On Jan. 5, moments after Don Corsini started his gig as KTLA’s president and GM, the troops knew there was a new sheriff in town.
After a few days of studying the newsroom’s rhythms and scrutinizing KTLA’s schedule, Corsini came to assistant news director Jason Ball with the idea for the station to add a 6:30 pm newscast. It would allow KTLA to offer local headlines at a time when the Big Three O&Os were serving up national and international reports from Charlie Gibson, Katie Couric and Brian Williams.
Great idea, Ball told Corsini. Then Corsini had another surprise for his lieutenant.
“Let’s do it tomorrow,” he told Ball.
After Ball picked up his jaw off the floor, he realized that this was his real introduction to the new boss.
As a news guy, he couldn’t ask for a more supportive leader than Corsini, who is a creature of L.A. television.
“He asked the right question, which is, ‘Why aren’t we serving our audience and giving them important local information at a time when there’s an obvious opening in the market for a local newscast,’ ” Ball said. “We already have our people here in the afternoon and early evening working on the 10 o’clock news.”
Corsini was schooled in producing, programming and sales in the "Eyewitness News" era of KABC-TV. He was also part of the founding exec team of regional sports cabler Prime Ticket, now better known as Fox Sports. In the 1990s, he led KCAL-TV as it honed its primetime news and sports format into a competitive alternative to entertainment fare on the Big Four O&Os.
After Viacom bought KCAL in 2002, Corsini became g.m. of the combined KCBS-TV/KCAL-TV. He exited that post after six years last summer, and moved to KTLA with the mandate to help reinvent the station (which had been without a g.m. for nearly a year in post-Sam Zell restructuring, and without a head news director for months) with a highly local focus. (Tribune's bankruptcy proceedings undoubtedly will put a few speed bumps in his plans, however.)
For Corsini, reinvention means revisiting KTLA's roots as a local news hound -- think Kathy Fiscus in the well in 1949, or the gavel-to-gavel O.J. Simpson trial coverage in 1995 -- and a willingness to break into regular programming when news warrants.
“KTLA News at 6:30,” anchored by its 10 p.m. team of Emmett Miller and Leila Feinstein, didn’t bow the day after Corsini and Ball first discussed it, but it didn’t take much longer. The soft launch was Jan. 19, with little promotion outside the station’s own air and a small ad in the TV listings page of the L.A. Times.
So far it's been a fast-paced and headline-driven newscast. There’s a big push for resource-sharing with the L.A. Times, primarily in the form of having Times’ writers as on-air sources and commentators.
For now, the newscast is very much an investment -- and a gamble -- for KTLA. During its first two weeks, “KTLA News at 6:30” has averaged about 89,000 viewers, which put it last in its time slot among English-language commercial stations and Univision’s KMEX. Last year at the same time, KTLA averaged 195,000 viewers with repeats of “Family Guy.”
Corsini notes that the newscast is already competitive with its news competish in the adults 25-54 and adults 18-49 demos (having "Friends" reruns as its lead-in doesn't hurt). And long-term, a strong newscast will do more for KTLA's local profile than repeats ever will.
Given the state of the media business these days, it almost seems worthy of a headline that anyone’s talking about investing in a new news product.
“We’re back in the breaking news business, for sure,” Corsini assures.
Spillman also pens an entertaining blog for KTLA.com, "The News Blog," a mixture of observations and news-of-the-weird items he uncovers in his travels. It's worth a look.