The Nashville Scene

Manning the NewsChannel 5 anchor desk at WTFV (from l.): anchors Rhori Johnston and Carrie Sharp and meteorologist Bree Smith.
Manning the NewsChannel 5 anchor desk at WTFV (from l.): anchors Rhori Johnston and Carrie Sharp and meteorologist Bree Smith. (Image credit: WTFV)

Nashville is unique in many ways, but one thing stands out about the TV scene there. The Big Four affiliated stations are all run by women. Lyn Plantinga is the general manager at WTVF, Tracey Rogers is GM at WKRN, Rene LaSpina oversees WSMV and Noreen Parker manages WZTV. 

There’s a tradition of strong female broadcasters in DMA No. 28, including Debbie Turner, who was general manager at WTVF before advancing to a VP role at Scripps, and Deb McDermott, who ran WKRN before moving up to run Young Broadcasting, then Media General. 

“We have a really good camaraderie,” Tracey Rogers, WKRN VP and general manager said. “I like to say we’re frenemies.”

Scripps has CBS affiliate WTVF. Nexstar Media Group owns ABC-aligned WKRN. Meredith holds NBC affiliate WSMV. Sinclair Broadcast Group has Fox affiliate WZTV, MyNetworkTV station WUXP and CW-aligned WNAB. 

Staffers are working remotely as the pandemic persists. Plantinga said a typical July day saw total staffers in the office in the single digits. WKRN had more like a couple dozen on a given day. “We try to keep as many people out as possible,” Rogers said. 

The general managers express something near disbelief in terms of what stations have been able to accomplish from home. “If you’d told me we could do all this remotely, I would’ve said, you’re crazy,” LaSpina said. 

WTVF is a ratings beast. The station has won every newscast in total viewers in a given day close to 1,400 times since the market became metered in 1998, according to Plantinga. WTVF used to celebrate with pizza, but it turned out to be too much pizza — WTVF hit that goal 187 times last year. 

Plantinga described a content strategy that “goes deeper than giving people a report card on COVID numbers. We have to give people solutions.” A lively investigative team, she added, brings “depth and dimension” to NewsChannel 5’s content. 

WTVF won all key news races in May, in both households and viewers 25-54. At 10 p.m., WTVF put up an 8.0 in households, ahead of WKRN’s 3.9, WSMV’s 3.4 and WZTV’s 1.6. WTVF scored a 2.9 in the demo at 10, with WKRN at 1.9, WSMV at 1.2 and WZTV at 0.7. 

Stiff competition brings out the best in everyone. “There’s no such thing as running away with it in Nashville,” said Plantinga. “It’s a market with a lot of high-quality journalism.”

LaSpina turned up at WSMV last year after being general manager at WIVB-WLNO Buffalo. She has big plans for the NBC station. “We’re re-energizing WSMV,” she said. “We’re bringing it back to the leader it was in the community.”

WSMV marks 70 years on air in September. The 11 a.m. show Today in Nashville features music, cooking, authors and other lifestyle fare. “It’s really well done,” LaSpina said. 

WKRN expanded its 11 a.m. news to an hour a couple of years ago. Up against lifestyle stuff, the newscast is taking off. “During COVID, it’s really grown,” Rogers said. “It might be a person’s first news of the day.”

It has been an eventful year in Nashville. In early March, a tornado tore through the market and killed about two dozen residents. “I feel like we’ve been in the path of a lot of craziness since very early March,” Rogers said. 

Nashville, of course, is the Hollywood of country music, but a varied portfolio of businesses, including healthcare and education, have it well-poised to recover once the pandemic clears out. 

The general managers describe a market loaded with energy. Plantinga mentioned “moments of unexpectedly wonderful things” all around the market. 

Rogers departed Nashville in 2000 and returned in 2017. “The growth blew me
away,” she said. “But Nashville still has that positive vibe.”

Michael Malone

Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.