Kelly Clarkson’s new talker signs NBC O&O deal

New daytime show to air on NBC 5 locally; replaces Steve on NBC O&Os

In a deal before the fall season begins, NBCUniversal Television Distribution has struck a deal with the NBC-owned stations to carry Kelly Clarkson’s new daytime talk show scheduled to debut exactly a year from now.

The Grammy Award and first American Idol winner shot a talk show pilot last month in Los Angeles, and quickly generated buzz in the industry. It’s one of a few names that’s popped up regarding fall 2019 talk shows, including Tamron Hall and RuPaul.

Clarkson’s show has cleared sister NBC-owned stations in eleven markets as a lead-in to Ellen DeGeneres’ show including NBC 5 (WMAQ) here in Chicago, replacing NBCU’s Steve in the role. Locally, Steve has aired at 2 p.m. since 2012 when it was known as Steve Harvey.

Other stations acquiring Kelly include WNBC in New York; KNBC in Los Angeles; WCAU in Philadelphia; KXAS in Dallas-Fort Worth; KNTV in the Bay Area/San Francisco; WRC in Washington, D.C. WTVJ in Miami; KNSD in San Diego and WVIT in Hartford. All of these stations currently air Steve at 2 p.m. Also acquiring the show is NBC’s WBTS in Boston, who does not air Steve.

Clarkson is continuing in her position as judge and mentor on NBC’s The Voice.

The move was a result of a restructuring by NBCUniversal of their first-run syndication division two years ago by hiring Paul Tegady, who previously was the head of alternative series at NBC where he was instrumental in hiring Clarkson as a judge for The Voice. Tegady is now making his mark at NBCUniversal Television Distribution with Clarkson’s recruitment and the cancellation of Jerry Springer with its reruns to The CW.

Clarkson gave us a glimpse on what to expect on her show via this statement: “I love connecting with people, playing games, music and finding ways to help or give back to communities/organizations. Having my own talk show where I get to do all of these things is pretty much a dream job!”

Kelly Clarkson’s new talker leaves “Steve” without a home. His show could be canceled as a result.

“We are very excited to have Kelly Clarkson on our air next fall,” said NBCUniversal Owned Television Stations President Valari Staab. “She’s genuine, warm, fun and interacts with her fans in a meaningful way. Throughout her career people of all ages and backgrounds have related to her openness, honesty and curiosity. She will be the perfect companion to Ellen, providing an afternoon of great television.”

The talk show deal for the Fort Worth, Texas native is the latest triumph for a person who once worked for promotions at Red Bull. Since successfully auditioning and winning the first season of American Idol, Clarkson has had a tremendous music career, with eight studio albums selling more than 25 million units worldwide and winning three Grammy Awards, three Video Music Awards, and four American Music Awards. She listed the late Aretha Franklin as one of her influences.

Whether Clarkson would be a strong name to attract an audience to daytime remains to be seen as NBCUniversal has had little success with other celebrities in the recent past with Meredith Vieira and Harry Connick Jr. flaming out after two seasons each as stations became wary of paying for big-budget talk shows that didn’t deliver.

As for Steve, the future of his talk show – which has been questionable since his move to Los Angeles – is in question. According to Deadline, NBCUniversal is letting producer IMG shop the show around for another syndicator when its contract expires in 2019, but it’s unlikely the show would be back on NBC’s owned stations. Ratings for Steve have been respectable, but the series’ production costs has ballooned since the show’s move from Chicago’s NBC Tower to Universal Studios in the Universal City section of L.A. As you recall, Harvey’s departure left a bitter taste in a lot of people’s mouth, especially among his former Chicago co-workers as one of them released a controversial memo on how Harvey treated his staff. NBCU’s move to dump Steve could indeed be the ultimate sense of satisfaction for those in Chicago’s production community.

If IMG continues with the show – even if it has to syndicate the program itself (keep in mind Discovery is doing exactly that with True Crime Files), Steve would likely wind up with a weaker station lineup and likely weaker ratings.




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Emmys hit ratings pit

Emmys prove futile draw; so does MNF featuring Bears

The Emmys were handing out trophies last night, but it won’t get one for Best Ratings Performance.

According to Nielsen, last night’s Emmy Awards – airing on NBC this year on Monday because of Sunday Night Football – earned a 7.4 household rating in the metered markets, down from the 8.2 rating earned last year, marking yet another all-time low for the awards show. Fast nationals pegged the Emmys at a 2.4 rating in the adults 18-49 demo, drawing 10.2 million viewers.

As for the awards, The Amazing Mrs. Maisel had a good night winning numerous awards, including Outstanding Comedy Series with HBO’s Game Of Thrones won Best Outstanding Drama. It was another big night for streaming – but instead of Netflix grabbing all the hardware, it was Amazon who did.

For a complete list of winners, click here.

The awards show featured a lot of Saturday Night Live cast and alumnus, and was producer by its executive producer Lorne Michaels. But viewers on social media felt the skits lagged, meaning you can take the SNL comedy only so far.

Meanwhile, the Chicago Bears home opener against the Seattle Seahawks also lagged in the ratings in the metered markets with an 8.2 household number, down from the comparable week two MNF game from last year and marks a historic low. I was right in my assessment regarding the ratings which despite the Bears win, featured a lot of poorly-played football. And second-year quarterback Mitch Trubisky certainly won’t be winning awards for his play.

Not surprisingly, the Bears game on both ESPN and ABC 7 outdrew the Emmys by a large margin, 29.7 to 8.5 in the overnights. But the Bears ratings was down 16 percent from last week when they played the Packers on Sunday Night Football, drawing the biggest household rating in the Chicago market since the Cubs’ Game 7 victory in the 2016 World Series.

The Bears’ national rating performances eerily parallels what the Bulls went through in 2016-17, when several of their nationally televised games set record low NBA ratings on ABC numerous times. Outside of the Cubs, Chicago teams have not been strong national draws as of late.

Despite the disappointing rating performances of both events last night, the Emmys and Monday Night Football stood tall above most competing programming. But you have to question how much longer these type of “big-ticket events” can continue to sustain an audience on linear TV as more and more viewers are migrating to streaming platforms for their television needs.

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Fall syndication preview: CrimeTime all the time

A late entry into the marketplace, Sony trouts out reruns of “Live PD: Police Patrol”.

Only two new shows in syndication this fall

If you love the true crime genre, you are going to be happy with what’s going to air on local stations this fall.

In fact, their are just two new shows: CBS Television’s Face The Truth and Debmar-Mercury’s Caught In Providence, featuring an 80-year old judge. And the lone off-network sitcom for September is Disney/ABC’s black-ish.

Meanwhile, several new off-network hours are flooding the weekend marketplace.

The syndication business is being awash in the true crime genre (a subgenre of reality TV) with at least eight series on the air – all almost either off-network or off-cable entries. T Dog Media reported on the genre last fall after the surprise numbers NBC’s off-network Dateline achieved. And there are more true crime shows available on cable and diginets Escape and The Justice Network.

