Major anchor changes, format shifts and fiercely fought newscast battles marked the just-completed February sweeps, with KNBC-TV continuing its dominance of the important 11 p.m. slot, and KABC-TV staying on top of the afternoon news race, according to local Nielsen figures released Thursday.
Hotly contested races included the traditional 10 p.m. face-off between KTLA-TV and KTTV-TV. The two stations battled to the last day of sweeps, with KTTV finishing about two-tenths of a ratings point ahead of KTLA (owned by Tribune Co., owner of the Los Angeles Times).
KTTV had beaten KTLA handily at 10 p.m. during the last ratings sweeps in November, after KTLA had led the race in the previous May and February survey periods. KCAL-TV came in third place during the just-finished sweeps, followed by KCOP-TV.
"KTLA News at 10" anchor Hal Fishman blasted his rivals at KTTV, arguing that the ratings comparison is unfair. Fishman said that the Fox-owned station cuts short its hourlong news to include special reports during sweeps.
"What kind of contest is that?" said Fishman. "It's like two teams are playing a football game, and one of the teams quits at halftime. It's absolutely ridiculous."
Responding to Fishman's charges, KTTV News Director Jose Rios said, "Hal looks at what we do and says it isn't fair. We say, this is an opportunity for us to do local stories of significant impact. That's what a local station should be doing. It's a little myopic to look at this solely as a contest between two local stations. We're trying to compete over here with 'Dateline NBC' and prime time."
Rios added that government agencies and community organizations have awarded KTTV commendations on its specials, and that last Friday's long segment on teenage drinking and driving sparked a stream of e-mails from teens wanting to obtain a tape of the special.
In other sweeps news, Harold Greene provided some good news for KCBS, which he joined in January after leaving KABC four months ago. The ratings for KCBS' 5 p.m. newscast, which Greene co-anchors with his ex-KABC partner Ann Martin, grew by 26% during February. However, the 11 p.m. KCBS newscast continued to struggle, despite Greene's pairing with Gretchen Carr. That newscast was down 11% from its rating last year and finished behind KNBC and KABC.
Meanwhile, KTTV's "Good Day L.A." morning newscast, which scored its first-ever sweeps victory over "The KTLA Morning News" in November, fell behind again in the morning news competition. The 7 a.m. newscast came in behind NBC's "The Today Show" and "The KTLA Morning News," which almost tied NBC in another close race. KTTV was also behind ABC's "Good Morning America" but ahead of CBS' "The Early Show."
But the victory was not total for the self-congratulatory "KTLA Morning News," which often makes fun of other stations. Ratings for that newscast fell 10% from last year, while the ratings for Fox's morning newscast remained the same as last year.
In addition to keeping the 11 p.m. news crown and gaining ground on top-rated KABC in the afternoon, KNBC was the clear winner in the early morning news race, with "Today in L.A." winning at 5 a.m., 5:30 a.m. and 6 a.m. The dominance of that newscast will be closely scrutinized in the next few months due to the departure of the veteran news-anchor team of Kent Shocknek and Kathy Vara.
KNBC General Manager Paula Madison announced last month, while detailing a restructuring of the news department, that she would not be renewing the contracts of Shocknek and Vara despite the newscast's ratings. Vara's last day at the station will be today, and she will join KABC on Monday as an anchor and reporter. Shocknek has already left the newscast, and his future plans are up in the air.
The February sweeps were not as kind to KCOP Channel 13. KCOP traditionally has not been much of a factor in terms of its news operation, but the station staged a huge comeback during the November sweeps when its ratings surged 30% from the previous year.
This time around, KCOP plummeted 30% in ratings from the last sweeps period, putting it considerably behind its rivals at KTTV, KTLA and KCAL.
On the local Spanish-language TV front, a brainy, unkempt heroine heated up prime-time ratings for the L.A. affiliate of Telemundo, KVEA-TV, a station that has struggled to compete with the larger audiences of nearly every other station in the city. KVEA's prime-time rating increased by 178% last month.
Researchers attribute the dramatic increase to the network's progressive telenovela lineup--particularly the 8 p.m. melodrama "Betty La Fea" ("I Am Betty, the Ugly") that follows an unattractive economist, through love and hostile takeovers. "Betty" drew a 4.0 rating on KVEA, compared to a 1.4 rating during the same time slot in February 2000.
"We started airing really good novelas from around the world about a year ago, and we're building a reputation for having different telenovelas," said KVEA research director Ken Hansley. "They're not Cinderella stories, where the maid falls in love with the employer and then becomes the rich woman. We have telenovelas about the ugly duckling--like 'Betty La Fea,' or about diamond heists or about turn-of-the-century sagas."
But even with KVEA's growth, its main competition--KMEX-TV--maintained its strong position. KMEX, the L.A. affiliate of Univision, garnered a 5.3 rating for its prime-time lineup. That was up from the 5.1 rating during the same time slot in February 2000.