August 29, 2022

A sign that broadcast television is struggling in the age of streaming?

NBC is considering something once thought unthinkable — giving up what has traditionally been one of the prime pieces of real estate on TV. According to The Wall Street Journal’s Joe Flint, NBC is considering giving the 10 to 11 p.m. prime-time hour back to local affiliates.

Now, to be clear, this is nowhere close to a done deal. It’s just something the network is thinking about, and they haven’t discussed it yet with the affiliate board. The earliest it would happen, if it happened at all, would be the fall of 2023. That’s because the 2022-23 prime-time lineup is already set. And if there was a change, it would not include special live events, such as “Sunday Night Football” and awards shows.

But this could be a big deal.

Flint wrote, “If NBC did drop the hour, it would have to decide which shows in its lineup would get cut. The network currently airs mostly scripted dramas in the 10 p.m. hour. Those could be moved to earlier in the evening to replace other content.”

This fall’s 10 p.m. shows on NBC include “Quantum Leap,” “New Amsterdam,” “Chicago P.D.” and “Law and Order: Organized Crime.” In addition, “Dateline” has been a Friday night staple in that hour for years. If NBC did make the change, that doesn’t necessarily mean the shows listed here would be cut, but it would mean some prime-time shows would either be axed or run on limited schedules.

NBC has tinkered with the 10 p.m. hour in the past. In its badly bungled handling of replacing Jay Leno with Conan O’Brien as host of “The Tonight Show” in 2009, Leno was briefly given an hourlong show at 10 p.m. That lasted only a few months before Leno eventually returned as host of “The Tonight Show” and O’Brien was forced out.

And, it should be noted, NBC wouldn’t be the first network to do this. Fox has never had programming at 10 p.m. Neither has the CW.

An NBC spokesperson told Flint, “We are always looking at strategies to ensure that our broadcast business remains as strong as possible. As a company, our advantage lies in our ability to provide audiences with the content they love across broadcast, cable and streaming.”

Flint wrote, “For NBC, cost-cutting is a factor behind the discussions, two people with knowledge of the matter said. By eliminating one hour a night of prime time to schedule, NBC could save tens of millions of dollars in content costs. NBC’s affiliates would likely welcome having extra time to program, so they can earn more ad revenue.”

NBC is looking to cut costs, in part, because of the billions it has committed to sports programming, especially the NFL and a recent deal to acquire rights to college’s Big Ten conference.

So what might eliminating the 10 p.m. hour look like? Well, local affiliates could air reruns of popular shows during that hour. Or, more likely, they would use that hour for local news. Either way, the local affiliates might be interested because it would increase their ad revenue.

Another intriguing scenario would be that local affiliates could use the 10 p.m. hour for news and then NBC could air late-night shows such as “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” and “Late Night with Seth Meyers” a half-hour earlier. So instead of Fallon coming on at 11:35 p.m., he would air at 11 p.m. (Although, there is an argument to be made that viewers, who are famously habitual, would prefer the local late news to remain at 11 p.m.)

Those all sound like good reasons to consider a move.

But, Flint wrote that not everyone in the NBC entertainment division is on board, adding, “NBC’s sister studio, Universal Television, provides a lot of content for the network and could lose out. In addition, Peacock relies heavily on NBC entertainment content to drive viewership.”

Recognizing legends in the field

Carl Bernstein, left, and Bob Woodward in the newsroom of The Washington Post in 1973. (AP Photo, File)

Every year, the Poynter Institute recognizes the very best journalists in history with the Poynter Medal for Lifetime Achievement in Journalism. Those recognized in the past have included Tom Brokaw, Judy Woodruff, Lester Holt and Katie Couric, among others.

This year’s honorees are synonymous with great journalism: Woodward and Bernstein. Just saying their last names invokes images of dogged reporting.

In an announcement that is out just this morning, famed Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein will be honored at Poynter’s annual fundraising gala — the Bowtie Ball — which will return to an in-person celebration of journalism on Nov. 12 in Tampa, Florida. Bernstein is scheduled to appear in person to receive the award.

The infamous Watergate scandal started 50 years ago. That’s where Woodward and Bernstein first gained their reputations, breaking some of the biggest stories in journalism history. That was just the beginning — both have continued to make an impact to this day.

In a statement, Poynter president Neil Brown said, “The work of Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward on that seismic story are the values and craft

we preach and teach at the Poynter Institute. The journalism around Watergate stands as a reminder that in a democracy, citizens have a right to know the actions of their leaders and that it takes independent reporting by journalists to shine that light. As we consider democracy and the stories of today, this basic right and the critical work of journalists are worth celebrating.’’

Here’s more information.

AP’s impact

Speaking of Poynter events, here’s another interesting one.

If you are a news consumer, you undoubtedly see stories, videos and photos every day published by The Associated Press. The AP is one of the world’s most prolific and influential newsrooms, with journalists based in 250 locations around the globe.