Debuting on September 10, a number of off-network Investigation Discovery programs went under the True Crime Files umbrella for syndication including Sins & Secrets, A Stranger In My Home, Fatal Encounters, Blood Relatives, I’d Kill For You and more. In an unusual move, Discovery sold these shows in syndication themselves instead of through a third-party company such as Trifecta or Sony. Ironically, Files helped derail another show in the red hot genre: the three-year old CrimeWatch Daily with Tribune and Sinclair  replacing it with Files instead.

In Chicago however, Tribune’s WGN turned down Files as it wanted out of the true crime business entirely with the cancellation of Crimewatch Daily. Instead, Discovery sold the show to Weigel’s WCIU, which has slotted it at midnight and at 3 p.m. on sister station The U Too (WMEU).  In fact, Files joins a true-crime lineup on U Too, including Corrupt Crimes, Cops, and a late entry, Sony Pictures Telvision’s Live PD: Police Patrol, basically highlights from the popular A&E series Live PD, similar to Cops and Real Stories Of The Highway Patrol in vain. In addition to its 6 p.m. airing, PD is also airing weeknights at 11:30 p.m. on WCIU beginning September 17, and of course continues on A&E.

Non True-Crime shows

Believe it or not, there are shows new this fall not related to ahem.. “crime”: Vivica’s A. Fox’s Face The Truth landed an 8 a.m. weekday slot on WCIU and also at 1 p.m. slot on The U Too. In an unusual structure, Truth is an hour-long show, but split into two separate half-hours. Meanwhile, Providence lands at 2 and 2:30 pm. on CW affiliate WPWR, leading into two hours of Jerry Springer reruns (the series officially ended production in June.) Providence is a unique take on the court show as its YouTube page attests and could be entertaining to watch.

In off-network, WGN did pick up black-ish for fall in another Tribune deal, with the ABC hit comedy airing at 7 and 7:30 p.m. But in Los Angeles, it went to CBS-owned KCAL instead of KTLA, airing in the same time slots. Meanwhile, NBCUniversal’s new Chicago P.D. strip landed a 10 p.m. slot on WPWR, sandwiched in-between My Network TV programming. And as noted here earlier, daytime talk show Pickler &Ben landed a 10 a.m .slot on U Too, and also a clearance on what’s left of the Live Well Network.

Among veteran shows, Disney/ABC’s Who Wants To Be A Millionaire returns to primetime on a regular basis for the first time since the ABC version left the air in 2002 with a 8:30 p.m. slot on WCIU. In addition, Millionaire began airing this week at 1:35 a.m. on WLS-TV, finally putting the game show on all the ABC O&Os. Up until this point, WLS had never aired the syndicated version of Millionaire, being the last holdout.

And signaling a possible death knell for the show, Top 30 is moving to a 3:30 a.m. slot on WPWR in between paid programming.

WGN’s “Man Of The People” returns for a second season Saturdays at 10 p.m. You’ve been warned.


Saturdays and Sundays see a significant change among off-network dramas with CBS Television Distribution’s NCIS: New Orleans (WBBM, Sat. 11:05 p.m-1:05 a.m.) and Madam Secretary (WBBM, Sun./Early. Mon. Midnight – 2.a.m.) replacing Blue Bloods and CSI:Miami in those roles, respectively. CSI: Miami is heading to My Network TV on Fridays; Blue Bloods reruns continues on Ion.

Meanwhile, long-lost reality competition show Wipeout from Endemol Shine North America and Disney/ABC make its syndication debut after airing its last original episode in 2014. The series aired late Sunday nights (Early Mondays) at 12:05 a.m. and 1:05 a.m. on WLS-TV, replacing Scandal in syndication in some markets.

PPI Licensing (the former Program Partners, who formerly distributed DaVinci’s Inquest) has Canadian import The Listener debuting Sept. 16 on The U Too, airing every Sunday at 6 p.m.

Locally, Pat Tomasulo’s Man Of The People (yes, it’s still on the air) has been renewed for a second season with WGN-TV continuing to air his shenanigans Saturdays at 10 p.m. and Sundays at 11 p.m. And the station’s Sunday night local lineup of Chicago’s Best and S.E.E Chicago are also back for new seasons. Also on the local beat, Fox’s WFLD is expanding its Bears post-game coverage after every game, regardless of what network it aired on. If WFLD can’t air post-game coverage because of a second-half Fox doubleheader, or if the Bears have a late game, post-game coverage shifts to sister station WPWR.

What’s Out

Aside from Harry, Robert Irvine, Crimewatch, and the off-network dramas replaced by new shows mentioned above, there are other shows leaving the air, either canceled or their contracts weren’t renewed. In addition to the off-network dramas mentioned above,  American Ninja Warrior and Rookie Blue are also departing due to expiring contracts but you can find these shows on cable or streaming. Other cancellations include the long-running Whacked Out Videos, freshman weekly half-hour Don’t Blink, and weekday strip Mysteries Of The Unexplained.

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Van Dyke trial has Chicago, local media on edge

Jason Van Dyke. (WMAQ/NBC Chicago)

LaQuan McDonald trial has city on edge; local media is ready to cover with CLTV airing live proceedings

September 5th began the biggest trial the city has seen in decades.

Police officer Jason Van Dyke is being tried for the murder of LaQuan McDonald, videotaped in October 2014 and wasn’t released until a year later, when it was shown worldwide. McDonald was shot sixteen times and killed as he was walking away from police in the middle of South Pulaski Road in the Southwest Side’s Archer Heights neighborhood.

When the tape was finally released in November 2015, protests took place all over Chicago, including Downtown and the Magnificent Mile. Many activists accused Mayor Rahm Emanuel of preventing the release of the video until after he was re-elected in 2015 as the case took its toll on his African-American support (the case is cited as one of the reasons Emanuel would not seek another term as mayor.) The McDonald case followed recent patterns of African-American men murdered by police – notably Michael Brown and Eric Gardner, leading to Colin Kapernick and others kneeling during the National Anthem before football games, drawing the ire of President Donald Trump and other conservatives.

Now after several years of delays, Van Dyke is getting his day in court. Jury selection began last week and barring any last-minute changes, the trial will take place at the courthouse at 26th and California. Protests are expected every day during the trial’s duration; it could be as quick as several weeks…or it could drag out as long as the O.J. Simpson trial, which took over a year and was noted for numerous shenanigans.

Two years ago, WMAQ and Carol Marin won a Peabody Award for their investigation of how the Chicago Police Department handled the case, resulting in several shakeups. Among the findings: 86 minutes of footage missing from a fast-food restaurant’s surveillance tape near where the shooting occurred.

Tribune Media-owned CLTV plans to air gavel-to-gavel coverage of the Van Dyke trial, just weeks after they aired live proceedings of the two separate trials related to the suspects accused of murdering Hadiya Pendleton. The moves are similar to what Miami PBS station WLRN-TV did in December 1989, when it aired gavel-to-gavel coverage of the William Lozano trial. Lozano was a Miami police police officer accused of shooting and killing an African-American man in January 1989, triggering nights of rioting in Overton and Liberty City neighborhoods days before the Super Bowl and weeks after a major network affiliation change in the market. The decision to televise the trial was made in order to defuse racial tensions in Miami, noting the city suffered through a deadlier riot in 1980 over a similar police-involved killing.

