TV, radio see increased usage amid coronavirus crisis

 

Many viewers and listeners rediscover two old standbys

In a time of crisis, Americans are tuning to two sources they trust the most: radio and television.

Numerous reports have been published this week detailing how both mediums are benefiting (for the lack of a more suited term) from the current coronavirus crisis as homes using television levels and people using radio levels have surged thanks to stay-at-home orders in affect in basically all the largest TV and radio DMAs, including Chicago, New York City, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, The Bay Area (San Francisco), and the Dallas County portion of the Dallas-Fort Worth market.

Even though the numbers came out before the crisis hit its stride (with the stay-at home orders and such), Entercom’s all-news WBBM-AM topped the Chicago market in February and is expected to dominate the ratings as listeners tune in for the latest on the crisis. Other stations including WGN-AM and conservative talk WLS-AM are also expected to see increased listenership in the months, if not weeks ahead.

According to Nielsen, 83 percent of Americans are spending more time (or the same) with radio due to the coronavirus crisis. In an online survey taken for three days last week, 60 percent of listeners aged 18 and older say they trust radio to give them timely information on COVID-19. iHeartMedia, the nation’s largest radio operator who owns six stations in the Chicago area, have reported their digital platforms have seen sharp increases across the board including in smart speakers, their websites, and Smart TV apps. Online interaction with iHeartMedia personalities are also up.

Many radio stations are adjusting with the new reality of “social distancing” as more and more hosts are broadcasting from home, thanks to technology such as ISDN lines. And believe it or not, voice tracking is actually an asset at a time like this.

Of course, not all is positive. Many radio and television stations have suffered advertising cancellations resulting in lost revenue and a few stations have already gone dark due to the crisis including a cluster in Maine and a small conservative talk station in Atlanta.

As for local TV stations, many of them are adjusting on the fly, including weather forecasters Brant Miller and Cheryl Scott doing the weather from their respective homes. On Tuesday, CBS-owned WBBM-TV did an entire newscast outdoors as a trial run in case the station’s facilities is evacuated in case of an emergency. Ratings for local news stations are reportedly up, though numbers were not immediately available.

Ratings are up in prime-time for the most part, with cable news channels recording the biggest gains. Sports viewers who would normally watch ESPN and regional sports channels have also gravitated to news, whether if it is local or national. Broadcasters have also attracted more young viewers as the crisis unfolds. Ratings in the 25 largest markets (including Chicago) show live viewing of local news are up 52 percent in the 18-34 demo in the first week of March and up 83 percent in the second week of March, compared to last year at this time. Nielsen released more figures Thursday, with overall television usage up 18 percent with Chicago achieving a 20 percent ratings surge.

While ratings for numerous prime-time shows are up such as NCIS and This Is Us, others haven’t benefited. For example, Fox’s animation lineup on Sunday night finished fourth in the adults 18-49 demo, even behind Univision. Whether this momentum can be sustainable is debatable, given many at-home viewers also have access to streaming services such as Netlix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime, among others.

Advertising has also become softer, striking a more somber tone as marketers are letting us know “we’re there for you” and “we’ll get through this”. Many ad clients who are full-service restaurants are emphasizing online ordering and curbside pickup. Others have sat out, such as movie studios and brick-and-mortar retailers. This year’s upfronts have been canceled, as the networks are shifting to interactive presentations.

The coronavirus crisis has certainly changed the media industry as in-home entertainment has become more commonplace. Seeing people sequestered in their homes is still an unusual sight, but it is one we may have to get used to for awhile.

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Coronavirus update: Local shows shut down production

CW 26’s The Jam, ABC 7’s Windy City Live enter production hiatus

The coronavirus epidemic has not only crippled the economy and changed the way we live, but it’s now affected television production in Chicago and nationwide.

The latest scheduling changes took place last week when CW 26’s (WCIU) morning show The Jam and ABC 7’s (WLS-TV) Windy City Live became the latest programs to enter production hiatus.

WCIU has not only stopped production on The Jam, but has taken it off the air altogether, albeit temporarily. On the show’s website last week, the hosts of the show urged viewers to follow the show on social media during the show’s production hiatus. However, The Jam plans to air on Facebook Live this Wednesday from 7-9 a.m., according to CW 26’s website.

There is no secret ratings for The Jam have been struggling, airing opposite the powerhouse WGN Morning News and ABC 7’s morning newscasts.

In the interim, CW 26 is airing syndicated fare: CBS Television Distribution’s The Doctors at 6 a.m., and MGM’s Couples Court and Paternity Court at 7 a.m. and 7:30 a.m., respectively. The Jam is simulcasted on The U (WCIU’s secondary channel) and is also being replaced by syndicated programming.

Meanwhile, ABC 7’s Windy City Live is also out of production, but is airing reruns in the interim. The weekday 1 p.m. strip never acknowledged publicly it was going on production hiatus, but the show’s Twitter account told a viewer it was in reruns.

 

The Jam and Windy City Live are the latest shows to shut down as production on virtually every talk show has grinded to a halt. New York City already has 10,000 people diagnosed with COVID-19, bringing the media and advertising center of the United States to its knees. In fact, all television production – scripted and non-scripted, talk, and otherwise – has been halted.

With no games going on anywhere in the world, sports segments have been cut back or eliminated entirely from newscasts, with many sports anchors using video chat from their homes or some other remote location. For one, NBC 5 (WMAQ-TV) has cut its Sports Sunday wrap-up show from 35 to 15 minutes while WGN-TV has put GN Sports and Instant Replay on hiatus. NBC Sports Chicago has also moved its nightly Sports Talk Live program to Facebook Live.

In another change, Nexstar-owned WGN Radio announced it was simulcasting sister WGN-TV’s 10 p.m. newscast and its 10:30 p.m. news show devoted to COVID-19 coverage beginning tonight. Last week, WGN-AM canceled Justin Kaufmann’s nightly radio show.

