Cut in 6 p.m. news is 'evolution,' not surrender, WBAL says

August 20, 1992|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Television Critic

Channel 11 -- WBAL -- which last year canceled its nightly 5 o'clock newscast, is going to cut back even further in early

news.

The station announced yesterday it will chop its daily 6 p.m. newscast from an hour to 30 minutes, effective Sept. 14. This will leave Channel 11 with only 30 minutes of local news at dinner time on weeknights, compared to an hour for WJZ (Channel 13) and 90 minutes for WMAR (Channel 2).

Station management characterized the move as part of an "evolution" to presenting news when viewers want it instead of at the usual times of day, which it feels have been made less important due to changing lifestyles.

"The fact that we are doing a half hour should in no way indicate that we are waving a white flag," said David Roberts, who was named news director only last week in another of a number of changes at the station in the past year.

But that's not how some in the local TV industry see it.

"The move does not totally surprise me, in that I expect some shakeout caused by fiscal realities in our business," said Marcellus Alexander, general manager of WJZ, Baltimore's highest-rated news station. "It is, however, inconsistent with their marketing statement of [being] 'Baltimore's 24-Hour News Source.' It begs the question whether there is a real commitment to local news or if that's just the perception they want to project."

Just as Channel 11's decision last September to drop its 5 p.m. newscast left WMAR with the field all to itself, yesterday's announcement will mean that Channel 13 will be the only station offering local news between 6:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. starting next month.

Channel 2's audience for its 5 p.m. news grew by 45,000 TV households this year, with Channel 11 out of the game. Channel 13's Alexander declined to speculate on what the open field at 6:30 might mean for his station. But he seemed delighted when informed of Channel 11's move.

Arnold J. Kleiner, general manager of WMAR, could not be

reached for comment.

With "The CBS Evening News" moving from 7 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. as part of the new lineup, both Channels 11 and 2 will have local news at 6 followed by network news at 6:30.

"The new lineup will give us a chance to go head-to-head with Channel 2," Roberts said yesterday. Channel 2 is in second place overall in local news ratings, while Channel 11 is third. The competition among the affiliates of the three traditional networks, as well as WBFF (Channel 45) seems to be heating up after years of relative calm.

Channel 11 announced other changes as part of its new fall lineup yesterday. "Maury Povich" will move to weekday mornings at 10. "Hard Copy" and "Inside Edition" will air at 4 p.m. and 4:30 p.m., respectively. Reruns of "Designing Women" will join the schedule at 5 p.m., followed by reruns of "Golden Girls" at 5:30 p.m. "Current Affair" will follow the news at 7 p.m. And Bill Cosby's new "You Bet Your Life Show" will air at 7:30 p.m.

Roberts also announced Channel 11 will expand its 11 p.m. newscast from 30 to 35 minutes and the station will launch a once-a-month, prime-time newsmagazine featuring investigative reports starting this fall.

Rod Daniels will continue to anchor both the 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. newscasts, Roberts said. He added that the station is about to conclude its "nationwide" talent search for a co-anchor and will name a partner for Daniels in the near future. Pat Minarcin left the station last month, following the expiration of his contract, which the station did not renew. Carolyn McEnrue has since been co-anchoring the 6 p.m. newscast with Daniels.

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