Viewers can also stream the trial on WGN’s website at, especially those who don’t receive CLTV on their cable or satellite systems (CLTV is not carried by DirecTV or Dish.)

It is unknown what the reaction would be if Van Dyke is found innocent. Activists are hoping for peace and hoping to avoid the same kind of fate Los Angeles had in 1992 after the Rodney King verdict, whose beating was also videotaped – at first at the time – as the four police officers were acquitted and triggered days of rioting. Let’s hope residents keep calm regardless of what the verdict is – Chicago has already suffered enough negative worldwide press as any kind of disturbance could drive the nail in the coffin of a great city. While Los Angeles has successfully rebounded from their uprising 25 years ago, the same can’t be said for Detroit, whose baggage from the 1967 riots continues to this day despite parts of the city making a comeback.


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Bears-Packers season opener a big hit – locally

Chicago, Milwaukee viewers tune in but national ratings hit a ten-year low

The excitement surrounding the changes the Chicago Bears have made this off-season – hiring Matt Nagy as the new  head coach and the blockbuster trade acquiring linebacker Khalil Mack in a trade with the Oakland Raiders paid off in the local ratings in the first game of the season against the Green Bay Packers on the Sunday Night Football national stage, marking the eighth consecutive year the Bears played in primetime at Lambeau Field.

But despite a game for the ages – which saw the Bears blow a 20-0 lead at halftime and lose 24-23 amid a spectacular comeback by Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers after he (appeared) to be injured in the first half – it was not enough to stem erosion from last year’s matchup.

The Bears- Packers game drew a 35.3 household live-plus-same day rating and 55 share for NBC’s WMAQ-TV, with more than 1.1 million homes tuning in. It was the highest rated Bears game locally since 2013 and the highest-rated program overall in the Chicago market since Game 7 of the 2016 World Series, seeing the Chicago Cubs win their first title in 108 years. Compared to a Thursday night Bears-Packers game from Lambeau on CBS last year, the rating was up 87 percent and up a whopping 182 percent from 2016, when Bears-Packers faced a Cubs playoff game and a Donald Trump-Hilary Clinton joint appearance at the Al Smith Dinner.

Milwaukee’s WTMJ however, topped all metered markets with a 49.6/71 household rating and share.

While the game generated significant interest in this part of the country, the same couldn’t be said nationally. The Bears-Packers game drew a final rating of 12.5 and drew 22.1 million viewers for NBC, down 7 percent in rating and 9 percent in viewership from last year’s Sunday Night Football opener between the New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys, featuring teams with larger fan bases. Despite the historic Rodgers comeback, the SNF opener hit a decade-low in ratings and a nine-year low in total viewers. Even worse, SNF scored a 7.5 rating in the key 18-49 demo, down 17 percent from last year and also hit a ten-year low in the demo.

The good news for SNF is it was the highest-rated program of the week in all categories (even outdrawing the Falcons-Eagles “kickoff” game Thursday) and stomped the competing Miss America Pageant on ABC, who eliminated the swimsuit competition for the first time. The program earned only a 0.7 rating in the 18-49 demo and a weak 4.3 million viewers.

As for the Sunday afternoon games, both CBS and Fox registered increases from a year ago, scoring 23 percent and 5 percent increases, respectively.

There have been concern among advertisers and networks on how the anthem protests would affect the ratings this season as the issue continues to be front and center thanks to President Trump, who is desperately trying to making kneeling athletes a campaign issue in this year’s mid-terms. The President made fun of the NFL’s kickoff ratings in a tweet this weekend.

Despite the Bears blowing a lead against its arch rivals, it did little to dampen the enthusiasm fans have for the upcoming season with the off-season moves – at least we didn’t the media drag out old Chicago sports tropes (mainly involving the Cubs’ futility before the 2016 World Series win.) The Bears’ next game is also in prime-time, the home opener against the Seattle Seahawks on Monday Night Football September 17, carried by ESPN and locally over ABC’s WLS-TV, delaying reality show Castaways until 12:05 am. A scheduled repeat of The Good Doctor will air the following night at 1:05 a.m.



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CBS Chairman Les Moonves out due to sexual harassment allegations

Huge change means uncertainty at Black Rock

The end has come for one of media’s most known media executives due to sexual harassment complaints.

Les Moonves was officially forced out as Chairman, President, and CEO of CBS Corporation after 23 years with the company as a sexual harassment scandal surrounding him continues to grow. The move came as a second round of allegations were published in the New Yorker on Sunday after six more women came forward with allegations against Moonves. CBS was already negotiating a settlement with Moonves after the New Yorker first reported sexual assault allegations against him last July.

The allegations ranged from unwanted grouping and kissing to sexual assault with some dating back to the 1980s.

Moonves is the latest in a wave of people swept out by the #MeToo movement, as sexual harassment and other misconduct is now coming to light. The scandals have already brought down the likes of Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby, Jeffrey Tambor, Charlie Rose, and others.

In the interim, Chief Operating Officer Joseph Ianniello is serving as acting President and CEO until a replacement is named. At the same time, CBS is also appointing six new board members – among them is former TimeWarner CEO Richard Parsons, the first African-American ever to serve in such capacity of a large company in the media business.

In addition, Moonves and CBS have pledged to donate $20 million to various #meToo organizations – a gesture considered hollow by many critics as Moonves could still receive an exit severance package of $120 million – that is, if his firing wasn’t “for cause”.

His departure also ends a feud with the company’s controlling shareholder, Shari Redstone, the daughter of longtime National Amusements chairman Summer Redstone. National Amusements is the principal owner of CBS and Viacom, who split from each other in late 2005 as into two publicly traded companies after a 1999 merger (Viacom was spun-off from CBS in 1971 as the FCC’s then-new fin-syn rules forced the networks out of the syndication business.)

As part of the move, Shari Redstone pledges to put off any merger between CBS and Viacom for the next two years – despite rivals pairing up to combat Silicon Valley-funded Big Tech companies such as Netflix and Amazon.

Moonves can be credited for turning around a network many gave up for dead, run into the ground by a previous regime led by former owner Laurence Tisch. When Moonves arrived in 1995, CBS was fresh off losing football and several big-market affiliates to Fox; plus the network fell into a distant third place. In the early years of Moonves tenure, he grew sitcoms such as Everybody Loves Raymond and Becker. He helped develop a fresh programming concept and re-defined the reality TV genre, by acquiring the formats for Survivor and Big Brother; both remain on the air to this day. Other hits in the Moonves era included Two And A Half Men and The Big Bang Theory. The success of another slow starter (CSI) would spawn new procedural dramas, including NCIS, Criminal Minds, Elementary, and Blue Bloods. By 2001, CBS went to the top of the network race among total viewers, if not among adults 18-49. And the NFL returned to CBS in 1998 and has a popular SEC football Saturday Afternoon package.

Shari Redstone obviously won her battle with Les Moonves after sexual allegations about him surfaced.

