The Media Notepad: Winter Olympics’ lackluster ratings performance drags down NBC 5’s news ratings

Also: All CHGO launches; two network TV shows canceled; restaurant with a sitcom connection burns down

Much has been made about the lackluster Winter Olympics ratings, but one angle wasn’t talked about much – their effect on NBC affiliates – or lack thereof. And no one experienced a bigger disappointment than Chicago’s NBC 5 (WMAQ.)

As reported by Robert Feder last week, NBC 5 finished a distant second to ABC 7 (WLS-TV) by 100,000 or so households with a night to go in the February sweeps period. In fact, WGN-TV’s 9-10 p.m. news show drew more households and viewers in 25-54 than NBC 5 did at 10.

A similar situation played out in Milwaukee, where Hearst ABC affiliate WISN swept all local news periods, beating Scripps’ NBC affiliate WTMJ who had the Olympics with ABC World News Tonight drawing more viewers at 5:30 p.m. than WTMJ did in primetime with the games. 

Generally, the Winter Olympics give a “halo effect” to local news stations whose network air the games. But with Beijing down 42 percent in the ratings from the 2018 event in South Korea and down 46 percent from the 2014 Sochi games, the lead-in numbers for NBC 5’s newscasts were indeed lower. Chalk up the disinterest to effects from the pandemic (no crowds were allowed at any of the Olympic venues); the political controversy surrounding China leading many to tune out the games; and the continued defection of viewers to streaming. Add all of this together, and it is an unfortunate result for both WMAQ and WTMJ.

Also, the Olympics -Summer or Winter – haven’t been a reliable draw in Chicago over the last decade or so due the Olympic bid debacle of 2009 with viewers tuning out of any future games, never to return.

Meanwhile, ABC 7 dominated the rest of the news races in households and in 25-54 (excluding mornings where WGN reigned supreme) despite the departure of a well-paid sports anchor and the inane villainization of a certain co-anchor. And for Fox 32, Wendy Williams’ presence was sorely missed as WGN’s Daytime Chicago is tops by a wide margin.

A new local sports website launched Friday. Ho-hum, right? Well, the new CHGO Sports aims to be more than that.

Headquartered in the West Loop, CHGO aims to provide local pro sports fans a sense of community with not only member-exclusive content online, but with podcasts, live-streamed programming, and a merchandise store. The new venture is a part of All City Network, who has launched similar projects in Phoenix and Denver. CHGO is looking to avoid the quick flameouts similar sports sites ChicagoSide and have experienced in the past.

“We’ll be leading from the crowd, not the stage and we’ll be doing it in a variety of ways. From our daily podcasts for each team produced in our West Loop studios to insider coverage by credentialed reporters to a great collection of merch, we’re going to support Chicago’s fan culture in a way never before seen in this town”, wrote CHGO founder and head of content Kevin Kaduk on the new website.

In addition to a stable of young writers, podcaster, and video journalists, the project just landed its first big name veteran – NBC Sports Chicago Bears beat reporter Adam Hoge joining CHGO in the same capacity, already putting him to work: Hoge’s first interview is with new Bears head coach Matt Eberflus.

This weekend, CHGO posted videos on YouTube analyzing Bulls and Blackhawks games played over the weekend (spoiler alert: they lost.) Another video featured the Bears’ draft prospects. If the Cubs and White Sox play baseball this year (all MLB players are being locked out by the owners), you’ll see tons of content as well.

The CHGO website is clean and well organized, with dedicated portals fans of the teams would want to visit and the content you want is easy to find. It works fine on any device, whether if it’s a laptop, tablet, or phone.

And if your wondering why CHGO chose last Friday March 4 to launch their new site, there’s a reason – the date also happens to be Chicago’s birthday, founded on March 4, 1837.

The last few years generally has saw network TV series get axed right before the new fall schedules are released in May, when the upfronts are traditionally held. Thus, a lot of people were caught off-guard with the cancellations of not one but two network dramas canceled late Friday afternoon – Fox’s The Big Leap and NBC’s Ordinary Joe.

The Big Leap was about a group of actors who were seeking fame on a live television production of Swan Lake, The program premiered in September to soft ratings, averaging 2.8 million multiplatform viewers this season but only a 0.4 adult 18-49 rating. The order was only for eleven episodes, but could have been renewed for a second season had it been successful.

Big Leap was a show-within-a-show – a type of comedy-drama that is often very difficult to pull off, given the plots could have the potential to confuse viewers. The Larry Sanders Show was a master at this, but recent entries such as CW’s Cult and the recent revival of Fox’s Beverly Hills 90210 with the cast playing themselves bombed with viewers and lasted only a few episodes.

As for Ordinary Joe, the drama was the lowest-rated original on NBC, averaging a little over a million viewers in its run. The show told a story through three disincentive timelines.

Despite their short-runs, both The Big Leap and Ordinary Joe received decent reviews from critics. According to Metacritc, Leap had a 73 and Joe with 64, compared with two of the most-talked about freshman sitcoms on the air, ABC’s Abbott Elementary (78) and CBS’ Ghosts (76). 

While The Big Leap and Ordinary Joe didn’t respond with audiences in an era where linear TV is ceding more and more of its turf to streaming, credit NBC and Fox for developing programs with a unique way of storytelling.

T Dog Media generally doesn’t write stories like this but in this case, there is an unusual connection to a popular 1990s sitcom.

Monday morning, a suspicious extra-alarm fire destroyed Nipsey’s Restaurant & Lounge on the corner of 92nd and Stony Island in Chicago’s Calumet Heights neighborhood [Disclosure: this writer lives a roughly a mile north from the venue.] The restaurant was a source of problems since it opened in November 2020, including fights, shootings, public urination, littering, and other mischief brought on by a mostly millennial crowd, who came from outside of the neighborhood. In fact, a major brawl took place a little over 24 hours before the fire broke out. The remains are currently being demolished. 

The establishment was hit with numerous code violations and noise complaints as the city and the alderman were looking to revoke its business license as the place obviously doubled as an after-hours nightclub. The restaurant was owned by Teddy Gilmore, a black restaurateur who had similar problems with two now-defunct businesses on the Near North Side. The Yelp comments on Nipsey’s are quite entertaining – including someone posing as the owner who is named “Nipsey J.” You can’t make this shit up. 

But here’s the odd sitcom connection: The Nipsey’s name didn’t come from comedian and Match Game panelist Nipsey Russell but from 1990s Fox sitcom Martin, a sitcom very popular with black audiences at the time. In the show, Nipsey’s was a bar where Martin (Martin Lawrence) and his buddies hung out – not exactly Cheers. The outside décor of the building was decorated with posters of other comedy works with black entertainers from the era including A Different World, Def Comedy Jam, In Living Color, the movie Boomerang, and the aforementioned Martin. You wonder if Gilmore obtained licensing rights to decorate the exterior of his place with these posters. 

To sum this up, this disastrous experience – opening a restaurant during a global pandemic included, Nipsey’s never really had a chance. It reminds me of something I brought up here in this space three weeks ago: The ill-fated Viacom Entertainment Store on North Michigan Avenue in the late 1990s, peddling Star Trek, Nickelodeon, and MTV junk merchandise as the store lasted all of nineteen months.

What stands the test of time is an establishment with good food, good service, great atmosphere, and not treating your patrons like pieces of shit. Nipsey’s lacked all of the above, and that’s what endures in a competitive restaurant environment, no matter how many posters of 1990s shows you put up or naming your place after a bar on a TV show which wasn’t really the center of the plot most of the time. Pop culture and nostalgia can only go so far and it’s not exactly a terrific business model outside of media.


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