February 16 - February 22, 1995

Newsplex Confidential!

Our Crack Investigative Dude Scopes Out KOLD-TV's Big News Push!

By Tom "Special Report" Danehy

SUBJECT: KOLD-TV's new news

METHOD: Various

FOCUS: New building, new format, newspeople

When local CBS-TV affiliate KOLD-TV, Channel 13, announced it was moving its news operation to a brand-new building somewhere out in the sprawling town limits of Marana, it was generally accepted with a shrug, perceived to be a marriage made in purgatory. For if Marana is the ugly red-headed stepchild of Tucson, KOLD has long since established itself as the permanent doormat of local news. The only reason it has finished in third place in the ratings for much of the past decade is that there isn't a fourth place.

At the risk of being overdrawn at the cliché bank, when you hit rock bottom, you've got nowhere to go but up. You might as well try something, because when you've got nothing, you've got nothing to lose. All I know is, if I were Channel 13 and I looked up and saw Channel 9's Roxanne Rodriguez above me, it'd probably be enough to scare me into moving to Marana, too.

The physical move to the new digs was largely accomplished by the first weekend in January. The real shift in KOLD's news operation had taken place a few months earlier. Suddenly, the moribund news programs went hyper, like on "Beverly Hillbillies" when Granny used to take a sip of her "rheumatiz" medicine.

They turned up the volume and cranked up the speed. They went around the world in two minutes, breaking the previous record of two minutes, 15 seconds set by Madonna in one of the outtakes of "Truth or Dare."

Some observers called it tabloid TV news, but it was actually more like disco. Everything set to a throbbing beat, no matter the content or intent. Bright lights, staccato talk. And here's Joe Piscopo with the weather...

A few years back, the wide-open TV syndication market was introduced to A Current Affair, a sleazoid half-hour program which was little more than National Enquirer stories read by talking heads. Long on titillation, speculation and fabrication, and wafer-thin on verification.

But when trailer parks all across America began tuning in en mass, the TV gods took notice and clones began popping up all over the dial. A Current Affair begat Hard Copy, which begat Inside Story, which begat oh, I don't know, Inside Hard Current Copy Affair.

It should not be surprising that tabloid news TV would filter down to the local level. For as it has been said (and this is my last cliché withdrawal until the next time), imitation is the sincerest form of television. And at the outset of this move in the new direction, KOLD appeared to be really, really sincere.

In their defense, they seem to have backed off a bit in recent weeks, but they remain the only local news program with its own in-house theme music for their nightly O.J. Simpson report. In terms of grossness, this is on a scale with Grandma slipping you some tongue when you kiss her goodbye at Thanksgiving.

The tabloid/disco approach may or may not have been born of desperation, but it certainly has achieved one of its goals. People are taking notice.

After watching a few of their broadcasts, I have to say this tabloid style is infectious. Quick hits. Speed over style and substance. When you've got no continuity, you've got no continuity errors.

So let's check this out. Around Channel 13...in two hours or so.

SUBJECT: History

METHOD: Research

FOCUS: How the hole got so big

Early 1953, Channel 13 went on the air. It was the first TV station in Tucson and it featured a droll mix of cooking shows, some chatty talk and even a little news. It was the top-rated TV station in Tucson for a while, until the other two network affiliates went on the air later that same year. After that, it was a tough battle all the way.

Originally called KOPO, the station was partially owned by singing cowboy Gene Autry, who used his amazing foresight and business acumen to build a massive fortune in his early life, just so he could suffer at the hands of his hapless California Angels baseball team in his later years.

The three network affiliates waged a spirited battle for viewership. KGUN--TV, Channel 9, is the ABC affiliate, while KVOA, Channel 4 (the only station without cutesy call letters) is affiliated with NBC. Each of the stations' local program ratings is affected to a certain extent by the national ratings, but, by and large, local news ratings tend to stand on their own.

KOLD has had some good times over the years. For a while in the late 1970s they were near the top. They had anchorman Lou Waters, who went on to become a nationally-known head of hair with CNN.