But problems persisted under Moonves as well. A bid to compete with ABC in the TGIF arena by stealing Family Matters and Step by Step away from them was a costly disaster. Howard Stern was a outspoken critic of Moonves; he often slammed him on his CBS/Infinity-syndicated radio show (CBS would later sell its radio division to Entercom.) CBS News (with its low-rated morning and evening shows) still couldn’t gain any traction. And while Moonves was touting CBS as “America’s Most Watched Network”, several CBS-owned stations such as WBBM-TV continue to lag way behind their competitors in local news as he basically treated the station group as an ugly stepsister. Of note is Detroit CBS O&O WWJ-TV, whose news operation closed in 2003 and hasn’t operated one since.

Under Moonves, CBS stumbled into the streaming era: the network’s All-Access hasn’t been the hit it wanted to be, plus original programming has been minuscule outside of Star Trek: Discovery, which hasn’t been as well-received as other previous Star Trek shows.

And while CSI has been a big global hit for CBS, the procedural genre it spawned has been criticized by many for its “paint-by-numbers” approach to storytelling.

Then there’s his persona, which turns off a lot of people. Speaking at a conference in San Francisco during the 2016 Presidential campaign, Moonves quipped “It may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS”, referring to the political advertising dollars Donald Trump would bring in for the network and its owned stations. He was known as a piranha in Hollywood circles; he exacted revenge on people and harbored grudges on those who crossed him. And Moonves was known to play hardball with affiliates over retransmission consent money and his demands led to CBS cutting ties with longtime affiliates in Jacksonville, Raleigh, and Indianapolis.

What remains now is how CBS is going to navigate this choppy period. With CBS refraining from re-merging with Viacom for two years, the network could become a takeover target. And while Moonves is gone, other controversial figures at the network remain, including 60 Minutes executive Producer Jeff Fager (also noted in the New Yorker story) and NCIS showrunner Brad Kern, who were also accused of sexual and racial harassment as noted by the Tribune’s Nina Metz. She also notes if you’re looking for change, don’t hold your breath given both are still employed by CBS.

I hate dragging out old tropes, but it looks like the same old corporate culture is cemented at The Church Of Tisch.

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What Rahm Emanuel’s decision means for Chicago media

The Rahmfather calls it a career as local stations could reap another political windfall from upcoming mayor’s race

It was eight years ago last week when longtime Chicago mayor Richard M. Daley announced he would not seek reelection for a seventh term.

Now, Chicago is at the same crossroads with the announcement last Wednesday of current mayor Rahm Emanuel deciding not seeking a third term in office. His departure means there will be a new hizzoner in early 2019 – and local media outlets could see a huge political downfall given the large number of candidates running.

The same scenarios I outlined in 2010 when Daley departed apply today: stations already receiving revenue from mid-term election advertising would continue to do so with a smooth transition to the Mayor’s race; ratings for local news outlets are likely to increase as with local news/talk radio stations, though some are in worst shape than they were in 2010; and the crush of political advertising in the Chicago market could force other advertisers to reduce their presence or go on the sidelines altogether until April, when the run-off mayoral election could take place. It’s great news for Chicago media, who would welcome the increased revenue (and bad news for viewers.)

While Emanuel has helped attract new businesses to town and championed the arts, numerous negatives outweighed the positives. For one, public school teachers went on strike in 2012 for the first time in 25 years and had a awful relationship with educators.  His approach to race relations was banal at best. And Emanuel was accused of a cover-up when Chicago Police released the tape of LaQuan McDonald’s murder a year after it took place – and after he was re-elected to a second term in 2015. The release lead to weeks of protests as the trial for the officer accused of killing him began last week.

But the biggest Emanuel failure was getting a handle on the city’s murder rate, which thrust Chicago into an unflattering international spotlight. Critics ranging from The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart to President Trump made a regular habit of trashing him.

Thanks to Trump and other conservatives, Chicago has become a code word for “blacks”, referencing the city when it comes to criticizing urban neighborhoods as the Chicago area’s African-American population continues to decline with the market falling to fourth place among cities with the largest African-American TV homes. Under Emanuel, the black population decline only accelerated as among the ten largest African-American markets, Chicago lost more homes than any other metro area.

Emmanuel often sparred with the press, like any politician does. But unlike the President, who often refers to the press as “enemy of the people”, the mayor respected their profession – even defending it at one point after a Barney Fife-channeling police officer threatened to “terminate the press’ right to free speech” outside Mt. Sinai Hospital after a young shooting victim was admitted.

While Emanuel had a testy relationship with the media, he sure didn’t mind using them to shamelessly promote himself, as the eight-hour CNN docuseries Chicagoland illustrated. Many critics said the program was nothing more than an infomercial for the mayor, who was also accused of manipulating some scenes. As I detailed here, the series was a critical and ratings flop and ranked as the third-worst show of 2014 on T Dog Media. I couldn’t tell you how much I hated this show.

Another example came in November 2016, Emanuel convinced his buddies at the Illinois Broadcasting Association and the Radio Broadcasters Of Chicago – consisting of several big radio conglomerates – to air a “roadblock interview” over 40 radio stations at 6 p.m. with Bill Kurtis to discuss his vision for the city. The stunt was panned by many listeners, but was praised by radio insiders and drew a larger audience than many anticipated.

As the local media prepares to cover The Race To Replace Rahm, no doubt we will be in for a wild ride. The next mayor is going to face daunting challenges, including pension costs, a stubbornly high murder rate, racial segregation issues, a declining population base, and repairing the city’s damaged reputation globally. As I said before, declining population + declining audience = declining ad revenue. If Chicago wants to stop being the butt-monkey of the country, the city better hope the new mayor better be damned ready to handle the job.

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Media Notepad: Tribune sacks NewsFix, Morning Dose

Also: Start TV starts; Jenny Mikowski exits WSHE; Pickler & Ben goes national, comes to Chicago on two stations

As Chicago-based Tribune Media prepares itself to go on the sales block again, the company Thursday pulled the plug on its NewsFix and news programs on several of its stations, including CW affiliates KIAH in Houston and KDAF in Dallas, a local 10 p.m. newscast on WDCW in Washington, D.C., and its “morning dose” programs in those markets and four others.

However, KIAH is adding a three-hour morning newscast and expanding the morning newscast at WPHL Philadelphia.

According to a memo obtained by Houston media blogger Mike McGuff, Tribune honcho Larry Wert addressed the ratings shortfall generated by the NewsFix programs in Houston and Dallas and morning dose.

Even though Tribune flagship WGN in Chicago is one of the most successful news operations in the country, the company has had trouble in other markets – especially outside of New York and Los Angeles. Looking to “reinvent news”, Tribune launched NewsFix with an emphasis on providing news to stations on a shoestring budget featuring an unseen anchor describing a news story (see examples here and here.) But the expirement wasn’t a ratings grabber: according to Dallas media blogger Ed Bark, NewsFix on KDAF was seen “next to nobody” and pointed out morning dose had rating “hashmarks” – meaning the Nielsen sample was too small to measure (another way to say “nobody’s watching”.)

Of note, season thirteen Bachelor winner Melissa Rycfort was a morning dose host, based in Dallas. She left the show three months ago.

The news comes a month after Tribune’s planned merger with Sinclair Broadcasting collapsed.

