Channel 11 Has Everyone Bewitched

Its formula for success is simple: cowboys, sitcoms, country music, and Icky Twerp.

It was in late August that the July edition of the Arbitron ratings book, one of the bibles of the television world, was released into the anxious hands of Dallas-Fort Worth TV people; station executives, programming directors, media buyers, and ad reps scrambled through the Arbitron pages, taking in the ratings that so profoundly direct their working lives. Jack Berning, station manager of KTVT-Channel 11, dove into his Arbitron book like everyone else – and came up smiling. There in the category indicating the share-of-market ratings for the month of July were the predictable biggies: “Charlie’s Angels,” “Happy Days,” and “Sixty Minutes” were tied for the top, each with a 26 share. And right behind them, in fourth place with a 25 share, was “Bewitched.” “Bewitched?” Yep.

Samantha and her bewitched cronies, in all their rerun glory, cavorting every weekday at 6 o’clock on Channel 11, fell just one point shy of being the highest share-rated show on Dallas-Fort Worth television in July 1978. A rerun. A rerun of a silly blonde witch who wiggles her nose for tricks and kicks. Almost Number One on Channel 11. It just doesn’t figure. But in fact it does.

It figures because, contrary to popular belief, KTVT-Channel 11 is not the doormat of local television. Channel 11, once shadowed by the prime-time glow of the three local network affiliates – Channels 4, 5, and 8- has pulled itself into commercial parity with those competitors, despite its being an independent station, unaffiliated with any of the major broadcast networks.

KTVT is one of approximately 75 major independent television stations (known as “indies” in the broadcast trade) in the U.S. And like many of its fellow indies, Channel 11 is faring quite nicely. Five years ago, independent television stations generated total revenues of $290 million; this year that figure will more than double to an estimated $600 million. Five years ago, indie profits were less than $7 million; this year profits will exceed $150 million. Channel 11 doesn’t just reflect that national success trend; Channel 11 is one of the trend setters.

KTVT-Channel 11 is the flagship station of Gaylord Broadcasting, one of the country’s more substantial and influential private broadcast collectives, with seven television stations and five radio stations. Within the broadcast industry, KTVT is considered one of the top five independents in the country. In survey figures recently released by Television/Radio Age, KTVT ranked sixth among the nation’s independents in share of market for total-day broadcasting. And in primetime shares in the key category of adults 18-49 (key because it translates directly into advertising sales), KTVT ranked third in the country behind WSBK in Boston and KTVU in San Francisco, finishing above such prominent independents as WGN in Chicago, WNEW in New York, and KTTV in Los Angeles. The value of share-of-market figures depends on the value of the market itself; FCC figures for 1977 rank the Dallas-Fort Worth television market ninth in the country in total broadcast revenues and. more significantly, sixth in broadcast profits.

What all this means is that little old Channel 11, long the butt of local jokes and a potshot target for TV tastemakers, is big stuff in a big industry. And making big bucks.

Life hasn’t always been so good for Channel 11. When the station first hit the airwaves in 1955 as KFJZ-TV, independent television stations were rag-tag outfits whose programming consisted mostly of bad old movies and any network leftovers they could dredge up. It was a wildcatters’ approach to television – an attempt to cash in on the burgeoning TV industry. But most of the cash was going to network affiliates, and Channel 11 was in the red.

In 1962, however, Channel 11 was purchased by Gaylord Broadcasting, a subsidiary of the Oklahoma Publishing Company (OPubCo, publishers of the Daily Oklahoman in Oklahoma City). The Gaylord people felt that there was a place for an independent station – it just had to be marketed. And the Dallas-Fort Worth marketplace, they thought, was potentially a fertile one. Channel 11 became KTVT.

When new station manager Jim Terrell moved into his KTVT office in Fort Worth, the first thing he worried about was Dallas. The Fort Worth transmitting tower for Channel 11 wasn’t strong enough; parts of Dallas and the surrounding region were getting a weak signal. Jim Terrell knew he couldn’t command much viewer respect with a weak signal; a new transmission tower was needed. Terrell and Gaylord Broadcasting weren’t kidding around with their new Channel 11 – they went out to Cedar Hill and built the tallest tower in Texas.

