to meet these challenges. KPRC-TV launched its specials in order to develop a "non-traditional revenue unit," explains GM Steve Wasserman. When a limousine company and a bridal-gown maker sponsored segments in its recent Bridal Buzz
show, "we created new local business that didn't use television before."

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