Chicago and the rest of Illinois are now under a shelter-in-place order until April 7, but it is likely to extend beyond that as the pandemic doesn’t seem to be slowing down. Already, more than 1,000 people in the state have been diagnosed with COVID-19 with 12 deaths as of this writing.

So far, little is known about how the financial impact on the coronavirus epidemic is going to have on the media and advertising industry since it is too early to tell what would happen. But many smaller newspapers and radio chains are already struggling and laying off employees as advertising money dries up and most businesses are closed. But the impact is expected to be felt in the smallest DMAs (such as downstate areas), who lack the financial clout of larger markets like New York and Los Angeles.

Even though ratings are up for newscasts across the country, the financial windfall isn’t expected to be lower as big spenders such as retailers and movie studios have suspended their advertising – though others such as automobile and pharmaceutical companies continue to advertise. Over time, this crisis will affect media companies as the biggest audience draws for cable and broadcast networks – are indefinitely suspended, creating a financial void for big media companies.

Remember, for more on how the coronavirus epidemic is affecting the media business, follow T Dog Media on Twitter @tdogmedia. Hopefully, I’ll have more material here on this blog as information comes in.

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Coronavirus update: ABC shifts “Nightline” an hour earlier (updated)

A blast from the past: A 1988 screenshot of ABC News’ “Nightline”, which is back in its old time slot, at least in the interim.

WGN, ESPN puts sports shows on hiatus

Editor’s Note: This post has been updated. 

When Nexstar CEO Perry Sook a few weeks ago said local stations would benefit from people being at home due to the coronavirus outbreak, many mocked him.

Turns out he could be right.

As restaurants, bars, and other places where people gather are increasingly being shut down, the public is forced to rely on television and online viewing to entertain themselves. But even that’s becoming stretched thin as talk shows and live sporting events are becoming very scarce.

The first major scheduling change in the coronavirus era was announced this weekend, when ABC’s Nightline – a forgotten news magazine shifted back an hour years ago to make room for Jimmy Kimmel Live, is now returning to its post-late local news slot (10:35 p.m. CT/11:35 p.m. ET) where it gained prominence in the 1980s and 1990s anchored by Ted Koppel. Nightline began in 1980 as a nightly wrap-up of the Iranian hostage crisis.

The move came as Kimmel and other late-night talk shows are out of production due to the coronavirus outbreak. ABC is also replacing the out-of-production GMA3 for the time being with a daily update on the coronavirus crisis.

Across town meanwhile, Nexstar-owned WGN-TV is putting its newly-launched GN Sports show on hiatus and replacing it with a daily half-hour show on the coronavirus epidemic, as a station promo attested to last weekend. WGN News Special Report: COVID-19, is anchored by medical reporter Dina Bair and provides updates on the day’s news regarding the epidemic and how the deadly virus is affecting those in the Chicago area.

The lack of sports to talk about has also forced ESPN to shut down its talk show strips Pardon The interruption, Highly Questionable, and High Noon, who apparently had its last show air as the series was canceled a few weeks ago and was scheduled to go off the air later this month. FS1 and NBCSN have also halted studio shows.

NBC’s owned stations announced a news expansion on Tuesday, with Chicago’s WMAQ adding a 6:30 p.m. newscast, putting them back in the news business in the vital prime access time slot for the first time since 1991. Other NBC-owned stations – including WNBC/New York and KNBC/Los Angeles are also expanding their late news an hour, but WMAQ isn’t one of them. The temporary newscast replaces Access: Hollywood here and at KXAS/Dallas, who is also launching a 6:30 p.m. newscast.

The latest programs to go out of production due to the coronavirus epidemic are CBS’ The Talk and NBC’s Saturday Night Live, as reported Monday. Meanwhile, AMC and Regal theater chains have closed indefinitely.

With very little to talk about in media other than the coronavirus outbreak, the blogsite is being updated only sporadically from this point forward as everything is grinding to a halt.  You can follow the blog on Twitter @tdogmedia for the latest updates.

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Coronavirus update: The bottom falls out

Get used to this sight, everybody.

Everything is canceled.

You won’t find anyone in empty arenas or stadiums for the foreseeable future – and now that includes the players themselves.

The bottom fell out of the sports and entertainment industry Thursday as leagues suspended or canceled events. The NBA, NHL, XFL, AHL, Major League Baseball, and Major League Soccer have suspended their seasons until further notice. The IHSA and NCAA went a step further and canceled their tournaments and spring seasons.

The cancellations are going to sting for the major television and regional sports networks as they stand to lose tons of revenue due to canceled and/or postponed games – an estimated $2 billion alone, and possibly more.

The news is a huge blow to Marquee Sports Network, who launched their network officially on February 22, and now has no live Cubs baseball to air as MLB has delayed opening day for the next few weeks. It also is a blow for ESPN, NBC SN, NBC Sports Chicago, and FS1, who are now without live sporting events.

Meanwhile, several New York-based television shows – who each announced they were going without audiences, have now suspended production indefinitely. Stephen Colbert, Seth Myers, and Jimmy Fallon are now not taping at all, as is Wendy Williams and Los Angeles-based Kelly Clarkson and Ellen – meaning all of those shows will be reruns until further notice.

Production has halted on other shows, including Fox’s Next (where a coronavirus patient was tested positive earlier in the week), Apple TV’s The Morning Show, and forced CBS’ New York facilities to evacuate.

All upfront presentations for this May have been canceled, signaling this epidemic could last well beyond spring. Pulling out were ViacomCBS, NBCUniversal, Disney, and WarnerMedia, among others.

