The Media Notepad: WGN-TV scores ratings win in gubernatorial debates

Pritzker, Bailey showdown tops time slot in viewers, demos 

Chicago viewers obviously love their politics: according to Nielsen in a press release from Nexstar’s WGN-TV, the first of two Illinois gubernatorial debates between incumbent Democrat J.B. Pritzker and Republican Darren Bailey was a big local ratings hit on October 6, winning the 7-8 p.m. time period with an exact total of 241,313 viewers, beating entertainment programming on the five broadcast networks, including runner-ups Young Sheldon and Ghosts on CBS’ WBBM-TV by some 36,000 viewers. The debate also topped the regular time-period viewer average (black-ish/The Goldbergs) on WGN by far.

More importantly, the debate won in adults 25-54 – the key demo for news and politics programming – by some 3,000 homes over ABC’s Station 19 on WLS-TV (Young Sheldon and Ghosts finished third in the demo.)

Taking place at the campus of Illinois State University in Normal, Ill., the debate was seen on Nexstar-owned stations throughout the state, including CW affiliate KPLR St. Louis (ratings for KPLR weren’t available.) Also on board were WGEM-TV in Quincy and WSIL Paducah, Ky., whose market has several Illinois counties in its DMA (designed market area.) 

Keep in mind Pritzker and Bailey also had to compete with Thursday Night Football on Amazon Prime in the first hour – the much derided Indianapolis Colts-Denver Broncos debacle, though you can say the same about the debate – but at least it lasted only an hour.

The second debate is taking place this Tuesday at WGN-TV’s North Side studios, moderated by WGN News’ Micah Materre and Tahman Bradley and also on the same Nexstar stations.

Illinois is one of the states where Nexstar is heavily involved in producing political debates exclusively for its stations, with fifty of them scheduled for this election season. It recently had exclusive coverage of the volatile Texas governor’s debate, and has exclusive rights to U.S. Senate debates in three key swing states: Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Georgia, where incumbent Rev. Raphael Warnock faced off against Republican Herschel Walker Friday. Some of these debates were also being simulcasted on sister Nexstar news network NewsNation (in Atlanta, where Nexstar does not own a station, the debate was carried by Fox-owned WAGA.)

You have to question Nexstar’s motive, as this is one of many broadcasters who are raking in record political advertising campaign money this year. The “exclusive” rights shuts out other stations in carrying these debates, limiting reach. This has little to do with providing voters with crucial information than it is making a buck off them and expanding the conglomerate’s footprint – especially the struggling NewsNation.

There’s been a lot to say about political advertising in Illinois this year despite not being a competitive state – and you can thank Dan Proft. But the latest advertising from Political Action Committee (PAC) People Who Play By the Rules is stunning a lot of local media observers and this time, we’re not talking about the violent ads – it’s “Real Talk” featuring now-retired ABC 7 political reporter Charles Thomas, endorsing farmer and state rep Bailey for Governor.

In the first ad in an odd delivery, Thomas talk about how much he can trust Bailey. In another, he talks about how Bailey is a success because he’s an “expert at growing food”. But the third one, released Friday, targets Black voters:

Each commercial uses actual footage from ABC 7 newscasts with Thomas sitting beside the now-retired Ron Magers (who isn’t too happy being in these ads) and Cheryl Burton. It’s a surprise these commercials are airing on other local TV stations in Chicago other than ABC 7 in the first place given it’s inadvertently free promotion for their competition as the station’s logo shows up. Keep in mind local stations can reject ads from third parties such as PACs (but not from the candidates themselves), but it goes to show PAC money talks louder for broadcasters than anything else – even if it means showing their competition.

This comes as a new poll released Friday showed Pritzker ahead of Bailey by fifteen points.

People Who Play By The Rules aired other controversial ads in support of Bailey – one featuring a woman being attacked and another featuring mainly Black and Hispanic individuals committing crimes. Now, the campaign has decided to pay Thomas $50,000 to appeal to Black voters when the PAC used racial imagery to sell white audiences as a reason NOT to vote for Pritzker.

