The Media Notepad: Chicago stations cover teachers’ strike

Also: NBC pulls two shows – but one is moving to digital. Fox 32 downgrades local show; Bless The Harts renewed for season two

To say Chicago stations had a busy week is quite an understatement: in addition to reminding viewers (constantly) about re-scanning their sets, news stations were covering the second Chicago Public School Teachers strike in the last seven years. As expected, the teachers walked off the job Thursday, leaving 300,000 students without classes. And the rhetoric at times between the two sides has approached – and surpassed FCC/Illinois legislature (under Gov. Rauner’s leadership, at least) dysfunction.

Unlike 2012, when local stations weren’t able to break into network programming due to sports commitments and had to scramble when a strike was hastily announced, the announcement was more subdued this time around as everyone expected a work stoppage to take place as negotiations weren’t really going anywhere.

On Thursday afternoon, local stations were leading off their newscasts with the strike, but by evening, it wasn’t the top story anymore – for example, WGN-TV didn’t get to the strike until 9:10 p.m. as other stories (such as Police Supt. Eddie Johnson’s medical episode and a Northwest Side carjacking) took prominence.

Still, local stations have devoted a lot of resources to cover the strike, including information for parents on their respective websites (if you can find it.) But with CPS and the teacher’s union in a standoff over numerous issues as of this writing, don’t look for a resolution anytime soon – something you’re used to if you’re a sports fan and Dish subscriber. 

And if you thought these negotiations between CPS and the teacher’s union were a disaster, wait until next year when the Writer’s Guild and the AMPTP get together to discuss a new contract. You haven’t seen nothing yet.

If what could be construed as the first downgrade of the season outside of prime-time, Fox-owned WFLD has moved late night local show Later With Leon from 10 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. Hosted by WGCI radio personality Leon Rogers and co-hosted by reporter Tia Ewing, the show looked at the the day’s top stories. Both the iHeartMedia station and WFLD are located in close proximity with each other, in the Illinois Center complex on 205 and 233 North Michigan Avenue (for the record, I hung out at the Wow Bao every morning near WFLD’s entrances most mornings before going to work.)

Although no official reason was given for the time slot change, it was understood the four day-a-week strip was performing poorly in the ratings. Also not helping is Thursday’s show was often delayed by NFL games, pushing the show out of its 10 p.m. slot.

WFLD is still promoting the show; tickets are available to attend a taping.

On another front, WGN has now added Backstory With Larry Potash at 10 p.m. Saturday nights, with a repeat Sunday nights at 11 p.m. The local series replaced another WGN local show Man Of The People with fellow morning show anchor Pat Tomasulo in those same slots, which was canceled in July after eighteen months on the air. Backstory features long-lost facts and history many Chicagoans don’t know about, similar to what WTTW’s Geoffrey Baer does on Chicago Tonight and on numerous specials.

NBC comedy Sunnyside and Memphis-set legal drama Bluff City Law will each end their run when their episode order is complete. Sunnyside is being removed from the peacock mothership but is remaining on digital platforms, including and Hulu, even getting an extended order of one episode. Meanwhile, Bluff City is wrapping production on its ten-episode order and the network plans to air all episodes on NBC.

Even though NBC denied they are cancelling each show, their exit mark the first official fatalities of the 2019-20 season, a marked change from recent seasons when the major networks were hesitant to pull shows.

Airing on Thursdays, Sunnyside was averaging less than two million viewers in its first four episodes and drawing as low as a 0.3 rating in the adults 18-49 demo, even lower than several CW shows, even though the sitcom performed somewhat better in delayed and digital platforms. Bluff City has also performed better in those metrics, rising to a 1.1 adult 18-49 rating from a 0.7 and jumping from four million viewers to 7.4 million viewers when factored in.

The moves come as all of the major networks are experiencing year-to-year viewership erosion in prime-time. Beginning this Thursday, Sunnyside is being replaced by Will & Grace: The Final Season…Again. 

As NBC is shelving two shows, Fox has picked up animated Sunday night comedy Bless The Hearts for a second season, becoming the first series to be renewed for the 2020-21 season.

“Bless the Harts is an incredibly sharp, yet sweet, series that complements the Fox Animation Domination block perfectly,said Fox Entertainment president Michael Thorn in a statement. “It simply doesn’t get much better than having a comedy anchored by talent like Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph, Ike Barinholtz, Jillian Bell and Kumail Nanjiani. We want to thank creator and executive producer Emily Spivey, whose unique voice and personal experience brought this family to life, as well as executive producers Phil Lord and Chris Miller, and our partners at 20th Century Fox Television. We are thrilled to watch the Hart family experience more adventures, mishaps and boxed wine for another amazing season.”

It is not clear however, if the pickup is for thirteen episodes (which is the first season order) or for more. The series is produced by 20th Century Fox Television and Fox Entertainment.

Critiquing Harts performance is tough given the ratings of the series and the rest of Fox’s Animation Domination block tend to fluctuate week-to-week due to NFL lead-ins. And similar to numerous programs on The CW, Animation Domination tends to do better on multiplatform viewing as young viewers tend to seek out programming that way.


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