Closer to home, Illinois governor J. B. Pritzker announced a ban of gatherings of over 1,000 people statewide until May 1 on Thursday, following the lead of other states such as New York, California, and Washington and suggested no gatherings with more than 250 people not take place. This has lead to canceled concerts, events, and other gatherings as schools in Illinois are closed for two weeks. Meanwhile, Live Nation has also reportedly suspended all concert tours for the time being.

As of this writing (March 15), Illinois has 66 reported coronavirus cases.

And amid this backdrop, the U.S. Stock Market is taking a beating with Thursday’s session hosting the biggest one-day drop since the 1987 stock market crash. This could mean a recession is in the cards, which could possibly derail the fervent merger and acquisition activity in the television business, including the $8.5 billion bidding war over broadcast station group Tegna, owner of ABC affiliate WFAA in Dallas and CBS affiliate WUSA in Washington, D.C.

Even with entertainment and sports grinding to a halt, T Dog Media is still open for business – but for frequent updates as the number of closings and suspensions are becoming too many to list here, please follow the blog on Twitter @tdogmedia.

This post was updated on March 15.

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Coronavirus update: More cancellations, including NAB Show

NBA suspends season, more New York talk shows suspend audiences

The coronavirus continues to wreck havoc in every faucet of life and it’s getting worse by the day as more and more people are affected with the deadly virus. Never before in the modern media era have we seen… anything like this. Here’s the latest:

– The NBA became the latest casualty as the league Wednesday night as a player for the Utah Jazz tested positive for COVID-19. The game between the team and the Oklahoma City Thunder was postponed. The league did not clarify if the playoffs or NBA Finals would be held. The huge losers of this decision are the league’s rights-holders: Turner Sports, ESPN/ABC, and numerous regional sports networks, such as NBC Sports Chicago and Fox Sports Wisconsin as the canceled games amount to lots of lost revenue.

– All New York City’s late-night talk shows – including those hosted by Jimmy Fallon, Stephen Colbert, Seth Myers, John Oliver, and others – are forgoing studio audiences for the time being, joining their daytime counterparts. There is no word on Jimmy Kimmel Live, which is taped in Los Angeles, or Windy City Live, a local talk show taped here on if they plan to suspend hosting live audiences.

There were more cancellations – more than forty announced Wednesday alone, including the NAB Show and the Worldwide Radio Summit. And as expected, Chicago canceled their two St. Patrick’s Day parades as did other cities.

– A person who worked at the Prudential Building in the Loop tested positive for the coronavirus. Entercom’s radio stations and the Chicago Tribune all have offices in the building. There is no word on how these media companies would be affected. A reporter for the Houston Chronicle also tested positive for the virus.

For the latest on how the coronavirus is affecting the media business – both nationally and locally, I urge you to follow the blog on Twitter at @TDogMedia for the latest updates. Thank you.

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Coronavirus fears forces “Wendy Williams”, others to pull live studio audiences

Syndicated, network daytime shows latest to pull audiences due to coronavirus

After Sony’s decision to close tapings of Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune to the public as of Monday night due to coronavirus concerns, more shows have followed suit as expected.

Tuesday night, Debmar-Mercury and Wendy Williams announced they would not host audiences for their show for now:

Wendy tapes in New York City, where there are 173 reported cases of coronavirus.

Also Tuesday night, ABC and several syndicators announced they would not tape programs in front of live studio audiences for the foreseeable future.

The ban also has extended to Disney’s shows in Manhattan with ABC nixing audiences for Good Morning America (and its afternoon spinoff co-hosted by Michael Strahan), Tamron Hall, Live With Kelly And Ryan and The View.

On the West Coast, CBS Television Distribution’s Dr. Phil is doing likewise. His show tapes on the Paramount lot, its home since 2002 (Paramount and CBS are once again under common ownership thanks to the recent re-combo of Viacom and CBS.) It is not known however, if the audience ban extends to sister show The Doctors, which tapes on the same lot. Sony has also pulled the plug on live audiences for One Day At A Time.

So far, none of the seven late-night talk shows had announced any plans on how to deal with the coronavirus crisis.

Locally, there is also no word on how Disney’s audience ban would affect Windy City Live, WLS-TV’s 1 p.m. talk show. There is also no word on how two other shows who tape with audiences – Warner Bros.’ Judge Mathis and WFLD’s Later With Leon would proceed. Meanwhile, production has halted on Fox’s Next at Cinespace Studios after a production crew member tested positive for coronavirus.

It would be interesting to see how these shows would adapt with studio audiences as many shows – such as Tamron Hall’s – interact with them and is an essential part of the show.

The number of coronavirus cases in Illinois is still nineteen as of this writing, but is expected to rise. The St. Patrick’s Day parades downtown and in the Beverly neighborhood as still scheduled as planned, but events can change at the drop of a hat so keep that in mind. From the looks of things, both are likely to be canceled.

Keep it tuned here to T Dog Media for the latest information on how the coronavirus epidemic is affecting entertainment, sports, and other events. Follow the blog on Twitter @tdogmedia for the latest.

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Coronavirus sacks “Jeopardy”, “Wheel” live studio audiences

Decision made after epidemic spreads across globe; Chicago film studio also affected

Editor’s Note: This story was updated at 4 p.m. on March 10. 

The coronavirus epidemic has affected sporting events, large gatherings, canceled trade shows (including four at McCormick Place) and other places around the world. Now, it is affecting tapings of television shows.

Late Monday evening, the producers of both Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune decided to forego studio audiences for the time being, according to a report obtained by TMZ. The change takes place immediately; both shows are scheduled to tape until mid-April.

Jeopardy and Wheel are produced by Sony Pictures Television and tape at Sony Pictures Studios in Culver City, Calif. and syndicated by CBS Television Distribution. Both air locally on ABC-owned WLS-TV.

