Oprah's switch could make news over at WBAL-TV

April 07, 1994|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Sun Television Critic

Oprah Winfrey is changing channels in Baltimore.

WBAL-TV yesterday announced it had acquired rights to "Oprah" for five years starting in September 1995. The top-rated talk show airs at 4 p.m. weekdays on WMAR-TV. While the change will have little effect on the lives of local viewers, it could mean major changes in the early news scene in Baltimore.

The huge audience for "Oprah" from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. has generally resulted in the station that has it winning the early news competition in many cities. That's the case in Baltimore with WMAR. Does getting "Oprah" mean that WBAL, which currently has no newscast at 5 p.m., will be adding one?

"News at five is now certainly one of our options," said Phil Stolz, vice president and general manager of WBAL. "But that's a year and a half away. Right now, we're just thrilled to have made the deal with King World [the syndicator of the show] to get the rights to 'Oprah.' It's the kind of show that can be a cornerstone for a TV station."

Stolz and King World declined to discuss specifics of the deal.

"This was a business decision, pure and simple," said WMAR General Manager Joe Lewin. He added that Channel 2 will not renew its contract with King World for "Wheel of Fortune" or "Jeopardy" when it expires in 1996. Lewin said Channel 2 will replace them with locally produced news programs.

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