WJZ's new 'News at Five' wins high initial ratings

January 05, 1994|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Television Critic

The premiere of WJZ's "Eyewitness News at Five" was a big hit with Baltimore viewers Monday.

The newscast, featuring Sally Thorner, scored a 16.5 rating to win the hour in head-to-head competition with WMAR's news program, according to overnight ratings compiled by A.C. Nielsen.

WMAR, which has dominated the hour for the past two years, finished second with a 13.8 rating. Phil Donahue's talk show on WBAL came in third with a 10.9 rating.

With each ratings point equal to about 9,400 area homes, WJZ's audience was about 155,000 homes vs. about 130,000 homes for WMAR and 102,000 for WBAL.

Most dramatic, perhaps, is the fact that Monday's audience for WJZ's newscast was more than twice as large as the number that tuned in last week at 5 p.m. for reruns of "Empty Nest" and "Roseanne."

"We acknowledge all the disclaimers -- that there was a lot of sampling, it was only one night, and the weather," WJZ General Manager Marcellus Alexander said yesterday. "But we are obviously very pleased with our start, as it exceeded our expectations. We know this is going to be a long-distance race and not a 100-yard --."

WMAR General Manager Joe Lewin said, "I wouldn't judge their newscast by just last night. Obviously, there were a lot of opening-night jitters. And it should get better.

"So I wouldn't judge their ratings by just last night either. There was a lot of sampling. In a few weeks, we'll know more when those viewers come home."

Local analysts cautioned about making too much of the initial ratings for the highly contested news hour.

"We probably won't know how it's going to go for the rest of the year until February, or possibly the last week of January," said Dave Robinson, senior vice president and media buyer for W.B. Doner in Baltimore.

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