Magazine article Variety

Flood the Zone

Magazine article Variety

Flood the Zone

Article excerpt

When a deranged gunman shot and killed two employees of Roanoke, Va.-based WBDJ-TV during a live broadcast in August - and then took the extraordinary step of posting his own video of the attack on social media - TV news producers sprang into action.

The bizarre incident was instantly recognized as a microcosm of societal ills and media trends, from the easy availability of guns and the difficulty of treating mental health problems to the pervasive influence of social media. And at its core, the WDBJ incident was a heartbreaking human story of two promising young lives ended in a matter of seconds.

Roanoke was a example of a story that spurred a big competitive reaction from news networks to flood the zone.

Chris Cuomo, the co-anchor of CNN's morning show, "New Day," hopped on a plane after completing his anchoring duties. He was back on CNN quickly and stayed well into the night, then got a few hours rest and anchored the morning program from Virginia. He was not alone as all the major news outlets descended on the scene, creating a media village outside the CBS affiliate's headquarters.

"We wanted to get there and do it from the ground," says Jim Murphy, VP of morning programming at CNN. "This is a golden age of battle."

TV news outlets have always jockeyed for scoops and ratings, but in the past two years the competitive fervor among the largest TV news outlets has stepped up dramatically. Morning, noon and night, the broadcast networks and the all-news cablers are waging a multiplatform battle for the loyalty of viewers and dominance of big, buzzy stories. New York remains the epicenter of TV news operations, which makes the ups and downs and executive shuffling of the business the talk of the town among industryites.

"One thing that these audiences are interested in is news - no matter what people say about attention spans and platform adoption and availability at different times of the day and in different places," says David Rhodes, president of CBS News, adding, "and that's something worth fighting over."

Industry veterans say another reason for the heightened sense of combat is the recent turnover among talent and producers in news circles. The Big Three news anchors have all changed in the past four years - most recently with great drama this summer at NBC News - while an incoming regime and programming strategy at CNN has raised the stakes on the cable side. And with so many fresh online competitors, the narrowing of the ratings gap between the No. 1 and No. 2 shows in key news day parts fuels the drive to claim the leadership crown.

The network morning shows are a good example. ABC's "Good Morning America" is locked in a pitched daily battle with NBC's "Today" for No. 1 bragging rights, with razor-thin margins separating the shows most days. Meanwhile,"CBS This Morning" is making strides with its hard-news approach.

In the evening, NBC lost, then regained, its first-place ranking in the evening-news wars amid the scandal over Brian Williams that led to Lester Holt moving into the anchor chair in June. The chase for exclusive "big get" interviews has heightened, as ABC News scored a home run in April with more than 20 million turning out for Diane Sawyer's exclusive sit-down with Caitlyn Jenner.

Indeed, Fox News Channel's Megyn Kelly is preparing to embark on a series of specials starting next year that will have her sit down with major newsmakers. Fox has also tested new formats like "Legends & Lies," and the comedic "The Greg Gutfeld Show. …

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