Unfortunately, they also had that wacky tandem of news reader Kathy Randall and weatherman Al (Alfo) Fogelman. These two were involved in one of the two great scandals in local TV news history. The other involved a sportscaster and a Coke bottle, but I don't want to go into it any further. Which is probably very close to what the sportscaster said that night.

Anyway, Randall and Alfo were the ultimate odd couple. She all young and nubile, he a body and face double for Alan Dershowitz. While she may or may not have had a nose for news, they both certainly had noses for something else. If the circa-1980 Alfo were here today, he'd be able to go around the world in about 27 seconds.

Alfo developed a serious case of the warm trembling thighs for Randall, who went along because he kept her nose powdered. It all ended badly, with more than one public screaming match and checks bouncing all over town.

Word is that Alfo has resurfaced on a TV station in Denver. No one knows where Randall is.

After all that happened, KOLD began its slide. They hired friendly, fatherly Vic Caputo from Detroit to anchor the news, but he had this unnerving way of half-burping when he talked. He got bounced after a few years and disappeared somewhere inside local radio.

They also had sportscaster Kevin McCabe, probably the most annoying guy in local news history. McCabe was the king of the gratuitous "me too" shot. As in "Here's Sean Elliott shooting free throws in McKale Center. And here's me, too." All slang and swagger and no athletic ability to speak of, McCabe was a fingernail on the local chalkboards for a few years. He finally got fired and, amazingly, landed an even better job in Phoenix, where, apparently, being obnoxious is part of the job description.

Anchors came and went pretty quickly after that. It all became a blur, one best cured by simply switching to another station and leaving it there.

By 1990, KOLD had bottomed out. The news operation was in shambles and the ratings were smaller than Hitler's heart.

SUBJECT: The Competition

METHOD: Observation, research

FOCUS: Why things are still the way they are

For quite some time, the ratings battle in local TV news has been one for second place. KVOA-TV, Channel 4, has absolutely dominated things for more than a decade. Their numbers are often staggering.

It's a truism, rarely challenged that in these parts the KVOA tandem of Patty Weiss and weatherman Michael Goodrich is the proverbial 900-lb. gorilla, although not nearly as attractive.

KVOA's dominance of the market is overwhelming, but there are areas of softness there. The demographics are skewed toward the higher-age end of things, which is viwed as less desirable for some advertisers. Plus, KOLD is making inroads on the (less-profitable, but still important) weekend newscasts.

Local TV news is an odd world full of unique problems and opportunities. Those who succeed in it are less likely to stick around than those who fail. And with Tucson's growing population, the fight for lucrative ratings points is likely to get very intense in the near future.

Other things of note:

• I think it's a law somewhere that local Tucson TV news stations have to employ at least one extremely petite Hispanic woman reporter. When future anthropologists in the Age of Gilead (gratuitous Margaret Atwood reference) look back at this era, they'll probably think we had the Brave New World thing going on. Besides breeding Alphas, Betas and Gammas for menial tasks, we're turning out Lupitas to handle news features.

KVOA has the original, Lupita Murillo. KGUN counters with Norma Cancio and KOLD has the up-and-coming Celeste Gonzales. Add 'em up and you've got Sabrina Dorsey.

• KVOA and KOLD have 5 p.m. and 6:00 p.m. newscasts on weeknights, but KGUN only has only the 5 p.m., preferring to use the 6 p.m. slot for the high-rated Wheel of Fortune. All three go head-to-head at noon and 10 p.m.

• Even low-rated local news programs usually generate a profit. High-rated ones can be a cash cow. There is no FCC regulation as to how many commercials can run during a news program, so a highly-rated news show will probably actually show less news (and more commercials) than its lower-rated competition.

The success at KVOA has allowed its salesmen to continually update their wardrobe of white belts, pink shirts and burgundy slacks.

• On-air personalities are vital to a news program's success, and Tucson, with its mid-level market size, is constantly seeing a parade of people in and out.

