When the Lakers lost Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Magic Johnson to retirement, they quickly plummeted from champions to also-rans. When KABC-TV Channel 7 lost superstar anchors Paul Moyer and Ann Martin to its archrivals, the station's news department stayed right where it was before the defections: on top.
At least for now, according to statistics released Thursday by the A.C. Nielsen Co. for the May ratings "sweeps," one of four periods each year that help stations set advertising rates.
But with all the personnel changes going on, both in front of and behind the cameras, the local TV news market is in more flux than it has been in years, and KABC's longtime No. 1 standing appears shaky.
Even the 10 p.m. crown, normally claimed by KTLA-TV Channel 5, became an actual race this month for the first time in nearly 20 years. KTTV-TV Channel 11 ran a strong second, benefiting from a new anchor lineup, the lead-ins provided by a strong prime-time showing here by Fox and by a sometimes un-newsy sweeps approach that featured gimmicks such as a phone poll asking viewers whether they wanted the departing Shannen Doherty to stay on "Beverly Hills, 90210" (they did). KTLA, which with anchor Hal Fishman has virtually owned 10 p.m. news since the 1970s, still managed to win by about 25,000 households, but that was about half the advantage it held a year ago and only about 25% of the lead it scored last February. KTLA, which now carries both Dodgers and Angels games, said its news ratings were hurt by eight baseball games this month that delayed the start of the newscast.
KTTV's 10 p.m. news numbers grew about 16% over a year ago, with former KNBC-TV Channel 4 anchor John Beard headlining the show with co-anchor Christine Devine. KCAL-TV Channel 9 was a distant third, about 125,000 homes behind the leader, and KCOP-TV Channel 13, which scaled back its newscast to half an hour midway through the sweeps month, registered barely a blip on the Nielsen radar screen, drawing only 3% of the people watching television at that hour.
For the network-owned stations, the revolving free-agent anchors did little to change the balance of power, and although several of the races were close, KABC found itself in about the same place this month as a year ago, when Martin was still its star, and doing even better at the advertising-rich 11 p.m. hour.
KNBC, as usual, headed the early-morning news hour. But KABC triumphed in the weekday battles at 4, 5 and 6 p.m. and tied with KNBC at 11 p.m. KCBS, which put Martin on the air midway through the month, came in a lackluster third across the board, as it has been for more than a decade.
At 4 p.m., KABC used the huge "Oprah Winfrey" lead-in advantage to crush KNBC. At 5 p.m., however, KNBC, with Paul Moyer and Colleen Williams, closed the gap significantly--to a deficit of about 10,000 homes, about the same as a year ago, when KABC had Martin teamed with Harold Greene. (This month, Susan Campos replaced Martin on Channel 7's 5 p.m. and 11 p.m. newscasts.)
The standings were the same at 6 p.m., with KABC leading by about the same 10,000 homes over KNBC and another 120,000 over KCBS.
At 11 p.m., KABC's Greene and Campos tied with KNBC's Moyer and Kelly Lange. A year ago, KABC, with Martin, had trailed the KNBC team by about 125,000 homes. So even without Martin (or Moyer, who had left in 1992), KABC's ratings grew 16% over last May, whereas KNBC dropped about 5%.
KABC benefited at 11 p.m. with a strong prime-time showing by ABC, which won the four-network race nationally--its first May sweeps victory since 1986. ABC averaged a 21% share of the prime-time audience for the month, with CBS grabbing 19%, NBC 18% and Fox about 13%. In the Los Angeles market, ABC's prime-time lead-in to the 11 p.m. news gave Channel 7 a big advantage, which KNBC overcame in pulling into a tie for the entire newscast.
KCBS, though still in third by nearly 150,000 homes, also saw its 11 p.m. rating jump a whopping 37% over a year ago, perhaps because of Martin's half-month of work there (although the audience for her 5 p.m. newscast was down from a year ago).
In local news, suddenly everything seems up for grabs. Martin's move to KCBS, although not immediately detrimental to Channel 7, is likely to have further ramifications, many newsroom insiders believe. And they note that many of the stations are currently operating without key executives. Channel 4 has a news director but no general manager. Channel 7 has a general manager but no news director. Channel 11 has several former news directors at other stations on its staff but no general manager. Channel 5 has an experienced general manager but no news director. When these positions are filled, further changes may be in store, perhaps affecting the ratings and the kind of news that local viewers will see.