The news comes as the coronavirus epidemic continue to spread. Also Monday, California’s Santa Clara County announced it is banning gatherings with a thousand or more people indefinitely, likely forcing the move of the NHL’s San Jose Sharks and an NCAA Women’s Tournament out of Stanford. Italy has suspended all sporting events as a precaution.

Game shows taping without audiences isn’t new; Program Partners’ (now PPI Releasing) Merv Griffin’s Crosswords taped without a studio audience, adding canned applause in post-production (Merv Griffin also created Jeopardy! and Wheel of Fortune.) Crosswords wasn’t a success, airing only during the 2007-08 season.

The decision to bar studio audiences is being done as a precaution as Jeopardy host Alex Trebex is still recovering from stage four pancreatic cancer and his immune system is already compromised.

Both game shows are the first television programs to be directly affected by the coronavirus epidemic – and this could only be the beginning as more shows could follow suit. Unlike most prime-time shows (except for a handful of sitcoms and some reality-competition shows), many programs outside of the daypart tape in front of studio audiences, mainly syndicated daytime and late-night talk shows. For example, freshman talkers Kelly Clarkson and Tamron Hall depend on studio audiences as they interact with them and are essentially part of the show. While Los Angeles County has only twenty confirmed cases as of this writing, New York City (where Hall, Live With Kelly and Ryan, The Daily Show, and late-night talkers Jimmy Fallon and Stephen Colbert tape) have more than one hundred confirmed cases.

Back in Chicago meanwhile, four more cases of coronavirus popped up Monday evening, bringing the state’s total to nineteen as of Tuesday afternoon – forcing Illinois governor J.B. Pritzker to issue a disaster declaration. One of those who tested positive for coronavirus is employed at the Cinespace Studios on the city’s West Side, as reported by WGN-TV Monday evening. The worker in question was an employee of an upcoming Fox show called “Next”.

“Due to confirmation from FOX Executives that there is one confirmed case (and possibly more) of the coronavirus on the TV show Next,” an email sent out to employees Monday.

Fox and Cinespace officials were not available for comment. Last week, Robert Feder reported four people from WLS-TV were exposed to the coronavirus after a photographer and reporter visited a facility in Arlington Heights where a patient was being treated. The four were quarantined.

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Clark Weber dies

Legendary radio personality dies of cancer

Longtime Chicago radio personality Clark Weber passed away Sunday morning from complications due to cancer at an Evanston hospice. He was 89.

Weber was a legendary showman, getting his start in Chicago radio at ABC’s WLS-AM in 1961, at the Top 40 powerhouse known as “The Big 89”. In August 1965, Weber and evening jock Ron Riley introduced The Beatles to Chicago in front of a raucous crowd at Comiskey Park. A Milwaukee-area native, Clark began his career in Milwaukee at the old WFOX in 1948, seven years before the rock era began.

Weber shifted to WCFL-AM in 1969 to replace the failed Howard Miller show in mornings, and later moved to NBC’s WMAQ-AM in 1971.

Tired of spinning tunes, Weber made a successful transition to talk radio in 1973 when he joined WIND-AM and had a thirteen-year run at the Westinghouse-owned station, ended due to a sale and a format change in 1986. From there, he went to WJJD and WAIT before retiring from radio altogether.

In addition to his radio career, Weber also was involved in advertising. He founded Clark Weber Associates, an agency devoted to targeting people aged 55 and up. Weber also hosted a one-minute commentary called A Senior Moment, airing on 30 stations nationwide and online. At 84, Weber finally called it a career, retiring altogether.

Among his accolades, Weber was inducted into the Illinois Broadcasters Hall Of Fame and won several advertising awards.

Weber detailed his career in a memoir he wrote and published in 2008 called “Clark Weber’s Rock and Roll Radio: The Fun Years, 1955-1975.” 

Weber is survived by four daughters and twelve grandchildren and two great grandchildren. His wife Joan died two years ago, also from cancer.

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The Media Notepad: Four ABC 7 emloyees told to stay home due to coronavirus

Also: Steve Wilkos and Maury Povich renewed; Kids in the Hall returns; Divorce Court gets a new judge

The coronavirus epidemic has now hit Chicago’s media community. As reported by Robert Feder last week, several employees of ABC-owned WLS-TV (ABC 7) have been told to stay home as a few of them may have been exposed to the virus.

Four employees were sidelined out of caution as a reporter and a photographer were at an Arlington Heights hospital Monday where a coronavirus patient was being treated. Two other people – another photographer and his wife (who happens to be a station employee) were also quarantined.

According to Feder, all four are waiting to see if the Arlington Heights food worker tests positive for COVID-19, the raw name for the coronavirus. This is the first known case of anyone in the media business affected by the virus.

This comes as the coronavirus epidemic has wrecked havoc around the world, particularly in China and Japan where thousands are affected. In the United States, the stock market has nose-dived and has affected everything from travel to trade shows.

As of this writing, Illinois has six confirmed coronavirus patients. The epidemic has canceled several trade shows – three at Chicago’s McCormick Place and several festivals, including SXSW in Austin, Tex. and the Emerald City Comic-Con in Seattle, where the highest concentration of coronavirus patients are. On Saturday, the NHL is limiting media access to locker rooms, and the NBA is considering playing in front of empty areas.

As far as broadcasting is concerned, a NAB show is still scheduled to take place in Las Vegas for next month, but the organization has reached out to Clark County officials and the convention center where the show is taking place for direction on how to proceed.

Other gatherings and trade shows canceled include Mip-Tv in France; Mobile World Congress; and a Fox News upfront event. If the coronavirus crisis continues into spring, it could have the potential to affect the 2020 upfronts in New York, the Detroit Auto Show, and possibly San Diego Comic-Con in July and the Summer Olympics in Tokyo.


The duo of Steve Wilkos and Maury Povich are staying on the air a little longer as NBCUniversal has renewed each show through the 2021-22 season.