The Peter Principle is definitely in effect here. Put simply, the Peter Principle states that in a hierarchy, a person will rise as long as he performs well in each successive position, and will continue to rise until he reaches his own level of incompetence, where he will get stuck because he's no longer performing well and doesn't deserve another promotion. The corollary states that the only work that gets done is performed by those people who haven't reached their own level of incompetence yet.

In radio and TV (as well as in print) people tend to start off in a small market, hone their skills, then move up to a larger market, with higher pay and more prestige. Many have their eyes set on the ultimate prize, a spot in a huge market or maybe with a network. For them, Tucson is a necessary six-month stopover on the way to San Francisco.

In all fairness, that does not mean someone who has been in Tucson for quite a while has necessarily reached his own level of incompetence. Some enjoy the climate, the lifestyle and are simply happy where they are professionally.

But others have indeed hit their own personal glass ceiling. It's up to you to pick them out. Hint: The easiest ones to identify work for the daily papers.

• KOLD was recently sold for a staggering $230 million. What makes that number all the more unbelievable is that the guys who sold it had bought it a year ago for less than half that amount.

New Vision Television, headed by Jason Elkin, along with his senior corporate partners Joe Gersh and Pat Sullivan, purchased KOLD in December of 1993 for $110 million. Within just a few months, Ellis Communications came sniffing around, making one outrageous offer after another for the station (and several others owned by New Vision).

Not bad, turning a 120 percent profit in less than a year. last I checked, the credit union was offering 1.5 percent on share savings accounts.


METHOD: Interview

FOCUS: New approach, dedication

All things considered, Matt Malyn likes what he sees so far. The new building is still under construction, he's been putting in 14-hour days for the past few weeks, including weekends, and the cheapskate former owners stiffed the news department on half the computers they promised, even though they made a $100-plus million profit on the sale of the station they had owned for less than a year.

Still, News Director Malyn is pleased. He thinks everything will soon be in place for the planned assault on the fortress of KVOA. He's got the resources, the corporate resolve and the people in place to make the move. All that remains to be seen is whether the new format he has chosen will give his news programs a kick-start up the ratings ladder or whether it will be a dud, causing KOLD to slip back into the dregs.

Malyn sits in his new office at the Newsplex (I feel silly even writing that word) and speaks easily of the task ahead. The Pennsylvania native is a spitting image of Mark Linn-Baker, more the "Balki, why-do-you-have-that-paper-plate-glued-to-your-head?"-Perfect Strangers Mark Linn-Baker than the delightful Woody Allen-ish guy from My Favorite Year.

Malyn has no doubt they're going to make a serious run at KVOA. He's been successful everywhere he's gone and Tucson isn't so different.

Raised in the tiny town of Clearfield in the western hills of Pennsylvania, Malyn was attending Duquesne hoping to be a sportswriter when he wangled an interview with a TV station owner who, by sheer coincidence, happened also to be from Clearfield. Malyn talked his way into setting up the station's first internship.

He learned the business, moved on to Columbus, Ohio, and then on to Cleveland. He helped take the Cleveland station from third place to first in its market and then accepted the challenge at KOLD in Tucson.

"When I first got here, the place was a mess. Morale was low, production quality was very poor," Malyn says. "The first thing I had to do was solidify the news department. I didn't have the luxury to deal with the style."

He and the station struggled through two ownership changes in less than a year, but at the same time, he was putting together a news team he felt confident could lift KOLD out of its near-decade-long slump.

"I think my one biggest strength is my ability to find and recruit talent. There is a certain amount of training that one can get in that direction, but when it comes right down to it, it has to be a gut instinct. You have to be able to look at a tape and see something there. I think we've got the best TV newsman in Tucson in Bud Foster. That's obvious to me.

"Viewers want to trust the people who are presenting the news, but they also want to like them. I think I'm able to spot that. I'm pretty successful, because several of the people I've hired have been quickly hired away by stations in Sacramento, Phoenix and Los Angeles. And I'm sure that some of the people I've recently hired will also be grabbed away.

"At the same time, there are people I've rejected who have been hired by other stations here in Tucson. I won't name names, but one in particular is horrible. I hope they keep her on the air; as long as she's on the other place, it's great for us."

