WJZ saw major ratings boost

TV/Radio column

Ravens: Super Bowl, `Survivor II' helped the station dominate the night, but other stations had tricks up their sleeves, too.

January 31, 2001|By David Folkenflik | David Folkenflik,SUN TELEVISION WRITER

The Ravens-Giants Super Bowl matchup brought sky-high ratings to CBS-owned WJZ on Sunday. While the debut of the CBS show that followed the game, "Survivor II," performed wonderfully, WBAL sought to snare some of the night's glory.

First, the game. In the greater Baltimore area, an average of 494,000 households were watching the Super Bowl at any given time, representing about 71 percent of all televisions turned on.

No other region in the country delivered a higher share (the percentage of all homes with the TV on). And only in Tampa did CBS exceed those ratings.

"We very pleased with the ratings," said Jay Newman, WJZ's general manager. "We achieved what we wanted to achieve, embracing the Ravens from a news standpoint, as well as a commercial and marketing standpoint."

CBS had banked on the lead-in from the game to deliver major audiences for the debut of "Survivor II." And it did. The show scored a 25.2 rating here - meaning about 252,000 households watched the Australia-based "reality" program - and held the attention of more than 38 percent of the folks watching TV. That's about the same as the national average, and it represents strong appeal.

WBAL sneakily started its own post-game show shortly after the game, but before the start of its 11 p.m. newscast, and while WJZ was still locked into "Survivor II." The NBC affiliate's ratings shot up and was able to sustain strong viewing levels even after WJZ's delayed newscast came on the air.

One way or another, all the local stations shared in the team's euphoria - with mixed results. Keith Mills, a home-grown sports anchor on WMAR, provided an eloquent voice about what the team's victory meant to families across the region. He spoke gently from the stadium in Tampa about speaking to his son by phone, conveying the boy's excitement with a short reminiscence.

Other moments were less winsome.

WBFF's weekend sports anchor Steve Davis corralled Ravens defensive end Rob Burnett on the field for a live interview on the field in Tampa. Davis leaned in, positioning his microphone before the player, asking him to express what the victory meant to him, given that he was one of the few left from the team's days as the Cleveland Browns.

And then, as Burnett started to answer, Davis swiveled his head sideways, scanning for other players to snag, hardly looking at Burnett at all. The rapport proved to be merely transactional for the newsman, and whatever connection the two might have enjoyed evaporated.

The hulking player with the easy smile slinked away shortly after. Davis may well have been performing several jobs at once - booker and interviewer - but I shared Burnett's apparent dejection.

Meanwhile, WBAL's Gerry Sandusky, who provided several informative new reports from Tampa during the previous week, commented on the restraint shown by revelers here after the team's win.

"These guys would never do anything to embarrass the city of Baltimore," Sandusky said, referring to the Ravens, "and they believe the city of Baltimore would never do anything to embarrass them."

Really, Gerry? Do you remember what story involving Ray Lewis dominated the days after last year's Super Bowl?

On Monday, as the Ravens arrived at their Owings Mills practice camp, WJZ morning anchor Marty Bass was clearly choked up after touching the team's NFL championship trophy. Anchor Sally Thorner egged him on, telling him that this was no time to be detached from the story he was covering.

As most WJZ anchors appear now to sleep in their Ravens jerseys, that doesn't appear to be much of a worry.

Also on the objectivity front: On Monday, the Sun ran this front-page headline over a John Eisenberg column: "We were just too tough, too good." In the column, Eisenberg, a veteran sportswriter, never once said "we" in describing the team. But there it was in the headline.

Asked about the choice of words, Stephen R. Proctor, a deputy managing editor who oversees sports coverage, characterized it as was a mistake that occurred under extreme deadline pressure. "The Sun is committed to being as objective in covering sports as it is in covering anything else," Proctor said. "Using the word `we' to refer to the hometown team crosses over the line."

On Tuesday, three stations gave major coverage of the parade and rally for the team, which allowed those who were unable to attend to experience some of the glow. The City Hall rally was even televised around the country on ESPN News, which picked up the feed from WMAR.

But nothing captured the sheer over-exuberance leading up to the Super Bowl better than the deadpan sports reporting on Comedy Central's spoof news magazine "The Daily Show" last Thursday.

"Daily Show" correspondent Steve Carell hit the streets of New York and Baltimore and declared that he had found smashmouth competition between the fans of the two teams.

"Fugghetabouttit," hollered one New York fan. "We're going to kick some butt!" volunteered another.

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