News Overhaul at WBBM

Cohen says same old-same old won't fly

So lacking is WBBM Chicago's performance these days that President/General Manager Bruno Cohen says the CBS O&O has gone back to a "remedial" approach to executing its programming-rebuilding its newscasts from the ground up. "We're underperforming in all programming," he says, mentioning syndication, network shows and news.

Cohen came on board in October, and grabbed Jeff Kiernan from WBZ Boston to head up news in January. Cohen, formerly of KOVR Sacramento, describes Kiernan, a native of the greater Chicago area, as a turnaround specialist, based on his work in Boston and Minneapolis. In the last few months, the station has dismissed general assignment reporter Joanie Lum, entertainment reporter Bill Zwecker and sportscaster Howard Sudberry, among others, along with assistant news director Todd Woolman. WBBM also announced it was discontinuing weekend morning newscasts.

Cohen says a dramatic overhaul of news is in the works. He won't offer specifics, but when it's completed, he says the look and feel of the station's local programming will be considerably different from the rest of the Chicago TV players. "We have four other good local stations in town that are outperforming WBBM," he says. "Producing another good newscast is not good enough. We're looking to do something more differentiated-there's no path out in doing the same thing."

One positive for the station these days is the content partnership WBBM entered into with the local Fox, NBC and Tribune stations six weeks ago. A recent meeting with the other participants to discuss issues with Local News Service, Cohen says, revealed no grievances. "It's gone beyond my wildest expectations," he says. "We have not had a hiccup since Day One."

After considerable downsizing, Cohen says he's got the team to get WBBM moving forward. "There's a lot of talent in the building," he says. "We just have to put them together the right way."