He bristles at the use of the term "tabloid news," insisting it's merely "fast-paced." An executive producer friend of his turned him on to the format by sending him a tape of a newscast on WSUN in Miami. The change to the hyper format had lifted WSUN into first place in its market and its ratings were still climbing.

"Just because we do things fast doesn't mean it's a tabloid format," Malyn argues. "We want our 5 o'clock broadcast to be a one-stop shopping outlet. The viewers can get news about Tucson, Arizona, the U.S. and the world. The 6 o'clock has more in-depth stuff, the noon show has more features, and the 10 o'clock wrap-up is more like the 5.

"I'll admit we've stepped up the pace. We've become more graphics intensive, we've got a harder edge to the writing--and I think our writers are better than those at the other stations--and our pace is quicker. But all this talk of tabloid TV and the short attention span MTV Generation is unfair."

Hey, who mentioned MTV?

"I don't think I've ever even seen any of those tabloid shows that people claim we've (based our newscast on). I don't know if I'd like them or not. We just want to have a distinct style and let the viewers make a choice. I think they'll find ours attractive. But not tabloid."

How do you explain the O.J. Simpson theme music?

He shrugs. "Despite all the complaining about being overdone, that remains a very compelling story. People are interested in it. We just encapsulate the O.J. stuff in a special section, that's all."

But that means somebody got paid American money for writing a theme for O.J. Simpson-killed-his-wife updates. How must that look on a resume?

KOLD is already moving up in the ratings, which isn't hard to imagine, considering where they started. What may be surprising to some is the fact that they've passed Channel 9 and moved into second place, and they're just now starting their big push.

In the most recent Nielsen ratings, KOLD edged ahead on Channel 9. Both stations had an 8 rating for their 5 p.m. news shows, but KOLD had an 18 percent audience share, while KGUN had a 17.

As usual, KVOA had more than the other two combined, coming in at a 17 rating and a 36 share.

Malyn points out that a substantial portion of KVOA's audience is in the 50-plus category. These viewers are generally quite loyal, but demographically speaking (which, as long as there is money involved, will be the language of choice), they aren't as desirable as those in the 25-49 group, who tend to spend more money on stuff.

The ratings in the 50-plus group were 8 apiece for KOLD and KGUN and a whopping 21 for KVOA.

"We don't want to turn our back on any group of viewers, but it's pretty clear our new format might appeal to younger viewers," says Malyn. "We hope to use it to build a large audience and then build their trust to keep them around."

SUBJECT: Jennifer Gould, Reporter and Weekend Anchor

METHOD: Interview

FOCUS: Industrial-strength Newsbabe

She's got The Look. Big green eyes, expensive hair, a smile that makes you want to yell, "Turn off that light!"

At first glance (and the next several thereafter), Jennifer Gould has "Newsbabe" written all over her. Five-foot-nine, 118 lbs. (the guys at the gym wanted to know). Stereotypes run wild. Too good looking to be smart, too young to be any good, too tall to be a local TV reporter in Tucson.

Just look at her and you hear Don Henley singing "Dirty Laundry," his venomous swipe at a vapid TV news-reader, one of, oh, 8,000 or so people who seriously pissed him off on his way up, helping to make him the bitter middle-ager he is today. Don, get over it.

This is going to be too easy. I conduct this ambush left-handed.

Fancy upbringing. Bet she went to some sorority school. Probably majored in TV-Radio, the course of study generally credited with keeping 90 percent of today's college athletes eligible.

So, where are you from, Jennifer?

"I was born and raised in Brentwood, California. I went to Beverly Hills High."

Stee-rike one!

Where'd you go to college?

"I graduated from USC."

Stee-rike two!

And you were in a sorority and majored in TV-Radio, right?

"Actually," she says, "I was never in a sorority and my major was political science."

Stee- ...Huh?

"Well," she adds, "I did add broadcast journalism to my major after I got interested in it in college. I ended up majoring in both things. I was a poli-sci major and I got the opportunity to be on Impact. It's a locally-produced show in Los Angeles. I was the political anchor and I was the only undergraduate ever to hold a position on the program. After that, I was hooked. I really enjoy doing this."

