- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 3, 2004

Ratings for the late afternoon and early evening newscasts on WUSA-TV (Channel 9) plunged during the July sweep, according to Nielsen Media Research Inc.

The CBS affiliate — which fired newsroom chief David Roberts Monday — is ranked fifth weekdays at 5 p.m., behind competing newscasts on WRC-TV (Channel 4), WJLA-TV (Channel 7) and WTTG-TV (Channel 5) and “Judge Mathis” on WBDC-TV (Channel 50). In July 2003, WUSA ranked third at 5 p.m.

Weekdays at 6 p.m., WUSA ranks fourth behind newscasts on WRC and WJLA and WTTG’s “The Simpsons” reruns. Last July it ranked second at 6 p.m.

Viewership is down for most stations this summer, but WUSA has taken it on the chin. Its one bright spot: the late news race, when it finishes second to WRC.

The 28-day July sweep ends tonight. It is one of four annual periods when stations try to increase viewership so they can charge advertisers more for airtime.

The July book generally is considered the least important because many viewers are on summer vacation.

As usual, WRC is ranked first in most time periods, although WJLA has emerged as a stronger contender for second place.

As WUSA turns

This column can answer at least one of the big questions being asked around WUSA’s Broadcast House studios: When will Tracey Neale make her Channel 9 debut?

The WTTG refugee is likely to hit the airwaves in early September as WUSA’s 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. anchor, knowledgeable sources say. The station still hopes to land a new male anchor to sit next to her on at least one of those programs, the sources said.

WUSA taped promotional spots for Ms. Neale’s debut last week. Absent from the spots: the current 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. male anchor, Gordon Peterson.

No word on another WUSA mystery: the successor to David Roberts, vice president and news director of WUSA. Mr. Roberts resigned Monday.

Executive producer Randal Stanley, who is running the newsroom, is one contender. He did not return calls.

Another candidate — Lane Michaelsen, news chief at a WUSA’s sister station in Tampa, Fla. — declined comment.

Some sources believe corporate parent Gannett Co. could have trouble filling the job because of its reputation for meddling at WUSA.

The McLean media giant also has slashed the station’s resources and refused to restore its weekday 4 p.m. newscast.

McLaughlin update

Issue One: Where will viewers find “The McLaughlin Group” come fall?

Pipe down, panelists, and I’ll tell you.

Beginning September 11, WRC will bump the political shouting match out of its longtime Saturday 7:30 p.m. time slot to make room for Washington Redskins coach Joe Gibbs, whose weekly show will air during football season.

But viewers who enjoy spending Saturday night with Mr. McLaughlin need not fret: His spokeswoman says NewsChannel 8 will carry the show at 7:30 p.m. until football season ends.

WRC will air the program Saturdays at 1:30 p.m. and Sundays at noon. It will restore the show to Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. in January.

Call Chris Baker at 202/636-3139 or send e-mail to cbaker@washingtontimes.com

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