With the technical difficulties resolved, Terrell and his staff set to work plotting programming. “We were looking for an identity,” says Terrell, now a vice-president with Gaylord Broadcasting. “Our whole conception of the independent television station was based on alternative programming. We had to find things that people wanted but weren’t getting, or weren’t getting enough of, or weren’t getting at the time they wanted on the network affiliate stations. We immediately saw two areas for potential development – westerns and kids.”

The networks had blitzed the airwaves with westerns for the previous few years, but the craze had run its course. Only top-flight productions such as “Bonanza” and “Gun-smoke” were maintaining their viewer appreciation; a host of others had been dropped into the rerun realm known in the trade as “off-network programming.” Jim Terrell and KTVT surmised that, while westerns had lost some of their national appeal, they might still do well here in cowboy country. Terrell bought every syndication package of rerun westerns he could lay his hands on: “Sugarfoot,” “Rawhide,” “Cheyenne,” ’’Laramie,’’ “Wells Fargo” -anything with a few six shooters, a sheriff, and a saloon found its way into the waiting arms of Channel 11.

And it worked. Not instantly and not overwhelmingly, but it worked. Over the next few seasons, Channel 11 gathered a loyal cadre of westerns watchers and put itself on the local media map. KTVT continued to buy up the syndicated reruns of westerns as they dropped off network – “Rifleman,” “Wanted Dead or Alive,” “Have Gun Will Travel,” and on and on. “We had so many westerns in stock,” says Terrell, “that we could rest and rotate them.”

It was with the westerns, too, that Channel 11 instituted another innovation, becoming one of the first independent stations in the country to use “strip programming” or “stripping.” Instead of running a different program schedule every day, a program was stripped into the same time slot Monday through Friday;”The Rifleman,” for example, would be on every evening at 6:30. Stripping had been used with success by the networks in their daytime programming; Channel 11 found it a boon in the evenings. “Stripping was critical to our success at that point,” says Terrell. “It gave us the consistency the station had never had before, and, most important, it developed viewer habits- we got people in the habit of watching Channel 11.” Strip programming in primetime is now a mainstay of most independent television stations. Like most things Channel 11 has tried, it works.

While Terrell was gunning for the westerns fans at night, he was aiming at a different target during the day: the kids. Except for Saturday morning and a few weekday after-school bursts, the networks and their affiliates didn’t focus much attention on children. The Channel 11 people determined that the young audience was available to them and that it would fit well into their scheme to provide “family programming,” to make Channel 11 “the family station.” If you can get the kids, they reasoned, you’re halfway to getting Mom and Dad. Daytime on Channel 11 became devoted to children.

Enter Icky Twerp. Icky Twerp was the host of Channel 11’s “Slam Bang Theater,” which became an after-school institution for kids in Dallas and Fort Worth. Icky was a loudmouthed lout with an oversized head of flyaway hair crowned by an undersized cowboy hat. His companions were a crew of maniacs dressed in gorilla costumes who frolicked around the set, generally wreaking havoc. Between outbursts, Icky would turn to his film projector and show a reel of the Three Stooges or a Popeye cartoon. By any measure of taste “Slam Bang Theater” was abominable. Kids loved it. It was Channel ll’s first homegrown hit and probably did as much as any program to turn the tide for Channel 11. (As ridiculous as Icky Twerp appeared on screen, it was no fluke that he was marketed into a local star – Icky was played by Bill Canfield, KTVT’s promotion manager. For TV trivia buffs, Icky Twerp is now an executive with an advertising agency in Fort Worth.)

Channel 11 packed its daytime lineup with children’s programming, mostly cartoons. They bought a group of Hanna-Barbera programs (“Yogi Bear,” “Huckleberry Hound,” et al.) from Kellogg’s and a group of Jay Ward productions (“Rocky & Bullwinkle,” “Dudley Dooright,” et al.) from General Mills. And they began to score in the daytime market ratings.

Channel 11 has long been the children’s station in Dallas-Fort Worth. While cartoon programming may seem like a media joke, it’s no kid stuff. KTVT tops the Dallas-Fort Worth market in overall daytime ratings – and the reason is simply kids. While kids are not the prime market segment (women 18-49 hold that honor), they are still a significant audience for certain advertisers. “Whenever I need to reach kids,” says a prominent Dallas agency media buyer, “I go straight to Channel 11. If my client is trying to sell toys or games or amusement parks or candy, Channel 11 is automatic. Channel 11 delivers kids.”

