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Finding a Niche for KTTV News : Television: Incoming general manager Tom Capra hopes to build a news operation that will attract an audience ‘with fairly wide demographics.’

Now here’s a fine kettle of fish for Fox TV.

Here you have the youth-oriented network, rolling in dough with such hits as “The Simpsons” and “Beverly Hills, 90210.”

Yet here you also have Fox-owned KTTV-TV Channel 11 trying to build a journalistic image even though the parent network’s young viewers are not big news-watchers.

What to do? Or isn’t there much you can do?

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That matter will certainly be high on the agenda for Tom Capra, the former “Today” show boss who this week was appointed to run KTTV.

Rupert Murdoch, chairman of Fox Inc., is pointedly trying to elevate the network’s news status. On the one hand, there’s the effort to establish a Fox news service for the network’s affiliates. But the seven Fox-owned stations, in such flagship cities as Los Angeles, are pivotal to increasing the company’s clout in news.

Capra, noting that Fox entertainment series are particularly strong in Los Angeles, acknowledges the paradox:

“It’s a very young demographic, and that audience is not a news-watching audience. So you can have a terrific lead-in (to KTTV’s nightly news) but not a lot of adults in the audience.

“If you ask me if you can do news for kids, I’m not sure you can do that. But understand that people who are 25 are adults too. So you have to add to that. If it’s good storytelling, people are going to watch it.

“I’d like to see a stable news audience with fairly wide demographics that comes back night after night whether they’ve been watching Fox or not. That’s the real answer.”

Murdoch clearly hopes that Capra’s news background will serve Fox well in his job as vice president and general manager of KTTV. He had a good run in the 1980s as news director of KNBC-TV Channel 4 when it fared strongly in the ratings.

Murdoch, Capra and Mitchell Stern, executive vice president and chief operating officer of Fox Television stations, met Thursday evening at the company’s film studio in West Los Angeles, the day after Capra’s appointment at KTTV was announced, a company representative said.

Stern says that Fox’s news programs want to target the young viewers who watch the network’s entertainment shows: “Yes, we definitely are moving in that direction, trying to figure out what attracts the Fox audience. We’re improving graphics and promotion.”

But, in the end, he says, “News is news.”

One of the answers to bridging the age gap in watching news may have been MTV’s notable election-campaign coverage in making its young audience more keenly aware of the candidates and major issues.

“MTV was excellent,” Capra says.

The success of news on KTTV could reverberate beyond local ratings for the burgeoning fourth network, suggests Greg Nathanson, former president of Fox Television stations and now head of KTLA-TV Channel 5. Nathanson says Fox stations in effect are local bureaus to help the network build what it hopes will be a national and world presence.

“This (KTTV) would be the Los Angeles bureau,” he says.

“That’s true. To some extent, we are bureaus,” acknowledges Fox’s Stern.

Capra’s thinking, as he prepares to take over KTTV on Nov. 16, is simply to give the station a bigger news presence in Los Angeles. Elaborating on his desire to start a 7 a.m.-9 a.m. series to compete with the network morning news shows as well as KTLA--which already has such a program--he says: “I’m sure we’ll have one on within a year. I hope six months, maybe earlier.”

Can the Los Angeles market support two such morning series, which would both be heavily local and feature reports on weather and traffic? “Yeah, I don’t think there’s any problem,” he says.

For Capra, the main problem now is how to gain major ground on KTLA’s entrenched 10 p.m. news with Hal Fishman, who is virtually unbeatable at that hour against KTTV, KCAL-TV Channel 9 and KCOP-TV Channel 13.

In a sense, another problem is how to separate KTTV from its longtime label as an independent station and give it kind of a network sheen now that Fox is a genuine contender against ABC, CBS and NBC.

For years, KTTV has been lumped in as an independent--that is, non-network--station along with KTLA, KCAL and KCOP. But Fox entertainment series now have given KTTV big-league status. For example:

In Los Angeles, “The Simpsons” was the No. 2-rated show on all the networks last week, drawing 34% of the audience. “In Living Color” was No. 4, with 30% of local viewers. And “Martin” was No. 7, earning 28% of the Los Angeles audience. In addition, “Beverly Hills, 90210" scored big on Wednesday with 24% of viewers here.

These are not unusual statistics for Fox shows in Los Angeles. Yet an uncertain, unfulfilled image remains on KTTV, primarily because this key network outlet has not yet established a truly specific and notable identity in its news broadcasts.

KTTV even dumped the Dodgers in May so that games would not preempt Fox shows and hinder the impact and growth of the young network. And significant attempts at unique newscasts have been made in recent years at KTTV through notable Fox entertainment coverage and investigative reporting. Now it’s Capra’s turn.

“The only real identity you have is in your news,” says Nathanson. “You can get movies and kid shows in 450 places. But the one thing that cable can’t beat you with is local news. No matter how good CNN is, it’s not local. A station’s news image is the image of the station.”

“News is more important now at each station,” says Jeff Wald, head of news for KCOP, which expects to unveil a revised format within several months. “The local independents are carving out their niches. KCAL has three hours of prime-time news and a lot of talk shows, so it’s kind of the news and talk independent.

“KTLA is combining its morning and nighttime news with the Dodgers and Angels and positioning itself as the news and sports station. KCOP’s approach will probably be first-run, syndicated shows in prime time plus news and local programming. And under Capra, KTTV is talking about a morning news program against KTLA’s. News is the common denominator.”

Except, of course, for many young TV viewers. Now, maybe if Bart Simpson did a nightly commentary for Fox. . . .

You know, that’s not a bad idea.


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