Hourlong network news finds few takers WAR IN THE GULF


January 26, 1991|By Eric Siegel

All three commercial networks were offering expanded hourlong broadcasts of their nightly news programs by the end of this week -- but found only one taker among their Baltimore affiliates.

On Thursday, CBS joined ABC and NBC in expanding its nightly newscasts from 30 to 60 minutes as a result of the Persian Gulf war. All three offer breaks after the first half-hour during which local stations could return to their own programming or remain with the network.

But only WJZ-TV (Channel 13), the local ABC affiliate, carried the expanded newscast. Both NBC affiliate WMAR-TV (Channel 2) and CBS affiliate WBAL-TV (Channel 11) cited the "redundant" nature of the additional half-hour in their decisions.

Estimates on the number of affiliates airing the full newscasts vary widely. CBS said perhaps one-third of its affiliates were doing so while NBC put the figure at 65 percent. ABC said it would not know until next week, but estimated that 85 percent of the potential audience was able to see it.

Channel 13 news director Tim Morrisey said the station decided to carry the expanded ABC newscast because "we felt it provided a little more depth and background as to what was going on."

Channel 13 ran the hourlong newscast from 6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. the Thursday and Friday following the start of the war and again on Monday, airing its own hourlong local newscast a half-hour earlier than usual, from 5:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Beginning Tuesday, the station returned its local newscast to its normal 6 p.m. slot, beginning the ABC news at 7 p.m. and pre-empting "Entertainment Tonight" at 7:30 p.m.

The time changes were made to restore "an element of normalcy" to the station's programming, said spokeswoman Phyllis Reese.

WMAR chose to run only the first half-hour of NBC's newscast because there was "nothing new in the second half," said Arnie Kleiner, president and general manager.

"It's totally redundant," he added, noting that Channel 2 was taking "every interrupt and every special" NBC was offering on the war.

Apprised of Mr. Kleiner's comments, NBC News spokeswoman Katherine McQuay said, "We beg to differ. The second half-hour has completely new material -- different stories and different correspondents."

WBAL did not carry the expanded network nightly news program because it "tended to be repetitive," said Emerson Coleman, director of the station's broadcast operations.

"But if something was breaking, we'd opt to take it," he said.

In Washington, NBC's owned and operated station, WRC-TV (Channel 4), aired the expanded newscast from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. while ABC affiliate WJLA-TV (Channel 7) aired its network newscast from 6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. But WUSA-TV (Channel 9) aired only the first half hour of the CBS news, at 7 p.m.

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