Buff Broadcast Breaks Record

It looks like WOIO Cleveland's shot at full disclosure worked.

According to early returns, its decision not to blur the nudity in a story on performance artist Spencer Tunick that featured one of its own anchors in the buff was a big hit with viewers.

News Director Steve Doerr, who asked anchor Sharon Reed to bare it all for the sake of news, art and ratings, said that viewer reaction to the Monday night piece had been 2-1 in support of the station. Doerr and GM Bill Applegate had already vetted the piece with their lawyers, who said it was OK given the post-10 p.m. timing, the start of the FCC's safe harbor for so-called indecent material.

The ratings returns were even more stunning. The 11 p.m. newscast did the best late news number in the station's history at a 17.1/30 share, blowing away the previous record of a 13.6/23, which came on the strength of the best lead-in in the business, last year's Super Bowl, which featured a little partial nudity of its own.

In fact, one of the reasons Doerr and Reed said the station didn't blur the piece was as a reaction to the post-Janet Jackson reveal climate that saw ABC stations refuse to run Saving Private Ryan for fear of FCC retribution. The other reason: that 17.1/30 during sweeps, of course.

Reed participated in a group photo with over a thousand other women, all naked, one of three photos of naked Clevelanders taken by Tunick last summer. He has  created similar images around the world after fighting all the way to the Supreme Court for the privilege.

Any plans to re-run the piece? Doerr says no, but he does see room for follow-ups and will run reaction to Monday night's newscast in his Tuesday 4 p.m. news.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.