Now that WPIX is moving on without its captain, we analyze if they are better off, and what’s ahead for the Tribune flagship?
Earlier this month, we reported Bill Carey stepped down as Channel 11 news director. It was a three-year run that attempted to finally lift WPIX past rival WNYW. But Queensborough Community College media professor Eileen White thinks aside from the new bells, whistles, and talent, nothing much has changed at WPIX. She says the newscasts, primarily at 10 p.m., attempted to reinvent the wheel, but in the process, alienated viewers.
One of Carey’s signature moves were to extricate Jodi Applegate from News 12 Long Island and bump seasoned partners Jim Watkins and Kaity Tong.
“That smacks of ageism too,” White tells FishbowlNY. “Let’s just put younger people on, because younger people like [watching] younger people.”
Ironically, Tong, 63, earlier this year gave testimony in an age discrimation lawsuit filed by former WPIX news director Karen Scott.
White also points to a more chronic problem for WPIX, the Fox prime-time lineup.
“They do suffer from the Fox lead-in,” White says. “Fox has a much better lead-in at 10 o’clock.”
Atop the nighttime schedule remains American Idol, even if viewership is slightly reduced over the past few years. But that still pales in comparison to anything shown on the CW.
“Those are really young shows,” White says. “I think young people tend to catch it later on the website.”
She cites Gossip Girl, seen Monday nights, as a show that pulls in a young demographic for its slim CW ratings.
“They’re going to watch it on YouTube, then they’re going to watch it on Google, then watch it on iTunes,” White believes. “And they’re going to DVR it.”
Although White says the Cablevision/Tribune fiasco, now more than two months old, is not Carey’s fault, she recognizes his tenure hasn’t been a resounding success either. Aside from one hour in the morning this past summer, WPIX has never come close to beating WNYW at 10 p.m. or in the morning.
Going forward, White believes the Channel 11 news department needs to go radical, but not the unorthodox look that Carey ushered in 2010 with Applegate. She suggests its late news be sliced in half to 30 minutes.
“Especially if you don’t have a sports department, come on, cut it down to an half-hour,” White says. “And then people can get to bed… because I think Fox strings you along, way too long. I think a half-hour is perfect.”
White, who teaches several courses at QCC including Introduction to Electronic Media, doesn’t think trimmimg the news would be construed as a victory for WNYW.
“Channel 11, in trying to compete with Channel 5, changed everything that was good about it,” White says. “They changed a lot of stuff that Channel 5 does right.”
She says no changes would be implemented until a successor to Carey is named. Longtime station manager John Houseman has been named interim news director.
“For that new person, that’s going to be the carrot,” White says. “You can do what you want, take a failing thing and turn it around.”