“I’m glad that I can continue to bring justice into my guests lives and provide a platform for their powerful stories to be heard,” Wilkos said in a statement. “The show has evolved so much over the years that I’m excited to see what the future holds.”

The renewal was expected as Maury was picked up for two more seasons, also through 2021-22. Both programs share the same station lineup for the most part although in Chicago, Maury airs on Nexstar’s WGN-TV at 2 p.m. while Wilkos airs at noon on Weigel’s WCIU. Wilkos premiered on WGN-TV in 2007 and moved to WCIU in 2009.

A former Chicago cop, Wilkos – the former head of security on Jerry Springer, was spun-off from the show in 2007 and like Springer, taped at the NBC Tower here in Chicago. In order to take advantage of tax credits Connecticut was offering, Wilkos and Springer – along with Maury all moved their show to the state in 2009, where they remain today (though Springer now does a court show, Judge Jerry.) Wilkos’ program – which reminds some viewers of Morton Downey Jr.’s old show from the late 1980s – often deals with criminal justice, conflict, and relationship issues.

Wilkos averages around 1.4 million viewers a day, slightly above Tamron Hall’s 1.2 million and behind Kelly Clarkson’s 1.7 million. Clarkson, like Wilkos is syndicated by NBCUniversal.


Judge Judy isn’t the only courtroom show making news this week – Fox’s Divorce Court is making a change behind the bench with the appointment of Faith Jenkins as the show’s new judge, replacing Lynn Toler, who left earlier this season after thirteen seasons. No reason was given for her departure. Jenkins become the show’s fifth judge in the show’s long history and she takes over in July.

Toler replaced original judge Mablean Ephriam who presided over Divorce Court from 1999 to 2006. She has since reappeared in her own courtroom show for Entertainment Studios, Justice With Judge Mablean.

This is the latest change for the veteran court show, who Fox retained the rights to (in addition to Dish Nation and 25 Words Or Less) as the rest of 21st Century Fox was sold to Disney. All three are syndicated under the Fox First-Run banner.

“I started watching Divorce Court in law school, so to be now joining the show is quite surreal,” Jenkins said in a statement. “My legal expertise combined with my personal life experience – including years of dating in the world of social media and technology – provides me a unique perspective that will inform my empathy and judgment for many of the issues couples raise on the show.”

Jenkins headlined her own courtroom show Judge Faith from 2014 to 2018. Before that, she served as a legal analyst for cable news channels and received her law degree from Southern University. She worked as a litigator for a New York City law firm and as a district attorney for the Manhattan District Attorney.

Now in its 21st season of its current incarnation, Divorce Court had three other stints in television history: from 1957 to 1962, and again from 1967 to 1969 with Judge Votile Perkins; and from 1984 to 1991 with retired California Superior Court Judge William B. Keene, who was originally assigned to Charles Manson’s murder trial but was removed after he filed an affidavit of prejudice. Even through both versions were scripted, the decisions handed down by Perkins and Keene were improvised.

Since its return in 1999, the cases are real, but the couples had already filed for divorce and basically there to resolves issues such as alimony and assets.


The Kids are back and my how they’ve grown: Amazon Prime announced last Thursday it is planning a revival of Canadian sketch-comedy series Kids In The Hall with all five principal members returning – Scott Foley, Mark McKinney, Bruce McCulloch, Kevin McDonald, and Scott Thompson for eight episodes. The series was executive produced by Lorne Michaels, who will take the reins again in this revival.

“Even after 30 years, The Kids in the Hall has retained its brilliance and originality,” said Michaels. “We are happy to be bringing back all of the original ‘Kids’ for the new series.” Kids becomes the first Canadian Amazon Original Series, although other Amazon series have been shot north of the border, including Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan and The Expanse.

The cult series aired on public broadcaster CBC from 1989 to 1994 and also found a following in the United States through HBO, Comedy Central, and CBS, where it aired in its late-night Friday schedule from 1992 to 1995. The troupe later did a movie, Brain Candy. The show was known for numerous hilarious characters, including Chicken Lady, Buddy Cole, and HeadCrusher. The last time the five were together was the CBC limited-run series Kids In The Hall: Death Comes To Town in 2010.

Currently, episodes of the original Kids In The Hall are available on Amazon Prime and on DVD.

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“Judge Judy” to end production; new show to take its place?

Credit: CBS

Judy Sheindlin exits on top; reruns to air in a long-term deal

A major change is about to take place involving television’s top-rated syndicated show.

Long-running courtroom strip Judge Judy is ending production next season (2020-21) after 25 consecutive seasons on the air. However, the series is continuing in repeats in a long-term deal with numerous unidentified local stations, with more than 5,000 episodes in the can.

The news came from Judge Judy herself – Judy Sheindlin made the announcement Monday on Ellen.

“I’ve had a 25-year-long marriage with CBS, and it’s been successful,” said Sheindlin. “Next year will be our 25th season, silver anniversary, and CBS sort of felt, I think, they wanted to optimally utilize the repeats of my program. Because now they have 25 years of reruns. So what they decided to do was to sell a couple of years’ worth of reruns. But I’m not tired, so Judy Justice will be coming out a year later.”

She continued: “Judge Judy, you’ll be able to see next year — a full year, all new shows. … The following couple of years, you should be able to catch all the reruns that CBS has sold to the stations that are currently carrying Judge Judy, and Judy Justice will be going elsewhere.”

Sheindlin declined to elaborate on the project. CBS Television Distribution, who is Judge Judy’s current distributor, had no comment.

Currently, Judy airs on numerous CBS-owned and Fox-owned stations in top markets in early fringe as a news lead-in, including CBS-owned WBBM-TV (CBS 2) in Chicago, where it airs at 4 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. opposite newscasts on other stations. Judy has aired on CBS 2 in the time slot since the early-2000s after stints at WPWR and WCIU (where it aired in access during the 1997-98 season.) The show returned to WPWR in 1998 and actually split a local clearance with CBS 2 at one point.

