The Combatants

KWGN-TV/Channel 2:
Channel 2 is often overlooked in the late-news Olympics because its broadcast, which airs from 9 p.m. to 10 p.m., doesn't directly compete with those produced by other local stations. But the newscast got a credibility boost when Ernie Bjorkman, who'd left Channel 2 years earlier in favor of the main anchor spot at Channel 7, recently returned to the fold. Just as important, the station's affiliation with the WB network, known for youth-oriented shows such as Felicity, revolutionized its image; for decades past, the station had been best known as the place to find Blinky's Fun Club and endless repeats of Gilligan's Island. Now, with KDVR-TV/Channel 31 expected to debut a 9 p.m. newscast shortly after the first of the year, Channel 2 is attempting to raise ratings, not the white flag.

KCNC-TV/Channel 4:
Once a real competitor for Denver news supremacy, Channel 4 is on shaky ground; during the May 1999 ratings period, its 10 p.m. newscast lost three audience share points, two of which were gained by third-place Channel 7. (Shares are percentages of households watching TV during a particular time slot.) Execs soon began looking around for someone to blame, and after sacking longtime sports dude Les Shapiro, who left in June in favor of Marc Soicher, their gaze settled on the station's longtime male anchor, the avuncular, doughy-faced Bill Stuart, who is under contract until late 2003. But before they could either fire Stuart or shift him to a less important role, big Bill threatened a lawsuit charging Channel 4 with discrimination based on age (he's 51) and disability; he says he's suffering from clinical depression that he blames in part on his coverage of the April killings at Columbine High School. The timing of an October 27 Rocky Mountain News article about the matter was impeccable: Channel 4 quickly backed off, and Stuart's plight got national coverage, including an appearance on CNN's Reliable Sources earlier this month. Management, meanwhile, is in a pickle, and it's left them sour: If they can't get rid of Stuart, what else can they do to attract a bigger audience?

KMGH-TV/Channel 7:
In the Sixties, Channel 7 was the king of ten o'clock newscasts. But the departure of now-retired anchorman Bob Palmer, who'd left earlier for the greener (read: more profitable) pastures of Channel 4, started the station's long, slow decline. It hit bottom in 1996 with the introduction of "Real Life, Real News," a laughable tabloid treatment in which sole anchorwoman Natalie Pujo strutted around in flirty outfits like a brunette Vanna White. When the handful of locals who still watched Channel 7 responded by tuning out in droves, the station dumped the format and returned to a more traditional approach. Lately the ratings have been rising, and new-boys-in-the-spotlight Tom Green (a transplant from Channel 9), on sports, and Marty Coniglio (a refugee from Channel 4), on weather, have taken strides in a positive direction. But Channel 7 is still running third in what's essentially a three-horse race.

KUSA-TV/Channel 9:
Not only has Channel 9 had the top-rated 10 p.m. show for longer than most Coloradans can remember, but it's also regarded as one of the most dominant local newscasts in the country. The pending retirement of the once-feisty, now-relaxed Ed Sardella, who's been at the helm since the Seventies, may create an opening for other stations, but Channel 9 has cleverly built up the roles of co-anchor Adele Arakawa and heir apparent Jim Benemann to cushion the blow. Simply put, a generation of Denverites is in the habit of tuning in to Channel 9, leaving competitors wondering: Can anything be done to stop KUSA?

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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

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