Update: The tough marketplace for weekend programming continues

“Central Ave.” is a new weekly syndicated show being offered this fall in order to make stations’ lineups less boring.

But one syndicator is making an actual investment

Back last July, this blog detailed how tough it is to launch a weekly show as the weekend landscape outside of sports programming has become dominated by reruns, paid religion, infomercials, and fourth-rate programming. The tough marketplace led to the demise of WGN’s Man Of The People with WGN morning sports anchor Pat Tomasulo, lasted a little over a year in weekend late-night.

A week ago, TVNewscheck weighed in on the situation, and painted an even more dire situation than this blog did.

The article provided an insight on how the weekend programming business has been zapped over the years, hitting on the same points this blog did: lack of available time periods, sports pre-emptions, viewers flocking to streaming services, and a lack of will on syndicators’ part to produce anything worth watching. But it hit on some new points,too: continued expansion of news and sports programming (notably the XFL and UEFA soccer) and syndicators forcing station groups to take weekend runs of first-run and off-network programming airing on weekdays, taking away even more time periods.

Since the T Dog Media article was written, there has been more developments on the weekend programming front: WGN has made a major news expansion push, adding newscasts at 10 p.m. on both Saturday and Sunday plus a Sunday morning political show; ABC adding another hour of GMA Saturday; and a reduction of E/I fare by an hour by a few local stations.

WGN’s “Man Of The People” debuted as a weekly offering in 2018 but was canceled after 17 months, a victim of a tough weekend marketplace.

Plus, more programs have fallen by the wayside. In addition to WGN cancelling People, the station also axed S.E.E Chicago and Weekend Workbench; NBCUniversal dropped Sunday morning finance show On The Money at the end of last year; and long-running syndicated series LatinNation and American Latino were both canceled last August.

And there’s more sports coming into the marketplace: Last fall, ABC moved the start times of its prime-time football games to a little after 6:30 p.m. Chicago time, removing an hour of local programming for affiliates. And there’s the return of the XFL, who’ll gobble up even more time periods and without a Chicago franchise to boot. The second coming of Vince McMahon’s football league is airing both ABC and Fox, mainly on weekend afternoons.

And now we have four local stations running Joel Osteen every Sunday.

Some syndicators are actually making some investments in weekend programming: Debamr-Mercury announced Monday it is launching Central Ave. as two weekly half-hours for weekend play starting this fall with the Fox O&Os on board, including Fox 32 and My50 locally. Tested in November as a strip at 7:30 p.m. on WNYW New York, the multicultural magazine focuses on urban entertainment news. The hope is with the weekend runs, Central Ave. expands to a first-run daily strip in the future.

Entertainment Studios is offering two off-Weather Channel hour-long series: Storm of Suspicion and Weather Gone Viral. Last fall, ES launched The World’s Funniest Weather to market.

And there are still some vital shows in the weekend marketplace though from smaller syndicators: Matter Of Fact; Raw Travel; Small Town, Big Deal; and Full Court Press With Greta Van Susuren among others.

And locally, WGN still has Chicago’s Best and Backstory With Larry Potash.

But the bottom line is, there is very little being offered this fall in syndication – even when it comes to off-network dramas of which there are none.

If what I mentioned above doesn’t interest you – or if you don’t care for news/political talk, sports, reruns of Friends and Law & Order: SVU ad nauseam, or TV preachers yelling from the pulpit, you’re better off with streaming services where original programming is always available. And it’s going to be like this for the foreseeable future.

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The state of syndication in 2020

Two new talk shows are being offered this fall: CBS Television Distribution’s Drew Barrymore (l.) and Debmar-Mercury’s Nick Cannon.

With Tamron Hall and Kelly Clarkson hits, syndication’s doing well thank you very much

If you’ve read this blog over the years, I usually write a “state of syndication” article around this time every year as NATPE approaches, and it often wasn’t rosy – especially this piece I wrote in 2016, Charlie Brown dozing off and all.

But as we enter the new decade, first-run syndication has never been healthy – thanks to the successful launches of NBCUniversal’s Kelly Clarkson and Disney’s Tamron Hall talk shows and the continued overall strength of numerous veterans from Ellen to Wheel Of Fortune to Judge Judy – something to celebrate as the 57th edition of NATPE kicks off today from the Fontainebleau Hotel & Resort in Miami Beach.

Syndication also received a boost from James Holzhauer’s success on Jeopardy! as his winning streak and his play in the recent Tournament of Champions helped achieve numbers the already successful game show hadn’t seen in years. It led to ABC picking up several episodes of Jeopardy! for prime-time this past month featuring Holzhauer, Ken Jennings, and Brad Ruetter. Dubbed The Greatest of All Time, each show drew around 15 million viewers, stunning industry execs (Sony is produced the specials for ABC; CBS Television Distribution had no involvement.)

According to TVNewsCheck and iSpotTV, the ten most-watched syndicated programs took in $335 million in ad sales in the 4th quarter, with Clarkson taking in $17 million, just missing that list. Clarkson has drawn 1.7 million viewers daily, with Hall right behind her at 1.2 million – that’s more than several prime-time shows on The CW.

We could see all first-run programs (except one) who debuted last fall return for a second season – and this is coming from a part of the television business that once saw a 90 percent failure rate for freshman shows. Already renewed are Clarkson and Hall, with Fox’s 25 Words Or Less (also with 1.2 million viewers, tying Hall) and weekly political talk show Full Court Press also receiving green lights for season two. Also likely to get picked up for next season include NBCUniversal’s Judge Jerry, Trifecta’s Protection Court, and even Sony’s The Mel Robbins Show, who is rated at the bottom of the talk show pack.

Robbins currently averages around a 0.4 Nielsen household rating and 466,000 viewers. But on the former Tribune stations (now Nexstar), Robbins’ non-confrontational talk show is likely drawing more ad revenue than the programming it replaced – usually trash shows such as Steve Wilkos, Jerry Springer, or Maury, which Tribune has aired for years. In Chicago, WGN-TV replaced Maury with Robbins at 1 p.m. last September with Povich sliding to 2 p.m. Recently, Robbins was upgraded from late-night in Los Angeles to 4 p.m. on Nexstar CW affiliate KTLA.

The lone show likely not coming back is Sony’s America Says, off-GSN episodes airing locally on Fox-owned My50 (WPWR) at 4 p.m.

Despite low ratings, Mel Robbins’ talk show could actually return for a second season, thanks to stronger ad revenues than the conflict shows it replaced on the former Tribune stations.

So far, two new talkers have been announced for next fall: CBS Television Distribution’s Drew Barrymore (cleared in 38 percent of the country via CBS O&Os) and Debmar-Mercury’s Nick Cannon, cleared in 40 percent of the country on Fox O&Os, where it will air twice a day in Chicago over Fox 32 (WFLD) and My50. Cannon has already received a leg up on Barrymore by engaging in a well-publicized social media feud with his longtime nemesis Eminem.

