Thursday, March 23, 2000

Channel 9 also stands for non-news

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        WCPO-TV may not be the local news leader now, but Channel 9 continues to lead other stations in non-news programming.

        Channel 9 has taped a pilot for a half-hour public affairs roundtable show tentatively called Hot Seat, and it has extended its commitment to Jay Shatz's Around the House, which was slated for cancellation in December.

        Hot Seat, produced by the Civic Solutions team of Aaron Herzig and Fred Nelson, features a panel of journalists and political activists talking about headline issues.

        “We want to have a point-counterpoint type show, with liberals and conservatives, males and females, blacks and whites,” says Bill Fee, Channel 9 general manager.

        Guest panelists for the pilot included Peter Bronson, Enquirer associate editor, and Kitty Morgan, Cincinnati Magazine editor.

        The show would debut in September, if Channel 9 gives the green light.

        “I'm committed to putting on a public affairs show this fall,” he says.

        Mr. Nelson, who worked in the Reagan and Bush administrations, is a former chief of staff for U.S. Rep. Steve Chabot. Mr. Herzig, former Hamilton County Democratic Party executive director, managed the campaign for direct election of the Cincinnati mayor last year. Their Civic Solutions company is a “public policy development consulting firm working with businesses and nonprofit (organizations),” Mr. Nelson says.

        Another priority at Channel 9 is developing a local African-American public affairs program to fill the void from the retirement last September of Hasker Nelson. Mr. Nelson was host of Black Memo for 25 years. The station now airs two syndicated shows on Sunday, Minority Business Report (6 a.m.) and American Black Forum (6:30 a.m.).

        “I'm still actively considering a replacement for Black Memo. I want a show locally produced to talk about what's happening in the community. But developing a program takes time,” Mr. Fee says.

        HOUSE CALL: Around the House fans finally can relax. The dandy home decorating and design show has been renewed through September 2001.

        Mr. Fee pulled the plug on it in December, saying he needed Mr. Shatz as a full-time reporter in the newsroom. He later gave the show a reprieve through September by paying a free-lancer to do the production work that consumed Mr. Shatz's time.

        Mr. Shatz, whose Channel 9 contract expired in December, is negotiating a new deal in which he would form a production company to produce the show for the station. So Channel 9 would pay him for the show, in addition “to working in the news department 100 percent of the time,” Mr. Fee says.

        NEW GAME: To Tell The Truth, a CBS prime-time game show from 1956 to 1966, returns to the air this fall as a syndicated daytime show.

        WKRC-TV (Channel 12) has bought the revival hosted by John O'Hurley, who played J. Peterman on Seinfeld.

        To Tell The Truth will air at 10:30 a.m. in September, following Louie Anderson's Family Feud. Channel 12 has aired two half-hour Feuds since January, when it pulled Dr. Joy Browne's low-rated talk show from the daytime lineup.

        DIGITAL DEAL: Time Warner Cable customers with cable-ready service (no cable box) will find Channel 9 programming on a different channel starting April 21.

        On those sets, Channel 9 will move to Channel 7, because of interference with the station's new high-definition digital signal broadcast over-the-air here on Channel 10. Time Warner customers who get Channel 9 on Channel 9 will see no change, he says.

        “When we began the 24-hour broadcast of our digital signal in November, we started to get these complaints,” Mr. Fee says.

        The interference is greatest within a 10-mile radius of WCPO-TV's Walnut Hills tower, he says. Time Warner estimates that up to 10 percent of its 300,000 Tristate subscribers may have cable-ready sets.

        “That could be as many as 30,000 sets, and that's a big problem. I do know that this reception problem has had an impact on our ratings, but to what extent I can't say,” Mr. Fee says.

        In February, Channel 9's late news dropped to second place behind Channel 12 for the first time in a year. Channel 9 also was second to Channel 12 in the 5-6:30 p.m. news.

        The station also has reached a deal with Time Warner to carry the new digital TV channel, WCPO-DT.

        Cincinnati stations were required by the federal government to begin digital broadcasting last Nov. 1, the first phase in the transition from analog to digital channels by 2006.

        ENQUIRERING MIND: Beth Fennell of Newport, today's guest Enquirering mind, wants to know: What happened to the Fox comedy Action?

        In late October, Fox Broadcasting canceled the series after many viewers refused to watch the comedy about a foul-mouth Hollywood movie producer (Jay Mohr) whose profanity was bleeped out by Fox.

        Eventually remaining episodes could be picked up by HBO, Showtime, Fox's FX or another cable channel.


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