While kids and westerns were successfully developed as the heart of Channel 11’s early programming, the station also hit on another show that proved to be a pillar of the operation. A deal was arranged with the Phillips Petroleum Company, which agreed to drop their advertising on affiliate stations and instead sponsor a 15-minute nightly newscast on Channel 11 –if the newscast came at 10 o’clock as a break in a movie. KTVT decided to experiment, and “The 9 O’clock Movie” was born. Once again, it worked. “The movies did extremely well for us,” says Terrell. “Almost immediately. You have to remember that back then there weren’t too many old movies being shown on television – they weren’t a part of the affiliates’ programming, and the networks didn’t show much interest in them. The success of “The 9 O’clock Movie” was a turning point for us- it locked us into a stable format and contributed to the viewer habits we were working for.”

The habits that Channel 11 established have apparently become deeply-rooted-the basic philosophy of programming at Channel 11 has not changed significantly in the past 15 years. The daytime schedule is still weighted heavily with children’s programming, the evening is geared to light family entertainment, and “The 9 O’clock Movie,” with the 15-minute newsbreak at 10, still holds forth at night. Other scheduling successes have also been maintained; in 1963, for example, Channel 11 guessed that country-and-western music might be able to find a weekend audience in this market. They were right. Saturday night is still C&W night on Channel 11.

The one major change in KTVT scheduling over the years has been an increased dependence on situation comedies, not a surprising development considering the increasing amount of air time given to sitcoms by the networks; sitcoms form the bulk of the rerun programming available to the independents. Channel 11 discovered early that a show like “I Love Lucy” garnered respectable ratings and, moreover, represented a sizable return on investment. A package of sitcom reruns could be bought from the syndicators for a reasonable price; they were time tested (and, now, computer tested) properties; the shows’ long network runs meant that little additional promotion was required from the station; and the built-in audience meant enough consistency for favorable ad rates. Channel 11 has found durable winners in “Lucy,” “Dick Van Dyke,” and “Bewitched.”

Though Channel 11’s formulas have been consistent winners, the game is getting tougher all the time. One reason it’s getting tougher, ironically, is that Channel 11’s successes have opened the eyes of its competitors. “Take the movies, for example,” says Jack Berning, now in his second year as station manager of KTVT after taking the reins from Jim Terrell; Berning has been with the station since 1962. “When we first started our 9 o’clock movie, we had our pick of the litter. The networks didn’t want them, the affiliates didn’t want them, so we got whatever we wanted. And at good prices. But the old movie idea caught on and now everybody wants them. It’s gotten highly competitive and, of course, prices have gone sky high. In some cases, film prices have quadrupled in the past 10 years.”

Movies are sold in packages by the producers – there are Paramount packages, MGM packages, Warner Bros. packages, and so on. They vary in quality and size (from 20 to 150 in a package). An average package might consist of 40 features, including half a dozen genuinely fine films and half a dozen dogs; the rest would fall into the “acceptable” category. Depending upon the overall quality of the films and the limitations on exhibition rights, the price of a 40-film package can range from $1,500 to $12,000 per film. Ten years ago most were in the $1500 range; today they more often lean in the $12,000 direction. (New releases are going for an average of $6,000 to $8,000 per film). Ordinarily, when a station licenses a package, the films are theirs for 5 or 6 years; with the purchase, the station receives exclusive broadcast rights in its marketing area (Channel 8 now has the rights to Dr. Strangelove, for example, so you won’t see it on Channel 11). The licensing rights will also indicate how many screenings of the film are allowed during the licensing period, usually one or two per year. Because of the length of the license and the exclusivity of the rights, film packages have become hot properties.

Channel 11 can’t pick and choose as it used to. But the station has become attuned to what attracts an audience. “John Wayne movies always go big here,” says Jack Berning. “Abbott and Costello have been extremely successful for us on Sunday afternoons, Rock Hudson and Doris Day are always dependable. And, of course, our Elvis movies have been very big lately.” (Quality doesn’t always tell; for example, the wonderful old Sherlock Holmes movies with Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce have never fared well in the ratings for Channel 11.) Five old movies (excluding network presentations and Channel 13’s irregular screenings) are shown every weekday on Dallas-Fort Worth television (two on Channel 11, two on Channel 8, and one on Channel 4), and several more on weekends. The competition is stiff; all factions say it is a sporting and ethical battle, but all admit it’s increasingly costly. For Channel 11 it’s extra-costly; Berning admits that KTVT’s movies don’t get the ratings they did when Channel 11 had a lock on the market.