The real question is where both shows are going to wind up on Chicago TV schedules, given Fox’s stations have renewed their entire slate of syndicated programs for next fall, while CTD could decide to clear Barrymore on another station in town, similar to what Disney did with Hall last year by shifting the show to WCIU as ABC 7 (WLS) had no room on its schedule due to Windy City Live if CBS 2 (WBBM) decides not to replace Hot Bench at 2 p.m.

Sony is preparing to launch The Good Dish, a cooking/lifestyle program with Daphne Oz, daughter of Dr. Oz. With Maury up for renewal in 2020, it’s entirely possible Dish could replace him in some markets, including Chicago if Robbins come back, or serve as a replacement for Robbins if she doesn’t.

As for off-network fare, the lone “off-network” sitcom being released for fall is the off-CBC Schitt’s Creek, already picked up by the Fox O&Os. Both WGN and WFLD and numerous other stations have reduced their time devoted to off-network sitcoms in recent years and replaced them with news or other first-run programming. And as I pointed out last July, the marketplace for weekend non-sports programming continues to be weak as stations have all but abandoned the daypart (I’ll have an update on the weekend programming situation in the next post.)

Though NATPE is a place where syndicators traditionally do deals with stations, the last few years saw several shows sold well after the convention took place – for example, CTD rolled out Daily Mail TV in March 2017 and Trifecta announced Protection Court last May.

So how has syndicated TV stayed relevant? Dating back to the 1970s, syndicated programs were more diverse, with animated kids programming, scripted sitcoms and dramas, made-for-TV movies and specials, and later reality programs in addition to talk, magazine, and game shows.

But most of those genres dried up in the last 15 years or so due to changing viewer tastes (and this was even before streaming arrived), and it left the business with mostly first-run talk, magazine, and game shows in daytime, early fringe (afternoons), and prime access (6-8 p.m.) But this reinvention formula is working for both stations and syndicators as these types of shows are less impacted by delayed viewing and streaming, unlike prime-time programming on the broadcast networks and entertainment cable channels.

TVNewsCheck contributed to this report. 

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WGN-TV to add nightly sports show

Jarett Payton and Dan Roan on the set of CLTV’s “Sports Feed” in 2016.

Continues programming expansion at Bradley Place

Nexstar once again continues its push for more programming out of WGN’s Bradley Place by launching a nightly sports show at 10:30 p.m.

Billed as “GN Sports”, the program is hosted by WGN sports anchors Dan Roan and Jarrett Payton. The show displaces one of two airings of off-network sitcom The Goldbergs, which relocates to 12:30 a.m.

While a few stations do a nightly sports show, it’s typically on the tail end of a newscast and lasts only 15 minutes, similar to what WGN sister station KTLA (Sports Final) and CBS-owned independent KCAL (Sports Central) in Los Angeles does. But WGN’s effort is a full half-hour and airs at 10:30 p.m. The program is scheduled to start January 28.

According to a press release, the new show “will feature sports news and highlights of the day, in-studio guest interviews on upcoming matches, as well as the latest in sports gaming, fantasy sports and more.” The first week features Payton from Super Bowl LIV in Miami, and will regularly feature reports from Lauren Magiera and Josh Frydman.

The move to create GN Sports was made in part to at least have some sports presence on the station as WGN lost the rights to all four pro sports teams last year. It also brings a nightly sports show back to local television after the demise of Sports Page, a victim of CLTV closing up shop last month.

The addition of another local show is part of Nexstar’ plans to expand local programming at WGN. Earlier this month, WGN added more weekend newscasts in early morning and at 10 p.m. and a political show, the generically-titled WGN-TV Political Report. And last week, Nexstar announced a national news effort from WGN’s Bradley Place studios called News Nation to air on WGN America beginning next summer.

Moreover, the addition of GN Sports is another blow to syndicators – especially the off-network sitcom business as WGN – like other stations across the country – are bailing out on the genre altogether as viewers of such fare are more likely to binge-watch those type of shows on streaming services (WGN still airs off-net sitcoms in prime-time seven nights a week and after 11 p.m.) This continues a trend where local stations are filling time periods with news and home-grown fare and in some cases (such as the Fox O&Os) more first-run syndicated programming.

And GN Sports is a decent alternative to late-night talk shows on the broadcast networks and those obnoxious anchors on ESPN’s SportsCenter, where at least one version of the show often degenerates into lousy “Bad Beats” highlights and dumb sound effects.

The arrival of GN Sports has no effect on WGN’s traditional Sunday night sports wrap-up show Instant Replay, which continues to air at 9:40 p.m.

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Marquee Sports unveils on-air lineup, programming

New RSN drops details; Xfinity still not on board

The Cubs and Marquee Sports Network finally (finally!) unveiled details about the new network to fans Saturday at the annual Cubs Convention in downtown Chicago.

Programming on the channel consists of the obvious fare you would find on similar regional sports network channels: Cubs pre-game and post game shows and Cubs “All-Access” programming. There are also plans to air classic Cub games; live and condensed games with minor-league teams affiliated with the Cubs; and documentaries featuring Cubs greats, among others.

Marquee is also tapping programming from co-parent Sinclair Broadcasting, including Ring Of Honor Wrestling and others from the Fox regional sports networks, including college sports and soccer. Sinclair, who is a partner in the Marquee venture with the Cubs, bought Fox’s RSNs for $10 billion last summer.

On-air talent was also announced: The NFL Network’s Cole Wright was named studio host for the pre and post game programming, and Taylor McGregor was named field reporter. McGregor had a similar role with the Colorado Rockies telecasts on AT&T SportsNet and during ESPN College Football telecasts. Returning to call the games of course, are Len Kasper and Jim DeShies.

Other names announced were Ryan Dempster, Mark DeRosa, Doug Glanville, Jason Hammel, Chris Myers, Carlos Pena, Dan Pleseac, Lou Pinella, and Rick Sutcliffe –  allcould do studio work or be added as a third analyst. Myers could also fill-in for Kasper and Wright from time-to-time.

One fan in the audience at the session noted Kelly Crull, who was the on-field reporter for Cubs games when the team was on NBC Sports Chicago, wasn’t announced and a few in the crowd noted there was only one female named in the entire announcement.

Fans were also updated on where things stood when it came to who would get the network at launch when it officially debuts on February 22. Aside from Mediacom, Charter, and AT&T (who signed a deal last fall), the list unveiled was basically a hodge-podge of smaller cable companies though RCN was at the top of the list, serving neighborhoods on Chicago’s lakefront stretching from Rogers Park to the South Loop, including downtown, River North, and the Gold Coast. RCN also serves north suburban Lincolnwood and Skokie.

