Media Notepad: Tribune sacks NewsFix, Morning Dose

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I hope you continue to follow my adventures!

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