TV news in L.A. is getting to be a clich & #233;.

There's the preoccupation with crime, freeway car chases and anything involving celebrities.

There's the extended segment devoted to the weather each night, even if, as one local weatherman acknowledges, L.A. weather is often just "night and morning low clouds" for weeks at a time.

And then there's the live remote shot of a reporter, standing in front of a darkened courthouse, talking about a trial that ended hours earlier.

Sensational, superficial, pandering to the lowest common denominator why, the critics ask, is TV news the way it is?

The answer is simple: It pays the bills. It is, in fact, a finely tuned, highly calculated, money-making machine.

"It is all driven by money, the whole thing," said Pete Noyes, a local TV news veteran who now teaches at Loyola Marymount University. "They believe they are on track by making meaningless live shots and helicopter chases.

"Why do they do it? It's big bucks," added Noyes, who was formerly managing editor at both KNBC-TV Channel 4 and KCBS-TV Channel 2. "They don't cover the MTA, they don't cover Sacramento. They can't afford a good political reporter because of the millions they pay their anchors."

The obsession with viewership is, of course, all about higher ratings, which leads to higher ad revenues, which translates to greater profits for the station. And the stakes are particularly high in Los Angeles, where an estimated $1.1 billion to $1.3 billion in advertising revenue is fought over daily by the local stations most of which are network owned and operated (O & Os;).

Although the revenue streams are closely kept secrets, news departments can generate 30 percent to 50 percent of the revenues at the major O & Os;, said John Culliton, general manager of KCBS.

"These stations in a major market are the cash cows for the companies," Culliton said.

Indeed, profits from local stations owned by a broadcasting company are often higher than from the network itself. CBS is expected to lose at least $100 million this year. KCBS will be in the black.

Broadcasting companies rely on local station revenues and profits because the cost of producing news is a pittance compared with the cost of developing a prime-time drama or comedy. Plus, no one is about to cancel the local news.

In fact, broadcasting companies long have toyed with the idea of selling their networks and concentrating on the station lineup. In recent years, the networks have been buying local stations and turning them into owned-and-operated stations because they are so profitable.


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