- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 2, 2004

Talk about October surprises: WJLA-TV (Channel 7) heads into the November ratings sweep that begins tomorrow with the Big Mo — and we’re not referring to anchor Maureen Bunyan.

Each of the ABC affiliate’s weekday newscasts scored double-digit increases between October 2003 and October 2004, according to Nielsen Media Research Inc.

WJLA — traditionally an also-ran in the ratings — still isn’t winning any of the races, but it was the only station in town to see viewership climb for every weekday newscast.

During the competition for late-news viewers, for example, an average 98,000 households tuned into WJLA’s 11 p.m. anchor team of Leon Harris and Miss Bunyan — a 16 percent rise from October 2003.

Jim Vance and Doreen Gentzler, the main anchor team at NBC station WRC-TV (Channel 4), still rule the local ratings, drawing about 170,000 households at 11 p.m., although their numbers were flat year to year.

Next up: CBS affiliate WUSA-TV (Channel 9), which drew about 132,000 households at 11 p.m. with new anchors Tracey Neale and Todd McDermott — a 3 percent drop from October 2003, when Gordon Peterson and Gurvir Dhindsa anchored the program.

The 10 p.m. news on Fox station WTTG-TV (Channel 5) — anchored by Brian Bolter and Shawn Yancy — drew about 103,000 households, down about 10 percent from October 2003, when Mr. Bolter and Ms. Neale were the anchors.

WJLA also scored big at 6 a.m., when the ratings soared 40 percent under Doug McKelway and Alison Starling, and at 5 p.m., when Mr. Harris and Miss Starling came close to beating WRC’s top-rated team of Susan Kidd and Wendy Rieger.

Theories abound for WJLA’s momentum, from the improved performance of ABC’s prime-time lineup to the good karma the station picked up when it lured Mr. Peterson away from WUSA last week.

The 28-day November ratings sweep is one of four annual periods when TV stations try to boost viewership so they can charge advertisers more for airtime.

Howard’s new gig

Hillary Howard is back. Sort of.

WUSA axed the popular morning weathercaster last month, generating a barrage of complaints to this column from viewers.

Now she has landed a free-lance job as a weekend reporter at WJLA and its sister cable network, NewsChannel 8. Her first report, on the flu vaccine shortage, aired Oct. 30.

“It’s like going back to my roots. I have always loved storytelling,” said Ms. Howard, who won five Emmys for reporting and writing when she worked at WTTG from 1989 to 1999.

Good ‘Fortune’

WJLA has locked up the rights to air the syndicated “Oprah Winfrey Show,” “Wheel of Fortune” and “Jeopardy” through 2011.

Boos of the week

Mr. Peterson’s name briefly appeared under the face of his successor, Mr. McDermott, during one of WUSA’s 11 p.m. newscasts last week.

WJLA had plenty to crow about when it signed Mr. Peterson, but the press release announcing his arrival misspelled the surname of one of his new colleagues: Mr. Mc-Kelway, the morning anchor.

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

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