Programming

Q&A With Tribune's Sean Compton

Tribune Broadcasting's new president of programming targets The CW for improvement 5/18/2010 10:25:00 AM Eastern

IF THERE'S one thing Sean
Compton
, who was promoted to Tribune Broadcasting's president of
programming earlier this month, would change about TV, it's that he can't
change things fast enough. He is increasing the amount of original programming
for the station group, snapping up local sports rights and eyeing a fresh
approach to news. He's also working closely with The CW to improve primetime,
which he calls the group's "biggest struggle."

The radio vet was promoted to president after two years as senior VP of programming and entertainment at Tribune. The move is one of a series of recent
management changes at the company.

Compton's first job was assisting Randy Michaels, who is
now CEO of Tribune Co.; he has worked for Michaels ever since, with posts at
Jacor and Clear Channel before jumping to TV and Tribune in 2008. Along the
way, Compton cut programming deals with Ryan Seacrest, Whoopi Goldberg, Bob
Costas, Donald Trump, Sean Hannity and Bill Cunningham.

Compton
talked with B&C's Paige Albiniak about how he plans to launch fresh
programs and personalities on Tribune's 23 TV stations and its cable network,
WGN America. An edited transcript of the interview follows.

What is your strategy for programming Tribune's TV
stations considering the environment?

We
need to be doing more original first-run programming, and we need to be much
more focused on local programming. That's where we've got opportunities that
cable doesn't.

We're
doing television pilots for daytime talk such as the Bill Cunningham project,
and we're doing those pilots as quickly as we possibly can without killing
anyone. For the Cunningham show, we're going to shoot five shows in one weekend
in front of five different studio audiences with different guests.

When
I talk about local programming, I don't mean putting together another local
movie review show. Sports are important. For example, we just signed the
Indiana High School Athletic Association to broadcast basketball and football
games, and even gymnastic meets, on our Indianapolis duopoly. We have some
Philadelphia Phillies baseball games on our Philadelphia station, and those do
incredibly well.

We also have some creative ideas coming from our news
division that we'll probably start adopting in the next three to six months. As
[new president of Tribune Broadcasting] Jerry [Kersting] said, we want to try
to do news differently.

How are the Tribune stations doing right now?

Daytime-when we run NBC Universal's Maury, Jerry
Springer
and Steve Wilkos as well as several court shows-is doing
fantastic for us. We're so happy with it that we are going to use this time to
try to create new shows. While I'm very appreciative of our distributors, I
don't want my whole daytime to be in one basket.

We're also happy with the sitcoms we have in access and
late-fringe, including Two and a Half Men, Family Guy and,
surprisingly, Friends. TBS took Friends out of prime this year,
and it's doing great numbers for us in New York and Chicago.

Our
biggest struggle as a group is primetime, which we have committed to The CW for
the next six years. We plan to continue to support and work with The CW on
finding ways to improve primetime for both of us. We want to work closely with
them to build programs that reflect our stations' audiences and images.

Speaking of your stations' images, you rebranded the
Tribune stations, in many cases taking them back to their roots. Why?

I don't want WGN Chicago to look like WPIX New York. Each
station should offer an on-air representation of its market. When I got here, I
immediately started to work on putting the WPIX call letters back on the air.
That station had been rebranded as WB 11 in 1995 and then CW 11 in 2006, but
everyone still called it PIX. Why weren't we calling it PIX?

That's
the one thing we have in every market that we should be taking advantage of:
strong local branding.

Until two years
ago, you spent your entire career in radio. What have you found are the
differences between radio and television?

Radio
is more competitive on a market-by-market basis, and it's a little more
challenging because you have to program stations 24 hours a day-and in some
cases, minute by minute-unless you buy a bunch of syndicated Rush Limbaugh-,
Sean Hannity-, Bob & Tom- or Howard Stern-types of programs.

That's
unlike a TV station, where you are responsible for putting six or seven hours
of live news on a seven days a week, and then you can rely on syndication and
your network.

E-mail comments to palbiniak@gmail.com,
and follow her on Twitter: @PaigeA

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