For the first time in more than a decade, KNBC-TV Channel 4 has ousted KABC-TV Channel 7's "Eyewitness News" from the top spot in the local news ratings race.
In the last two major sweeps periods last May and November, the two stations split the title of the Southland's No. 1 news station--with Channel 4 winning the battle as measured by the A. C. Nielsen Co. and Channel 7 taking the top spot of the rival Arbitron ratings book.
According to figures released Thursday, however, Channel 4 swept all four head-to-head news time periods (4 p.m., 5 p.m., 6 p.m. and 11 p.m.) in Nielsen and three of the four in Arbitron. Channel 7's 5 p.m. anchor team of Paul Moyer and Ann Martin squeaked out the station's only victory, but its full rating point lead in last November's Arbitron book shrunk last month to just one-tenth of a point (each rating point represents 48,002 local households).
Channel 4's 11 p.m. anchors Kelly Lange and John Beard, buoyed by NBC's continuing prime-time dominance and rival ABC's significant slide in last month's prime-time ratings, provided KNBC with its most convincing win. The station's late-night newscast trounced KABC by nearly three Nielsen points and 1.5 Arbitron points. In November, KABC's Paul Moyer and Tawny Little had won a clear victory in Arbitron.
Despite the setback, KABC, which built its decade-long news supremacy with a "family" of news personalities and a long list of titillating sweeps series, is still running a close second in every news time period except 11 p.m. Perennial third-place finisher KCBS-TV Channel 2 once again finished a distant third in all news time periods. Reruns of "Cheers" on KTLA beat Channel 2's new anchor team of Jim Lampley and Bree Walker at 11 p.m.
KNBC-TV general manager John Rohrbeck attributed his station's across the board victory in part to what he called "complacency" over the years at KABC, which in the last sixth months has experienced wholesale changes in its top management team.
"It's not that the audience is tired of the personalities over at Channel 7," he said. "The audience recognized that we were putting out a superior product. KABC has always had a very nice package of personalities and pacing, but little substance. We've been able to put together a package that is interesting and enjoyable to watch as well as a quality news program in terms of content."
In writing about KNBC's rise to the top, however, many local television critics have suggested that Channel 4 has simply beat Channel 7 at its own game--with quirky and popular news personalities such as Fritz Coleman and Fred Roggin and feature-oriented sweeps series that have been just as slick and intriguing as KABC's. NBC's prime-time supremacy over the last few years combined with ABC's prime time woes have also given KNBC a significant boost.
KABC's general manager and former news director, Terry Crofoot, insisted Thursday that the disappointing 11 p.m. news ratings were largely a result of ABC's faltering prime-time schedule. He said the earlier news races were still fairly close.
"We've done better," Crofoot said, "but these numbers are pretty much what we expected. We're now going to look at our newscast and make some improvements. We've never gotten away from being an aggressive hard news outfit, but the perception has always been that we were a lot frothier than we were." He pointed to the station's sending Harold Greene to Japan to cover President Bush's recent Asian tour and reporter Mark Coogan going to Honolulu last Friday to cover the United Airlines disaster.
Crofoot would not comment on rumors circulating that KABC would make some anchor changes soon, including rehiring former anchor Christine Lund and removing Tawny Little from the 11 p.m. broadcast, but he conceded that there may be some "anchor shuffling" in the coming months.
KABC suffered another significant setback last month as longtime ratings champ, "Eye on L.A," plagued by a slew of reruns and a dispute with the show's former production company, plunged dramatically to a distant fourth-place finish in the all-important 7:30 p.m. time slot. KTTV's tabloid smash "A Current Affair" replaced KABC's travel and swimsuit magazine program at the top of the Nielsens. KCOP's "Jeopardy" came in second, KTLA's syndicated sitcom reruns third, and KNBC's "USA Today" fifth. In the Arbitron ratings, "Jeopardy" won the time period with "A Current Affair" a close second. KCBS' "Gong Show" languished in last place in both ratings services.
In other sweeps highs and lows (using Nielsen numbers unless otherwise specified):
Oprah and Phil and Geraldo: In a rather uneventful month free of broken noses and gray-haired men in dresses, Oprah Winfrey topped Phil Donahue again at 3 p.m. Up against news on the other stations at 4 p.m., Geraldo Rivera's brand of talk lured fewer viewers than "Oprah," but won its time period in Arbitron. In Nielsen, "Geraldo" came in fourth at 4 p.m., losing to news on both KNBC and KABC and "Alvin and the Chipmunks" on Channel 11.
Don't play it again, Cos: Syndicated reruns of "The Cosby Show" on Channel 13 won its 6 p.m. time period, but the incredibly expensive program has been a disappointment, failing to boost the fortunes of the programs that precede and follow it on KCOP. "Cosby" fell to an 8.7 rating (down one point from November), while news on Channel 4 registered an 8.6 and news on Channel 7 measured an 8.4. The second half-hour of KHJ's "The A-Team" won the 6:30 p.m. time period in Arbitron, but lost badly to reruns of KTTV's "Family Ties" in Nielsen.
Peter, Tom and Dan: Peter Jennings proved to be L.A.'s favorite national news anchor, scoring an 8.6 rating on ABC at 7 p.m. Tom Brokaw and NBC got an 8.3 at 6:30 p.m. against third-place Dan Rather and CBS, which scored only a 5.9.
Is Charles in Charge?: "Wheel of Fortune" again proved king of the 7 p.m. time period, but KTLA's "Charles in Charge," once canceled because of low ratings on CBS, was a close second. "Wheel" earned a 9.7 rating compared to 9.2 for "Charles," a 9.1 for "Entertainment Tonight" and an 8.6 for ABC's "World News Tonight." "M.A.S.H.," "Love Connection" and "Inside Edition" trailed.
Independent News: As always, Hal Fishman and KTLA ran away with the 10 p.m. news race scoring a 5.3 rating to Channel 13's 2.9 and Channel 11's 2.6. KHJ's newscasts at 8 p.m. and 9 p.m. earned a 3.3 and 3.0, respectively.
No Stopping Johnny: Pat Sajak's challenge to unseat Johnny Carson as the king of late-night talk came up way short. Carson's "Tonight Show" earned a 6.2 rating locally while Sajak managed only a 2.8 for his 90-minute program on CBS. Sajack also lost out locally to "Nightline" and reruns of "Taxi." Arsenio Hall's hourlong talk show earned a 3.5 rating at 11 p.m.
Spanish TV: KMEX Channel 34 continued to lead rival Spanish-language station KVEA Channel 52, especially during prime time. KMEX drew 74% of the Spanish-language audience during prime time and its 6 p.m. news hour nipped KVEA's news 2.5 to 1.8.