Even more troublesome to Channel 11 (and to other local stations, for that matter) is the escalating cost of rights to off-network programming, particularly the best sit-coms. “Escalating” is perhaps an insufficient word; “runaway” is more like it. Two years ago, Channel 11 purchased the rights to the syndicated reruns of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” (and later for “The Bob Newhart Show”) for an estimated $3,500 per half-hour segment, far more than anyone in this market had ever paid for reruns. More recently, Channel 8 outbid Channel 11 for the rights to “Happy Days,” coughing up $6,250 per half-hour episode (and, by contract, Channel 8 can’t even put them on the air until fall of 1979). Channel 4 was the next to join the battle, outbidding Channel 11 for “Barney Miller,” at a price in excess of $6,500 per episode. Then, just weeks ago, Channel 11 jumped back into the syndication sweepstakes by laying out an estimated $6,500 to $6,700 for rights to each episode of “Welcome Back, Kotter.” And the rerun race isn’t over; currently on the block are rights to “Laverne and Shirley.” Local TV execs shudder to think how high it might go -probably in excess of $7,000 per episode. (In the larger markets the competition is even more ferocious-in New York City the rights to “Laverne and Shirley” were sold for about $60,000 per half-hour segment.) Not a sitcom but a relevant example, “Roots” is now being offered in this market at $22,000 per hour.

What’s happened? There just isn’t as much off-network programming available as there used to be – a good rerun is getting hard to find. For one, the network season is shorter; fewer programs are being produced. Second, the ratings game is so ruthless that there are fewer long-run shows, which are by far the best syndication properties. When there’s less to buy, what is for sale costs more. In this case, a lot more.

But the station is holding its own. “We’ll continue to compete,” says Jack Berning. “We have to compete. We’ve got a whole schedule to fill and no network to do it for us. We’re responsible for all our programming. An affiliate can blame its network; we have nobody to blame but ourselves.”

Channel 11 will continue to compete by a strategy known as “counterprogramming.” Explains Berning, “If at 3 o’clock, for in-tance, Channel 4 is showing a movie, and Channel 5 is showing a game show, and Channel 8 is showing a detective show, we might want to show a comedy. Just to offer an alternative.” Counterprogramming is practiced by all stations, but independents are especially able to use the strategy beneficially; they have complete flexibility in their scheduling, unlike the affiliates. Much of Channel 11’s success in the ratings is attributable to that flexibility. While the affiliates are, for example, locked into daytime soap operas and game shows from the network, Channel 11 scores with its children’s programs. The most graphic illustration of its counterprogramming success is in the 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. time period. From 5 to 6:30, the affiliates are all committed to national and local news; Channel 11 counters with “Lucy,” “Dick Van Dyke,” and “Bewitched” and wins the ratings hands down. (“Channel 11 could show the worst programs ever made in that time slot,” says rival broadcaster Mike Shapiro of Channel 8, “and still kill us every time. There are a lot of people who just don’t want to watch news.”) From 6:30 to 7, the “prime access” block, affiliates are prohibited by FCC regulations from showing reruns (in an unsuccessful attempt to encourage local public-service programming in that slot; instead the slot is being filled with independently produced game shows like “The $25,000 Pyramid”). So Channel 11 comes in at 6:30 with a rerun, “Adam 12,” which always scores amazingly well. ” ’Adam 12’ is one of those shows that does a lot better for us in rerun than it did for the affiliate in first run,” says Berning. “Prime time for Channel 11, for any independent,” says Jim Terrell, “is five to seven. That’s when we clean up.”

