WJLA Picks Gals Over Gridiron

TV viewers in Washington had some tough choices Sunday night, but it was an easy call for WJLA-TV, the Allbritton-owned ABC affiliate.

To choose from Sunday, there was the West Wing mock debate for political wonks, CBS' Category 7, the disaster movie that is to culminate in a Washington wipeout, the Redskin game, a key NFC matchup won by the Skins. And, oh yes, Desperate Housewives, which transcends place and party when it comes to Nielsen ratings. WJLA-TV, which had the rights to simulcast hometown skins game (it was also ESPN's Sunday night matchup), passed on them to keep its powerhouse lineup of Extreme Makeover, Housewives, and Grey's Anatomy intact for the first Sunday in the November sweeps, when stations set their ad rates.

That also allowed it to keep its 11 p.m. news at 11. News is a station's number one profit center.In a resurgently Redskin-crazy town, that is a testament to the drawing power of Housewives. Had it been the ratings-challenged ABC prime of a couple years ago, carrying the game would have been a no-brainer for WJLA.But the move was about serving viewers as well as the bottom line.

In fact, even last year, the station carried the ESPN Sunday night Redskins game and took "enormous grief from [Desperate Housewives] viewers," said Allbritton SVP Jerald Fritz. "We decided not to make that mistake again, and the numbers bore us out.

Housewives drew 14.2 million viewers in Washington, according to Nielsen, while the game drew 12.9 million. The demo difference was even starker, with Housewives earning a 10.6 rating in 25-54's, and the game only a 5.8.

Fritz points out that over-the-air viewers were not stiffed. Fox-owned UPN station WDCA picked up the game. They saw the Skins, in the shadow of their own goalposts, stop the Eagles on a fourth down with seconds to play to preserve a key win.

Of course, on WJLA, viewers got to see Terri Hatcher, in the shadow of Mike's truck, collapse into a hysterical lump of wedding dress.

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.