Notably missing was Comcast’s Xfinity, who is the Chicago-area’s largest cable provider estimated at 1.5 million homes throughout the ten-county DMA. Also missing was Wide Open West, who mainly serves neighborhoods on Chicago’s South Side (in addition to Xfinity.) At the con, the team urged fans to ante up the pressure on Xfinity to add the channel. Of note is Marquee didn’t do the same with Dish, figuring getting on their system is now a lost cause as the satellite provider is drawing the line on RSNs because they’re too expensive.


Marquee officials said they are currently working on deals with Xfinity and other providers including streaming services.

The unveiling of Marquee went a whole lot smoother Saturday as the mere mention of the name Friday by Cubs co-owner Tom Ricketts was booed on stage. “You guys won’t be booing about the Marquee Network in one year”, he told the crowd, who were already agitated by a lack of off-season moves (as opposed to the cross-town rival Chicago White Sox.)

The move to Marquee this year marks the first time in the modern media era the vast majority of Cubs games won’t be on over-the-air broadcast TV. Even though we now have more information, the rollout could have been handled a whole lot better, with not letting Tom Ricketts appear anywhere near an audience full of people for starters.

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Fox Television Stations launch new streamer Fox Soul

Fox-owned stations launch OTT service targeting African-American viewers; Fox 32’s Later With Leon to be featured 

In an ambitious move, Fox Television Stations announced Monday the launch of Fox Soul, a over-the-top service targeting African-American viewers between the ages of 25 and 54.

The new streaming service is featuring live-streaming original programming in prime-time and late night, roughly from 8 p.m. to midnight Chicago time, and shows from Fox owned-and-operated stations, including Fox 32’s (WFLD’s) Later With Leon, which airs weeknights at 11:30 p.m., excluding Fridays.

The channel is advertiser-supported and the shows are on-demand when the channel isn’t live streaming.

“We are proud to debut this African American focused channel, created by and for the members of the black community”, said Fox Soul head of programming James DuBose in a statement. “We intend to inform, inspire, and empower our viewers by meeting their needs for authentic conversations on topics relevant to our lives.”

Original programming on the channel includes shows featuring former Hughleys star Elise Neal (Fit and Fab, a weekly series on health and nutrition) and former Dallas radio personality and Deal or No Deal model Claudia Jordan (she hosts Out Loud, a talk show providing a black woman’s view on numerous issues regarding dating, beauty, and relationships.)

Another interview show features R&B singer Keyshia Cole with One On One.

Other original programs include On the 7 With Dr. Sean featuring Dr. Sean McMillian tackling hot topic issues in the African-American community; The Mike and Donny Show featuring Mike Hill and Donny Harrell featuring frank discussions about the issues black men and women face today; and The Tammi Mac Late Show, featuring the KJLH-FM/Los Angeles radio personality celebrating black culture through music, spoken word, and performance through meaningful conversation. Fox Soul is also urging audiences to interact with the shows via by the streaming app, social media, or going the old school route by simply calling in.

The OTT service also is featuring a stable of local shows from Fox’s owned-and-operated stations including Later With Leon, hosted by WGCI-FM’s Leon Rogers and Fox 32’s Tia Ewing. Others include The Q (featuring Quincy Harris from WTXF/Philadelphia); The Isiah Factor: Uncensored (featuring Isiah Carey of KRIV/Houston); and Chicago native Lisa Evers with Street Soldiers, a weekly program airing on New York’s WNYW. Evers is a general assignment reporter for WNYW and has a radio show on Hip-Hop WQHT/Hot 97.

Also airing on the service is Fox’s syndicated Dish Nation.

This is the first time a station group has launched an OTT service. In a statement, Fox Television Stations’ said “Fox Soul represents a unique approach to targeting a specific, passionate demographic and community who can benefit from the original content, format and interactivity that the new digital platforms can uniquely provide.”  The launch comes as local stations are seeking to retain many of their viewers as possible as more and more streaming options are taking hold.

So far, reviews haven’t exactly been kind and the branding of the channel feels dated (“Soul”). But it is a work in progress.

Fox Soul is available now at foxsoul.tv and via app through Apple, Android, Apple TV and Amazon Fire TV.


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Nexstar to launch new Chicago-based national newscast on WGN America

Broadcast group jumps into the cable news game with a different approach to news – the traditional way

With the announcement of a new national newscast originating from Chicago, Nexstar is making a huge financial investment in the Windy City.

The Irving, Tex.-based broadcaster announced Wednesday the launch of a three-hour prime-time national newscast originating from Chicago’s WGN-TV Bradley Place headquarters to air on cable network WGN America, currently available to 75 million viewers nationwide including in the Chicago area. Nexstar acquired WGN-TV and WGN America in an overall deal with Tribune Media for billions last year.

The title of the news show is NewsNation, (formerly used by NBC News and was hosted by then-MSNBC host Tamron Hall) as Nexstar plans to draw content from its 110-plus stations with local news operations. Heading up the new venture is current WGN-TV news director Jennifer Lyons with plans to launch this summer. Lyons has been instrumental in WGN’s continued news success as the station in recent years lost CW programming and rights to Chicago sports teams, including the Chicago Cubs.

There are no plans to air the national newscast on WGN-TV; the station already airs an hour of local news in prime-time at 9 p.m.

In a press release, Nexstar CEO Perry Sook pointed out the properties they have at their disposal to launch this ambitious project. “Nexstar has the largest newsgathering organization in the country, with 5,400 journalists in 110 newsrooms throughout the U.S., including capitol news bureaus in 20 states across the nation. We get to the scene of important breaking news first and provide live coverage delivered by reporters who know the local community and can provide the proper context for what’s happening. This is a powerful combination and gives us a great foundation on which to build News Nation.”

“News Nation will be primetime content that WGN America owns and controls. By aggregating our current news resources to produce News Nation, we can leverage WGN America’s strong reach across the U.S. and develop a new unbiased national news broadcast without incurring incremental operating expenses.”

Plans include an app to provide breaking news 24/7 and the newscasts are being heeded as “unbiased” and “straight down the middle”, differentiating them from the fare currently offered on the cable news networks. Nexstar officials say than plan less emphasis on politics and more on breaking news and feature stores, as no commentary or opinion segments are planned.

Nexstar plans to hire more than 100 journalists for the project to be based from WGN’s Bradley Place headquarters.

WGN’s Bradley Place headquarters to be home of Nexstar’s new prime-time newscast airing on WGN America.

Since Nexstar took over Tribune last year after closing on its acquisition of the Chicago-based broadcaster, the company has shaken up the local TV station and its radio counterpart as they look to invest in their newly bought Chicago properties. Among the moves: expanding WGN-TV news on weekends, adding a weekly political news show, and shaking up WGN-AM by replacing Steve Cochran with Bob Sirott. But last month, they shuttered local cable news channel CLTV due to low viewership and sparse reach.

On Monday, Nexstar officials were so incensed at a Crain’s Chicago Business article over future plans for WGN Radio – suggesting they were grooming the station for a sale, they ended their relationship with the magazine.

