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TV Industry Stories (3)
KTRK-TV is "so strong;' says Ken Hoffman, TV columnistfor the Houston Post, "they could run my home movies, unedited, and still earn 25 shares." Hoffman is exaggerating the strength of this Capital Cities/ABC 0&0, but not by much. In reality, for example, KTRK's 18-year-old Million Dollar Movie soundly beat two shows in King World's power trio in Arbitron's May '88 book:The Oprah Winfrey Show, by a full rating point, and Jeopardy, by two points. Both air on CBS affiliate KHOU-TV.
Other examples of the station's dominance: From 9 a.m. to midnight, the May Arbitron book gave KTRK a 9 rating/23 share versus a 6/16 for KHOU and a 6/14 for NBC-affiliate KPRC-TV. KTRK's local news hour at 6 p.m. earned a 13/25 in May, equaling the other affiliates' numbers combined (KHOU, 7/14; KPRC, 5/10). At 10 p.m. the station pulls a 19/33 versus KPRC's 9/16 and KHOU's 9/15. Even ABC's less than spectacular prime-time schedule is consistently number one in the city-thanks, says former news' director Jim Topping, to KTRK. "The station has such a strong identity;' he observes, "that when people are making up their minds for evening viewing, they gravitate to KTRK."
Loyalty and affection are the , magic words for the station. "They have an infallible touch for being part of the community;' says the Post's Hoffman. Paul Bures, KTRK's president and general manager, concurs: "We try to identify and address issues of concern to Houston/"
More practically, remarks Topping, now general manager of CapCities/ABC 0&0 KGO-TV San Francisco, HUT levels indicate that local viewers are voracious newshounds, especially where their community is concerned. "They have a strong sense of identity and regional pride;' he notes.
KTRK feeds that appetite by placing a strong emphasis on local news and public-affairs programming. It is the only station in the market that runs a full hour of news at 6 p.m. (following a 5-5:30 newscast and World News Tonight at 5:30). According to Topping, "that move gave us an advantage. We could cover more stories in depth and give more time to breaking local stories [than our competitors]." In 1983, the 85-person news departments lightly larger than KHOU's and on par with KPRC's began a series of "task force" reports in which six reporters would spend 30 minutes on a story from six different angles."
The most recent' task-force feature, in May, was a look at the drug epidemic' in Houston, analyzed from the point of view of a neighborhood resident. That report was also tied into a half-hour documentary, two talk shows focusing on black and Hispanic neighborhoods, a special segment on Good Morning, Houston, a 7-a.m. news feature and an editorial.
"The response was tremendous;' recalls Bures, "with many people requesting we repeat the half-hour special:' KTRK did, in prime time, and it beat CBS and NBC shows in the time period, as well as an Astros baseball game on an independent station.
A kindred approach is also employed with Cood Morning, Houston, the Monday-Friday 9-a.m. show that regularly beats its network competitors by asmuch as five points. (May Arbitron figures gave it a 7/28 over 2s at the other affiliates.) "That is a very important show for us;' observes Bures of the 16-year-old talkfest. "We did a careful appraisal of who's watching and designed a thoughtful, informational program that helps people understand how to live better."
"When you watch [Good Morning, Houston];' says the Post's Hoffman, "you feel like you're taking a rocket back to the 1950s. It's dominated by this male host, a big lug of a guy, and the female cohost who does morning exercises" But Hoffman also thinks the station is incredibly canny. "Jim Topping was always right on top of everything;' he says. "If another station let a reporter go, he would pick him up. I remember a radio reporter who had a very aggressive style. His station fired him. Topping hired him and molded him into a friendly and successful TV personality for the station. Topping saw opportunities and took them:' (At press Jime, Topping had not been replaced at KTRK.)
In early fringe, Hoffman says the station has eschewed syndicated fare or talk shows (it has only The New Sea Hunt and Donahue) for Million Dollar Movie, one of the last of the afternoon film showcases. In May, the movie earned an Arbitron 8/22 against a 7/18 for Oprah (KHOU) and a 7/18 for Ceraldo (KPRC) in its first hour, increasing its lead as the afternoon wore on. "We are discriminating in our library;' explains Bures. "We try very hard to put films on that will play well in this marketplace-like westerns-rather than looking at what New York critics like."
The Houston market has been hurting lately with the dismal state of the oil business. But the situation is improving, says Bures, who became president and general manager in 1986. "It is substantially better than it was a year ago. The future is not all blue skies, but it's promising."
As for KTRK: "We see no changes. The biggest challenge in being number one for so long is in how we evolve .... We must always satisfy three masters: our community, our shareholders and our station."
VIEW, AUGUST 15, 1988