It's time for the TV news version of mud wrestling: sweeps month, when the stations get down and dirty in a quest for ratings points.
Television stations notoriously pull out all stops to make sure viewers tune in during sweeps periods, when those unseen people who fill out ratings diaries actually determine the fate of television shows. To their credit, the local news operations tend to exhibit a fair amount of restraint during sweeps, especially contrasted with the Los Angeles stations, which usually trot out in-depth series on bikinis and breast implants to lure viewers.
The local news operations resist the urge to turn the news into video peep shows, but they have scheduled a blithering array of "special reports" and the obligatory self-congratulatory advertisements for the monthlong sweeps period, which begins Wednesday.
This is an especially important ratings book for each station. Except for a generally disregarded book in July, there has not been a real ratings book since May. Since then, KNSD-TV (Channel 39) has gone through a complete overhaul, and certainly everyone wants to see if the changes, made in September, have had any immediate impact on the local battle.
"Every ratings period is important," KGTV (Channel 10) news director Paul Sands said. "But November is especially important because it gets you through the winter doldrums and into February."
Channel 10 wades into the fray this week with a special three-part series hosted by Michael Tuck titled "The Death of the Sea of Cortez." The Channel 10 news shows also will feature special reports on election issues, in conjunction with the station's "Inside San Diego" and "Newsmakers" programs.
In addition to a special series on new-age medicine and a series on San Diego during World War II, designed to coincide with the airing of ABC's mega-series "War and Remembrance," Channel 10 will present a special series on the Navy SEAL team, a two-part series on teaching people how to sing titled "The Shower Singers' Workshop" and, best of all, a two-part series on circumcision called "The Unkindest Cut." Mark your calendars.
KFMB-TV (Channel 8) got an early jump on the competition, beginning its barrage of specials and advertisements last week. The "Good Sex" series certainly prompted some people to tune in. But the lack of frontal nudity and diagrams probably disappointed them.
In the days ahead, Channel 8 will present multi-part series on a diet competition between the cities of Carlsbad and La Mesa, a special ward at Chino State Prison for AIDS victims, premature babies, a woman who survived the Holocaust, a look at Japan, an Outward Bound-like course for executives, young people under the age of 10 with mental problems and the 60th birthday of Mickey Mouse.
Channel 39 is taking a simpler approach to sweeps month. Instead of a mind-numbing collection of series, the station is devoting the whole month to one subject, child care. Each night at 11, when Channel 39 might have a legitimate chance to break out of third place, the news will include a segment titled "Project Parenting." Channel 39's "Third Thursday" show will also focus on parenting.
It won't be long before San Diegans learn how effective the different stations have been, i.e. who emerges victorious from the mud pit. The ratings books will be out in mid-December.
At KSDO-AM (1130), the Hirohito death watch is in effect. A memo on the bulletin board reminds producers to pull advertisements for a Japanese airline when the gravely ill Japanese emperor dies. . . .
The first victim of Traffic Reporting Wars is AeroTraffic, which shut down last week. During its year in San Diego, Aero reported for only two stations, KVSD-AM (1000) and KKOS-FM (95.9). Still, staffers were surprised by the news. "As we were leaving the office (last Friday) we were told it was our last broadcast," airborne traffic reporter John Hoffman said, adding that Metro Traffic, the new kid on the traffic reporting block, purchased Aero's equipment and its contracts with the two stations. . . .
Let's start a new citizens initiative banning future stories on those trapped gray whales. . . .
Channel 39 reporter Bill Ritter sent a birthday wish to his old radical buddy Larry Remer, part of a list of birthday wishes published in a recent issue commemorating the 11th anniversary of Remer's Newsline magazine. "Since I bought this ad, will you endorse me if I run for office?" Ritter wrote, a reference to a recent story accusing Remer of endorsing advertising clients.
All three local TV news stations covered the Rudiger family press conference last week, during which the Rudiger family offered a reward for information that could lead to the conviction of Mark Radke, who is accused of beating young Jeffrey Rudiger. But only Channel 39 bothered to include the perspective of Radke's attorney, i.e. both sides of the story. . . .
Channel 10 launches a morning news program today from 6 to 7. The show mixes local with national news broadcasts, and is hosted by Lisa Kim and Steve Fiorina. . . .
A Cheesy Video Award goes to Channel 39 for a segment on the San Diego Police Department's Crime Stoppers unit. Reporter Paul Bloom showed Crime Stoppers representative Ted Owen holding $1,000 in reward money. "It's a thousand dollars in cold cash, and it can be yours," Bloom said. The worthy subject didn't need the game show touch.