The time is nigh, but is the timing finally right for KTXD-TV's baby boomer-aimed Texas Daily?
09/27/12 08:58 AM
By ED BARK
Senior Living magazine is readily available to visitors and Cannon is rerunning on the reception area TV set.
This isn't the Si Spry retirement village, though. These are the North Dallas offices and studios of KTXD-TV (Ch. 47), where baby boomers (those born between 1946 and 1964) are seen as the linchpins of a booming business.
Beginning on Monday, Oct. 1st, that strategy will take major shape and form with The Texas Daily, a one-hour 8 to 9 a.m. news presentation featuring an array of former D-FW anchors and reporters with more collective mileage on them than Apollo 13.
As previously posted, 13 of these 14 old hands formerly worked at some point in their careers for WFAA8, with ex-NBC5 sports anchor Scott Murray the lone exception. So perhaps the slogan for Texas Daily should be "8 Wasn't Enough." (Hey kids, that's a reference to the old Eight Is Enough TV series, circa 1977-'81 on ABC).
KTXD's roster of "Dallas' best-loved former anchors and journalists from the past three decades" -- as a publicity release puts it -- also includes Jeff Brady (the full-time host of Texas Daily) and part-time "pundits" Tracy Rowlett, Troy Dungan, Iola Johnson, John Criswell, Midge Hill, Phyllis Watson, Gary Cogill, Robert Riggs, Jolene DeVito, Debbie Denmon, Suzie Humphreys and John Sparks.
The station also met with former NBC5 anchors Jane McGarry and Mike Snyder. Nothing has developed so far with McGarry and "Mike wanted Jeff's job," Hurley says.
At the rate of two a day, the pundits will join Brady for a planned three segments tied to topical stories. In clips prepared for possible promotional use, Brady promises "a fresh look at the news" while Dungan says, "I'm a Christian conservative. I'm not gonna beat you over the head with that. But I have my opinions, and you'll hear 'em."
The mastermind of Texas Daily -- and a softer served daily Texas Living show launching at 11 a.m. on Oct. 1st -- is 64-year-old Phil Hurley, Chief Operating Officer of Dallas-based London Broadcasting Company in partnership with its president, Terry E. London.
Back in June of 1981, "I had this fabulous idea to start a senior channel," Hurley says during a late summer interview in his KTXD office.
No one listed for a long time, but Hurley says he mailed his "position paper" to himself and "had it notarized because I didn't want anybody stealing my idea."
Virtually all networks, both broadcast and cable, have an aversion to older viewers. They're deemed to be too set in their ways, too sedentary in their habits and not "impressionable" enough to buy into pitches for products they don't really need.
But Hurley and KTXD station manager Brian Joyce, still in the target 18-to-49 network demographic at the tender age of 36, see the baby boomer crowd as a still untapped gold mine. They make much the same points that CBS unsuccessfully made to Madison Avenue in the early 1990s. Namely that older viewers have more disposable income and watch TV in much larger numbers than their children or grandchildren. Not only that, they still watch TV on a living room TV set, preferring it to the Internet or an iPhone.
KTXD is an affiliate of ME-TV, purveyor of "classic" television evergreens such as Gunsmoke,The Rifleman, Bonanza, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Bob Newhart Show and The Twilight Zone. For starters, the 9 to 11 a.m. bridge between Texas Daily and Texas Living will be repeats of Perry Mason and The Rockford Files. (The Texas Living hosts are Southern Living editor-at-large Kimberly Schlegel Whitman and Hilary Kennedy, a former Hot On! Homes personality who also has acted in a handful of small-budget films such as Evil Behind You.)
In last Monday's Nielsen ratings, a 1 p.m. episode of KTXD's Bonanza ran third in its time slot, outdrawing everything except CBS' The Talk and TXA21's Judge Mathis among viewers 55 years and older. A 2 p.m. hour of Big Valley easily beat WFAA8's competing syndicated Anderson in this age group while nipping NBC5's new Steve Harvey syndicated talk show.
London Broadcasting officially took over KTXD in January, buying it from a religious broadcaster. The station soon became a ME-TV affiliate, but with the proviso that it have lots of leeway to preempt that network's oldies lineup in favor of its own programming.
"It wasn't easy, but after a month or so they finally figured out that the trade-off was pretty compelling," Hurley says. "We still need to have a branding, and we don't think it's just ME-TV. And that's where the news shows came from."
KTXD also had extra leverage with ME-TV as a station in the country's No. 5 television market, he adds.
Hurley, a former banker and Southwestern Bell executive, gained some notoriety in 2007 as the president and general manager of Tyler, TX-based KYTX-TV. It was home base for the Fox network's very short-lived Anchorwoman reality series, in which former model and wrestling villainess Lauren Jones joined a staff that already included Stormy the Weather Dog. The series was canceled after its opening night after the concept took a thorough bashing.
