Station to Station

Having Their 'Phil'

In a reversal of recent programming strategy, CBS owned-and-operated WBZ Boston is moving syndicated talk show Dr. Phil back to its original 3 p.m. slot and restoring its 5 p.m. newscast. In June 2004, the station scrapped the 5 p.m. news, a fixture in Boston since 1975, to make room for Phil. WBZ also introduced a 4 p.m. newscast at the time.

But beginning Jan. 9, WBZ will offer a “mega-block” of local news from 4 to 6:30 p.m., says station President/General Manager Julio Marenghi. “The 5 p.m. news is very important for a big-market, East Coast TV station,” he says. “It gives you a lot of time to tell different stories and set up what you will be doing at 11 p.m.”

WBZ is one of several stations that have pushed aside early-evening news to make room for Dr. Phil. In Los Angeles, KCBS moved its 4 p.m. news to sister station KCAL this fall, inserting Phil in its place. So far, the move has boosted KCBS' ratings dramatically. In November sweeps, Phil averaged a 3.8 rating in households, up 80% from the 4 p.m. news a year ago. Chicago CBS station WBBM, which made a similar move, is also showing a ratings increase.

In Miami, ABC affiliate WPLG is hoping for similar results. It poached Dr. Phil from CBS O&O WFOR for 2006 in part by committing to run the show at 5 p.m., forsaking its news.

WBZ has enjoyed ratings success with Dr. Phil at 5 p.m. The show often notches a 4 or 5 household rating and a 3 in the key female demographics. But sandwiching a syndicated show between two newscasts can interrupt audience flow, and a common mantra among station managers is that there is no better lead-in for news than, well, news.

“Some stations have found Dr. Phil capable of drawing an audience, but it is not delivering news viewers to their 6 p.m. news,” says TV-station consultant Seth Geiger of SmithGeiger. “It doesn't allow you to create momentum.”

Marenghi expects WBZ's new 5 p.m. newscast to pull in similar ratings to Phil's while attracting more men. To make room for Phil, the current 3 p.m. program, Judge Judy, is moving to sister UPN station WSBK.

WNYW Launches HD Chopper

New Yorkers are getting a clearer picture of the news, courtesy of station WNYW. The Fox Television-owned outlet just started flying the market's first high-definition helicopter, providing viewers with crisp, vivid pictures of traffic jams, fires and other breaking news.

The “SkyFox” chopper is one of only three HD helicopters in the country being flown by TV stations. In April 2004, Gannett-owned KUSA Denver launched the first, and in June, ABC O&O KABC Los Angeles dispatched one of its own. All three are leased from Helinet Aviation Services, which supplies aircraft to companies and hospitals.

In New York, WNYW is promoting its new toy on-air during newscasts and NFL games. Although fewer than 10% of households have HD televisions, station execs say everyone can enjoy a crisper picture. “[Even] if you don't have HD TV,” says WNYW VP/General Manager Lew Leone, “the pictures are more powerful, steadier and more focused.”

For now, the sharper images are limited to shots from the chopper. Although a handful of stations, including KUSA, Fox-owned WJW Cleveland and Gannett's WUSA Washington, have upgraded their local-news production to high-definition, WNYW is, for the foreseeable future, producing in standard-definition.