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'Rosie O'Donnell' Leads a Charge for KNBC News

Television: The large audience provided by the talk show as a lead-in to its afternoon news block helps Channel 4 take a rare ratings win over Channel 7.


Brash and boisterous, Rosie O'Donnell has made a splash in daytime television ever since her daily talk show premiered last June. In that short time, she's also created waves in a long-running TV competition with which she has nothing--and perhaps everything--to do: the local news wars.

Thanks to the large audience provided by O'Donnell's 3 p.m. show as a lead-in to its afternoon news block, KNBC-TV Channel 4 beat KABC-TV Channel 7 in news both at 4 p.m. and 5 p.m. during October for the first time in five years, according to Nielsen data.

In the past, KABC has benefited from the huge lead-in provided by "The Oprah Winfrey Show" and has cruised to victory in news in the afternoon and evening.

"Oprah" was still No. 1 during October, but its ratings were down 7% from the same period a year ago. "Rosie O'Donnell," meanwhile, increased KNBC's audience at 3 p.m. by nearly 60% over what it earned with "The Sally Jessy Raphael Show" the previous year.

That whopping gain helped account for a 28% jump for Channel 4's news at 4 p.m. and a 21% loss for Channel 7's corresponding newscast, as well as for a 6% increase for Channel 4 and a 16% fall for Channel 7 at 5 p.m.

KABC rebounded to win the 6 p.m. battle.

" 'Rosie' was a very big factor," said Bill Lord, KNBC's news director. "It gave our news programs [viewer] sampling that we hadn't had in the past. And now that we get the sampling, the audience is seeing a good product and staying with it."

Lord added that originating local newscasts from the site of the Olympics in Atlanta last summer also helped expose KNBC's news product to many more viewers. And NBC's ongoing ratings dominance in prime time, he said, provides a great promotional advantage for local news on NBC stations.

Arnold J. Kleiner, KABC's general manager, downplayed the October results, saying the audience fluctuates greatly as a result of the baseball playoffs and World Series schedule and the shakeout from the networks' new fall schedules. He said the more important November ratings sweeps, which began Thursday, will be more reflective of normal viewing patterns.

" 'Rosie' is more competition and that makes my job a little more difficult and a lot more fun," Kleiner said. "Ever had a job where everything just went right? I have and it's pretty boring."

Kleiner refused to predict how the November race will unfold or to reveal any tactics, promotional or otherwise, his station plans to use to fight back.

KNBC's Lord was bolder, forecasting a repeat of October.

"We're very confident," he said. "All our people producing these newscasts are very confident. We feel like we've got the momentum and we think we can hold on to these gains."

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