Mfume tapes final edition of WBAL's `Bottom Line'

Television: Civil rights leader's public affairs show aired for nine years.

January 31, 2002|By David Folkenflik | David Folkenflik,SUN TELEVISION WRITER

Kweisi Mfume returned to Television Hill last night to tape one last edition of The Bottom Line, the WBAL-TV public affairs show that he has headlined for nine years.

Executives with WBAL's corporate owner, Hearst-Argyle, were joined by talk-show host Iyanla Vanzant and others last night to toast Mfume. Over the years, his topics have ranged from presidential politics to televised wrestling, and attracted political figures, actors, comics and activists.

The show's cancellation resulted from its seeming promise. Last year, according to station officials and an Mfume aide, the former Baltimore congressman taped a pilot episode of a public affairs program that could have been nationally syndicated by an arm of Hearst-Argyle. The station suspended production of The Bottom Line in anticipation of the new show.

But Mfume's role as president and CEO of the NAACP complicated the show's prospects. Last summer, Hearst-Argyle entered a partnership with NBC Enterprises that now also includes the Gannett Corp. Later, the NAACP publicly threatened to boycott the major networks, including NBC, over their perceived lack of diversity in prime-time programming. No deal ever emerged.

Some critics within the industry charged that Mfume sought to extract a lucrative syndication deal from one of the NAACP's targets. Mfume has rejected that claim.

Bill Fine, general manager of WBAL, says that Mfume will continue to be the host of periodic specials for the channel but that his station hopes to develop a new, local public affairs show.

Last night's show was the first new episode taped since last summer. The final Bottom Line is scheduled to air at 7 p.m. on Feb. 9.

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