Okay, so maybe you shouldn't look a gift Jennifer Gould in the mouth. No, I mean you really should look her in the mouth. Her teeth are scary-perfect. You want to ask her if maybe she had some horrible accident a while back and these are just really good dentures.

"I'm lucky," she explains. "I've just always had good teeth."

And lots of 'em.

I don't want to belabor the point, lest you begin to confuse me with fellow Weekly columnist Jeff Smith, who once spent a year or so trying to woo local TV reporter Gina Germani in print. His three-part series on her cheekbones remains a classic.

Still, it should be mentioned that her teeth were remarkable enough to help launch her first career. For several years she was an in-demand print model and TV-commercial actress. Her biggest national commercial involved--surprise--dentistry.

Not that she needed the residuals. She grew up in Brentwood, which, for the uninitiated, is Beverly Hills without the new-money white trash. Dad is in advertising, Mom's in retail (whatever that means).

She went to Beverly Hills High, the school where they had to close down the Mercedes Benz parking lot because they discovered oil under it (true story). Now all the poor Beemers and Porsches have to share their lot with the Benzes.

A model and actress at Beverly Hills High. Sounds like even then she had The Look, that unmistakable gleam in the eye of someone who can successfully navigate the blind curve of adolescence without so much as encountering Zit One.

"I never really had much of a problem with my complexion, but in high school, I was a real nerd. I'm serious. I never dated. I wasn't fashion conscious. I'd sit in the cafeteria by myself and study. I only had a couple friends.

"After high school, I went to Santa Monica Junior College because my grades weren't good enough to get into Stanford. After finishing at Santa Monica, I decided to go to USC. But even there, I wasn't active in social things. I went to school and I studied.

"I'm really boring," she concludes.

After USC she got a job at a one-horse station in Yuma. There she learned the business inside out.

"I had to do everything. Set up the camera, write my own copy, set up the commercials, everything. It was a great experience."

After eight months in Yuma (which is 20 years in anywhere-else time), Malyn hired her and brought to Tucson. She currently does news reporting during the week and shares the weekend night anchor duties with Cynthia Santana, the Nogales native Malyn discovered toiling at a small station in Flagstaff.

The two have created a stir in local news circles. Their ratings have shot up in the past few months, despite the fact that Malyn was advised not to team two women as co-anchors.

"These are two rising stars," says Malyn. "We're lucky to have them, for as long as we get to have them around. I'm not foolish enough to expect them to be around here forever."

So what about it, Jennifer? Give me the generic speech about how you love Tucson and you wouldn't mind being here for a long time.

"Well, I really do enjoy Tucson. It's nice. It's like a big city without a lot of the bad big-city things. But I'll be honest. I'd like to work my way back to Los Angeles. It's my home town. I like it there.

"What I don't want to do is bounce all over the country, climbing the proverbial ladder one step at a time. You know, Denver to Baltimore to Seattle to Chicago. I want to stay in the West and eventually get to L.A."

Refreshing enough. Awaiting her in L.A. is her honey, an investment banker in Orange County. I don't know what his teeth are like, but I'm betting on good. They see each other a couple times a month, but most of the time she's just a homebody.

"I play a little racquetball at the apartment complex where I live," she says. "That's about it. I don't go to the movies. I don't go to parties. I hate shopping. I don't drink or smoke or do drugs. I never have. I don't even like to drink coffee, which is generally a prerequisite for this job.

"People have this preconceived notion about you if you grew up in Southern California." (Who, us?) "I didn't hang around the mall, I didn't love the beach, and I didn't go out all the time. I've only been to three concerts in my life. I saw Adam Ant in high school, then I saw Elton John, then I saw Elton John and Eric Clapton at Dodger Stadium."

Wow, three concerts and two of them are Elton John. Born to be wild.

For the near future, she just wants to continue improving herself at her job. She'd also like to go visit her older brother. It seems that he created an influential software program involving artificial intelligence and is now living in France, semi-retired at the ripe old age of 27.

