'Office' Party

Wilkes-Barre-Scranton welcomes fans of hit show

Tourists come to Wilkes-Barre-Scranton to boat on Lake Wallenpaupack and ski in the Poconos. They also come to visit the shops, restaurants and other landmarks that they've seen on The Office, which is set in Scranton. Some 10,000 “Dunderheads” turned up for the inaugural convention last October. Today host Al Roker broadcast live from Scranton, the cast and writers did improv and sat for Q&As, and everyone hit Poor Richard's Pub for a few pints.

The next convention is tentatively scheduled for spring 2009, but business officials say the show's fans turn up year-round. To accommodate them, the visitor's bureau has designed a map pointing the pilgrims in the direction of various Office landmarks. “The area really embraces the show,” says Mari Potis, the Greater Scranton Chamber of Commerce's membership director. “We were on the map as a coal-mine town, but people see us in a new light now.”

Also being seen in a new light are the newscasts stemming from WBRE and WYOU (Nexstar's WBRE produces the news for Mission's WYOU). On June 9, WYOU added 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. newscasts. “We listened to viewers, and felt there's a need out there to bring the news of the day to them earlier in the day,” says WBRE VP/General Manager Lou Abitabilo.

NBC affiliate WBRE launched an 11 a.m. news in January, and introduced new talent and a new name—Eyewitness News—on June 9 as well. Abitabilo promises edgier news programming.

But Wilkes-Barre-Scranton continues to be a WNEP market. Local TV acquired the ABC affiliate from the New York Times Co. in May 2007, and the station earns an extraordinary cut of the local revenue. WNEP grabbed 40% of the market revenue in 2005, according to BIA Financial, and grew that to more than 50% last year.

News Director Erik Schrader says the key is having greater newsgathering reach. WNEP is the only station in the market with a helicopter, which matters in a DMA that covers 17 counties. “We're committed to getting to every county in the market every day,” Schrader says. “There's huge interest here in getting to as many places as we can.”

The market took in $59.2 million last year, according to BIA. WNEP led with $29.8 million, ahead of WBRE's $12.3 million and CBS affiliate WYOU's $9.2 million. New Age owns Fox affiliate WOLF and the MyNetworkTV station WQMY, which are big on local programming, with shows focused on weddings, home and garden, and careers. “It's something unique and the advertisers like it,” says Jon Cadman, general manager of both stations. An outdoors program led to an Outdoor Expo, which attracts tens of thousands of attendees—and more than $100,000 in profit.

Station managers say they fight the perception of a begrimed coal town with an aging population. Besides the Office landmarks, there is the Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees (New York Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman is in town this week to speak at a Chamber of Commerce event), and no shortage of outdoor recreation. “There's boating, hiking, fishing, snowmobiling, amusement parks,” Abitabilo says. “It's two hours from Philadelphia and New York, so people can vacation here on a tank of gas.”

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