- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 1, 2003

Executives at WUSA-TV (Channel 9) are finalizing plans for the CBS affiliate’s new 7 p.m. newscast, which will target commuters who arrive home too late to catch the afternoon and early-evening news.

Last week, News Director David Roberts named Jake Whitman producer of the half-hour program, which is expected to debut Sept. 8.

Mr. Whitman previously produced WUSA’s 11 p.m. newscast, which has closed the gap with top-rated NBC affiliate WRC-TV (Channel 4) in recent weeks.

Replacing Mr. Whitman at 11 p.m. will be Holly Sheppard, a producer from the NBC affiliate in Atlanta. Gannett Co., based in McLean, owns WUSA and the Atlanta station.



Derek McGinty, who stepped down last week as host of ABC’s quirky “World News Now” overnight newscast, will anchor WUSA’s 7 p.m. program.

The chatter in the station’s Broadcast House newsroom is that the 7 p.m. newscast will feature a serious “Nightline”-style format, with a few headlines at the top of the show, followed by live interviews with newsmakers.

Under one scenario, the program would feature only a brief weather report and no sports.

This high-minded structure would seem tailor-made for Mr. McGinty, one of the smartest interviewers in the business. From 1991 to 1997, the native Washingtonian hosted a weekday talk show on public-radio station WAMU-FM (88.5) that became the equivalent of “must-see TV” for local politicos.

Mr. McGinty also briefly anchored for the local ABC affiliate, WJLA-TV (Channel 7).

Some of WUSA’s rank and file would prefer a faster-paced format for the 7 p.m. newscast, arguing that the target audience will want to see a recap of the day’s top stories, not a talking-heads show.

Mr. Roberts declined to discuss the program’s format, saying it won’t be finalized until after Mr. McGinty arrives at Broadcast House July 14.

WUSA is one of only a handful of stations to experiment with local news between 7 p.m. and 8 p.m.

In 1991, WRC produced a half-hour 7:30 p.m. newscast for WB affiliate WBDC-TV (Channel 50), then an independent station. Wendy Rieger anchored the program, which attracted dismal ratings and was canceled after 10 months.

Far more successful has been a 7 p.m. newscast on the ABC affiliate in Detroit. The program debuted after September 11 and was initially devoted to the war on terror, but it has evolved into a mix of reports, live interviews and round-table debates.

The program now draws the most viewers at 7 p.m. between ages 25 and 54, the key demographic for local television news.

Behind the scenes

• On Friday, Arlington County police arrested James Hillen, a sports producer at WJLA, in connection with the recent disappearances of editing equipment from the Rosslyn-based

station. Police estimate the value of the equipment is about $100,000. Police said they nabbed Mr. Hillen, 25, when they found him fencing the equipment at online auction house EBay.

• Dorsey Edwards, who produces Jennifer Ryan’s medical reports at WUSA, is joining Fox affiliate WTTG-TV (Channel 5) as a health-news producer. Ms. Edwards once worked as a secretary at WUSA, as did Melanie Alnwick, who is now a WTTG reporter.

• Nannette Onley Hobson, WRC’s beloved assistant news director, leaves July 11 to become vice president for news at the NBC station in Raleigh, N.C. Her WRC job could be combined with the station’s vacant managing-editor job, news chief Robert L. Long said.

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

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