WJZ is still No. 1, but here comes `Judge' and WNUV

Ratings: Channel 13 retains its dominant hold on local news viewers in May `sweeps,' but Channel 54 has more than doubled its audience with `Judge Judy' as a lead-in.

May 28, 1999|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,SUN TELEVISION CRITIC

WJZ (Channel 13) continued its dominance in local news during the May "sweeps" ratings period that ended yesterday. But the hottest single newscast in town has to be the 6: 30 p.m. report on WNUV (Channel 54) that more than doubled its audience in the last year, thanks in part to its lead-in of the red-hot "Judge Judy" courtroom show.

Meanwhile, one of the programs showing the biggest loss of audience from last year is "Jerry Springer," which dropped 30 percent in viewership. "Oprah," too, slipped in the ratings losing 20 percent of its audience. And both developments spelled bad news for WBAL (Channel 11), the station that uses them as the lead-in to its early evening newscasts.

As for the slumping WMAR (Channel 2), its success with $1,000-a-night giveaways suggests that maybe you can buy viewers in Baltimore after all.

"Everyone at WJZ has worked hard to make our news product and promotion compelling," Jay Newman, vice president and general manager of WJZ, said in a victory statement yesterday. "It's great to see our news leadership endorsed by Maryland viewers. "

WJZ won every major newscast time period starting at 5 a.m. and continuing through to the most lucrative newscast at 11 p.m. It had some help with its late news from an improving CBS prime-time lineup, but its overall victory is overwhelmingly the result of its own effort and popularity with viewers.

WBAL (Channel 11), WJZ's chief competitor in recent years, managed to tie WJZ in weekday and weeknight averages for 5 a.m., 5 p.m. and 11 p.m., but, while WJZ held its audience from last year, WBAL wound up showing a 20 percent drop at 5 and 6 weeknights.

"We still see local news as a two-horse race between us and WJZ," said Bill Fine, the vice president and general manager of WBAL.

Fine explained his station's audience loss in early news by saying, "You have to go back and look at what happened with `Jerry Springer' and `Oprah' in terms of lead-in."

The other station with the most cause for celebration was WNUV with its 6: 30 p.m. newscast, which went from a 2 rating to a 5 rating in the last year. With each ratings point equal to 9,992 area households, that means Channel 54 added about 30,000 new households to its news audience. This is especially impressive since the conventional wisdom says the television landscape is too fragmented for start-up newscasts to find that large an audience that fast.

"We're delighted. We couldn't be happier. That newscast is a rocket," said Barry Schiffer, the research director for WBFF (Channel 45) and WNUV (Channel 54).

Schiffer acknowledged that the phenomenal success of "Judge Judy," the courtroom show featuring retired New York City Judge Judy Sheindlin, has played a large role in the ratings gain made by the newscast. The station uses it as bookends for its news with one "Judge Judy" at 6 p.m. and another at 7 each night.

" `Judge Judy' has definitely played a role. We had been using `The Simpsons' before and after the news, and the newscast didn't really take off until we replaced `The Simpsons' with `Judge Judy.' So, sure, `Judge Judy' is definitely part of the success," Schiffer said.

The local success of courtroom shows such as "Judge Judy" and the decline of daytime talk shows, ranging from the raw "Jerry Springer" to the more refined "Oprah," reflects shifts in national viewing patterns this spring.

As for the dubious achievement award, ratings-impaired WMAR added 2 ratings points to its 11 p.m. newscast compared to last year. But the station used cash giveaways during the audience measurement survey to entice viewers.

With its ratings woes continuing in early news where "Judge Judy" beat the station's 6 p.m. broadcast, the question is whether viewers will stay with WMAR's late news when the cash stops.

Steve Gigliotti, vice president and general manager of WMAR, was unavailable for comment.

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