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The Ratings Warriors : The News According To The New Kid

January 06, 1991|DANIEL CERONE DANIEL CERONE..BD: Times Staff Writer

"I think there's some very talented people in the Los Angeles market. Beyond that, the news philosophies in general are somewhat disappointing. The three major stations have the ability to cover hard news and to cover news in depth. But I see an abdication of responsibilities, particularly with the other two network affiliates."

KCBS anchor Michael Tuck has probably never been accused of mincing words.

The former San Diego anchor, was hired several months ago for the same reason Christine Lund was brought back to KABC-TV--to make a run for the ratings. For almost two years, KNBC has been the dominant news station in Los Angeles, with news generals Keith Morrison and Kelly Lange leading the battle.

"Channel 7 started off its (November ratings) sweeps with newsroom bloopers and wound up its sweeps with the best of newsroom bloopers," Tuck, 44, said. "I saw a Channel 4 series on aphrodisiacs." I saw a lot of series that had nothing to do with good solid enterprise journalism."

Tuck seemed genuinely concerned over similar tactics by his new employers, but at the same time insists that KCBS engages in fewer sweeps stunts than its competitors.

"I see in Los Angeles more than in any other big city prurient-interest type news where you're really not trying to inform people as you are trying to titillate them," Tuck said.

As a new face in Los Angeles, Tuck, an opinionated ratings champ in San Diego for 10 years, faces a tougher assignment than Lund. Her newscasts benefit from their popular lead-in, "The Oprah Winfrey Show," and a rejuvenated ABC network.

Tuck, meanwhile, is affiliated with CBS, the No. 3 network. And KCBS' early evening news block doesn't get much audience carry-over from its lead-in, "Geraldo." The square-jawed anchor remains undaunted.

The A.C. Nielsen Co. reported a loss of 55,000 viewers from last November for the 6 p.m. newscast, now belonging to Tuck.

"Today there's no such thing as a lone wolf doing it all anymore," Tuck said. "It used to be you'd see one dominant anchor and a bunch of Lilliputians around him. And that dominant anchor would just carry a station on his back. It doesn't work that way anymore. There are too many good people on the air."

Nevertheless, Tuck has a strong record of success, helping to raise two San Diego stations to No. 1 during his tenure at each. Tuck distinguished himself in San Diego and stirred up controversy with his biting, free-spirited commentaries, "Perspective." Now, he's doing them nightly on KCBS.

"I have to be honest with you," Tuck said, "I didn't know what kind of support I'd get when I came here. I had great trepidations about doing commentary because I thought the first time somebody complained, they were not going to like it, and they were going to jerk my chain. That hasn't happened."

After Rabbi Meir Kahane was murdered in New York, Tuck did a commentary comparing Kahane to avowed racist Tom Metzger. KCBS received more than 300 telephone calls in response, a mix of pro and con.

"In San Diego I would have had maybe 30 phone calls for that commentary. Here the roof caves in. It's a lot bigger canvas," Tuck said.

Tuck remains optimistic about KCBS' future in news, and feels that ratings will come with straight, no-frills journalism. "The feeling on the part of news executives in this city in the past has been, 'We can't sell news if we don't sugarcoat it with all that sleazy titillation.' And I don't think you have to do that.

"I don't know if it's because Hollywood is the fantasy, make-believe capital of the world, but many executives here get pulled into the Hollywood scene," he said. "They tend to think of Hollywood as who we're programming to. And we're not. If you take the average television viewer here, I don't think he or she is any different from the average television viewer in San Diego, in Kansas City, in Houston, or anywhere else."

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