Playing the Ratings Game (00:60)
It's live, local, and late-breaking. But is TV news legitimate during sweeps month? Eight stations compete in the Los Angeles market. Investigative Reports went behind the scenes of independent station KCAL-9 for 20 days in May.
Pressure During "The Book" (01:57)
KCAL employees discuss sweeps, conducted 3 months a year by the Nielsen Company. Viewer numbers translate into advertising dollars, and the station is a business. L.A. Times columnist Howard Rosenberg sharply criticizes local news.
Day 3--Story Selection (02:07)
KCAL News competes with network prime-time programming. In a strategy meeting, employees discuss whether to cover a story about a contract dispute at ABC that would give publicity to their competitor. A producer has worked on the story.
Hollywood Trumps Other News (01:56)
Entertainment reporter Cary Berglund covers the premiere of Gladiator. The newsroom gears up for its three evening newscasts. The ABC contract dispute story will only run at 9. The Gladiator story will run on all three newscasts.
Day 4--The Stuff Sweeps are Made Of (02:20)
Tonight there is only one broadcast, which must start with a strong ratings lead-in. It's a slow news day until a break comes in a local cop killer case. KCAL's assignment editor sends two crews out to cover this major crime story.
Covering a Breaking News Story (01:30)
As the story develops, a helicopter crew is dispatched. With only minutes until air time, the newsroom hurries to gather reports from three separate crews. In a sense, the two KCAL ground crews are competing with one another.
Getting the Scoop (02:06)
The newsroom scrambles to get reports from all three crews in at the beginning of the newscast. Reporter Leyna Nguyen talks about her part covering the story. KCAL's battling crews have netted two scoops for the 10 pm broadcast.
Days 5 and 6--Being Scooped (01:44)
KCAL's 8 pm broadcast has struggled to compete with "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire." A rival broadcast scoops them in a story of a child death in a school sandbox.
Covering a Sandbox Death (01:57)
Reporter Lora McLoughlin drives 85 miles to cover the story, which will lead the newscast two hours from now. Lora lands an exclusive interview with the school janitor, who offers no new information. KCAL decides to broadcast live.
Day 7--Struggling to Compete (00:37)
KCAL news director Dennis Herzig talks about trying to compete with "Who Wants to Be A Millionaire."
Day 9--The Blockbuster Awards (02:08)
Today KCAL is counting on the newsworthiness of celebrities. TV critic Howard Rosenberg says entertainment has won the battle with news on TV. Cary Berglund covers the awards for KCAL. It is a long, hot, disappointing day.
Ratings Drop (00:56)
Halfway through sweeps, staff morale and ratings are low at KCAL. Jobs are on the line. KCAL is forced to come up with hotter stories.
Day 10--Sex and Tragedy (01:58)
KCAL decides to cover a forest fire in New Mexico, 600 miles away. The story is a good fit for the L.A. market. Meanwhile, the specials producer is working on a story about roller coasters and sex.
Day 11--Wildfire and Roller Coaster (02:25)
KCAL's Bob Donley is the first L.A. reporter on the scene at the Los Alamos fire, which is now breaking national news. The staff prepares for his report. At Magic Mountain, the roller coaster story crew is having technical difficulties.
Technical Difficulties (01:58)
Things unravel in the control room. New Mexico fire footage is poor due to wind and a weak signal. Another story is shown with the wrong video. Then the signal from the amusement park is lost.
Back in Second Place (01:31)
The 10 p.m. broadcast is plagued with technical problems. Then, for the eighth time tonight, comes the live roller coaster report. Despite glitches, KCAL's sex and tragedy strategy is working. Their ratings improve.
Day 12--Weariness Sets In (00:48)
With eight days left to go in "the book," the KCAL staff is getting tired. The long hours put a strain on family life.
Days 15 and 16--Crime Wave (01:52)
Los Angeles experiences a surge in violent crime. But KCAL's news director knows they can't always rely on news to happen, so the station produces special reports. KCAL tries unsuccessfully to revive its tow truck sting.
Another Sweeps Stunt (02:01)
Veteran news anchor Jerry Dunphy heads out to cover the restored space shuttle Columbia, his first live shot in 16 years. The 8 pm broadcast is a mix of the surge in violence and Dunphy's report. The staff celebrates Dunphy's good work.
Skydiving Story (02:09)
The next day's prime assignment features reporter Mia Lee jumping out of a plane. The story was chosen for sweeps because it's great video, and it's a happy story to break up all the bad news.
Day 18--Hitting Close to Home (01:53)
In the final week of sweeps, a local reporter is nearly killed when her news van ignites. She suffers severe burns. The KCAL staff discusses how to cover the story without being too critical of another station.
New Perspective on "The Book" (01:52)
The KCAL staff reacts emotionally to news of the tragic accident involving a news reporter from another station. The story gives reporter Mia Lee a chance to do hard news for a change.
Day 19--The Chase That Almost Happened (02:27)
In the absence of breaking stories, helicopter pilot Larry Welk takes to the sky to look for news. Then KCAL gets word that a car chase has begun on an LA freeway. Unfortunately for KCAL, the chase is soon over.
Day 20--May Book Finally Closed (02:11)
For final impact, all of tonight's prime assignments air live. KCAL staff members reflect on the tension between journalism and ratings. TV critic Howard Rosenberg says public pressure is the only way the media will change.
Should News Be About Numbers? (01:07)
KCAL placed third in the May book. But news director Dennis Herzig is already planning for the next sweeps period. As reality shows continue to flood the airwaves, the station plans to focus more on hard news.
Credits: Hype and Glory: The World of Local TV News (00:37)
Credits: Hype and Glory: The World of Local TV News
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