Judy was originally syndicated by Worldvision Enterprises at a time when courtroom shows fell out of favor with local stations after a boom in the late 1980s with The Judge, Divorce Court, Superior Court, and the original version of The People’s Court. Judy re-energized the genre and by the end of the 2000s, there were more than ten such shows on the air. Judy was one of the reasons Viacom bought out Spelling Entertainment, Worldvision’s one-time owner in May 1999. Three months later, Viacom would buy CBS – reuniting the network it spun off of in 1971.

By 2010, Judy became television’s top-rated syndicated show – a position held for the longest time by Wheel Of Fortune, now drawing on average nine million viewers per day – in fact, you can say Judy is among television’s top-rated shows overall as it draws more viewers than most prime-time shows these days, including Young Sheldon and practically everything on The CW and Fox (excluding sports.)

Ms. Sheindlin’s success with Judge Judy also led to the launch of another courtroom show by her production company, Hot Bench. The program is successful, but is likely facing downgrades in a few markets this fall – notably in New York – as CTD is launching a new talk show with Drew Barrymore. Sold to CBS 2 in an O&O deal, it is not known where Barrymore would end up on the fall schedule as it could replace Hot Bench at 2 p.m.

In recent years, there was a battle between Sheindlin and CBS over the library rights and profits from her show. In fact, TMZ reported Monday Sheindlin decided not to renew her contract with CBS after the 2020-21 season due to her feud with the network – especially after the departure of former head honcho Les Moonves and new management installed after the second reunification of CBS and Viacom. TMZ said Judy Justice would not be syndicated by CBS, meaning her new show is likely to be produced by somebody else.

Whether off-syndication repeats of Judge Judy would work in debatable as such a tactic with first-run programs hasn’t worked well in the past. In 1993, Warner Bros. stopped production on the original People’s Court after twelve seasons and decided to air repeats on an all-barter basis, lasting until 1995 (Court was previously sold as cash-barter.) It was later revealed the producers fired Judge Joseph Wapner in a desire to revamp the show, completely blindsiding him as he expressed displeasure with the move. The “revamped” version of the show returned to the air in 1997 in an hour-long format and since 2001, helmed by retired Florida Court judge Marlin Milian as she replaced Jerry Sheindlin – Judge Judy’s husband.

Are local stations willing to air repeats of Judge Judy as news lead-ins? Many of them are expanding newscasts, such as WAGA in Atlanta as the Fox-owned station is launching a new 4:30 p.m. newscast on March 30, shifting a half-hour of Judy to an earlier time slot. With three of their competitors already airing news at 4 p.m., it remains to be seen if CBS 2 would join the local news race at that time or continue to air Judy  in rerun form. Even though Judy has been leading into CBS 2’s 5 p.m. newscasts for years, it still trails its competitors in the ratings, even with the strong lead-in.

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Remembering Lee Phillip Bell

Referred to as “the first lady of Chicago television”, she was a trailblazer for many who followed

The Chicago media community is mourning the loss of one of the tremendous pioneers of local television.

Lee Phillip Bell passed away Wednesday at the age of 91 in her California home. Bell, along with her husband William, created the soaps The Young And The Restless and The Bold And The Beautiful, who debuted on CBS in 1973 and 1987 respectively and each still going strong for the network today. But in Chicago TV circles, Mrs. Bell was known for much more – a 30-year career in local television.

Phillip’s career in television began in 1953 at an unusual place – her father’s flower shop where she worked part-time. A local flower organization group offered flowers to any local station interested and WBKB-TV (Channel 4) took them up on the offer as Phillip arrganed flowers for the station, leading to her first appearance. General manager Red Quinlan liked what he saw and hired her, leading to her own show titled Mornin’ Miss Lee – not to mention other TV shows as Phillip became one of the station’s first personalities. During this time, CBS bought WBKB (and renamed it WBBM-TV as the call letters shifted to Channel 7) and moved down the dial from Channel 4 to Channel 2 due to interference with nearby Milwaukee (WTMJ) and Kalamazoo, Mich. stations (WKZO-TV, now WWMT.)

In the 1960s, Mornin’ Miss Lee was retitled The Lee Phillip Show and became a noon mainstay at WBBM. During this time, Phillip interviewed numerous celebrates, politicians, and dignitaries from all walks of life, including Walter Cronkite, Jerry Lewis, Judy Garland, Wally Phillips, and Michael Jordan, among others. She also interviewed four sitting U.S. Presidents: Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, and Ronald Reagan (first ladies Betty Ford and Nancy Reagan also appeared on the show.)

In 1977, her show evolved again and became Noonbreak and she was paired with anchors such as Mort Crim, Bob Wallace, and Harry Porterfield, as Phillip interviewed some of the people I mentioned above. To make room for Phil Donahue’s syndicated talk show in WBBM’s daytime lineup, Noonbreak was canceled on December 31, 1981, but Phillip was given a new Sunday morning show which once again became The Lee Phillip Show and ran until 1987.

Phillip used her show to advocate for issues affecting women’s and children’s health – she devoted entire shows to polio and breast cancer. She also investigated other issues including teenage pregnancy and runaways.

She also wore a variety of hats at the station (sometimes literally!) from children’s host to weather forecaster, and she also anchored the news from time to time on The CBS News Special on Saturday Nights, working alongside Fahey Flann and Jerry Dunphy.

Phillip also hosted the groundbreaking special The Rape Of Paulette in 1973, where she interviewed a victim of sexual assault as the documentary won numerous Emmy awards. During her time in local television, Phillip won sixteen Emmys, and became the first woman to receive a Governor’s Award from the Chicago chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, or NATAS for short.