Now that's boring.

SUBJECT: The Newsplex

METHOD: Observation

FOCUS: Does the Plex make the News?

Head northwest out of town on I-10, toward the Portland Cement Plant, and off to the left you see Continental Ranch, just one of many artificial communities currently being grafted on to the main body of Tucson. Get off on Cortaro Farms Road and head west. Just as you approach the Burger King-McDonald's gauntlet that guards the opening to Continental Ranch, hang a left on the frontage road and head back toward civilization.

Suddenly, there it is. No, not the Coca-Cola plant. Back there behind it, the KOLD Newsplex. Right now in the middle of nowhere, but soon to be in the middle of beautiful downtown Marana. In fact that was part of the sweetheart tax deal KOLD negotiated with Dogpatch. They get to be right in the middle of things, although Mayor Ora Harn and her bunch stood fast when it came to changing the name of the farm community to Newsplex City.

The Newsplex itself is still a work in progress. No landscaping, painting being done inside and out. Bare walls, electricians wandering in and out, the cooling and heating system still being worked on. Off to the side of the building, the Official Marana Town Cow grazes contentedly.

KOLD went on the air from the Newsplex January 16, following a couple weeks of teasers about how they were going to change the way people watch news. And they did. Now when I watch Channel 13, I hear the news and watch the MTV videos on one of the buzillion TV screens in the background.

Before I die, I want somebody to explain the deal about having TV sets in the background.

Anyway, the new place is huge on the inside, appearing even more so because of the undecorated, just-moved-in look. Plus, everything is starkly white. Move past the front rows of offices for executives and salespeople (as quickly as you can, I might add) and head back to the news department.

Dominating things is one huge room, the fabled "plex." In the center of the room is a pod of computers on which national and statewide news is gathered and the actual writing of news copy is done. Those who work here are known to the locals as the "Pod Squad." Hey, I just report it.

Surrounding the pod is a maze of reporters' cubicles and the assignment editor's desk. Just off the main room is the news studio, with the green-screen weather map on the left and the huge nine-section screen sports area on the right.

They've got all state-of-the-art equipment here, some based in a row of rooms specially designed for audio and video editing. They even have an in-house graphics department (most stations farm that stuff out).

It's an impressive sight, especially compared to the old place on Drachman. The only reason that old place had any value at all was that it used to have a Shakey's Pizza joint across the street. When Shakey's went away, KOLD started going downhill. Coincidence? I think not.

The old place was cramped, dark and crowded. And that's just the bathroom. The work area was unbelievable. If they had dropped a bomb on that place, it would have done $200 worth of improvements.

Just as the old place was depressing, the new place is invigorating. But it still remains to be seen whether the surroundings will have any effect on the output.

Will the hot-and-humid Miami news approach play in Tucson? Will KOLD make a serious run at KVOA? Will Bud Foster (who has now worked at every station in town) stick here? Will Cynthia Santana (please) let her hair grow?

For the answers to these and many more questions, stay tuned. Unless you live in Green Valley, in which case you belong to the aging Patty Weiss and Michael Goodrich. But then, you already knew that.q


If I were Channel 13 and I looked up and saw Channel 9's Roxanne Rodriguez above me, it'd probably be enough to scare me into moving to Marana, too.

McCabe was the king of the gratuitous "me too" shot. As in "Here's Sean Elliott shooting free throws in McKale Center. And here's me, too."

It's a truism, rarely challenged that in these parts the KVOA tandem of Patty Weiss and weatherman Michael Goodrich is the proverbial 900-lb. gorilla, although not nearly as attractive.

KOLD was recently sold for a staggering $230 million. What makes that number all the more unbelievable is that the guys who sold it had bought it a year ago for less than half that amount.

Malyn has no doubt they're going to make a serious run at KVOA. He's been successful everywhere he's gone and Tucson isn't so different.

"There are people I've rejected who have been hired by other stations here in Tucson. I won't name names, but one in particular is horrible."

At first glance (and the next several thereafter), Jennifer Gould has "Newsbabe" written all over her.

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