- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 7, 2003

WUSA-TV (Channel 9) was the first station to report that a gas main had ruptured and set a downtown Washington street afire yesterday, while rival WJLA-TV (Channel 7) broke the news that Sen. Judd Gregg’s wife had been kidnapped.

WUSA, the region’s CBS affiliate, interrupted “The Price Is Right” at 11:01 a.m. with live coverage of the fire. WJLA, the local ABC station, and Fox affiliate WTTG-TV (Channel 5) each broke into their regularly-scheduled programs within 90 seconds.

NBC affiliate WRC-TV (Channel 4) didn’t join the story until 11:20 a.m., when it interrupted “The Ellen DeGeneres Show.”

It was reminiscent of Oct. 3, 2002, when WRC switched from reporting on the first sniper shootings to air “The John Walsh Show.”

What happened, WRC?

A spokeswoman said the newsroom was aware of the fire, but it took a while to confirm it. She also pointed out that the station’s general manager and news director are out of town.

While anchoring WJLA’s fire coverage, Andrea McCarren introduced a report at 12:18 p.m. that Kathleen Gregg, wife of the New Hampshire Republican senator, had been abducted, robbed and released unharmed near McLean. Other outlets picked the story up later.

WUSA ended its fire coverage at 12:47 p.m. WRC signed off three minutes later, followed by WJLA at 1 p.m.

WTTG stuck with the fire until about 12:35 p.m., although it switched back to its courtroom series “Texas Justice” for 15 minutes at 11:45 a.m. — in time for viewers to see Judge Larry Joe Doherty issue his final verdict of the day.

‘USA’ update

“USA Tonight,” WUSA’s new 7 p.m. local newscast, finished fourth in the ratings during its first month.

An average of 85,000 households tuned into the half-hour program from its Sept. 8 debut through Oct. 6, according to Nielsen Media Research.

During the same period, WRC’s “NBC Nightly News with Tom Brokaw” averaged 164,000 households, followed by WJLA’s “Wheel of Fortune” with 142,000 households and WTTG’s “Friends” with 116,000 households.

During the similar period in 2002, WUSA averaged 74,000 households weeknights at 7, when it aired “The Weakest Link” and “Who Wants to be a Millionaire.”

“We’re focusing on developing the content right now. We can worry about the marketing and promotion later,” said Darrell Green, WUSA’s president and general manager.

The show may not be an instant hit, but it has treated viewers to some inventive reporting.

Anchor Derek McGinty also gets high marks for his efficient-but-insightful interviews.

Sniper scoop

WTTG stole some of The Washington Post’s thunder Oct. 1 when it led its 10 p.m. newscast with Paul Wagner’s interview of Karl Largie, a District man who said investigators dismissed him after he reported seeing the sniper suspects flee a shooting in a Chevy Caprice.

The Post carried Mr. Largie’s account in the first installment of its sniper series Oct. 5.

Channel Surfing runs every Wednesday. Call Chris Baker at 202/636-3139 or send e-mail to cbaker@washingtontimes.com.

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