- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 25, 2005

First, the Wizards make the playoffs. Now this.

A major newscast on WJLA-TV (Channel 7), the Washington area’s once-beleaguered ABC affiliate, is poised to win its time slot for the first time in six years.

The station had the top-rated news program weekdays at 5 p.m. during the first 27 days of the 28-day May sweep that concluded yesterday. Sweeps are quarterly periods when local TV stations try to raise ratings so they can charge advertisers more for airtime.

Next week, Nielsen Media Research Inc., which tracks the ratings, is scheduled to switch to a new system designed to monitor viewing habits year-round instead of during quarterly sweeps. Some station executives have complained the system needs work, adding that they may sell advertising based on the May numbers through the end of the year.

WJLA has largely been an also-ran in the local news wars, which the NBC station, WRC-TV (Channel 4), has dominated for the better part of a decade. In recent years, though, WJLA has hired several marquee names, including popular anchor Gordon Peterson, whom CBS affiliate WUSA-TV (Channel 9) dropped in December.

“We’re making progress. We’re not finished yet,” said Frederick J. Ryan Jr., vice chairman and president of WJLA’s parent company, Allbritton Communications Co.

WUSA — which has essentially replaced Mr. Peterson with Tracey Neale and Todd McDermott — faltered in May, despite becoming the first broadcaster in town to air all of its local newscasts in high definition.

The station’s ratings dropped in early mornings and it finished behind rival newscasts, syndicated courtroom shows and sitcom reruns during the late afternoons and early evenings.

“I know we have work to do at 5 p.m. and 6 p.m.,” said Darryll J. Green, WUSA’s president and general manager.

About 132,000 households tuned into WJLA’s 5 p.m. newscast, which Leon Harris and Kathleen Matthews anchor. The station likely benefited from a resurgent “Oprah Winfrey Show,” which precedes the 5 p.m. show on WJLA’s schedule.

WRC’s team of Susan Kidd and Wendy Rieger ranked second at 5 p.m. with about 126,000 households, followed by “Judge Mathis” on WBDC-TV (Channel 50) with 97,000 households, WTTG’s Brian Bolter and Shawn Yancy with 81,000 households and WUSA’s J.C. Hayward and Todd McDermott, who drew 43,000 households.

As usual, WRC’s Jim Vance and Doreen Gentzler were the top-rated team weeknights at 6, drawing about 155,000 households.

WJLA’s Gordon Peterson and Maureen Bunyan finished second with 137,000 households, followed by “The Simpsons” reruns on WTTG with 94,000 households, “The Parkers” reruns on WBDC with 78,000 households and WUSA’s newscast, anchored by Ms. Neale and Mr. McDermott, with 69,000 households.

During the 11 p.m. race, Mr. Vance and Ms. Gentzler drew about 177,000 households on WRC, Ms. Neale and Mr. McDermott drew 141,000 on WUSA and Mr. Harris and Miss Bunyan drew 110,000 on WJLA.

WTTG’s Mr. Bolter and Ms. Yancy drew about 161,000 households at 10 p.m.

Weekday mornings between 5 and 7, WRC’s Joe Krebs and Barbara Harrison led with about 97,000 households, followed by WTTG’s Gurvir Dhindsa and Steve Chenevey with 65,000 households, WJLA’s Doug McKelway and Alison Starling with 63,000 households and WUSA’s Andrea Roane and Mike Walter with 45,000 households.

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