Q&A With Tribune's Sean Compton

IF THERE'S one thing Sean Compton, who was promoted to Tribune Broadcasting's president of programming earlier this month, would change about TV, it's that he can't change things fast enough. He is increasing the amount of original programming for the station group, snapping up local sports rights and eyeing a fresh approach to news. He's also working closely with The CW to improve primetime, which he calls the group's "biggest struggle."

The radio vet was promoted to president after two years as senior VP of programming and entertainment at Tribune. The move is one of a series of recent management changes at the company.

Compton's first job was assisting Randy Michaels, who is now CEO of Tribune Co.; he has worked for Michaels ever since, with posts at Jacor and Clear Channel before jumping to TV and Tribune in 2008. Along the way, Compton cut programming deals with Ryan Seacrest, Whoopi Goldberg, Bob Costas, Donald Trump, Sean Hannity and Bill Cunningham.

Compton talked with B&C's Paige Albiniak about how he plans to launch fresh programs and personalities on Tribune's 23 TV stations and its cable network, WGN America. An edited transcript of the interview follows.

What is your strategy for programming Tribune's TV stations considering the environment?

We need to be doing more original first-run programming, and we need to be much more focused on local programming. That's where we've got opportunities that cable doesn't.

We're doing television pilots for daytime talk such as the Bill Cunningham project, and we're doing those pilots as quickly as we possibly can without killing anyone. For the Cunningham show, we're going to shoot five shows in one weekend in front of five different studio audiences with different guests.

When I talk about local programming, I don't mean putting together another local movie review show. Sports are important. For example, we just signed the Indiana High School Athletic Association to broadcast basketball and football games, and even gymnastic meets, on our Indianapolis duopoly. We have some Philadelphia Phillies baseball games on our Philadelphia station, and those do incredibly well.

We also have some creative ideas coming from our news division that we'll probably start adopting in the next three to six months. As [new president of Tribune Broadcasting] Jerry [Kersting] said, we want to try to do news differently.

How are the Tribune stations doing right now?

Daytime-when we run NBC Universal's Maury, Jerry Springer and Steve Wilkos as well as several court shows-is doing fantastic for us. We're so happy with it that we are going to use this time to try to create new shows. While I'm very appreciative of our distributors, I don't want my whole daytime to be in one basket.

We're also happy with the sitcoms we have in access and late-fringe, including Two and a Half Men, Family Guy and, surprisingly, Friends. TBS took Friends out of prime this year, and it's doing great numbers for us in New York and Chicago.

Our biggest struggle as a group is primetime, which we have committed to The CW for the next six years. We plan to continue to support and work with The CW on finding ways to improve primetime for both of us. We want to work closely with them to build programs that reflect our stations' audiences and images.

Speaking of your stations' images, you rebranded the Tribune stations, in many cases taking them back to their roots. Why?

I don't want WGN Chicago to look like WPIX New York. Each station should offer an on-air representation of its market. When I got here, I immediately started to work on putting the WPIX call letters back on the air. That station had been rebranded as WB 11 in 1995 and then CW 11 in 2006, but everyone still called it PIX. Why weren't we calling it PIX?

That's the one thing we have in every market that we should be taking advantage of: strong local branding.

Until two years ago, you spent your entire career in radio. What have you found are the differences between radio and television?

Radio is more competitive on a market-by-market basis, and it's a little more challenging because you have to program stations 24 hours a day-and in some cases, minute by minute-unless you buy a bunch of syndicated Rush Limbaugh-, Sean Hannity-, Bob & Tom- or Howard Stern-types of programs.

That's unlike a TV station, where you are responsible for putting six or seven hours of live news on a seven days a week, and then you can rely on syndication and your network.

E-mail comments to palbiniak@gmail.com, and follow her on Twitter: @PaigeA

Paige Albiniak

Contributing editor Paige Albiniak has been covering the business of television for nearly 25 years. She is a longtime contributor to Next TV, Broadcasting + Cable and Multichannel News. She concurrently serves as editorial director for entertainment marketing association Promax. She has written for such publications as TVNewsCheck, The New York Post, Variety, CBS Watch and more. Albiniak was B+C’s Los Angeles bureau chief from September 2002 to 2004, and an associate editor covering Congress and lobbying for the magazine in Washington, D.C., from January 1997-September 2002.