On your mark…get set…go! As expected, Weigel Broadcasting’s new diginet Start TV began Monday in place of Decades on the CBS owned-and-operated stations, including WBBM-DT in Chicago on channel 2.2. Start features off-network dramas and procedurals targeted to women 25-54, including Cold Case, The Closer, The Division, Joan Of Arcadia, and Medium. Beginning next year, Start will also begin airing the critically-acclaimed The Good Wife.  The new network launched officially at 7 a.m. Central time.

As for Decades, the channel has been relocated to the digital subchannels of Weigel’s KAZA in Los Angeles and WCIU in Chicago, where it landed on channel 26.6 and moved from channel 338 to channel 359 on Xfinity (Comcast). On WMEU, it remains on channel 48.4, but Start has taken over 48.2, replacing a loop of The Jam, WCIU’s morning show. Decades has become a “free agent” in other CBS O&O markets, including the nation’s largest in New York City – putting the future of the channel in question as it is now “temporarily unavailable” in those cities, according to the “where to watch” section on Decades’ website.

Even though the thesis of Start is to feature strong women in strong roles, there is an oddity in the overnight schedule: Early Edition, a series filmed here in Chicago and aired on CBS from 1996 and 2000 with the Chicago Sun-Times featured prominently in the show (it was actually part of the plot every week!) had male Kyle Chandler in the starring role, who would later go on to Friday Night Lights. Reruns of the series has aired in weekend syndication (in Chicago over WCIU), Fox Family Channel, Ion, and most recently, Heroes & Icons (a sister Weigel diginet.) The show is kind of dopey, but at least you to get to see what Chicago looked like in the late 1990s.

Talk about a rapid expansion: Pickler & Ben, a daytime talk show which began last fall on Scripps-owned stations is getting much wider exposure. For its second season, the program is now cleared in a whopping 175 markets – up from 30 beforehand. Hosted by former American Idol contestant Kellie Pickler and New Yorker Ben Aaron, the series is taped in Nashville and is a huge hit in the market, finishing a dominant #1 for CBS affiliate WTVF at 9 a.m.

Disney-ABC Domestic Television took over station clearance duties for the show for Scripps and beginning Monday, the show finally arrives in Chicago on The U Too (WCIU-DT 26.2 and WMEU 48.1) weekday mornings at 10 a.m. Also starting Monday, Pickler & Ben is airing on the secondary digital channels of the ABC-owned stations several times a day, including WLS-DT (7.2) here, making the series available to viewers where the series has not picked up by a primary station yet, such as New York and Los Angeles. The secondary channels were the former home of the Live Well Network.

T Dog Media will have a complete overview of what’s new in syndication for fall 2018 in several days, so watch this space.

Best wishes to Chicago native Jenny Milkowski, who has landed a gig at San Diego’s KFMB-TV as the station’s new traffic reporter and social media reporter, as first reported by Robert Feder Thursday. Milkwoski held the same position at Fox-owned WFLD until last year when she was let go – despite the huge social media numbers she put up for the station, helping them rank near the top in social media metrics. Milkwoski ranked first among individuals in those same metrics, and also had the most-engaged Facebook page among Chicago TV personalities.

As a result, she is departing her radio gig at Hubbard’s AC outlet WSHE-FM after only five months. Co-host Jay Styles remains and is holding down the afternoon shift solo. Her last day at the station is September 18. On her Facebook page, Milkowski said this to her fans:

I will miss Chicago very much (my family and friends are here, so I shall be visiting a ton!) but now is the time for me to take a risk. I am very excited about this new chapter in my life and career.

I want to thank Chicago—the listeners, the viewers—the people who have taken a chance on me—who have hired me—YOU—for your continued support and for welcoming me into your homes and cars. I am forever grateful and humbled at each and every opportunity I am given.

I hope you continue to follow my adventures!

KFMB was acquired by Tegna, who bought the station from longtime owner Midwest Television last December. KFMB’s dot-two channel became a CW affiliate last year, replacing Tijuana’s XETV in the role.

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Cubs network one step closer to reality

The team plans to launch their own RSN in 2020 is full steam ahead

After years of planning, it looks like the Chicago Cubs’ plan to launch their own regional sports network is one step closer to reality.

As first reported by Bruce Levine at 670 The Score (WSCR-AM) Monday, the Cubs hired Mike McCarthy, a former president of New York’s MSG Network to head the new venue. The move signals the team is exiting NBC Sports Chicago and possibly their current broadcast partners’ deals once their pacts expire on or around October 1, 2019. The team also has a 20 percent stake in NBC Sports Chicago, once known as Comcast Sportsnet.

In fact, the future of the NBC Sports Chicago channel could be in question as well. The White Sox, Bulls, and Blackhawks also own a stake, and has hired former CSN Chicago general manager Phil Bedella to “run their next regional sports network” as the report specifically states, suggesting NBCUniversal may or may not be a partner in the next venue for the teams. Formed in 2004 as a partnership with Comcast (before the 2010 merger with NBCUniversal), the pact between the four teams expires on or around October 1, 2019.

NBC Sports Chicago carries the majority of the Cubs’ non-network televised games, with 70 games split between WGN-TV and WLS-TV.

With the Cubs out, NBC Sports Chicago faces an uncertain future.

As reported here in June, the Cubs reportedly had few options with AT&T showing interest as a partner. Significant developments have occured in recent weeks regarding the future of Fox’s 22 regional sports networks, with reports stating Fox may re-purchase the RSNs from Disney, who has ninety days to sell them as part of the Justice Department’s approval of the Fox-Disney deal. Once it’s completed, Fox (or New Fox) would have just Fox Broadcasting, Fox News, Fox Business Channel, My Network TV, and the Fox-owned stations (including Fox affiliate WFLD-TV and CW affiliate WPWR-TV in Chicago). Should Fox retain or buy back the RSNs, it would be a sure bet “New Fox” would enter a bid as the Cubs would add value to the new company. For the Cubs, it gives them a much-needed another option to use as leverage.

Unless the new Cubs network strike a deal with WGN-TV to carry a limited amount of over-the-air games (an arrangement YES and SNY has with WPIX in New York with the Yankees and Mets, respectively), it would be a huge blow for the Tribune-owned station, and would end a relationship going back 71 years with the team. WGN dropped The CW in 2016 in order to air more sports contests involving the White Sox, Cubs, Bulls, and Blackhawks, but with these teams receiving more money from cable than their over-the-air counterparts, it may be impossible for WGN to stay in the sports business. Moreover, the uncertain future of Tribune Media is also an issue, after its planned merger with Sinclair Broadcasting collapsed earlier this month. Many experts expect Tribune to be put on the block again soon as broadcast groups continue to consolidate in order to better compete with Silicon Valley-funded giants such as Netflix and Amazon.

Despite pitfalls – cord cutting, reach issues (ask the Dodgers), etc., the allure of your own RSN in a major market with or without a partner is tempting, since the Cubs need the revenue generated from such a deal to keep key players in the fold. While fans may be upset at the potential reduction or elimination of free, over-the-air Cubs games on television, it may no longer be possible given today’s sports economics.  It was one of the reasons Mid-Atlantic Sports Network (MASN) decided to pull over-the-air games this baseball season involving the Washington Nationals and Baltimore Orioles, who have a rather uneasy (and at times hostile) relationship with each other over ownership of the network.

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“The Big Bang Theory” calls it a career

A photo of the cast from Jim Parsons’ Instagram account.

