For years the 10 p.m. newscast on KTLA-TV Channel 5 has been a model of dignity and decorum steering clear of the sex, celebrity and space alien stories that pepper the evening news during the rating sweeps period.
But not anymore.
Stung by the loss of its dominant position to KTTV-TV Channel 11, Channel 5 has launched a series of titillating segments for the current sweeps including cybersex, pornography, alien life forms and cloning.
"Hey, it's hype," said Hal Fishman, KTLA's longtime anchor and managing editor. "I'm not big on hype, but it seems that's what everyone does. And if it's what people want, we'll do it."
Every year at this time, Nielsen Media Research conducts its most important survey, the much-heralded May sweeps. TV networks and local stations will roll out their sexiest, goriest and most expensive programming in the next four weeks in an effort to attract viewers and thus get the big ratings numbers that are so critical in determining how much stations can charge advertisers for time.
On the local news front, the always ferocious fight among L.A.'s seven VHS TV stations becomes a bloodbath in May. And one of the most competitive battlegrounds is the 10 o'clock news, where Fishman and KTLA are literally fighting a war against old age.
KTLA long has dominated the 10 p.m. news contest, but it was dethroned in last year's May sweeps by KTTV and, while beating its rival in most non-sweeps months, lost again during the November and February sweeps.
Meanwhile, KTTV's younger anchors, faster-paced newscast and Fox network lead-in are attracting a much younger audience than KTLA (and thus more desirable for advertisers).
Fishman, who has sat behind the anchor desk at KTLA for 30 years, isn't taking it sitting down.
The 10 p.m. newscast is counting on a stronger-than-usual lead-in from a package of movies that will run in prime time on KTLA, including "Star Wars" on May 6. The station also will roll out a series of in-depth reports on such hot-button topics as cybersex, the paranormal, and the gang wars between East Coast and West Coast rap artists.
Still, KTLA remains a different kind of newscast. While its competitors place a premium on live reports, KTLA is more likely to run segments taped earlier in the day.
TV news consultants say that the live shots attract bigger audiences, but Fishman makes the obvious point: Live reports at 10 p.m. usually entail a reporter standing in front of a dark building or house whose occupants aren't there or refuse to comment.
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