NEWS- Urge overkill: More TV to clog your mind

Two years ago, Charlottesville was a one-station, NBC29-dominated town. Then Gray Television came in with not one, not two, but three network affiliates, bumping the broadcast options to four.

Now two more stations will be crowding the dial.

Gray Television is adding MyNetworkTV, a product of Fox Broadcasting, to its ABC16, CBS19, and WAHU FOX27 stable.

NBC29 heralds its own new network affiliate: the CW, offspring of the youth-oriented WB and UPN networks, jointly owned by CBS and Warner Brothers, which will offer such fare as Gilmore Girls, Smallville, and Worldwide Wrestling Entertainment's Smackdown.

Why is a network half owned by CBS linking itself to the NBC affiliate in Charlottesville?

"They felt like we offered them the better choice," says Neal Bennett, NBC29 news director. "We're in Charlottesville, and our signal reaches Harrisonburg."

In September, CW29 will begin airing Everybody Hates Chris and Beauty and the Geek digitally on channel 29.3. UPN channel 20 in DC and WB channel 33 could be opening up as possibilities for local cable viewing of CW29.

But Bennett is even more excited about starting a 10pm newscast. The station will be adding staff and making CW29 "a little bit different" from the NBC29 mother station, says Bennett. He anticipates targeting some of the CW's prime 18-34 audience, as well as the early-to-bed crowd.

Over at the Charlottesville Newsplex– as Gray calls its ABC/CBS/Fox stations– general manager Roger Burchett is not at all dismayed to see the CW go to NBC29.

"It was about the money," Burchett says. "I don't think CBS cared– whoever offered the most money."

Since Gray's Newsplex already offers a 10pm broadcast, Burchett says the CW price was too high.

"MyNetworkTV made more sense for us," he says, touting that network's flexibility for customization– since parent company Fox demands only two to three hours a day of mandatory programming.

"It gives us the opportunity to build on programming," says Burchett, planning to go family-friendly with a local Captain Kangaroo-type children's program, as well as high school and amateur sports, UVA sports that aren't already under contract, and another 30-minute news show.

What MyNetworkTV won't be carrying? Jerry Springer-type shows that Burchett says, "I don't think people want to sit their kids in front of."

As Gray struggles to get a toehold, the other station's marketing materials boast, "NBC29 devours the competition," using PacMan-like graphics to show it eating CBS19, ABC16, and Fox27 in the ratings.

Another sales piece proclaims, "One year after the new stations arrived, Central Virginians still watch Richmond and Washington for ABC, CBS, and Fox."

Burchett declines to comment on NBC29's declaration that it's gobbling the competition. "I'll let people who receive them make up their own minds," he says.

'The biggest hurdle we had to accomplish was to get people in this market to choose our stations– CBS, ABC, Fox– over the CBS, ABC, and Fox they had been watching before we got here," Burchett acknowledges.

While ABC lucked into Channel 3 on Adelphia, thanks to Gray's ABC station in Harrisonburg relinquishing its spot, CBS19 is Adelphia 18, and Fox27 confusingly is cable 19.

Burchett insists more people are watching the local ABC than Richmond's, and "on most nights," more people are watching CBS here– "certainly for news"– than in Richmond.

"I'm not crazy about participating in the ratings game because I told everybody it would take three years," he explains. "At 18 months, we're way ahead of where we thought we'd be in our three-year plan."

He adds, "Every ratings book is better than the last."

And looming ahead are the May sweeps, when the Nielsen diaries go out again.

NBC29 is cleaning the new stations' clocks– at least according to NBC29 marketing materials that show it gobbling up the competition.


Newsplex general manager Roger Burchett says there's all kinds of ways to spin the ratings numbers– and prepares to launch the family oriented MyNetworkTV.



SIDEBOX- What's new?

Station: MyNetworkTV

Dial: To be determined

Ownership: Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation aka "Fox"

Local player: Gray Television (ABC16, CBS19, and WAHU Fox27)

Onscreen: new original programming on this sister network to Fox

Station: CW

Dial: Digitally on channel 29.3 (probably will take one or more of the slots currently held by WB or UPN on Adelphia)

Ownership: CBS Corporation and Time Warner

Local player: NBC29

Onscreen: Gilmore Girls, Smallville, and WWE's Smackdown.

Each new station is part of a competing national launch set for September.