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Tuned In: KDKA up, WPXI down in last month's ratings

Thursday, December 19, 2002

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

The household Nielsen ratings popularity contest for November brought good news for a resurgent KDKA-TV and bad news for WPXI, whose newscasts didn't win a single weekday time slot.

Worse yet, WPXI ranked third at 5 and 6 p.m.; its opportunity to thwart Channel 4's dominance in the morning, which looked possible not long ago, seemingly disappeared.

Not so fast, said WPXI general manager Ray Carter. Year-to-year, WPXI's November ratings performance changed little.

"We're in the exact same boat," Carter said. "Year to year, we're actually pleased in many day-parts."

All three stations saw household gains at 6 a.m. in November. Ratings for WTAE and WPXI picked up at noon. (KDKA was off a hair.).

The addition of KDKA's 4 p.m. news had an impact in the early evening news race, boosting KDKA at 5 and 6 p.m., while WTAE was off slightly and WPXI declined. WPXI fell from No. 2 at 5 p.m. in November 2001 to No. 3 in '02.

At 11 p.m., KDKA won in '01 and '02, with a more commanding lead this year. WPXI's 11 p.m. ratings were essentially flat while WTAE saw improvements.

The biggest surprise came on Nov. 14 when KDKA's 11 p.m. news beat Channel 11's newscast, despite Channel 11 having highly rated "ER" as a lead-in. That was WPXI's first 11 p.m. Thursday defeat in several years.

"I don't get too concerned over one night of television," Carter said. "This is a business that is conducted over the long haul, not in short bursts."

Channel 11's late news reclaimed the top spot Nov. 21, but for the month, it still ranked second, behind KDKA by one rating point and two share points. This was the first significant ratings period since August's slapping incident at a Mount Washington bar involving 11 p.m. anchor Gina Redmond.

"You could attach anything -- growth or decline -- to one individual," Carter said. "I wish it were that simple. It never is."

Carter said trends in newscast ratings can take longer or shorter amounts of time to develop, depending on numerous factors.

"It depends on if it's a personality or content problem," he said. "Content problems tend to manifest themselves very quickly. Talent, personnel issues tend to manifest themselves a little more slowly."

Of course, household ratings only tell part of the story, and a less significant part at that. Sweeps periods are all about collecting demographic information about the age and gender of viewers. It's on that basis stations sell commercial time. Household ratings give stations bragging rights; demos are where the money's at.

Perhaps the most valuable demo, and a general indicator of a station's overall demographic success, is women 25 to 54. Here's how local stations ranked (first through third) using that variable in key news time slots:

    6 a.m.: WTAE, WPXI, KDKA

    Noon: KDKA, WPXI tied WTAE

    5 p.m.: WTAE, KDKA tied WPXI

    6 p.m.: Three-way tie

    11 p.m.: WPXI, KDKA, WTAE

So as not to completely alienate male readers (sorry, guys, we don't seem to count for much), here are the rankings for persons 25 to 54:

    6 a.m.: WTAE, WPXI, KDKA

    Noon: Three-way tie

    5 p.m.: WPXI tied WTAE, KDKA

    6 p.m.: KDKA tied WTAE, WPXI

    11 p.m.: WPXI, KDKA tied WTAE

Year-to-year at 6 a.m., KDKA and WPXI saw their female 25-54 demos improve significantly, while WTAE was down slightly. At 5 p.m., KDKA and WTAE saw growth, while WPXI declined. All three stations declined at 6 p.m. KDKA was flat at 11 p.m., while WPXI and WTAE declined year-to-year.

In the battle for viewers at 10 p.m., WPGH remains a dominant leader, beating WNPA in households and just about any demo imaginable. In women 25 to 54, WPGH was flat compared to a year ago and down one share point in persons 25 to 54.

Among new syndicated talk shows, "Dr. Phil" at 10 a.m. on WTAE doubled its women 25-54 demo ratings in the time slot, from a 2 to a 4. "Caroline Rhea" at 10 a.m. pushed WPXI from a 1 to 2.

At 7:30 p.m., "Hollywood Squares" on KDKA declined from an 11 to 8 share among women 25 to 54 while "Will & Grace" reruns helped WCWB perk up from a 2 to 6.

'JAG' effects

Throughout the fall, viewers have called and e-mailed, wondering how the producers of "JAG" make actor Patrick Labyorteaux appear to have suffered the same leg amputation as his character, Lt. Bud Roberts.

"He wanted to keep his job and he's a master of his craft, so he went out and blew up his leg," said Avery Drewe, a "JAG" post-production producer.

He's kidding, of course.

Drewe said the missing leg is achieved through a combination of effects, including Labyorteaux wearing a prosthesis and bending his leg so it's bound up behind him in a specially created rig.

"We work carefully with the camera angles so when he's walking toward us we can't see that," Drewe said. If his leg should peek out, it's digitally erased in post-production.

A scene where Bud walked up the stairs combined special effects shots of Labyorteaux with shots of a real amputee.

Now Bud has recovered to the point that he walks using a prosthetic leg with only a slight limp.

"Our writing staff wanted to make it accurate, so we tracked what the real progression would be," Drewe said.

'Dinotopia' extinct

ABC has canceled Thursday night dino-drama "Dinotopia." Its last episode will air Dec. 26. Movies and specials will air in its place in the coming weeks.

Shakeup at Pax

Pax TV president and CEO Jeff Sagansky has resigned, although he'll remain with the network as a consultant. Lowell "Bud" Paxson will reassume the title of CEO.

Rob Owen can be reached at 412-263-2582 or rowen@post-gazette.com. Post questions or comments about TV to www.post-gazette.com/tv under PG Online Talk.

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