So far, no hires have been made but one notable name is still a free agent – former Fox News correspondent Shepard Smith, who left the network last year in a shocking move.

The move also answers a question regarding the future of WGN America as the former superstation has gone under several incarnations over the years, including a dip into original programming such as Manhattan, Salem, and Underground, but eliminated much of its scripted and reality programming when Sinclair announced it was a buying Tribune in a deal later aborted. WGN America finally became available to Chicago cable consumers in 2014 after Tribune decided to separate the cable feed from the local WGN-TV, something Atlanta’s WTBS did in 2007 when it became a standalone cable network and separated from the local station, which became WPCH-TV (now owned by Meredith Broadcasting.)

It remains to be seen how NewsNation would compete with the cable opinion news shows – for one Fox News’ Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity each average four to five million viewers a night, while MSNBC’s Chris Hayes and Rachel Maddow draw two to three million viewers – often beating some of the broadcast networks, particularly Fox and The CW. Is there an audience for straight forward news without the sideshows? For journalism’s sake, let’s hope so.

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iHeart Media announces cuts nationwide; Chicago stations lays off three (so far)

Nation’s largest radio chain eliminates positions in belt-tightening

In 2009, Clear Channel Communications announced one of the biggest radio layoffs in history, cutting 1,850 positions announced on January 20, the same day President Obama was inaugurated into office. At the time, I wrote: “Even more appalling is their plan to cut back on live, local programming and add more syndicated content. The audience has been telling them for years they demand live and local programming. But since Clear Channel doesn’t listen to or care about the listener, why bother?”

Well, here we are eleven years later, and it looks like we’re reading and repeating the same script.

In a massive restructuring, iHeartMedia – the former Clear Channel – announced sweeping layoffs across the country, as they “reorganize” to become something else. From All Access: 

“iHEARTMEDIA has revamped the organizational structure of its Markets Group that it says will put markets into three divisions and add a fourth covering multiple markets and will create hubs to consolidate programming, marketing, digital, podcasts, sales and sales support resources. The company characterizes the move as “moderniz(ing) the company to take advantage of the significant investments it has made in technology and artificial intelligence (AI) and its unique scale and leadership position in the audio marketplace.” 

“The consolidation will create “Centers of Excellence” using artificial intelligence and other technology into hubs that the company claims will “provide a better experience for listeners and business partners and a more efficient process for all of its employees.”

Translation: There will be more syndicated programming and less live and local content as they merge functions in numerous markets. For example, the Dayton cluster and the Cincinnati one could share the same hub in the newly-created “Southern Ohio Center Of Excellence”.

Instead of live and local programming, iHeartMedia is directing more of its resources to producing awards shows and music festivals.

In a memo sent to employees, [BOB] PITTMAN and RICH BRESSLER said that “there will be some employee dislocation — some by geography and some by function — which is the unfortunate price we pay to modernize the company.  We have had to make some tough decisions, and in the process some employees have been affected.  Please know we were thoughtful in this process and have provided enhanced severance benefits as well as outplacement assistance for any impacted employees, and we want to thank them for the valuable contributions they have made.”

The process of those “employee dislocations” began Tuesday morning with on-air layoffs in Des Moines, Indianapolis, Nashville, Louisville, Cincinnati, and Toledo among others. Later in the day, the iHeart Media cutting caravan came to Chicago with three on-air personalities axed at the cluster as reported by Robert Feder: Chris Michaels of urban AC V103 (WVAZ-FM); DJ MoonDog (aka Michael Muniz) of urban contemporary WGCI-FM and Trace Hamilton of country outlet Big 95.5 (WEBG-FM.) All three worked evenings; this means – at least for now – there are no live jocks on Chicago iHeartMedia stations after 7 p.m. One tweeter said a Bobby Bones rerun would air in evenings as a replacement at Big, and syndicated programming for V103 and WGCI could be in the offering.

And this isn’t all – more layoffs are expected this week and could include Chicago and other markets. When all is said and done, the number of layoffs nationwide could match or surpass those of the 2009 massacre. iHeartMedia took the unprecedented step of removing their entire roster of on-air personalities from all of their websites.

The news of the iHeartMedia layoffs were greeted with scorn on Twitter. Here’s a sampling of responses:






The layoffs comes despite iHeartMedia’s WLIT-FM dominating the last book with Christmas music, sweeping all dayparts. V103 is among the top three stations in Chicago, while Kiss 103.5 (WKSC) is marginally successful and WGCI and Big 95.5 are clearly struggling as their respective formats are also in a slump. Some of the fired personalities in the affected markets (such as Louisville) were tops in their daypart overall and in key demos.

The layoffs come as Rolling Stone reported Tuesday iHeartMedia’s two contemporary-hit radio stations in the top two markets (New York and Los Angeles) refused to play songs from Korean boy band BTS and Lil Nas X despite their successful chart runs because the songs were – and I’m paraphrasing here – “not white enough”, harking back to the post-disco and pre-Michael Jackson Thriller era (roughly early 1980 to early 1983) when Top 40 stations and MTV basically refused to play songs from black artists.

As I said over a decade ago, cutting back on live and local programming isn’t the way to attract audiences, and iHeartMedia is making the same mistakes it did back then. And it has doubled-down on the way it operates business – in the last decade, iHeartMedia has held Jingle Balls, Music Festivals, and awards shows to attract A-talent superstars, even though the music artists do not get a single penny from their airplay from terrestrial radio. The iHeart deals basically shuts them up, preventing them from speaking out against the company (in fact, not one performer has said anything about Tuesday’s major layoffs.)

So much for having artists in employees’ corner, many of whom (usually off-air personnel) are earning hardly anything to make ends meet – a problem brought up more and more in the past year in the media business as the #PayUpHollywood tag attests.

With the massive layoffs in radio and newspapers (with Alden Capital flexing its muscle on the board of Tribune Publishing), traditional media has still not figured out how to navigate the changes taking place. Tuesday’s actions means iHeartMedia is throwing up their hands, despite the gibberish they were crowing about in their press release. The one thing iHeartMedia had in their arsenal to compete with Sirius/XM, podcasting, and streaming services such as Spotify and Amazon Music  – live and local content – is no longer a priority. Watching the same scenario play out again 11 years later is like a rerun of a bad TV show that never ends.

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WGN-TV expands weekend newscasts

More news on tap for Nexstar’s independent station 

(Editor’s Note: This post has been updated.)

As alluded to when Nexstar announced the closure of CLTV, WGN is rolling out expanded weekend newscasts and local programming – including adding a 10 p.m. newscast on Saturday and Sunday, all effective January 11.

For starters, the station’s Saturday morning newscasts are now three hours long from 7 to 10 a.m. with Sean Lewis and Tonya Francisco. WGN is also expanding its Saturday and Sunday newscasts a half-hour to 10:30 p.m., anchored by Jackie Bange and Tahmann Bradley.

