Ricki Lake's ratings are hot in sweeps WJZ news does well

June 03, 1994|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Sun Television Critic

For the most part, 'JZ is still the one -- just like the ad says. But Fox affiliate WBFF is the hot station in town, thanks in part to the crush Baltimore viewers have on talk-show host Ricki Lake.

That's the situation on the local news front, based on preliminary Nielsen figures for the May sweeps ratings period.

The news programming at WJZ (Channel 13) won at 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. weekdays, ratings that General Manager Marcellus Alexander called "very good results" that were celebrated at the station "with a champagne toast."

But WJZ's highly publicized 5 p.m. newscast with Sally Thorner lost about 28,000 homes from February (the last sweeps audience survey) to May. And the numbers in February had been nothing to write home about; WJZ's then-month-old show finished second to WMAR's newscast, anchored by Stan Stovall and Mary Beth Marsden.

The decline in audience at 5 o'clock can be attributed to "seasonal viewing patterns," Alexander said, noting that fewer people watch TV at 5 p.m. during May than at that time in February -- mainly because the weather is nicer and they're outside.

While the level of homes using television does drop somewhat in May, the audience for "The Ricki Lake Show" on WBFF (Channel 45) actually grew by about 20,000 homes from February to May -- nice weather or not.

"We're absolutely tickled pink by what we've seen so far with the huge growth for Ricki Lake. We think we could have the No. 1 show at 5," said Steve Marks, the general manager at WBFF.

Actually, neither WJZ nor WBFF was No. 1 at 5. That honor still belongs to the newscast on WMAR. But both WJZ and WBFF -- who tied for second in the time slot, each with audiences of about 75,000 homes -- have younger demographics than WMAR. Stations can charge advertisers more for audiences of younger viewers.

Both Marks and Alexander said their station had the best demographics at 5, but that won't be determined until the final Nielsen report for May is released next week.

WBFF and WJZ were also winners in late news, which is the most lucrative local news period of the day. Stations charge their highest local ad rates during this newscast because it has the largest potential audience.

After several tough battles at 11 with WBAL, WJZ regained undisputed leadership in late news during May. ABC gave its affiliates a strong lead-in from prime time during the month, thanks largely to the four-night ratings blockbuster "The Stand." But WJZ wasn't riding ABC's coattails. It held on to its network lead-in for the month; WBAL and WMAR didn't. In fact, during previous ratings periods, WJZ's late news has outperformed its network lead-in.

WBFF, meanwhile, added about 28,000 more homes to its audience for "News at Ten" than it had a year ago, accomplishing that feat against the other networks' prime-time sweeps programming.

The station with the least to celebrate based on the May sweeps results is WMAR, despite its first-place finish at 5.

The station's early morning news is getting beat not only by other newscasts, but cartoons, too, on some days.

It is last in news at noon and 11 o'clock. Even at 5 p.m., while its news program was No. 1, it was down about 45,000 homes from February.

WMAR General Manager Joe Lewin said he would decline comment until he receives the Nielsen book with its demographic data.

There wasn't a lot to cheer about at WBAL, either, in May.

While he was "disappointed" in the ratings performance of the station's late news, WBAL News Director David Roberts said he was pleased with winning weekdays at noon and the continued growth of WBAL's weekend newscasts.

L General Manager Phil Stolz could not be reached for comment.

There is speculation among local broadcasters that WBAL is going to get back into news at 5 p.m. in September, in anticipation of the arrival of "Oprah" in the fall of 1995. Roberts declined comment.

One of the most striking trends is the loss of 21 share points since May of 1992 for WJZ's "Morning Edition" with Don Scott and Marty Bass.

WJZ's Alexander attributed the loss to more competition and the change from diaries to meters for measuring audiences.

One last item worth noting from the May ratings involves Rush Limbaugh, who won his time period for WBAL at 2:30 a.m. Limbaugh beat NBC's Greg Kinnear by about 9,000 area homes and managed to nose out an infomercial on WJZ by one-tenth of a ratings point.

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