Phillip and her husband were inducted into the Chicago Silver Circle in 1994.

Shortly after her show concluded, she and husband William relocated to the Los Angeles area to focus writing for the two soap operas they created. Both The Young And The Restless and The Bold And The Beautiful won a combined 41 Daytime Emmy Awards and helped keep CBS on top in daytime with a winning streak dating back to the mid-1980s.

William Bell died in 2005 due to complications from Alzheimer’s disease; they were married for 51 years.

Lee Phillip Bell and her husband are survived by their three children.

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Marquee signs deal with WOW!

 

Wow, indeed: deal with chief competitor puts heat on Comcast/Xfinity

In a deal that could put pressure on Comcast, Wide Open West – basically known as WOW, reached an agreement Wednesday to carry the Chicago Cubs’ new regional sports network beginning March 13.

What makes this deal important is WOW covers much of Chicago’s South Side with Comcast as a chief competitor (Chicago is one of a very few number of cities where there is more than one cable provider in a certain area.)

The press release states WOW is also available in a few western and northwestern suburbs, and a few to the south including “Calumet” though it wasn’t clear if they were referring to  Calumet City, which is adjacent to Hammond, Ind., or southwest suburban Calumet Park, which borders 123rd and Halsted streets with Chicago, but WOW is available in both. A spot check revealed WOW is also available in Chicago Heights, South Holland, and Lansing.

“WOW is the fourth-largest provider in Chicago and an important part of our distribution landscape, and we are pleased to have them join the more than 40 carriage partners who have already signed on,” Marquee general manager Mike McCarthy said in the press release.

More importantly, it gives WOW a leg up on Comcast, who competes with them in the above-mentioned areas as the nation’s largest cable provider has yet to reach a deal with Marquee. Another major holdout is Dish, who is in a carriage dispute with numerous RSNs including NBC Sports Chicago, Altitude, and the 21 former Fox sports channels owned by Sinclair.

The rollout of Marquee last Saturday was panned by many due to numerous glitches and the failure to show up on some systems on the day of launch, although Marquee finally was added to some DirecTV’s subs Wednesday, including mine.

Marquee is a joint venture between the Chicago Cubs and Sinclair Broadcasting. During an earnings conference call Wednesday, CEO Chris Ripley said the 21 Fox RSNs bought from The Walt Disney Co. last year will be re-branded in a few months, including a “digital reboot” of those platforms, but declined to give details. Sinclair also plans to add legalized sports betting elements to the channels, including Marquee.

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Marquee network flubs debut

No Marquee.

Very few people in the Chicago area weren’t able to see the premiere of the new RSN – even if a deal was struck with their provider

It’s time to play Monday night quarterback and assess the launch of Marquee Sports Network, the new joint venture between the Cubs and Sinclair Broadcasting.

And of course, it didn’t go very well.

The new regional sports network did launch as planned Saturday at 1 p.m. – but many viewers who thought they would receive the channel – didn’t, including myself.

Numerous customers ranging from those subscribing to DirecTV and Spectrum/Charter reported not getting the channel at all to a few viewers only getting the channel in standard definition (Mediacom) to voices out of sync with the picture – not to mention a planned launch by Hulu’s live TV service was being delayed indefinitely, while a deal with Comcast’s Xfinity has remained elusive.

The debacle has been panned thoroughly. “Saturday’s long-awaited debut turned out to be the worst new product launch in memory”, wrote Robert Feder Monday. Paul M. Banks of SportsBank called the launch “a cataclysmic failure”. The Chicago Tribune’s Phil Rosenthal, who himself had to wait an hour before receiving the network through RCN, noted “Saturday’s debut did not go as smoothly as all concerned might have hoped.”

And here’s some random Twitter reactions:

The interesting part about the photo above is both Spectrum and DirecTV struck deals with Marquee – and yet is says “coming soon”. Others complained they weren’t able to get the actual game (Cubs vs. A’s) because of MLB restrictions banning out-of-territory viewers from watching games on RSNs (they would have to purchase a subscription from MLB.com)

In all, most Chicagoland viewers were not able to see the launch of Marquee or the Cubs-A’s game, already pushed back due to rain.

The Marquee Network did show up in DirecTV’s lineup Saturday morning on channel 664 (located conveniently next to NBC Sports Chicago’s channel number of 665), but when it came time for the official launch, “Error Code 721” popped up on the screen, as noted in the first photo above. On Twitter I pointed out the launch of the ACC Network had similar issues with DirecTV last year, and the network showed up several days later, so it may take some time. I was contacted by a DirecTV rep, and said they would get back to me (they never did.) AT&T has yet to publicly comment on the situation, so when Marquee becomes available on DirecTV is anyone’s guess.

But if one can still receive the Cubs’ former home of NBC Sports Chicago, one should also receive Marquee Sports. If it turns out the Ricketts family decided to put their new channel on a higher paid tier on DirecTV, Spectrum, or any other system, then that’s just asinine. This group had a year to get their act together and to have any kind of delay at this point to those who were promised the channel is hugely disappointing. Marquee and the cable/streaming providers each need to get it together by Opening Day, or the reaction is going to be far worse than you see now.

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Chicago Fire FC strikes deal with WGN, returns to broadcast TV

The Chicago Fire’s new logo, now knows as “Chicago Fire FC (football club)”.

MLS team brings live sporting events back to WGN.

It may not be one of the four major sporting leagues, but it’s good enough for WGN-TV.

The Nexstar-owned independent station announced Wednesday it has struck a deal with the Chicago Fire (now re-branded as Chicago Fire Football Club, or Chicago Fire FC)  to air 24 games locally beginning March 7 with a game against the New England Revolution at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Mass., home of the NFL’s New England Patriots. Ten other games are scheduled for national television broadcasts, including ABC, ESPN, UniMas (WXFT), FS1, and Univision.