Channel 11’s boldest move of the new season is scheduling its new high-priced sitcoms, “Mary Tyler Moore” and “Bob Newhart,” back-to-back between 8 and 9 p.m., against the guts of the networks’ prime time programming. For many TV viewers it’s a godsend to be able to turn to that nightly oasis of quality comedy in the face of all the shlock coming down from the networks; but it’s still a chancey experiment to the people at Channel 11. They’re confident it will work, especially later in the season when all the network new-season hoopla has died down. “Before this,” says Berning, “we’ve gotten ratings of sixes and sevens in that eight-to-nine slot with shows like The Beverly Hillbillies. If we could pull a 12 with MTM or Newhart, I’d be all smiles.” Justifiably so- for most independents, any rating over five in prime time is considered good. Some competitors are not convinced that Channel 11’s experiment will work. Mike Shapiro doesn’t think it will. “My guess is that they’ll eventually have to go to an earlier time with those two shows to be as successful as they need to be at the prices they paid for them. We’re very anxious to see how they do.” But advertising agencies are giving Channel 11 the benefit of the doubt; more than one media buyer admits to placing some prime advertising in the MTM-Newhart block on the hunch that it is already drawing a solid audience. But nobody will know for sure until late November, when the next ratings come out.

If Channel 11’s track record is any indication, the experiment will work – the station has been consistently successful with its programming. But it also owes a lot to its nonprogramming: namely, local news. While the network affiliates are locked in costly combat to produce prestigious local news broadcasts, Channel 11 steers clear. With only a 30-minute news broadcast at noon and a 15-minute segment at 10 – both relatively low budget productions-Channel 11 saves a bundle. “It would be foolish for us to try to compete with the local news efforts of the affiliates,” says Berning. “We would simply be duplicating their efforts, and that would be contrary to our alternative programming philosophy.” What he really means is that it would cost a fortune and, worse, he couldn’t cash in with “Bewitched” at 6 o’clock.

It’s ironic that the public image of Channel 11 is still that of a rinky-dink, second-rate station. True, “Gilligan’s Island” and commercials for the Ronco Salad Spinner don’t inspire awe. But for business acumen, Channel 11’s reputation among its peers is solid. “They’re not neophytes over there,” says Channel 8’s Shapiro. “It’s one of the most aggressive and well-run independents in the country. And the effect of Channel 11 on the local television market is significant. In terms of movies and off-network programming, a top independent like Channel 11 keeps the market highly competitive and makes prices high for everybody. And,” says Shapiro, getting to the point, “a good independent like Channel 11 takes a big percentage of the advertising dollars.”

Indeed it does. Local ad reps and media buyers consider Channel 11 an extremely valuable advertising vehicle. “The difference between Channel 11 and the affiliates is a lot less than it used to be,” says one buyer. “It used to be an economy vehicle, kind of a blue collar station. But now, Channel 11 can deliver certain audiences at certain times better than anyone. And at better prices. It’s not just the numbers either. The commercial environment on Channel 11 has improved dramatically. There was a time when you had to be reluctant about dropping your client’s product between Vegematics and cheap records. Now you can place it between Procter & Gamble and Pepsi.

“The commercial environment improves partly because the audience improves. Television watchers have become more discriminating. If there’s no good network TV, they’ll look one more row to the right in TV Channels and say, ’Oh, Bob Newhart. I know that’s good. I’ll watch that.’ “

“From an agency standpoint,” says a local ad executive, “the independents have become much more sophisticated in their selling. It has become standard practice to use Channel 11 when we have efficiency problems . An agency has to deliver numbers. On a cost-per-thousand basis (ad cost per thousand viewers reached), Channel 11 is often the most efficient in the market. Agencies have found that one good way to bring in the bottom line is to combine advertising on Channel 11 and Channel 8; with 8 you get a massive audience at a high price; with 11 you get consistent numbers at a good price; it’s a combination of reach and frequency that’s proven very effective.”

The “good price” varies. From five to seven p.m., Channel 11’s ad rates are comparable to those of the affiliates, in the $500-$1,000 range for a 30-second spot. But during prime time, 11 ’s rates drop to $300-$600, while the network affiliate rates soar to $ 1200 to $4500 for a 30-second spot. If Mary Tyler Moore and Bob Newhart produce solid ratings, there will be some good buys and popular space to be bartered. And there will be some even better times ahead for Channel 11.

“You have to remember,” says a Dallas media buyer, “that Channel 11 is extremely good. Their service to the client is beautiful, and their own production is excellent. Channel 11 is no ordinary independent.”


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