More Messages: Doubling Up

This week, Gannett announced that it had won FCC approval for its purchase of KTVD-TV/Channel 20; since the company also owns KUSA-TV/Channel 9, the deal creates a television tag team known as a duopoly. The news hardly came as a surprise, given that a memo about the formal transfer of Channel 20's license was sent to KUSA staffers on June 22 under the signatures of longtime Channel 9 big wheel Roger Ogden and current president and general manager Mark Cornetta. Nevertheless, the formalization of this broadcasting relationship allows Gannett and KUSA to finally start addressing the biggest mystery about Channel 20: What the hell will it put on the air?

This isn't an idle question. Until recently, Channel 20 was an affiliate of UPN, whose slate of original programming contained a few highlights (Everybody Hates Chris, the guiltily pleasurable America's Next Top Model) and plenty of forgettable fodder (Half & Half, One on One, Friday Night Smackdown). Earlier this year, however, UPN merged with another struggling network, the WB, to form a combination dubbed "the CW." (No, I don't know where the "C" came from.) CW programming, which will consist of the most popular offerings from the new partners, is slated to appear locally on Channel 2, the current WB affiliate. That leaves Channel 20 with approximately a gazillion reruns of That '70s Show, and not much else.

Word has it that Channel 20 may well fill its prime-time lineup with material from a new entity, My Network TV, which will offer a slate of de facto soap operas. (Sounds like a terrible idea, frankly, but since Rupert Murdoch's behind it, the concept has a decent chance of survival.) Thus far, though, the only thing Cornetta's confirming is the planned launch of a half-hour newscast at 9 p.m. that will be staffed with such 9News personnel as Ward Lucas and Mark Koebrich. This approach is obviously intended to siphon off viewers who currently tune to 9 p.m. news hours offered by channels 2 and 31, but it also might draw a percentage of folks who watch the 10 p.m. top-rated Channel 9 offering.

But Cornetta's not worried about hurting his big franchise. "We didn't do surveys," he concedes, "but we've talked to a number of stations who have duopolies in other markets, and there's no evidence to suggest that it erodes the later newscast. Essentially, folks who are around at ten will want to watch a 10 p.m. newscast, whether it's ours or someone else's. So we're just giving those people who watch news at nine more options." And the use of familiar talent "made more sense to us than going out and trying to find different personalities that no one knows."

No arguing with that. Yet the addition of a fresh, independent news operation would have created more competition in the market, and that would have been better for viewers than more exposure for the 9News B-team and lots of repurposed footage. Then again, dupolies aren't really about doubling anything other than profits. And Gannett's hoping its latest one will do exactly that. -- Michael Roberts

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts