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Fire was big news -- but not ready for prime-time play

THE Griffith Park fire may have attracted national attention, but television updates Tuesday may have seemed rare as rain to Angelenos desperate for the latest information on the blaze.

Los Angeles stations offered wall-to-wall fire coverage during their 5 p.m. and late newscasts but mostly stuck to regularly scheduled programming during prime time and late night. One exception was KTLA-TV Channel 5, which preempted “Gilmore Girls” and “Veronica Mars,” a decision that led to angry protests by the shows’ fans. (KTLA and the Los Angeles Times are both owned by Tribune Co.)

Bosses at KNBC-TV Channel 4 considered dumping their prime-time shows in favor of fire coverage but ultimately decided to run news updates during time normally set aside for commercials and promotions. KNBC News Director Robert Long said the nature of the fire, though serious, didn’t justify tossing the regular schedule.

“If lives were imminently threatened, we would have blown out programming,” Long said.

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But he disputed any notion that his station had skimped on coverage. “We’ve done an enormous amount,” he said. “I can’t recall another time when we were killing all the commercials in prime time between 10 p.m. and 11:20 p.m.”

Long added that after the late newscast ended, the station pulled out of live coverage until 4:30 a.m. Wednesday -- starting an hour earlier than usual. “We did not think to staff it overnight,” Long said. “The viewership at that hour is slim to none.”

KTTV-TV Channel 11 may have had more at stake, as the station airs Fox’s mega-hit “American Idol.” That program aired without interruption Tuesday.

Local radio was another story. Listeners to KNX-AM (1070) and KFWB-AM (980) heard virtually wall-to-wall fire coverage Tuesday, including live news conferences with police, fire and other city officials.

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Meanwhile, some viewers remained angry with KTLA for interrupting “Gilmore Girls” and “Veronica Mars.”

“The community needs quick details in emergencies like that, not long-winded reporters [who] drone on for well over an hour,” complained one fan on a KTLA message board.

The station has announced that both episodes will air in their entirety Saturday.

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Scott Collins writes the Channel Island column in the Calendar section. You can reach him at scott.collins@latimes.com


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