Since Thomas is retired and hasn’t been on TV in a regular role for years, there isn’t really any ethical dilemmas to deal with. But a person Chicago viewers trusted to bring them political news for 25 years and now decides to be partisan is a stab in the back. He’s really no different from any useless entertainer who has revealed themselves to be political hacks once the phone stops ringing for acting jobs (i.e. Scott Baio, Kristie Alley, etc.)

If Proft really wanted a spokesperson to reach African-American viewers to shill his candidate’s latest nonsense, he shouldn’t have gone with Charles Thomas.

He should’ve hired Kanye West instead.

Kingston, Jamaica.

The Caribbean island of Jamaica has banned music and television broadcasts glorifying criminal activity, violence, and other questionable means of behavior.

The decision was made by the country’s broadcast regulator and is targeted at material that “could give the wrong impression that criminality is an accepted feature of Jamaican culture and society”, coming as the country is battling high levels of gun violence and crime. The Broadcasting Commission of Jamaica said the music and television shows “[normalize] criminality among vulnerable and impressionable youth.”

The order also targets programming using “urban slang” in reference to making money and to avoid using phrases such as “jungle justice”, “bank/foreign account”, “food”, “wallet”, “purse”, “burner phone” and “client”. (Yes, really.)

Not surprisingly, some in the Jamaican music industry are pushing back against the measure, saying it would do little to address gun violence and instead, should address issues at the root of such problems including poverty and joblessness, which has accelerated since the pandemic. They also point out music and video can easily be accessible online, including Spotify, TikTok, and YouTube.

Despite being a tourist destination for decades – thanks to those memorable tourism commercials airing in the U.S., Jamaica has one of the highest crime and murder rates in the Caribbean. 

It is not known what penalties are in store for broadcasters should they violate the ban or how the Commission would plan to enforce the new rules, nor does it say if the ban covers over-the-air stations or cable and satellite. There are only two major broadcast television commercial networks in Jamaica and a handful of cable channels including one called Hype TV, which airs entertainment programming. 

The order obviously targets media imported from the U.S., as Jamaican television networks have aired programs such as The Sopranos and Empire, but homegrown programming as well. Some controversial music acts don’t seemed too concerned about the ban given numerous artists skipped radio altogether as the industry in Jamaica is plagued with payola. The island is best known for reggae and dancehall music, exporting artists such as Bob Marley and Sean Paul. 

In the U.S., the concern is mainly sex and profanity in television and radio programming as opposed to violence, although Congress has held hearings in the past, notably after a violent 1961 episode of short-lived ABC drama Bus Stop aired. Outrage over NBC’s airing of TV movie Born Innocent in 1974 – where a scene contained a fifteen-old girl being sexually assaulted in the shower by two other girls with a plunger handle, forced the FCC to establish a Family Viewing Hour (7-8 p.m. CT) a year later. A court declared the order unconstitutional in 1977 thanks to a lawsuit filed by Norman Lear, whose All in the Family dropped in the ratings as a result of the FCC’s action. One casualty of the initiative was ABC’s violent police drama The Rookies, which was canceled in 1976 after four seasons  – three of them spent in the first hour of primetime. 

The Chicago City Council held a hearing in 1999 over violence on Jerry Springer, then taped here as its content was targeted by the Rev. Michael Pflager and led NBC-owned WMAQ-TV to drop the show. In 2013, activists targeted Chicago’s two hip-hop stations (WGCI and Power 92) for the same reasons the Jamaican broadcast commission has outlined.

Further reading: 

Elon musk to buy Twitter after all. Here’s what I said would happen to the company back in April

SBS Broadcasting’s New York City VP/GM Maire Maison takes over La Ley 107.9 (WLEY-FM) in same role  (Radio Insight)

Tegna’s deal with Standard General to buy their stations runs into a roadblock (Next TV) 

Forget Charles Thomas, here’s some real news: The Grio is adding news programming featuring Eboni K. Williams and Marc Lamont Hill (Next TV)

iHeartMedia fires Regional President of Atlanta cluster after being caught using racial slurs (WSB-TV)



1 thought on “The Media Notepad: WGN-TV scores ratings win in gubernatorial debates

    • The Charles Thomas ads are just weird and they come off like fake SNL ads, you can easily imagine Kenan Thompson saying the lines. In the first one he sounds like he is a bargain basement hypnotist trying to hypnotize the viewer by repeating you can trust him.

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