The long-running CBS sitcom to end in May after twelve seasons

It won’t be remembered for its quality, but Sheldon and Co. have left their mark on pop culture, one “Bazinga” at a time.

Chuck Lorre and CBS announced the conclusion of The Big Bang Theory last Wednesday after twelve seasons and ending its quest to becoming the longest-running live-action sitcom of all time, a 53-year old record still held by The Adventures Of Ozzie and Harriet, which ran on ABC for fourteen seasons between 1952 and 1966.

According to reports, Jim Parsons declined to continue in his role as Sheldon Cooper after next season. Had he continued, he would have made more than $50 million in his next contract. Parsons thanked fans, cast, and crew on Instagram Thursday.

Parsons is continuing in his voice-over role on Young Sheldon, a spin-off of Big Bang which debuted last September. Big Bang’s twelfth and final season begins on September 24 and ends in May 2019. With 279 episodes at season’s end, Big Bang will be tied for the second longest running live-action sitcom of all-time (with My Three Sons), and third longest-running sitcom overall, behind The Simpsons and Ozzie.

Beginning in 2007, The Big Bang Theory debuted at a time when there were no streaming services and before the words “Peak TV” were coined. Like Cheers and The Dick Van Dyke Show, the show started slow in the ratings but by the third season, began producing blockbuster ratings and really took off in its fourth season when it moved to Thursday nights where it often drew twenty million viewers a week on average to become the top-rated sitcom on television – a position it still holds today. Initially centered around four geeks and the female who lived across the hall from Leonard and Sheldon, Big Bang has become a strong ensemble comedy, with the addition of Mayam Bialik and Melissa Raunch to the cast in recent years as the love interests of Sheldon and Howard, respectively.

Big Bang Theory was sold in syndication to the Fox-owned stations and TBS and brought in nearly $4 million per episode as the series has been syndication’s top-rated sitcom since it debuted in 2011. In Chicago, Big Bang has often shifted in and out of access and late-night time slots on Fox’s WFLD and WPWR, in part because the series has never really been a big local hit here. It currently is double run in access (6 p.m.) on WFLD and airs in prime-time Sundays on WPWR, and with the series ending, Warner will likely begin second-cycle syndication sales of the sitcom soon.

The series has been praised for its real-life portrayal of the science and technology community. Many real-life scientists have guest-starred on the show, including Stephen Hawking and Neil deGresse Tyson. Other figures from the tech world include Bill Gates and Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak. Three years ago, UCLA established a scholarship program for undergraduate financial aid students, established in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields known as The Big Bang Theory scholarship.

Can victory be theirs?: “The Big Bang Theory’s” second syndication cycle is looking for a big payday.

On the other hand, Big Bang has had its share of detractors as well. The series has been singled-out for what’s wrong with the multi-cam sitcom and its format, though the success of the Roseanne reboot (until it was canceled) and to a lesser extent Will & Grace, rendered the point kind of moot. The show has also been accused of mocking nerd culture.

Many viewers have called the series out for its racism, notably regarding Sheldon and how he interacts with African-Americans and the way Raj is portrayed, though the same people who complain about The Simpsons’ Apu being an Indian stereotype seem to have no problem with his character. It’s no surprise the series has never really caught on with black viewers.

The show also was never a critical favorite – think of it as a modern day Happy Days or Three’s Company (or worse, Gilligan’s Island), whose popularity can’t possibly be explained. While TV critics fawned way too much over New Girl, Community, and The Mindy Project, they’ve ignored Sheldon & Co. for the most part.

From this person’s view, The Big Bang Theory was not able to maintain the momentum it had in some of the earlier seasons, despite evolving into a strong ensemble show. In later seasons, Big Bang degenerated to a bunch of put-downs and delved into unoriginal humor, similar to other sitcoms later in their runs including Married..With Children, Family Guy, and Everybody Loves Raymond, or the entire runs of Gilligan’s Island and Too Close For Comfort. Big Bang often over-relied on the “butt-monkey” trope, with Raj usually being the Bud Bundy-Meg Griffin-Robert Barone-Monroe Ficius-Gilligan victim of jokes. Believe me, no one would ever confuse The Big Bang Theory with Seinfeld or even Friends.

Another turning point was the continued services of Wil Wheaton on the show, who added nothing to the program once he buried his “feud” with Sheldon (and if you’ve guessed, he is also a total dick in real life, as I pointed out here years ago) as his continued presence turned me off of the show altogether. Finally, a cliffhanger from May 2016 on whether Amy was going to propose to Sheldon was so fucking predictable and lame, you can see it coming a mile away.

While a lot of people will be happy to see Big Bang go – including myself, the industry is not – especially CBS, given the series was one of the few left who drew a significant amount of viewers each week at a time when there are more than 500 television shows in the marketplace. As the sun sets on Sheldon and the gang, so does the last big-tent program on broadcast network television.


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ESPN becoming “less political”

New president wants less politics, more sports

As Chicago reels from yet another year of deadly gun violence, don’t look for anymore ESPN specials on the matter, if the new head of the network has his way.

As reported by the Washington Post, new ESPN chief Jimmy Pitaro said he wants less of a focus on politics and social issues and more on the sports themselves.

“If you ask me is there a false narrative out there”, Pitaro said last Friday. “I will tell you I have been very, very clear with employees here that it is not our jobs to cover politics, purely.”

Much of the criticism surrounding the network revolved around the national anthem protests in the NFL as ratings for the league have declined in the past year, affecting the bottom lines of ESPN and the broadcast networks. Moreover, ESPN has lost viewership in part due to cord-cutting, costing it subscribers. Once at over 100 million homes, ESPN’s reach is now estimated to be around 85 million.

A former chairman of the consumer products division at Disney, Pitaro wants ESPN to return what it was known for – coverage of sports and literally nothing else. On Friday, he announced ESPN will not air the national anthem before Monday Night Football – thus avoid showing any players kneeling. The move was criticized by President Trump at a West Virginia rally Tuesday night, not surprising given ESPN has been a frequent target of his.

In contrast, WGN-TV and NBC Sports Chicago show the national anthem played before most games they carry.

Not surprisingly, the comments Pitaro made were received negatively, with many accusing the network of further promoting their political narrative by… announcing they were becoming “less political”.

Fueling more angst against the network was the controversy surrounding former SportsCenter anchor Jemele Hill, whose critical comments of President Trump earned her a suspension. Hill has since left the early evening edition of Sportscenter and has taken an off-camera role at The Undefeated, a sports website targeting African-American readers. Had Hill been fired, ESPN could have lost black viewers – similar to what happened with CBS-owned WBBM-TV in 1985 after they let Harry Porterfield go.

The new edict means it is less likely you’ll see ESPN deal with social issues and how it relates to sports as viewers and sports talk radio listeners have demanded they don’t want to hear about any social issues tied to sports. Approximately two years ago, ESPN’s First Take came to the YMCA in Chicago’s Woodlawn neighborhood for two shows to discuss the city’s gun violence epidemic, in a move widely criticized by conservatives and gun-rights advocates. This and another Chicago “town hall” meeting on gun violence (MSNBC’s All In With Chris Hayes) were basically useless, mostly featuring residents and publicity-seeking activists complaining in front of the camera.