In addition, WGN is joining the weekly political round-up game with the rather generic name WGN-TV Political Report featuring political analyst Paul Lisnek and Bradley, airing Sunday mornings at 9 a.m.

With the news and political programming expansion means several existing programs are being shuffled around the schedule. Local programs Backstory With Larry Potash and Chicago’s Best are being moved to 10:30 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays, respectively.

The moves comes as the FCC modified their E/I rules last year, enabling local stations to be more flexible with scheduling kids’ educational programming – in this case, both WLS-TV and WGN-TV have reduced their weekly E/I programming on their main channels to two hours a week with similar programming on their digital subchannels taking up the slack to meet the three-hour requirements.

The expansion also comes in an election year, where local stations are accommodating political advertisers who prefer news and information programming to target voters.

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“Millionaire” returns to ABC to celebrate (belated) 20th anniversary

Jimmy Kimmel takes over with new format

Well, that didn’t take long.

Just mere months after airing its final episode in syndication, ABC announced Wednesday at the Winter TCA Tour it is bringing back Who Wants To Be A Millionaire as a series of prime-time specials starting April 8, the same night Modern Family is airing its final episode.

Handling the reins this time is ABC late-night talk show host Jimmy Kimmel, and it will have a new format: celebrities will pick a contestant to play along with. ABC officials said celebrities can “invite a guest in the hot seat to help them answer questions. It could be a relative, a beloved teacher, or a famed trivia expert — anyone they want — to help them win as much money as they can for the charity of their choice.” Also on tap is an interactive app, where viewers can play at home and win real cash.

The last time Millionaire aired in primetime was in 2009 when the series was celebrating its 10th anniversary, which drew huge numbers locally. This new version marks the 20th anniversary, though a year late as the show premiered on August 16, 1999 with Regis Philbin as host and made the phrase “Is that your final answer?” into pop-culture lore. In November 1999, the series returned to ABC as a limited series and crowned John Carpenter as the show’s first-ever one million dollar winner.

The success of Millionaire as a limited series led ABC to run the show three times a week beginning in early 2000. But when the series was upped to four times a week in the fall of 2000, viewers became tired of the show, and left the network on June 27, 2002.

A new syndicated strip of the same name debuted as host in September of the same year with Meredith Vieira as host. After she departed in 2013, Cedric The Entertainer and Terry Crews took turns as emcees until the show settled on Bachelor host Chris Harrison in 2015. The series was canceled last spring as Millionaire wound up airing in late-night on WLS-TV for its final season, the last ABC O&O to finally clear the show (it had another clearance on the former U Too digital subchannel of WCIU.)

It’s going to be interesting to see how viewers would react to Kimmel’s new version as he is not only host, but also executive producer. One of the problems with Millionaire in its original ABC run were the over-reliance of celebrity versions to begin with, but having them along regular contestants strikes as a workable compromise. It also remains to be seen where the series would be shot; the last version was taped in Las Vegas (which is coincidentally where Kimmel lived for several years.) Millionaire was taped in New York City and in Stamford, Conn. in the past.

Also undecided is how many nights ABC is committing to Millionaire.

This move is surprising given Millionaire ended just last September. But ABC is investing further into unscripted projects and it’s evidenced by the decent ratings of their summer game shows with successful revivals of Press Your Luck, Card Sharks, and Match Game – and all of this as the multi-night Jeopardy! The Greatest Of All Time multi-night event scored nearly 15 million viewers on its first night. And to top it off, numerous ABC-owned stations and affiliates already air Jeopardy! and Wheel Of Fortune, including WLS here. It also doesn’t hurt to be in business with Kimmel, who already produced two successful editions of Live In Front Of A Studio Audience, live reworkings of Norman Lear’s 1970s sitcoms.

Even though ABC is in fourth place in the key 18-49 demo, the network has carved itself a nice place for itself as the home of unscripted series and game shows. In a world where streaming is sucking audiences away from the broadcast networks in primetime, today’s announcement proves the network knows how to stay in the game. And that’s the final answer.


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The fridge pack (plus one): The unlucky 13 of the decade

“Chicagoland” was nothing more than an eight-hour infomercial for Rahm Emanuel and dragged the city into the mud.

There are flops, and then there are….flops. For every success in the most recent decade, there were products coming off so badly, you don’t know how the hell they were even conceived in the first place – you basically had to see it to believe it! If you thought the 2000s version of “The Dirty Dozen” were bad, they have nothing on this bunch as we have an insufferable mini-series about Rahm Emanuel, a radio station failing with TWO Spanish-language formats, two terrible local morning TV shows, and a program about couples having sex with each other in a box. Yes, you heard me – in a box.

Here are the 13 biggest blunders of the 2010s in Chicago media, television, and tech, ranked in no particular order:

– Chicagoland. No doubt the worst TV show of the entire decade by far, this eight-hour mini-series on CNN premiered in 2014 as some dubbed it an infomercial for then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel. The program documented crime in Chicago’s black neighborhoods and struggles at a local high school and made Emanuel come out smelling like guest-room soap. It was later revealed Emanuel actually manipulated the show with several scenes being edited out, including being booed at a basketball game. The show was a critical and ratings failure, and was nothing but an embarrassment to Chicago.

– Chicago: Not Your Kind Of Town if your name isn’t Dick Wolf.  While Dick Wolf and NBC made a successful franchise of Chicago based shows (Med, Fire, and P.D.), other shot-in-Chicago shows weren’t so lucky. CBS’ The Red Line and Fox’s Chicago Code and APB each suffered from terrible writing, poor plot structure, and mediocre acting, dooming each series after one season. In addition, a CBS reality-based dating show based in Chicago in 2012 called 3 didn’t even reach its third episode – it was canceled after only two.

– Inhumans. On paper, this couldn’t miss: Marvel has had success at the box office and this new ABC series could have been the next big television franchise. But a ridiculously unprepared presentation at both Comic-Con and the TCA Summer Press Tour and scathing reviews ended any hope ABC had for this show.

– SexBox. The official listing from The T Dog Media TV Hall Of Shame: Um, WTF is this? A couple bang each other in a “box” on stage and tell about their “experience” to a psychologist in front of a studio audience in hopes to improve their “relationship”? Are you kidding me?” One of the most odious shows to ever air on TV, SexBox was demolished by the We network after only five episodes, five more than necessary.

Megyn Kelly was the $69 million-a-year mistake for NBC as she lasted all of two years.

– NBC hiring Megan Kelly. NBC lured Fox News personality Megan Kelly away in 2017 with a lucrative $69 million deal and handed her a prime-time newsmagazine show (canceled in August 2017) a daily 9 a.m. show, pushing out Al Roker and Tamron Hall in the process. The program was a total disaster in every way imaginable, botching interviews with Jane Fonda and the cast of Will & Grace. After making controversial comments about blackface on her show in October 2018, it was curtains for Megan Kelly Today – and her time at NBC.