Five years later, Hurley says with some relish, "I always get a big laugh out of all the uproar. Now I look at all the different folks who've done different things who now proclaim themselves anchors. I think it's hilarious."
London Broadcasting owns 17 television stations across Texas and doesn't plan to expand beyond the state. It also wanted no part of D-FW, Houston, or San Antonio until religious station KTAQ-TV went into bankruptcy. Its sudden availability prompted London to make D-FW the lone exception in its small market strategy. The company never envisioned a full-power broadcast station becoming available in a top 10 TV market.
"I tend to get bored quickly. So when this Dallas thing came up, that's where the fun is," Hurley says. "I've always considered myself half-broadcaster, half-entrepreneur. I may be old, but I've still got a lot of passion and enthusiasm for building these projects and watching them succeed.'
Station manager Joyce, who has worked three previous times for Hurley, says his initial thought with KTXD was, "How the hell are we going to program this thing?"
After the ME-TV deal was in place, Joyce decided that a news program with potential high appeal among baby boomers would be a perfectly compatible fit. He put together a list of former D-FW television news luminaries and started making calls.
"And of course they're surprised at first," he says. And then they were very interested. As Joyce tells it, Iola Johnson, the trailblazing first black news anchor in D-FW, had just sold her home in Dallas and moved out of state. But the chance to make a comeback of sorts on Texas Daily proved irresistible. "I'm gonna buy another house in Texas and downsize from what I had," Joyce says Johnson told him. "And I'll be there as much as you want me to be."
They won't be getting paid all that much. And other than Brady, most of them aren't expected to work more than one day a week.
"We've got so many of them that you put them all together and it kind of makes for a full-time position," Hurley says. "We pay 'em on a day rate. It's almost like an actor or a musician. To us they're all the same and they all get paid the same. That was very important. We didn't want to negotiate individually."
KTXD also will have one full-time reporter and a photographer preparing story packages for Texas Daily. The idea is to present the news, weather and sports highlights in abbreviated fashion before the pundits weigh in. Tentatively it will be a "Morning Rush" segment followed by "Pundit Play," although the mix and format might well change on the fly as the program takes shape.
"It's not going to be chasing fire engines or ambulances," Joyce says. "A lot of the news stuff we do will be pre-produced ahead of time."
One of the promotional taglines for Texas Daily is Dungan's declaration, "You know me. But do you really know me?"
Joyce says several members of his pundit brigade told him in so many words, "This is an opportunity for me to say things that I never got to say before. And for me to be myself on television. For a long time I had to be Mr. or Mrs. Anchor. This is going to be an opportunity to show people who I really am."
There's this, too. "Nearly 100 percent of them don't see local news in Dallas-Fort Worth being done the way it should be done," Hurley says. "They felt like they did it the right way. And they're not happy about the depth and quality not being what it used to be. That may be part ego. But it's a consistent thread that today's local news is something this (baby boomer) audience doesn't care about. A lot them refer to it as 'Cop Shop News.' "
Others might see it as a severe case of "In My Day" myopia. But management at Fox4, NBC5, WFAA8 and CBS11 has no interest in commenting publicly on a local TV news competitor. Some are privately disdainful of this back-to-the-future regathering of their former employees. But for public consumption, it's a catch-all "No comment."
In previously published remarks to unclebarky.com, Rowlett and Dungan said they're game to give this a try and happy to again share an anchor desk with one another.
"Could we see Tracy and Troy -- together again? Heck, I would watch that," Dungan said.
DeVito, who previously anchored for both WFAA8 and the companion TXCN cable news network, said she didn't envision "any project that would interest me and fit in my life. I was wrong on both counts. The Texas Daily is a unique opportunity to reunite with old friends and debate the news of the day. Heck, if you told me, 'Hey, Gary Cogill and Tracy Rowlett are down at Starbucks right now, chewing the fat, and they want you to come' -- I'd be there in a second. In this case, we'll just have TV cameras there, too."
KTXD offered one more carrot.
"We don't care what else they do," Hurley says. "Troy can do the weather for Channel 8 if he wants to. We don't care."
Dungan instead has been endorsing various companies in TV commercials that regularly air on WFAA8 and other stations. Brady, the principal host, still has his own public relations firm. And Denmon will be offering opinions on Texas Daily while also working her new full-time job as director of communications for the Dallas County District Attorney's office.
"I just have to clear with Craig (D.A. Craig Watkins) what we're talking about," she said in a recent interview with unclebarky.com. "He told me, 'I'm fine with it as long as you don't say anything crazy.' He looks at it as good PR for the county."
It all starts on Monday, Oct. 1st, after a Thursday night kickoff party at KTXD headquarters. Most if not all of the seasoned pundits will be in attendance to rally around the most intriguing new local news venture in decades if not generations.
It might be, it could be, but is it an idea whose time has finally come? Are baby boomers really worth this kind of investment?
"They're buyers, they're spenders. Man, it just makes all the sense in the world," says Hurley.