As part of the deal, WGN plans to air a monthly “all-access” show featuring the team and plans to air a special titled Chicago Fire FC: Homecoming. March 20 at 7 p.m. , a day before the Fire return to Soldier Field to play Atlanta on March 21.

The deal beings the Fire back to over-the-air television in Chicago; in the past, games were shown randomly over WPWR-TV and the former NBC Non-Stop Chicago digital subchannel (now known as Cozi TV.)

“WGN-TV has a rich history of broadcasting live sports and we look forward to continuing and building on that tradition with Chicago Fire FC,” said WGN-TV Vice President and General Manager Paul Rennie. “The Fire have found a new home at Soldier Field and now a new broadcast home at WGN-TV. We’re thrilled to bring the exciting action of Chicago Fire FC to our viewers and all of Chicago.”

“In this transformational year for our Club, we want to provide our fans with as many ways as possible to experience the Fire, both live at Soldier Field and on the broadcast,” said Fire Owner and Chairman Joe Mansueto. “We know WGN-TV’s powerful place on the City’s sports scene and we’re excited to be their new flagship sports property.”

A ceremony bringing the team back to Soldier Field.

The deal is great for both parties. For WGN, it fills a void after losing the rights to all four Chicago sports teams they carried for years – notably the Cubs, whose relationship with the team ended last September after 71 years as they moved to the Marquee Sports Network, effective this Saturday. The station has maintained a hand in the sports business by launching a nightly wrap-up show GN Sports at 10:30 p.m. last month.

For the Fire, the team gains an over-the-air outlet after their most recent deal saw the team banished to streamer ESPN Plus, restricting the reach of the team (ESPN Plus will continue to stream games this season.) The about-face is courtesy of new team owner Mansueto, as the Fire is moving back to Soldier Field for the 2020 season and beyond after 13 years at a money-losing stadium in south suburban Bridgeview. The Fire played in Soldier Field from 1998 to 2005, with the 2002 and part of the 2003 seasons being played in Naperville at Cardinal Stadium due to Soldier Field renovations.

The Fire is hoping to take the same approach the Blackhawks did over a decade ago when the team was looking to expand its fanbase after owner Bill Wirtz died. The team ended the home-blackout policy putting all games on TV and striking a deal with WGN to carry 20 games a season (The Blackhawks, along with former WGN tenants Bulls and White Sox, shifted all of their games to NBC Sports Chicago this season). The team decision to move back to Soldier Field is intended to make it easier for fans to attend Fire games, as the Bridgeview location was too remote for the team’s fan base.

In all, it’s a win-win for everyone involved – WGN gets back into the sports business, the Fire gets more exposure and promotion. Moreover, it’s a big boost for the game of soccer.

But the WGN telecasts will not feature longtime play-by-play voice Dan Kelly, who announced via Twitter he was not coming back this season. Kelly also handled play-by-play duties for the Blackhawks from 2005 to 2008.

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Marquee to launch talk show with Ryan Dempster

A flyer for a live show of “Off The Mound”.

But here’s the rub: it’s only going to air monthly

Hulu becomes latest operator to sign deal with Marquee

In an odd move, the Cubs’ new Marquee network is planning to launch a new talk show featuring former Cubs pitcher Ryan Dempster.

Speaking to reporters at Sloan Park in Mesa, Ariz. on Saturday, Dempster said his new show would not only feature baseball guests but from others professions as well.

“Typically, we’re going to run it like a late-night talk show,” Dempster said. “More of our guests will be sports related, baseball related, but we’re not going to just limit it to baseball. There will be celebrities, entertainers, musicians, comedians, actors … We’ll talk to them about their experiences, from Cubs baseball and Chicago, to basically anything.”

Titled Off The Mound With Ryan Dempster, a few live house shows were produced. In an infamous appearance with Cubs slugger Kris Bryant during the 2019’s Cubs’ convention, he called St. Louis – home of the rival Cardinals – “boring”, creating a firestorm in the nation’s 23rd-ranked television market (though area residents got the last laugh when the Blues won the Stanley Cup last spring.)

Described as “MLB Tonight meets Late Night” on the show’s official website, On The Mound appeared at Sloan a year ago at the Innings Festival and featured Roger Clemens, Jim Thome, and a surprise by Pearl Jam frontman and longtime Cubs fan Eddie Vedder.

The next Off The Mound takes place in Boston April 3 with special guests Pedro Martinez, Bronson Arroyo, and Yes Dear’s Mike O’ Malley (Dempster also pitched for the Red Sox.)

Details are scant on where the show would be taped in Chicago, but one thing is clear: in an unusual move, the show plans to air new episodes on a monthly basis instead of being a strip or a weekly. But this is attuned to his busy schedule; Dempster serves as a assistant to Theo Epstein and also an analyst for MLB Network. Dempster also plans to be an analyst for a few Cubs games on the network.

Chicago has been a successful base for several daytime talkers (Oprah Winfrey, Steve Harvey, Windy City Live, etc.) but not-so-much in late-night as two efforts came and went quickly with Jonathan Brandmeier’s Johnny B. On The Loose in 1991 and 2012’s Seven On Ridge with Michael Essany each lasting all of three months – the latter airing on signal-deficient religious station WJYS and taped in Gary, Ind.

Marquee debuts on Saturday with an exhibition spring training game between the Cubs and Oakland A’s. So far, Marquee has struck deals with RCN and AT&T (DirecTV and U-Verse) and several smaller cable companies but so far no deals with Comcast/Xfinity, Dish, or WOW (Wide Open West.)  Marquee is a partnership between the Chicago Cubs and Sinclair Broadcasting.

On Monday, Marquee announced it signed a deal with Hulu’s Live TV service , the largest OTT streamer to strike a deal with the new channel thus far.

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