March 5, 2021

WWOR-TV in New Jersey Replaces Nightly News

Depending on one’s perspective, what the New Jersey-based television station WWOR is doing this month is irresponsible or innovative.

Last week, with no notice, the station canceled its 10 p.m. half-hour of news, the only newscast it had left. On Monday, it will try something new at 10, a youthful newsmagazine called “Chasing New Jersey.” The anchor, a real estate executive and onetime Republican candidate for Congress, will be called the “ringleader” on the program; the reporters will be called “chasers.”

The shift in programming strategy is bound to be watched in Washington, where WWOR, broadcast on Channel 9, has been under regulatory scrutiny for years. The station is in a unique position, being the only big commercially owned broadcaster in New Jersey, whose 8.9 million residents otherwise see television news mainly from stations in New York City and Philadelphia. WWOR’s license for the public airwaves, granted by the Federal Communications Commission, comes with the condition that the license-holder pay special attention to the northern part of the state.

Since 2001, that license-holder has been the News Corporation, the sprawling media company controlled by Rupert Murdoch. (Since the company split into two parts last month, the new name for WWOR’s owner is Twenty-First Century Fox.) When the station’s license expired in 2007, the F.C.C. pointedly declined to renew it, but didn’t revoke it either, leaving the station in a sort of limbo — able to continue broadcasting for the time being, but uncertain about its future.

In 2011, the F.C.C. conducted an investigation into charges that News Corporation overstated how much news coverage it provided to New Jersey and how many people it employed in the state. The station’s executives have “failed to live up to their obligations,” WWOR’s chief critic, Senator Frank R. Lautenberg, said at the time.

“Lautenberg hassled them big-time,” Andrew Jay Schwartzman, a lawyer and advocate for media reform, said approvingly.

Mr. Lautenberg, a Democrat, died last month. While the timing of WWOR’s programming change was a coincidence, “it certainly has an unseemly appearance,” Mr. Schwartzman said.

A spokeswoman for WWOR said the executives in charge of the station were unavailable to comment on the 10 p.m. change. To people like Mr. Schwartzman, canceling the straightforward newscast — instead of keeping it while adding “Chasing New Jersey” to the schedule alongside it — smacks of retrenchment. But the Fox Television Stations group, of which WWOR is a part, seems to be billing it as a bold improvement over the old newscast, with a greater focus on New Jersey than before.

The program has been in development since late last year; promotional material suggests that it applies the look and feel of an entertainment show like “TMZ” to politics, business, crime and other topics. One taped story paired the program’s anchor, Bill Spadea, with the Democratic congressman he tried to defeat in 2004, Representative Rush D. Holt Jr.

“Chasing New Jersey” will be replayed on WTXF, the Fox-owned station in Philadelphia. The person in charge of that station, Dennis Bianchi, is also the vice president of Fairfax Productions, the outside production company that will produce the program.

“This type of evolution is long overdue in local news and is intended to shake up and revitalize the genre,” Mr. Bianchi said in a statement last week. “It’s about covering stories of real interest and importance in a new, refreshing and nonderivative way, with depth, context, interaction and debate.”

Fox may have big hopes for it: the TV industry Web site TVSpy dug up trademark filings for “Chasing Texas,” “Chasing Florida,” and a host of similarly named shows.

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Media Decoder: At Last, Couric Is Expected to Say She’s Leaving CBS

This week, Ms. Couric is planning to acknowledge one of the worst-kept secrets in television: that she is leaving the “CBS Evening News” after five years. Then, as soon as she returns from London, where she will be anchoring the network’s coverage of the royal wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton on Friday, CBS will announce her successor during the first week of May.

Katie Couric, anchor of CBS's evening news since late 2006.Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images Katie Couric, anchor of CBS’s evening news since late 2006.

The meticulously arranged exit plan was described by four people with knowledge of it, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because it was not supposed to be revealed before the formal announcement.

Ms. Couric’s contract with CBS ends on June 4, and the network is said to want a month for a transition. Scott Pelley, a correspondent on “60 Minutes,” is expected to succeed Ms. Couric. A transition has been fodder for the media for most of a month, but Ms. Couric insisted as recently as April 13 that she had not decided about staying or going.

Ms. Couric had scheduled a publicity tour for her new book, “The Best Advice I Ever Got,” for that week, and in almost every interview, she batted away questions about her future. “I’m just in the middle of figuring it out,” she told Matt Lauer on her former show, “Today.” “I’m not in a position to discuss it at this point,” she told Barbara Walters on “The View.”

Privately, some at CBS complained about the public uncertainty surrounding the “CBS Evening News.” But the exit plan will begin to clear the air.

CBS executives are interviewing candidates to be the executive producer of Mr. Pelley’s newscast, two of the people with knowledge of the plan said.

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