The edict has even reached local sports talk radio as WSCR-AM shook up its daytime lineup a few months ago and replaced Jason Goff, who often touched on race and social issues, which did not go well with its majority-white audience. As a result, ratings in the daypart actually increased.

Pitaro’s comments Friday made it clear: steer clear of politics as viewership clearly doesn’t want sports mixing with them. But as a few NFL players continue to kneel during the anthem, and President Trump continuing to make it an issue – especially with midterm elections coming up, it will be hard to ignore – no matter how hard they try. And while you might see some social issues like gun violence as it relates to sports on a SC Featured segment or Outside The Lines from time to time, it looks like those opportunities to tell those stories will be far and few between under the new ESPN regime.

(Updated August 21 at 11:53 p.m.)

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Roseanne Barr, meet Howard Miller







Roseanne not the first media personality to fall from the top

When Roseanne Barr made several racially insensitive and anti-Semitic tweets in May, ABC canceled the successful reboot of her 1980s and 1990s sitcom Roseanne, becoming the first top-rated show ever to get canceled and the first one because of a tweet. But to those who follow Chicago media and its history, there was another person who had a top-rated show canned because of insensitive comments.

Howard Miller was Chicago’s dominant morning radio personality in the 1950s and 1960s, reigning at WIND-AM beginning in 1949. He was so influential, Time Magazine noted Miller was“probably the nation’s single biggest influence on record sales” as WIND was a Top 40 powerhouse in the 1950s, before WLS-AM and WCFL came on the scene. But after riots took place on Chicago’s West Side after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968, Miller on his show said the city’s police officers, firefighters, and first responders needed to be recognized for their work during the uprising. But station management saw it as disrespecting Dr. King.

Fearing a backlash from Chicago’s African-American community and others, WIND suspended Miller and subsequently fired him – despite Miller being number one in morning drive at the time. The top spot was soon claimed by rival WGN-AM morning personality Wally Phillips.

Miller was soon scooped up by Top 40 station WCFL for morning drive – but his arch-conservative views and rhetoric were a poor fit for WCFL’s younger-skewing music format and was unable to recapture his past ratings glory. After he was replaced by Clark Weber in late 1969, Miller resurfaced at WGN, and also had a late-night weekly talk show on WLS-TV in a mold similar to right-wing talkers William F. Buckley and Joe Pyne. Miller later surfaced at other local radio outlets before departing the Chicago area. Miller died in 1994 at his home in Naples, Florida; he owned several stations in the state and in Illinois before retiring in 1986.

As documented by Time, Miller’s first WCFL show had Miller saying “I’m proud to be a flag waver! And I’ll be waving it plenty every morning. You will find me ready, hard-hitting with truth and justice.” In a full-page, flag-bedecked newspaper ad, Miller pledged his allegiance to the Stars and Stripes, the President, servicemen, policemen and firemen.” It’s language echoed today by President Trump and numerous conservative talk-show hosts.

Barr recently stated her show was canceled because of her support for President Trump, and later gave a rambling interview on YouTube stating she didn’t know Valerie Jarrett – the target of one of Barr’s tweet – was African-American.

It just goes to show you how history has a knack for repeating itself. But the difference is whereas Howard Miller would actually receive a second (and third, and fourth) chance, we now live in a radically different media era. Unless you work for a company willing to put up with such antics (HBO and today’s version of WIND come to mind), anyone who pulls an act like Roseanne did on a bigger stage might want to consider a career change – to a radio talk show host.

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Tamron Hall, Kelly Clarkson talk shows in development

Development swings into full gear as stations prepare for 2019

With the new fall syndication season beginning in less than a month, distributors are already lining up for fall 2019 – at least in daytime.

Last week, two faces took in the lead in development: NBCUniversal has signed American Idol winner and The Voice judge Kelly Clarkson for a talk show project, while Disney-ABC did the same and signed former WFLD anchor and Today co-host Tamron Hall.

A few weeks ago, Warner Bros. signed VH-1 reality star RuPaul for a similar project.

The development action comes as time slots are becoming available for September 2019, and some shows are preparing to leave the air. For one, two talkers from NBCUniversal – two-season Harry and longtime veteran Jerry Springer were canceled this season, with the latter heading to CW in reruns beginning September 10.

Also, the future of another NBCUniversal talker – Steve Harvey’s revamped Steve – is reportedly in trouble as the series’ move from Chicago to Los Angeles hasn’t paid off in increased ratings and revenue.

Clarkson shot a talk show pilot for NBCU on Friday, and may sell the program for a fall 2019 debut – though the company said the show could air on another platform. If it goes the syndication route, it could easily slip in for Steve on NBC-owned stations if his show does not return. Harvey leads into Ellen in most NBC-owned markets, including Chicago at WMAQ-TV.

NBCU did not provide any further details about the project.

Meanwhile, Disney-ABC signed Hall a development deal for a project previously developed by The Weinstein Co., before sexual harassment allegations against founder Harvey Weinstein sent the company into bankruptcy. Though her agent William Morris, Hall was able to sign a deal with Disney. “I’m so thrilled to partner with Disney/ABC to create a daytime television show that’s unconventional, fun, intimate, and sometimes even raw,” said Hall in a released statement. “My new partners appreciate and respect the relationship I’ve built with my audience and know that if we create television worth watching, they’ll join us for the ride. I’m so grateful and excited for this next chapter. The landing makes the leap of faith so worth it!”

Hall was unceremoniously dumped by NBC’s Today in 2017 after the third hour she co-hosted with Al Roker was given to Megyn Kelly, despite strong ratings. Hall also produced several specials for NBC News, MSNBC, and Investigation Discovery. Beforehand, she was with Fox’s WFLD as morning anchor for a decade.

Disney-ABC has had trouble developing a successful talk show to compliment its morning Live franchise over the years with Katie and The Fab Life recent notable flops. The latter saw host Tyra Banks depart just two months into its run.

Like Clarkson’s deal with NBC, a sale to ABC’s station group isn’t guaranteed. Currently, Disney-ABC has company-syndicated viral clips-show Right This Minute and the aging Who Wants To Be A Millionaire in daytime slots on the O&Os and Hall could easily slip in. But in Chicago, Windy City Live has the 1 p.m. time slot with Minute airing in overnight slots at ABC-owned WLS-TV and Millionaire airing at 2 p.m. on Weigel’s WMEU-CA (The U Too). If Hall’s program clears the ABC O&Os, it’s possible WLS-TV would not be part of the deal, leaving other Chicago stations as possible alternatives. WLS aired Katie at 3 p.m. for two years and not only lost to Ellen in the ratings, but scored historic lows in the time slot – dating back to the early 1980s when the station was still airing chopped-up and badly-edited afternoon movies.

With these three projects – and likely more to be announced between now in January, stations are once again looking to freshen up their daytime skeds in order to keep viewers from heading toward other alternatives. While syndicators have mostly struck out with big-name daytime talkers in recent years, a recognizable name is still more valuable to stations and advertisers than a no-name one.

