After Ellen shifted across the street to KCCI, Dale Woods, WHO Des Moines president/general manager, contemplated what to slot for 4 p.m. It being Iowa and all, he figured there was plenty of news—not to mention political spots—to support a newscast in that formerly syndication-heavy 4 p.m. slot.
“I looked at the political environment we have and saw an opportunity to capitalize,” says Woods, whose inaugural 4 p.m. news Sept. 8 featured an interview with Gov. Terry Branstad.
Every September, stations debut newscasts up and down the programming grid. Amid a paucity of blue chip syndicated hits, more and more are going local at 4 p.m. Station leaders speak frequently of controlling their own destiny, and the rash of lateafternoon newscasts reinforces the point. “There’s no Oprah out there, so why not?” says Bill Hague, senior VP at Frank N. Magid Associates. “The [station] staff is there, ready to go. If the program is unique and is done well, it’s absolutely a good proposition.”
September to Remember
There’s a wide range of newscasts debuting this month, including WMAQ Chicago’s 11 a.m. news, KMSP Minneapolis’s 6 p.m. and WPHL Philadelphia’s extension of its 10 p.m., all Sept. 8; WUPL New Orleans’ 6:30 p.m. program September 9; and WGCL Atlanta’s noon show Sept. 15. But the bulk of the news newbies are at 4 p.m., including those on WGN Chicago, WSYR Syracuse, WVTM Birmingham, KSWB San Diego and WFLA Tampa.
Scripps is launching its local-national hybrid The Now in eight markets, including Detroit, Cincinnati, Cleveland and Denver, several of which had Ellen in the slot. Steve Wasserman, WPTV West Palm Beach VP/general manager and Scripps divisional GM, says The Now—as the name suggests— has a sense of immediacy to it. “It’s very much driven by what’s happening right now,” he says. “We did not want to do the same old news format.”
Newscasts at 4 are traditionally less formal, heavy in social media, and female-skewing. The new entry at WVTM is fast-paced and hard-edged, says Gene Kirkconnell, VP and general manager, who moved Ellen from 4 to 3 p.m. with the cancellation of Bethenny. Two days after launch, Kirkconnell said both the 4 and 5 p.m. slots are up around 70% over the last week of August.
“We looked at what’s out there,” he says. “I’m a real proponent of adding news and local programming and I’m excited about what’s going on here, so I thought news was the best bet for that time period. So far, it’s paid off.”
Around four years ago, stations prepared for life after The Oprah Winfrey Show and its stranglehold over late afternoons. Now, some are starting to wonder what happens when Ellen eventually wraps—and what first-run show will venture to take its ratings-grabbing place. “You have to ask yourself, what’s on the horizon [for syndication],” says WHO’s Woods. “It doesn’t mean something won’t be there. But it doesn’t exist today.”
THE REAL WORLD: DAYTON? WBDT TAKES RUN AT REALITY
Reality programming has worked on the networks, and WBDT Dayton thinks it can fly in local television too. The LIN Media station on Sept. 14 debuted The Valley, which follows six high school graduates as they embark on the next chapter of their lives. The first season features eight episodes, which also run on daytonscw.com.
Joe Abouzeid, president and general manager of WDTN-WBDT, calls The Valley “reality with a purpose.”
The Valley, which refers to the region’s Miami Valley, features some product integration, such as the cast members frolicking at a local water park.
Jay Howell, VP of television at LIN, says the model could potentially work in other markets, similar to how daytime lifestyle programs like WNAC Providencehatched The Rhode Show became the model for the rest of the group. “It looks tremendous,” says Howell. “I’m very proud of what I’ve seen so far.”