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Network viewer falloff ripples to local stations

Mark Washburn
Mark Washburn writes television and radio commentary for The Charlotte Observer.

Local television felt the lingering effects of the Hollywood writers' strike this spring, with prime-time viewing down at all major networks.

ABC, riding high with “Dancing With the Stars,” was off only 1 percent locally, and CBS, relying on its stable of crime procedurals, fared relatively well with only a 6 percent dip.

But Fox, suffering a falloff in the popularity of “American Idol” was down 14 percent and fourth-place NBC was down 29 percent versus last year in the sweeps period that ended Wednesday.

“American Idol” remained the No. 1 show of the year, but over-exposure, a so-so field of contestants (both in talent and personality) and its natural maturity have brought it down from the stratospheric levels of viewership from previous years. Attempts to freshen the show with a new set, a mosh pit stocked with sorority girls and new rules allowing contestants to perform with instruments haven't reversed the downward trend.

In local news races, WBTV (Channel 3) regained the lead at 11 p.m., but WSOC (Channel 9) continued to dominate most key news periods.

Numbers were down at all early morning newscasts – heretofore a source of growth – though WBTV managed to edge past WSOC in the 5 to 6 a.m. hour. WSOC held position in the better-attended 6 to 7 a.m. time slot.

“Fox News Rising,” which added former weathercaster Mark Mathis as host midway through the ratings period, was up 13 percent from February's sweeps, but ran 11 percent behind last May's numbers.

Ratings were up for all midday newscasts. WCNC (Channel 36) saw the biggest gain, largely because of a programming change that pulled Martha Stewart out as the lead-in to the 11 a.m. newscast and replaced her with the third hour of NBC's “Today.”

“Fox News at 10” remained the No. 1 10 p.m. newscast despite a 14 percent drop. Both other 10 p.m. news shows grew – “Action News” on WAXN, produced by sister station WSOC, surged 23 percent while WBTV News at 10 p.m. on WJZY (Channel 46) grew 19 percent, putting them in a virtual tie for second.

This ratings period contained one notable oddity – for the first time in memory, the No. 1 news show in Charlotte was not a local program, but “ABC World News” at 6:30 p.m., which beat the WSOC 6 p.m. broadcast by a fraction of a rating point.

Network newscasts on WBTV and WCNC continued to show erosion. “CBS Evening News” with Katie Couric was down 17 percent from last year.

CBS has been struggling to find a formula to improve numbers at its “Early Show,” but success remains elusive. In Charlotte, it managed about half the rating of ABC's “Good Morning America,” which generally plays better here than in any other major city in the nation.

NBC's “Today” is showing some growth on WCNC, but continues to run third locally.

Late-night viewing was not good to comedians this ratings period. CBS's “Late Show with David Letterman” was off 19 percent while NBC's “Tonight Show with Jay Leno” was down 22 percent locally.

Both trailed ABC's “Nightline,” which was up 17 percent and won the time period.

CBS's “Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson” was stable year to year while NBC's “Late Night with Conan O'Brien” dropped 33 percent locally.

Media Movers

Jim Cramer, host of CNBC's “Mad Money,” was at Lowe's Motor Speedway this week filming a NASCAR show about money-making opportunities, to air on NBC 7 p.m. July 13 … Ron Miller, former WBTV news director and general manager of News 14 Carolina when it launched, is retiring after 43 years in the business. His last post was news director at the CBS affiliate in Charleston, W.Va. …

High-fives all around at Charlotte-based Speed Channel. Its coverage of the NASCAR Sprint All-Star race got the highest rating in the network's history, 2.7 million households. “We are jacked up,” says network president Hunter Nickell

Providence High School grad and former “American Idol” contestant Sarah Mather has three original songs on the “Idol” compilation record “Curtain Call,” available at Wal-Mart and on iTunes ... Karla Causey of Statesville, a student at Mitchell Community College, was the voice singing the jingle on the Harris Teeter commercial that debuted during the “American Idol” finale ...

Adam Rhew, who filled in with the WBT AM (1110) news team during college breaks, has graduated from UNC Chapel Hill and will become a reporter next week at the NBC affiliate in Charlottesville, Va.

Mark Washburn: 704-358-5007; mwashburn@charlotteobserver.com
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