Stations Seek Spotlight

TV Guide auditions outlets for next Making News installment
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Many a station manager has witnessed some humorous happening in the newsroom and thought: This would make for a good reality show. TV Guide Network executives have drawn the same conclusion, and several stations are currently auditioning to star in the next installment of TVGN's original “docu-soap” Making News.

While some general managers would bristle at the thought of having a reality crew in their newsroom, those who've been through the process speak positively of the experience. In season one of Making News, cameras were trained on KOSA Midland (Tex.) from January to May; the 13-episode run was TVGN's top-rated series this past summer, and G.M. Barry Marks says the exposure helped his bottom line.

Airing at 8 p.m. on Mondays, Making News averaged a 0.3 household rating; as the channel averaged a 0.2 this summer, it spelled a 50% jump for TVGN's prime.

The fly-on-the-newsroom-wall series showcases the anxiety of the local news business. Typically, one producer and one photographer capture the action. Among the poignant season-one stories, an older lead anchor battled depression after being demoted, and a reporter dealt with her intense body-type issues.

Making News' relative success notwithstanding, viewer interest has been cool for reality shows centered on the media industry. Bravo's Tabloid Wars and MTV's I'm From Rolling Stone limped through low-rated first seasons, while Fox's Anchorwoman was killed after one episode.

But KYTX (Texas) General Manager Phil Hurley, who opened up his newsroom for Anchorwoman, would do it all again. “People sampled us and they liked what they saw,” he says. “Our news ratings are up significantly.”

KOSA's Marks also says the reality show was good for his station. For one, it allowed major ad clients to build better rapport with station staffers. “I think the emotional connection between the newsroom and the buyer brought in extra dollars,” he says. “It showed national clients a personality when we usually just do telephone deals.”

Still, Marks warns of the downsides, such as having budding stars headhunted by larger-market stations, and letting viewers see the unrehearsed side of talent. “For some viewers, reporters lost some of the mystique they carry with them,” he says. “Some had the perception that reporters are perfect and polished all the time.”

TV Guide Network has winnowed its choice for next season down to about a half-dozen stations, and hopes to start shooting by the end of the year. Producers are leaning toward choosing a smaller-market outlet based in the southeastern United States. “We want real-people stories in the workplace,” says VP of Development Kristin Peace. “We want great stories coming from a great market.”

TVGN execs say they'll settle on their station in the coming weeks, and season two should premiere in spring. Executive Producer Nick Davis believes local news is a fascinating topic to focus a camera on. “You can't script this stuff,” he says. “People doing compelling activities makes for very good television if you hang around long enough.”

E-mail comments to michael.malone@reedbusiness.com

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