Wpvi No Longer Invincible Channel 10 Takes Lead In 11 P.m. Newscast

Posted: March 01, 2001

Pizza won't be on the menu at Channel 10 today.

When the final numbers come in for the February sweeps ratings period, WCAU (Channel 10) is expected to be No. 1 weekdays at 11 p.m. for the first time in nearly 30 years.

Which means that for the first time since 1975, Channel 10's City Avenue rival, WPVI (Channel 6) can't be considered unbeatable.

It also means that Channel 10 news director Steve Schwaid is bringing in caterers.

"My goal is food. My Jewish background says feed. We'll have breakfast, we'll have lunch, we'll have dinner. We will not be buying pizza," Schwaid said yesterday.

Not that anyone's going to be eating humble pie across the street at Channel 6.

WPVI still produces the most-watched newscast in the region, winning in every other part of the day and with a seven-day average at 11 that puts the station ahead of Channel 10, general manager Dave Davis said yesterday.

Channel 6's Jim Gardner, who has anchored the station's 6 and 11 p.m. newscasts since 1977, is taking "the long view," he said yesterday.

"I am frankly very proud of the work the news department did over the past month, and more importantly, over the past 25 years," Gardner said.

"In 24 years, I have never talked about ratings," he said, calling it "unseemly."

Lots of other people were talking yesterday, though. Because with one day left to go in the February sweeps, one of four quarterly periods used to set advertising rates, the 11 p.m. newscast anchored by Channel 10's Larry Mendte and Renee Chenault yesterday was averaging a 12.4 rating/22 share in the local Nielsens on weekdays, enough to beat WPVI's late newscast by at least half a ratings point and a full share point, ground it was considered virtually impossible to make up, even with last night's special 10 p.m. edition of "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire."

(Each local ratings point equals 27,034 TV households. Share is the percentage of sets in use tuned to a particular station.)

"You have to admire the accomplishments of this staff now," said Schwaid. "We're not doing stuff that we want to do. We're doing stories that are important to the Delaware Valley."

You also have to admire the NBC lineup that helped put Channel 10 on top, say observers.

"There's no question that 'ER' and two nights of 'Law & Order' has helped them immensely, and it's allowed them to tighten this race and close the gap with Channel 6," WPHL (Channel 17) news director Rich Scott said yesterday.

As of yesterday, ratings for the 10:45-11 p.m. lead-in for Channel 10 on weekdays were up 15 percent from a year ago, while Channel 6's was down 17 percent.

Indeed, in a conference call with reporters Monday to brag about NBC's sweeps performance, the network's West Coast president, Scott Sassa, singled out the situation in Philadelphia between WCAU and WPVI as an example of the effects that lead-ins - the 10 p.m. dramas and news magazines - have on the performance of local newscasts.

"I think the lead-in has given them a great boost," said John Mussoni, news director at WTXF (Channel 29). "The really telling story is that for the first time, 'Action News' at 11 was not able to overcome the ABC network's deficit," he said. "This is where they become mortal."

"It's harder to come back from a bad lead-in" than it used to be, Channel 6's Davis acknowledged yesterday, while noting that his is still the only 11 p.m. newscast to outperform the shows preceding it. "Obviously, we're doing something right," he said.

So is Channel 10, said WPHL's Scott.

"You have to capitalize on your lead-in. They've hustled, they've been aggressive," he said. "This is a market where people don't try new things . . . but for two, three years, they've been pounding away there. It was just a matter of time before they were going to win."

It's a win that may be more psychological than financial, according to Karen Petrillo, media director for Harmelin Media of Bala Cynwyd, which buys commercial time for clients on both stations.

Advertisers target viewers by age and sex, Petrillo said, and it's still too soon to know which station won the month in popular demographics.

"It's going to get interesting," she said.

For Channel 6, "some of the bloom is now off the rose," said KYW (Channel 3) general manager Marcellus Alexander. "They've been pretty change-averse over the years," he said.

"I think it's great," said Channel 29's Mussoni. "There's been this whole mystique attached to 'PVI being No. 1 and I just want to see if life in this town is going to be different." *

You can reach Ellen Gray by e-mail at elgray@phillynews.com, by fax at 215-854-5852 or by mail at the Philadelphia Daily News, Box 7788, Philadelphia, Pa. 19101.

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