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News War on the Screens of L.A. : Christine Lund Leads KABC-TV's Comeback as It Battles for Viewers

January 06, 1991|DANIEL CERONE | Times Staff Writer

After being away from the news business for four years, anchor Christine Lund recently returned to KABC-TV, a homecoming that helped the station reclaim bragging rights as Los Angeles' top-rated afternoon news station during the important November ratings sweeps.

During her voluntary exile, the tall, proud Swede engaged her hours quietly raising two young daughters, shearing sheep and spinning yarn on her San Fernando Valley farm. She spent summers in a cabin, chopping wood and fishing salmon on a desolate Alaskan island.

Lund's triumphant return from the wilderness and KABC's dramatic, if temporary, resurgence in the news ratings has put an uncomfortable spotlight on Lund.

With the help of the fair-haired anchor, whose fans continued to call the station years after she left, KABC picked up a considerable 90,000 households over last year in the November ratings sweeps for its 4 p.m. newscast, according to A.C. Nielsen Co. figures. (Since November, however, ratings have flattened out and it appears that KNBC has nudged its way back to No. 1.)

In a recent column, Times TV critic Howard Rosenberg credited Lund for helping bring KABC news back to prominence while at the same time calling her presence nothing more than a "glossy hood ornament."

"Well, this is the job," Lund said shaking her head on the day the column appeared. "You get inordinate praise and inordinate condemnation. And if you're going to keep your sanity at all, you really have to add them up, divide by two, and there it is."

"There's a terrific temptation for some people to sandbag the product. I think it's partly disappointment with the fact that TV news is a headline medium. It's always going to be a headline medium. We're not Newsweek. We're not Harper's. We never will be. We're just the front line of information. You can't berate (TV news) for something it was never intended to be."

Lund spent 13 years anchoring news at KABC beginning in 1973. During much of that time, the station's newscasts drew the largest audiences in the L.A. area. When Lund failed in her attempts to renegotiate her contract to spend more time with her children in 1986, she walked away from TV news.

In the Alaskan outback, Lund had no television and didn't miss it. The air was clean and free of smog and TV transmissions.

"Television produces an alpha wave state in the brain," Lund said, explaining the tranquilizing effect of the tube.

"This is not the best state to be in for picking up information, or thinking. This is great for dozing off. For learning, you need to be in a beta state. So in a way, it's more of a reach to watch television news for people, in a physical sense, than it is to watch cartoons. It's much more natural and expected to watch utter escapism on TV."

Perhaps because of this, Lund has no objections to presenting news in an appealing package, even though most critics frown on the glitz in L.A. news.

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