– Monsters and Money In The Morning. In a desperate ploy to boost very low TV ratings in the early morning, CBS-owned WBBM-TV brought in former radio sports show hosts Mike North and Dan Jiggetts in early 2010 (both did a similar show called Monsters In The Morning for Comcast Sportsnet) and added financial expert Terry Savage and Mike Hedgeus. The show lasted all of six months as this blog noted at the timeit could be considered the biggest bomb in local television history”.

– Mancow Experience. In order to provide some first-run programming in a tough morning daypart, Fox-owned My Network TV affiliate WPWR (known as My50) signed shock jock Mancow Mueller to simulcast his syndicated radio show from the ground floor studios of sister station WFLD in 2012. Ratings for the show scored even lower than the reruns and infomercials it replaced – including a stretch in September 2014 where Mancow scored a landmark 0.0 Nielsen rating on numerous days. Surprisingly, Mancow’s show lasted two LONG years before the plug was pulled.

– CW 50 Chicago. In 2016, The CW shocked everyone by moving their affiliation in Chicago from Tribune’s WGN-TV to WPWR, marking the first time a Fox-owned station became a CW affiliate, rebranding as CW50. But continued low ratings overall and no social media presence (CW 50 didn’t even have a station website) led the network to shift their programming to Weigel’s WCIU after only three years as WPWR reverted back to “My 50”.

– 95.5 En Espanol. Turning to Chicago radio: In 2009, Clear Channel (now iHeartMedia) dumped WNUA’s Smooth Jazz format after 22 years for a Spanish-language CHR/Top 40 format branded Mega 95.5. Three years later, it switched to another Spanish-language format as El Patron, playing Regional Mexican music. Either way, WNUA couldn’t complete with heritage Spanish-language stations WOJO-FM and WLEY-FM, and in early 2015 returned to an English-language format as Country station Big 95.5 (WEBG-FM.)

– FM News 101.1. In 2011, newly-formed Merlin Media – run by Randy Michaels, decided to jump into the all-news game by launching “FM News” in New York City and Chicago, replacing heritage rocker WKQX-FM in the process. Merlin hired strong talent such as Rob Hart, Charlie Meyerson, and Monica DeSantis, among others. Unfortunately, FM News’ presentation left very little to be desired and due to very poor ratings, FM News wound up in the dust bin after eleven months. Alternative rock returned to the 101.1 frequency two years after FM News demise as 101 WKQX.

WNUA’s “Mega 95.5” was a mega flop so in 2012 it became something else that didn’t succeed.

– The Alliance of American Football (AAF). Unlike the XFL (which is making a comeback this year), the play in the AAF was actually well received and its first broadcast in prime-time on CBS was decently rated. However, the league quickly ran into financial problems after Carolina Hurricanes owner Tom Dundon took over operations and in April 2019, the league ceased operations after filing Chapter 7 bankruptcy in just two months of operation, without crowning a champion or even holding a single playoff game. Worse, the closure left many players on their own, reportedly forced to pay their own hotel and medical bills.

– The first version of Apple Maps. Turning to tech: to compete with Google Maps, Waze, and other mapping apps, Apple released their own version for their iOS devices in 2012. But it was filled with numerous errors (i.e. the Willis/Sears Tower was in the wrong location) and gave inaccurate directions (including turning onto railroad tracks.) It was so bad at one point, the police department in the Australian city of Mildura warned the public not to use Apple Maps because the mapping service showed Mildura…right in the middle of a national park 40 miles away where it was supposed to be.

– Playstation Vue. Hoping to cash in as cord-cutters were increasing in numbers, Sony launched Playstation Vue in 2015 after its namesake video gaming system as a cheaper over-the-top offering with live TV and a cable bundle for less than traditional providers such as Comcast and DirecTV. But Sony fell behind the curve as Hulu, Fubo, and Google’s YouTube TV were more successful in drawing more subscribers and moreover, lost the rights to carry Viacom’s networks and couldn’t strike content deals with other content providers. With an estimated 750,000 subscribers, Sony pulled the plug on Vue in October 2019 with the service shutting down January 30 of this year.

Runner Ups

– Wii U. Nintendo released this follow-up to the wildly successful Wii in 2012 and was their first gaming console in HD. But with a hard-to-use controller (which was actually a tablet) and the scarcity of games available, the Wii only sold 13 million units total and was discontinued in 2016. Nintendo can take solace in the success of Switch, which has sold over 35 million units worldwide to date.

– Work It. ABC premiered this show in 2012 about two men who were forced to cross-dress in order to keep their jobs. Terrible ratings and even worse reviews sunk this show after two episodes.

– Allen Gregory. This Fox animated series featured Jonah Hill as a seven year-old know it all, an unlikable character you would love to smash in the face. Even though it lasted seven episodes in 2011, it did lay the groundwork for a similar, live-action show now airing on CBS: Young Sheldon.

– Sinclair’s pursuit of Tribune Media. In 2017, Sinclair proposed a $4 billion purchase of Tribune Media – and tried to scam around FCC rules by intentionally undervaluing Tribune’s New York and Chicago stations, prompting the FCC to refer the matter to an administrative law judge, effectively killing the deal.  The Tribune stations were later sold to Nexstar.


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The fridge pack: The twelve items that made the decade

Cubs win the World Series in 2016 after 108 years.

Even through the 2010s were less impactful than the previous decade was (i.e. no iPod-like devices were invented), the period did provide some historic moments. Hearkening back to an era where T Dog Media was a little more looser than it is now, I present to you The Fridge Pack: The Twelve Items That Made The Decade and its impact on Chicagoans and our nation, ranked in no particular order:

– The advent of Netflix and streaming services. In 2013, Netflix decided to “stream” as TV show called House of Cards, dropping all episodes at once – and changed the TV business forever. The company once known for renting DVDs by mail became a global powerhouse in entertainment and opened the door to a brand new way to consume our favorite shows.

– Peak TV. And thanks to streaming, the number of scripted TV series surged from around 100 at the start of the decade or so to over 500, leading FX’s John Landgraf to coin the phrase “Peak TV”. While the surge of television series has led to more quality series – it also has led to more crappy ones.

– The Chicago Blackhawks. The “model” franchise in sports, the once-moribund team (remember those home TV blackouts?) won the Stanley Cup in 2010 for the first time in 39 years, bringing the sport of hockey back to prominence in Chicago. And to put a cherry on top of the sundae, the Blackhawks repeated the feat in 2013 and 2015, respectively.

– The Cubs’ 2016 World Series win. After a century of losing, GM Theo Epstein finally righted the ship and on November 2, 2016 the Cubs did what was once the unthinkable – win the World Series for the first time in 108 years, breaking sports’ longest championship drought with game seven delivering the biggest ratings ever for Fox-owned WFLD-TV and the largest baseball audience for a game in over 25 years. The victory parade drew nearly five million people for what was indeed the party of the century.

