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Boston's WBZ Grows A Sunday Magazine

After 25 years anchoring local news in Boston, WBZ veteran Liz Walker
was itching to develop her own local show. “I had done so many stories on
people overcoming obstacles and organizations that help,” Walker says. “I
wanted to pull that all together.”

That desire is now an on-air reality. Sunday
With Liz Walker
debuted last month on the CBS owned-and-operated
station. Each half-hour program features three stories. A recent episode with a
“renewal” theme included reports on a local spa, a nonprofit that outfits
women with work clothes, and one neighborhood's religious revival.

The show is WBZ's spin on a growing trend among stations to build
magazine shows and lighter entertainment programs starring recognizable talent.
“I would much rather have this than a paid program or a syndicated show that
isn't cutting it,” says GM Julio Marenghi. “It gives people another
reason to connect with local television.”

Crosstown rival WCVB has one of the most famous local programs. Its
nightly Chronicle magazine show regularly
wins its early-evening time slot.

But while local programs are gaining ground, they can still be a tough
sell. Last year, Walker persuaded station managers to give her a modest $5,000
to put together a pilot. Looking for sponsors, she even called on some
potential advertisers herself.

When Marenghi, former head of sales for Viacom's station group, took
over WBZ last year, he fast-tracked Walker's program. Blue Cross Blue Shield
of Massachusetts signed on to underwrite the program, which Marenghi says
covers about two-thirds of expenses. The station won't reveal the show's
budget, but Walker says she has “a lot more” than the original $5,000.

WBZ did not banish Sunday With Liz
Walker
to an early-morning slot. The show airs at 11 a.m., after CBS
News' Face the Nation. So far, the program
is holding its own. NBC's Meet the Press
on WHDH wins the time period, but Walker's show has earned between a 1.5 and
2 household rating, respectable Nielsen marks.

For Walker, the show is about exploring a second phase in her life.
She retired from anchoring in January and is a candidate for a master's
degree at Harvard University's Divinity School. She is pursuing ordination in
the African Methodist Episcopal Church. The new show, she says, is another way
to connect. “We do stories about local people doing good and giving to their
community and the rest of the world.”

ABC News Now Seeks Stations' Help

ABC News is redoubling its efforts to make fledging digital and
broadband channel ABC News Now a viable news service, and local affiliates will
be key to the process.

Last summer, the ongoing broadband news service—inaugurated on
cellphones and computers—was expanded to a digital TV channel. ABC pulled the
network off in January for retooling, and it will relaunch in July. What has
emerged is a multi-platform approach to 24/7 news. “The goal is to make sure
we have news available to our audience where they are and on whatever device
they want,” said ABC News President David Westin.

ABC News Now already reaches 30 million broadband subscribers through
Comcast, AOL and SBC/Yahoo. Now the heavy lifting begins: securing cable and
broadcast distribution. Since the FCC ruled against must-carry for digital
broadcast channels, ABC will have to stump for carriage the old-fashioned way.
The network could use retransmission consent to muscle ABC News Now onto cable
systems, but parent Disney Corp. has to spread that to its other cable
channels, too.

So, to start, ABC News Now, which has hopes of becoming one of the
multicast channels on ABC affiliates' digital stations, will be carried on
broadcast only by ABC's 10 owned-and-operated stations. The network is
pitching the service to affiliates, which it is counting on to provide content.
To sweeten the pitch, Westin says stations will be able to put their local
newscasts on the channel, plus they will get local cut-ins à la
Good Morning America. Affiliates have
expressed interest in a revenue-sharing arrangement, like NBC's Weather Plus
digital channel, which is jointly owned by the network and affiliates.

Send station news to
aromano@reedbusiness.com

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