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Bobby Bones heads to Chicago

Syndicated country morning show joins Big 95.5’s lineup

In a move a lot of insiders saw as inevitable, languishing iHeartMedia-owned country station WEBG-FM (branded as Big 95.5 FM) is bringing in nationally syndicated host Bobby Bones for mornings, beginning Monday.

Based at iHeartMedia’s WSIX-FM in Nashville, the show replaces Amber (Alabama) Cole’s program but is shifting to a late morning slot. The move comes months after the station parted ways with low-rated morning team Mason and Remy, who recently returned to radio in St. Louis.

To introduce himself to Chicago audiences, Bones will throw out the first pitch at Saturday’s Cubs game at Wrigley Field.

Bones already airs on numerous iHeartMedia country stations nationwide. Born in Hot Springs, Arkansas in poverty to a single teenaged mother, Bones got his start in radio at seventeen at Henderson State University. Bones became a successful Top 40 radio personality in Austin, Texas and in an unusual move, Clear Channel Communications (iHeartMedia’s previous name) shifted him to Nashville to launch a syndicated country radio show via Premiere Radio Networks in 2013.

Despite lacking the traditional background in country music, Bones’ show has became a phenomenal success, averaging three million listeners nationwide. It’s the reasoning behind then-owner CBS Radio’s decision to shift Stylz and Roman from WBBM-FM to country station WUSN-FM for their morning program, despite a background in contemporary-hit radio. Bones’ program has been a top destination of country music stars, such as Luke Bryan, Taylor Swift (when she was one), and The Voice’s Blake Shelton.

In addition to his daily show, Bones also hosts a weekly country countdown programs syndicated by Premiere on most of the same stations. And Bones became the youngest person ever (at 38) to be inducted into the National Radio Hall Of Fame.

While on the surface this looks like another local morning show falling by the wayside for syndicated content, keep in mind what Big 95.5 has been airing in morning drive hasn’t exactly packed the joint with a tie for 24th place in the most recent Nielsen PPM report. Replacing it with Bones makes sense and is a boost for the already successful show, which now has the third-largest radio market in the country in its arsenal. The biggest surprise here is why this move wasn’t made sooner, given Big 95.5 and Bones’ syndicated show share a corporate parent in iHeartMedia and the previous morning shows’ awful ratings.

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Tribune’s deal with Sinclair dies

And in a surprising twist, Tribune is suing Sinclair for breach of contract

Captain Chesapeake isn’t coming to Chicago after all. Blame overpaying a hand in a regulatory poker game leading to his ship sinking faster than the Exxon Valdez.

Approximately fifteen months after it was announced, Chicago-based Tribune Media announced Thursday morning it was walking away from its merger with Hunt Valley, Md.-based Sinclair Broadcasting. And in a surprise move, the company is now suing them for a breach of contract.

The deal would have created one of the biggest broadcasters in the country, with more than 200 stations covering more than 70 percent of the country including Chicago’s WGN-TV , WGN-AM, 41 other TV stations and WGN America. Sinclair is known for requiring its news stations to run content from conservative commentators Mark Hyman and Boris Epshteyn and segments such as “terrorism news desk”. Sinclair was founded in 1971 as a single Baltimore station (WBFF-TV), home to kids’ host Captain Chesapeake in the 1970s and 1980s, before it joined the Fox network.

The planned merger drew objections from a wide variety of organizations from the liberal Move On and Free Press to the conservative Parents Television Council and even conservative Fox News competitors NewsMax and One News Network. The merger was also opposed by several state attorney generals, including Illinois’ Lisa Madigan. 

A few weeks ago, the FCC referred the Tribune Media-Sinclair merger to an administrative law judge as Chairman Ajit Pai had serious concerns about how a planned divestiture of WGN-TV to a Maryland auto dealer for a mere $60 million – far below what the station was worth – while continuing to control WGN via a shared services agreement, meaning Sinclair would run the station in lieu of owning it. Sinclair also planned to divest Tribune’s Dallas and Houston CW affiliates to Cunningham Broadcasting, another third-party operator under the same terms (an earlier draft of the deal to the FCC – among numerous – had New York’s WPIX divested to Cunningham for $15 million.)

In a statement, Tribune Media CEO Peter Kern noted “Our merger cannot be completed within an acceptable timeframe, if ever,” due to the law judge possibly delaying the deal longer – maybe more than a year. “This uncertainty and delay would be detrimental to our company and our shareholders. Accordingly, we have exercised our right to terminate the Merger Agreement, and, by way of our lawsuit, intend to hold Sinclair accountable.”

WGN Radio remains in local hands – for now.

In the merger agreement, Tribune or Sinclair could walk away from the deal as soon as August 8, 2018, with Tribune doing exactly that Wednesday evening. But what surprised some was the lawsuit Tribune filed against Sinclair Thursday morning in Delaware Chancery Court, seeking $1 billion in damages for how they handled themselves with regulators.

Tribune claims Sinclair “repeatedly and willfully breached its contractual obligations in spectacular fashion,” according to the suit, and ignored regulators’ “clear path” to a deal. “In an effort to maintain control over stations it was obligated to sell if advisable to obtain regulatory clearance, Sinclair engaged in belligerent and unnecessarily protracted negations with DOJ and the FCC over regulator requirements… all in the service of Sinclair’s self-interest and in derogation of its contractual obligations.”

Since the deal was announced, Sinclair has suffered numerous public relations gaffes – notably for making its news anchors across the country read the exact same script regarding “fake news” word-for-word and line-by-line, documented in a video posted by Deadspin. Sinclair also received unwanted attention when President Trump tweeted support for the Tribune deal – flawed as it was, criticizing the FCC for sending it to the administrative law judge.

What’s next

With the Sinclair-Tribune deal officially dead, so were plans for Sinclair to sell several Tribune stations to Fox, and selling a bunch of others to Standard Media. The real question now is who will pursue Tribune Media? Will the stations be broken up and sold piecemeal? Even though the merger is dead, Tribune is likely to sell as the industry continues to consolidate. Fox could still nab some of the Tribune stations (especially those in NFL markets) and even a few more. The deal’s collapse could pose opportunity for other buyers, including Tegna, Gray, and Scripps.

As for Sinclair, they have nobody to blame but themselves, done in by their own arrogance. When they decided to acquire Tribune, Sinclair figured it would be an easy path given the FCC now had a 3-2 Republican majority and the GOP would be far more receptive to their needs. But when Sinclair decided to circumvent around the 39 percent ownership cap – while divesting WGN-TV for far less for what it’s worth – even Pai though something was wrong. Plus, it turned out Sinclair misrepresented themselves and unnecessarily badgered and bullied the Justice Department in the process. Their actions hurt Sinclair in the FCC’s eyes and had their reputation damaged in the industry – hell, even Clear Channel and Cumulus were never this stupid. In fact, David Smith and the Captain Chesapeake boys made the Dickey brothers look like Lee Iacocca.

We all know how bad Sinclair was when it came to running their stations, inserting right-wing commentary and all. They are total snake oil salesmen, something we knew all along. In the words of the late football coach Dennis Green, we knew who they thought they were. Only difference was the FCC didn’t let them off the hook.

Official press release (under the headline “Sinclair acquisition”) 

Peter Kern’s e-mail to Tribune Media employees (via Robert Feder)

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