– The New England Patriots. Whether you love them or hate them – and there are plenty of people in both camps – you can’t deny the success of Tom Brady and Bill Bellicheck as the Patriots have made five Super Bowl appearances in the 2010s, and won three of them.

– Podcasting. A fancy name for “audio on-demand content”, the form came of age in the 2010s in part thanks to Chicago-based This American Life’s “Serial”, an investigative journalism podcast. Today, there are more than 100,000 podcasts to choose from on basically every subject, and now even television shows are being developed from them.

Last Week Tonight With John Oliver. Whether if its taking down Dr. Oz or Sinclair Broadcasting, the Emmy-winning HBO host has a penchant for ranting in a very informative – and humorous way.

– #MeToo. In the beginning of the decade, the term “Me Too” was used as branding for one of WCIU’s classic TV channels. By the end, “Me Too” had a completely different meaning as it became a hashtag to address the issue of sexual harassment and inequality in the workplace after Harvey Weinstein was busted for inappropriate treatment of women in Hollywood. Since then, dozens of careers have ended from Charlie Rose to Bill Cosby and from Tavis Smiley to Les Moonves.

The Big Bang Theory. Okay, this series began in 2007 but came into its own in the 2010s. What stated out as four nerds struggling to survive socially became a strong ensemble show with the addition of Melissa Rauch and Mayim Bialik. The series was a big winner in off-network for syndication and Turner Broadcasting too, earning close to $4 million an episode.

Game of Thrones. Medieval times were never portrayed like this – nudity, incest, sex, swearing, and then some. Based on George Martin’s Fire and ICe novels, Game of Thrones became a pop culture sensation and a big moneymaker for hBO.

– Television can (still) make a difference. If you thought linear television was no longer relevant, consider this: Lifetime aired a three-part documentary Surviving R. Kelly, featuring some of his victims. As a result, the R&B superstar was arrested and charged and several urban radio stations pulled his music from the airwaves.

– The dominance of v103, The Drive, and Newsradio WBBM. There isn’t much positive to note about Chicago radio this decade, but three stations – iHeartMedia’s V103 (WVAZ-FM), Hubbard’s The Drive (WDRV-FM) and Entercom’s all-news WBBM-AM demonstrate if you stick with a proven formula, you will attract a lot of loyal listeners. And all three have been at or near the top of the radio ratings for the last decade.

Honorable mentions:

Bob’s Burgers. The pilot episode wasn’t much, but the animated series evolved to be one of the strongest – and funniest shows on television as the lower-class Belchers battle with the rest of the more upper-class echelons of their community – particularly their rival across the street, a landlord who has no use for them, and a health inspector who perfectly portrays the corrupt Chicago authority figure.

The Chi. While several shows set in Chicago failed to capture the vibe of the city (I’ll discuss this further in the flops of the decade), there are some that did so perfectly Showtime’s The Chi captured life on Chicago’s South Side – brutally and honestly.

(Editor’s Note: An earlier post incorrectly stated the number of New England Patriots Super Bowl appearances. T Dog Media regrets the error.)

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What to look for in 2020

What’s on the media agenda in the first year of the new decade

The new decade brings us things to look forward to in the world of media. So here’s are the ten things to keep your eye on in Chicago and in general for 2020. We’ll check back in at the end of the year to see how we did.

1. The battle of the streamers. With NBCUniversal’s Peacock and WarnerMedia’s HBO Max joining Amazon, Netflix, Apple, Hulu, Disney, and other smaller outfits, 2020 is going to see how much viewers can put up with in the streaming wars.

2. Linear TV’s struggles to continue. With a huge threat from more streaming services, can linear TV – traditional over-the-air and cable TV – stay relevant – especially among younger viewers?

3. The launch of the Marquee Sports Network. This is going to be the most anticipated launch in Chicago, even more so than the streaming services. But as of this writing, the Cubs’ new network still doesn’t have deals with any providers in the Chicago area (outside of DirecTV) and hasn’t announced any on-air talent.

4. Chicago morning radio smackdown. The new year starts with new (and familiar) faces with Richard Miline taking over from Lin Brehmer at WXRT and Bob Sirott taking over from Steve Cochran at WGN. There are also new syndicated morning shows at Soul 106.3 (Ricky Smiley) and Power 92 (The Morning Hustle.)

5. The presidential race. The Race For The White House will indeed generated tons of revenue for local TV and radio stations (not to mention Google and Facebook) as there has yet to be a Democratic front runner to challenge President Trump.

6. Chicago Tribune and Alden Capital Group. The controversial private-equity firm has already bought into Tribune Publishing (owner of the Chicago Tribune) and two seats on the board. On June 30, they can take control with a 51 percent stake. Will local journalism suffer….even more?

7. Retransmission battles. If last year was any indication, 2020 could be even worse for cable and satellite viewers as media companies and providers continue to battle over how much they could get paid to carry their signal, and if negotiations don’t work out… off the air they go.

8. The XFL Returns. No one is going to care in Chicago since we won’t have a team at start, but it will be interesting to see if Vince McMahon can avoid repeating the same mistakes that doomed the league in the first place.

9. The impact of sports betting. With Illinois and other states expected to roll out sports gambling this year, sports networks and radio stations are more than certain to roll out more programming as guides to win (or lose) more money.

10. Will there be a work stoppage in Hollywood? Taking a page from the Chicago Teacher’s Union – who went on strike last fall for two weeks, the Writer’s Guild of America is expected to use some of those same tactics and apply them to their looming negotiations with the studios. If their ongoing battle with agents are any indication, we could in for a long and painful work stoppage.

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Mary Dixon heads to WBEZ as new news anchor

Longtime WXRT news person returns at a new station

After being let go from Entercom’s Adult Album Alternative rock outlet WXRT, Mary Dixon has quickly landed on her feet at Chicago Public Media’s news/talk WBEZ-FM.

Beginning next month, the 54 year-old news veteran becomes the station’s new morning news anchor and local host of NPR Morning Edition. She will be on the air from 5 a.m. to 10 a.m., replacing longtime host Lisa Lubuz who is transiting to middays in an announcement made two months ago.

“I am thrilled to join the WBEZ team. As a longtime listener and supporter, I’m excited to work with such talented people who value journalism, diverse voices, and our community,” said Dixon in a statement. “I’m honored to succeed Lisa in the Morning Edition chair and hope to build on her work, being that warm, friendly, authoritative voice to wake up with. We’ll be working to keep WBEZ listeners informed and even entertained as they begin their days.”

