'Geraldo' Takes Manhattan

With most of the attention focused on how CBS Evening News newcomer Katie Couric is faring against Brian Williams and Charles Gibson, Geraldo at Large has been largely overlooked in the network-news race.

But during October's mini-sweeps, after Geraldo Rivera's nationally syndicated show went from a test run last season on the Fox Television Stations to national distribution, the 30-minute newsmagazine became harder to ignore. Airing at 6:30 p.m. on WNYW New York, the show garnered a 1.3 rating/5 share in the primary news demo of adults 25-54, defeating Couric on WCBS (1.1/5). Geraldo also came within a hair of NBC Nightly News With Brian Williams on WNBC New York (1.4/6).

While it's the top-rated network newscast nationally, Nightly News finishes a distant second behind Gibson's World News on WABC New York (2.6/11). New York is the nation's top-ranked market.

New Yorkers seem to appreciate Geraldo's brash style, as well as the fact that it's produced in their city. But if Rivera can make it there, as the song goes, can he make it anywhere? Geraldo, which is distributed by Twentieth Television, has already done so in No. 11-ranked Detroit, the only other top local-people-meter market where the program runs opposite network newscasts. During October, it earned a 2.3/9 on WJBK to finish ahead of Gibson (2.2/8) and Couric (0.9/3) in the demo.

While the early results have been encouraging, the Fox-owned stations, which produce the show, appear to be a long way from deciding whether to pit Geraldo at Large against network newscasts in other markets.

Fox executives refuse to comment; they will first look at the October ratings books once more when market demo information becomes available later this week. They will also closely examine November-sweeps results when those are released next month.

Moving Rivera's program into the large markets could prove difficult for Fox, which has a number of pricey syndicated programs in that daypart, including Seinfeld and The Simpsons. Those need to run once or twice between 6 and 8 p.m. so stations can attract higher ad rates. But the prospect of taking on and beating network newscasts in key markets could prove tempting to someone as competitive as Fox News and stations chief Roger Ailes.

Nationally, Geraldo at Large has shown signs of life. It climbed 7% from 1.5 to 1.6 in the most recent Nielsen barter rankings during the week ended Oct. 29—a 23% improvement over two weeks earlier, thanks to fewer baseball preemptions and its strong performance in New York. Its 2.2/4 household rating on WNYW was up 38% from a year ago, when A Current Affair aired in the time slot.