Entertainment: TV & Radio










TV goes all-local on the storm, but with limited visibility of wider world

Posted: Feb. 6, 2008
Inside TV & Radio

Tim Cuprisin


No, local TV didn't go over the top in this week's snow coverage.

They frequently do. But with snowfall totals in the 1-foot range by the time Wednesday's windy afternoon drive home rolled around, this one was a real snowstorm - even by Wisconsin standards.

Everybody dropped their network morning shows Wednesday. Only all-local Channel 6 didn't have to change its schedule.

They repeated themselves as the snow fell. And some of it was goofy, like Channel 4's Scott Steele holding a pinwheel and tossing a beach ball to demonstrate that it was windy.

It's important to understand the mission behind local network affiliates. Channels 4, 6, 12 and 58 are businesses that really sell only one product: local news. Actually, it's the viewers of local news, primarily those in the 25-to-54 age group, who are sold to advertisers.


The theory is that wall-to-wall coverage will raise ratings for regular newscasts.

Channel 4, until recently the top-rated news operation, stuck with it much of the day. It's an obvious strategy, as the station tries to keep Channel 12 from cementing its lead.

Of course, wall-to-wall coverage of one story has serious flaws.

In the case of weather stories, there's the silliness of the stand-up report in the weather. On Channel 6, Renee Banot, reporting from the side of a highway in Racine County, offered this rationale for the practice:

"We're out in the elements, so you don't have to be," she said during Wednesday morning's coverage.

But why was Melanie Stout standing outside Channel 4's studio's to narrate a report on a fatal auto accident connected to the weather? The visuals came from video of the accident scene.

After more than 13 years of listening to viewer complaints, these outside stand-ups seem to rankle viewers more than anything else.

There's another drawback to dumping everything for one local story. It's more of a philosophical point.

If you watched Milwaukee TV Wednesday morning, you had little idea that tornadoes killed four dozen people in the South. And you might have forgotten that two dozen presidential primary caucuses had occurred the day before.

Yes, the majority of viewers have cable or satellite and can pick up their national and international news there. But when the business model is local, local, local, what suffers is the idea that Milwaukee is part of a wider world.

A NEW DIGITAL CHANNEL: Channel 58 is taking advantage of what the digital TV technology has to offer by adding a "sub-channel" that will be available both over the air and on digital cable. "Me-TV" is the moniker for a channel of old TV shows and sitcoms that will launch in early March.

Over-the-air digital TV viewers will find it on Channel 58.3. It also will be added to digital service on Time Warner and Charter cable.

While digital broadcasting allows high-definition pictures, it also gives TV stations the ability to add sub-channels of programming.

Me-TV's lineup will include programs such as "I Love Lucy," "The Honeymooners," "The Dick Van Dyke Show" and "Lost in Space."

Reach Tim Cuprisin at (414) 224-2397 or tcuprisin@journalsentinel.com. Read his blog at blogs.jsonline.com/cuprisin.

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From the Feb. 7, 2008 editions of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
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