As you recall, Entercom eliminated Dixon’s position at WXRT last month in a cost-cutting move, but was offered a position to handle late-nights at sister station WBBM-AM but declined the offer saying the position would not work out for her and her family. The shuffling was a part of an overall overhaul seeing longtime morning personality Lin Brehmer shifted to middays. Dixon was the news anchor during Brehmer’s for most of the last two-and-a-half decades. Dixon has also had stints at WGN-TV and CNN’s Chicago Bureau.

WBEZ has become one of the nation’s most successful public radio stations in recent years, finishing seventh overall in the latest PPM rankings. The station is still searching for a replacement for CEO Goli Sheikholeslami who took a similar position at New York City’s WNYC last August. 


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ABC wins ratings war in tamer New Year’s Eve derby

Ratings down nationally but “Rockin’ Eve” still tops

New Year’s 2020 didn’t have Mariah Carey being confused on stage or Don Lemon hitting a bong, but viewers still tuned in to count down to the new decade.

And local viewers got to saw Mark Giangreco in drag. Yes, really.

According to Nielsen ratings, ABC’s Dick Clark’s New Year’s Eve With Ryan Seacrest decisively won over competing shows on NBC (Carson Daly) and Fox (Steve Harvey) with a 5.2 rating in the adults 18-49 demo, and 21 million viewers. The special began at 7 p.m. Chicago time, and drew eight million viewers, growing to nearly eleven million viewers at 9 p.m.  Ratings were down from a year ago, but still dominated the evening.

Overall, ABC, NBC, and Fox drew a combined 31.28 million viewers for the ball drop, down from 32.78 a year earlier.

Aside from… um, the photo above, the train-wreck atmosphere surrounding the night were mostly absent this year as they were really no unusual moments that had anyone taking on social media. The absence of Jenny McCarthy and Kathy Griffin may have also played a role in the more subdued festivities though admittedly, didn’t tune in to see Andy Cohen or Anderson Cooper on CNN, but if they did anything, it wasn’t exactly the talk of social media.

The musical performances on Rockin’ Eve also lacked buzz, notably the one leading up to the ball drop. This year it was Post Malone, who turned in a completely forgettable performance [Disclaimer: I’m OLD.] Could anyone make out what exactly he was singing? The best part of his appearance is when he fell off the stage.

Locally, ABC’s dominant Rockin’ Eve special led into Countdown Chicago on ABC 7, and to no one’s surprise placed an even more dominant first, finishing well ahead of NBC 5’s New Year’s Eve special and WGN’s first ever New Year’s Eve Blast, who finished a distant third.

Like in previous years, ABC 7 opened with a snazzy dance number with the station’s Terrell Brown and Cheryl Scott in the forefront, while Giangreco was in drag (he wore his regular clothes when he co-hosted with Janet Davies.) Maybe next year if ABC 7 can snag Kellogg’s as a sponsor, Giangreco could appear in a Tony The Tiger costume. 

WGN’s coverage was the most disappointing, relying too much on pre-packaged material, including a segment they ran from a newscast days ago. But the station should get props for surrounding Blast with two classic Marx Brothers movies – a rarity in local television these days.

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2019: So how did we do?

Back when 2019 started, T Dog Media looked at the stories to watch throughout the year. So how did we do? I have the answers right here:

1. The continuing impact of Netflix and Amazon. And as of this writing, Netflix movie BirdBox has racked up 45 million views on the streaming service. Look for the duo to continue being cultural changers in 2019.

And 2019 also saw Disney Plus successfully launch. With two more big streaming services set to launch in 2020, streaming is here to stay.

2. Will B96 end its contemporary music format in 2019 after 37 years? With ratings at an all-time low, it could be curtains after a long run – but it may not easy to pull off as competitors are seeking to block any move a rival could make by tweaking their own existing formats. Another station we should keep our eye on? Struggling country music station Big 95.5.

B96’s ratings actually went up a bit while Big is still in the game. But both are still underperforming.

3. What the Cubs new network would look like. The biggest discussion is the Cubs’ new regional sports channel, set to launch in 2020. What will it be named? And are they going to partner with Sinclair Broadcasting to launch it, as rumored?

Announced last February, the Cubs officially launched Marquee Sports Network, powered by Sinclair Broadcasting. But since then, very little news has been released, including programming and on-air talent. 

4. The split of Fox and its namesake studio will be final. An end of an era is looming as Disney would be in control of the 20th Century Fox film studio and its properties, perhaps as soon as March.

And it happened in March as advertised.

5. Can WLS-AM revive itself with newcomers Mancow Muller and Ben Shapiro? In a Democratic-leaning metropolitan area, it could be a tough chore to improve ratings, even with an established name and a hot newcomer.

Mueller and Shapiro both have done decently well – with Rush Limbaugh and Chris Plante even cracking the top ten in middays. I’m taking a shower now….

6. The FCC’s agenda. A Fifth Democratic member is expected to come aboard, but the agency will have to deal with the Government shutdown first. Another item to look for is the battle of chldren’s programming requirements for local stations.

After the government re-opened, The FCC named Gefforey Starks to fill the vacant seat as the battle over children’s programming turned out not to be, as the Republican-dominated agency rammed through rule changes easily. 

7. Disney and Warner Media each launch their streaming service. With each set to launch next fall, can these studios put a dent in the streaming dominance of Netflix and Amazon?

See #1.

8. Will Jessica Jones make it to a fourth season? With Netflix cancelling three Marvel shows last year – not to mention a weak second season, Jessica Jones  and The Punisher indeed have targets on their back.

Both shows were canceled last spring, signaling the end of the Marvel Netfix Universe. 

9. Who be will be the next Mayor of Chicago? The reality series Who Wants To Be Mayor Of Chicago is going to be one to watch with at least 20 candidates!

And the winner was an unlikely name: Lori Lightoot.

10. Who do you have in your daytime TV talk show pool? Kelly Clarkson or Tamron Hall? The real question is, where is Hall going to land on ABC 7’s schedule? Will she replace the local Windy City Live? Or be stuck in late-night? Is Kelly Clarkson replacing Steve Harvey at 2 p.m. on NBC 5? Hell, will Steve Harvey even have a talk show come next fall? And what is going to replace Extra on the NBC owned stations?

With ABC 7 keeping WCL, Hall wound up on WCIU-Ch. 26 at 4 p.m. as Kelly Clarkson became the new hot talk show of the fall season. “Steve” came to an end, and the NBC-owned stations replaced Extra with an Access: Hollywood spin-off, All Access (which airs locally at 3 a.m. on NBC 5.)

11. The AT&T-Justice Department battle. Will AT&T be forced to rewind its merger with Time Warner (now WarnerMedia)? This battle could wind up in front of the U.S. Supreme Court.

The phone company won.

12. Will Nexstar keep WGN Radio? If Nexstar sells the legendary talker, potential buyers could be Cumulus, iHeartMedia, Entercom, or perhaps someone else. Either way, it’s an end of an era.

They did, and appointed former Clear Channel exec Sean Compton to run it, for better or worse.