- The Washington Times - Monday, February 4, 2002

WUSA-TV (Channel 9), flush with improved ratings for its weekday newscasts, has given the shows a new look.
The CBS affiliate introduced brighter graphics and opening credits for its newscasts last week. It also began referring to the shows as "9 News" after calling them "Eyewitness News" for 30 years.
"We're going for a simplified look and feel. When you talk to viewers, most people refer to our news as 'Channel 9 news' anyway," says Ardy Diercks, the station's president and general manager.
Ratings for WUSA are up dramatically in the mornings, an increasingly competitive time period for local TV stations.
Last month, the station had Washington's top-ranked newscast weekdays at 5 a.m. It drew an average 47,000 viewers, 38 percent more than it did in January 2001, according to Nielsen Media Research.
Between 6 and 7 a.m. weekdays, WUSA drew an average 72,000 viewers, 66 percent more than it did one year earlier. The station was second only to WRC-TV (Channel 4) in that time slot.
The ratings rise represents a big victory for WUSA, which has invested heavily in morning news.
In October 2000, the station reunited popular anchors Mike Buchanan and Andrea Roane for its morning news shows, which air from 5 to 7 a.m. and 9 to 10 a.m. Mr. Buchanan and Ms. Roane co-anchored the station's old 4 p.m. newscast from 1989 to 1995, when Ms. Roane was moved to the evening news lineup.
WUSA has also introduced a "breakfast bar" that appears at the bottom of screen during the morning news. The bar offers weather and traffic information, and has proven popular with viewers.
"We are trying to listen to what viewers want in a morning newscast, which is a lot different from other dayparts. Traffic and weather are very important at that time of the day," Mrs. Diercks says.
WUSA may have also benefitted from Carol Costello's departure from rival station WJLA-TV (Channel 7). Ms. Costello, who anchored WJLA's morning newscast, left late last year to join CNN Headline News. WJLA has not named a permanent replacement.
WUSA's new look includes a bolder "9" logo and graphics with more red and yellow, replacing the predominantly blue graphics the station used.
"Eyewitness News" remains part of the newscasts' official titles, and the "Eyewitness News" logo is still visible on the station's news set.
"It's part of the station's history. We're not doing away with it," Mrs. Diercks says.
During the 1970s and 1980s, the "Eyewitness News" brand was synonymous with the station's top news stars, including anchors Gordon Peterson, Max Robinson and Maureen Bunyan, weatherman Gordon Barnes and sportscaster Glenn Brenner.
Despite the growth in its morning ratings, WUSA doesn't plan to fill a hole in its daytime schedule with another news hour.
"Iyanla," a talk show that airs weekdays at 10 a.m. on WUSA, has been canceled by its distributor. WUSA will replace it with reruns of "The Lucy Show" and "Cheers," hoping to reach viewers who are clamoring for so-called comfort television since the September 11 terrorist attacks.

Going for the silver
The February sweeps are only 4 days old, but local TV stations have virtually ceded the 28-day ratings derby to WRC, home of the Winter Olympics.
Sweeps are the annual period each fall, winter and spring when stations try to boost viewership so they can charge advertisers more money for airtime.
February sweeps began Jan. 31 and conclude Feb. 27. NBC's Olympics coverage will air Feb. 8 through Feb. 24.
Since WRC, the local NBC affiliate, is guaranteed to take home the gold this sweeps, the other stations in town are battling each other for a silver-place finish.
WTTG-TV (Channel 5) was expected to get a big boost from yesterday's Super Bowl game. The Fox affiliate's 10 p.m. newscast, meanwhile, is planning reports on dangerous dental fillings and identity theft.
WJLA, in the meantime, sent medical reporter Kathy Fowler to the Philippines for a two-part report on the black market for human organs. It aired during the first two nights of sweeps.
The ABC affiliate hopes to attract viewers who usually tune into WRC's top-ranked late newscast. NBC's prime-time Olympics coverage will last until 11:30 p.m., which will push the start of WRC's late news back a half hour.
"We see this as an opportunity to get viewers to sample our product at 11 p.m.," says Chris Pike, WJLA's president and general manager.
Since the Olympics will tilt the sweeps so strongly in WRC's favor, local media buyers say their clients will largely discount the results of the ratings race.
"It's going to be like having Super Bowl Sunday every night for two weeks. All the NBC stations are going to get a kiss during that time period. We recognize that," says Howard Bomstein, founder and president of the Bomstein Agency, a Washington advertising firm.
WRC's competitors won't get much help from their networks, which are waving a white flag in February.
CBS plans to lay low with a "Diagnosis Murder" reunion movie and reruns of "The Fugitive" and "Primal Fear" feature films. ABC, in the meantime, will trot out moldy oldies like "Goldfinger," "Raiders of the Lost Ark" and a Winnie the Pooh Valentine's Day special.

This just in
Christian-music radio station WAVA-AM (105.1 FM) is putting more news on its airwaves. The station recently started subscribing to Associated Press Network News, which provides stations with live news, sports, business and lifestyle reports.
The first two installments of the Discovery Channel's eight-hour "Blue Planet: Seas of Life" miniseries attracted 9 million viewers Jan. 27, making them the 11th- and 17th-highest rated programs in the Bethesda cable network's history. "Blue Planet" will conclude in May.

Channel Surfing is published every other Monday. Got a tip? Call Chris Baker at 202/636-3139 or send an e-mail to [email protected]

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