Julie Pace, senior vice president and executive editor of The Associated Press, is coming to Tampa on Oct. 11 for a Poynter conversation about the AP and journalism. I had a chance to listen to Pace speak at Poynter’s National Advisory Board meeting earlier this year, and she’s a compelling speaker.

In addition to talking about AP’s important work covering key stories such as the war in Ukraine, the upcoming midterms and climate, Pace also likely will talk about AP’s new democracy team and the critical work of calling elections.

If you live in or are going to be in the Tampa Bay area, here is how you can get tickets for the first event in Poynter’s new speaker series.

Sunday morning blues, er, news

As someone who is (obviously) very interested in the news media, Sunday was a weird one: no “Reliable Sources” on CNN. After 30 years, the show was canceled last week, and its host, Brian Stelter, is no longer with the network.

I wasn’t alone in missing the show.

The Wall Street Journal’s Joe Flint tweeted, “I will just say it. It’s weird not watching Reliable Sources. Now I’m yelling at a blank screen. And yes, I watch Media Buzz too. Total geek here.”

Stelter’s wife, Jamie Stelter — an anchor on NY1 — tweeted, “The notes — both public and private — about missing @brianstelter and Reliable Sources this morning are so heartwarming. We miss it, too. But going to two grocery stores and a county fair today also feels kinda nice?”

Meanwhile, it’s not just Stelter who is, for the moment, gone from the media criticism scene. Margaret Sullivan, who published a media column on Sundays for The Washington Post, wrote her final regular media column last week. She’s off to teach at Duke University and write books. And Ben Smith, who wrote a must-read weekly media column for The New York Times that usually was published online on Sunday evenings, still hasn’t been replaced since leaving at the beginning of this year to help start a global media company.

Last week, Variety’s Brian Steinberg wrote, “​​Keeping tabs on the media is growing exponentially more difficult in the digital age. The media has become more reliant on algorithms, social-media responses and smartphone screens, making the task of holding news outlets to account a more arduous one.”

There’s a bit of a buzz in the media industry that Stelter, Sullivan and Smith won’t be replaced by people who will do the exact same thing they did. Sullivan and Smith were columnists in the true sense of the word — offering opinion to go along with their well-sourced reporting.

The Post and Times still might add columnists, but it’s not guaranteed that they will. And it would appear that Stelter’s style, which included pointed criticism of some conservative media (most notably Fox News), is something CNN is trying to move away from.

Dan Kennedy, a media observer and professor at Northeastern University (and a voice, I might add, that I respect greatly) told Steinberg, “I wrote recently about the end of a number of forums for media criticism, and there really was no common thread at all, ranging from cancellation to retirement to death. But I don’t have the sense that we’re going to see replacements for any of these outlets.”

A former Fox News employee speaks out

Chris Stirewalt was the political editor of Fox News Channel and might be best known for being a part of the team that angered Donald Trump when it (correctly) called the state of Arizona for Joe Biden during the 2020 presidential election.

Stirewalt eventually left Fox News. He says he was fired. Fox News claims he was laid off as part of its post-election restructuring. Now a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, Stirewalt has a new book out: “Broken News: How the Media Rage Machine Divides America and How to Fight Back.”

Politico published an excerpt from the book: “I Watched Fox News Go Off the Rails. Then Fox Fired Me.”

Stirewalt writes, “As a journalist, I believe that what is wrong with my vocation and the industry in which I work is harming Americans left, right and center. Major players in the news business are abusing their privileges and shirking their duties, and we all pay the price. The agenda at many outlets is to move away from even aspirational fairness and balance and toward shared anger and the powerful emotional connections it can create.”

Stirewalt expanded on those thoughts and also addressed the consequences of calling Arizona for Biden in 2020. He wrote, “But even in the four years since the previous presidential election, Fox viewers had become even more accustomed to flattery and less willing to hear news that challenged their expectations. Me serving up green beans to viewers who had been spoon-fed ice cream sundaes for years came as a terrible shock to their systems.”

In a statement to Poynter, a Fox News spokesperson said, “Chris Stirewalt’s endless attempts at regaining relevance know no bounds.”

Is this the end?

Serena Williams practices last Thursday at Arthur Ashe Stadium before the start of the U.S. Open tennis tournament in New York. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

Serena Williams is scheduled to play her opening-round match tonight in the U.S. Open. She has indicated that this will likely be her final professional tournament. Williams is, arguably, the greatest tennis player ever, but winning the U.S. Open would be as unlikely as it would be dramatic. So her next loss could very well be her final match, and that could even happen tonight when she takes on Danka Kovinić.

There will be plenty said and written about Williams in the next two weeks, but here are a few pieces to check out.

The Washington Post’s Liz Clarke with “The Serena Effect changed every aspect of women’s tennis.” Clarke writes, “When Serena Williams walks away from tennis, it won’t simply mark the retirement of an athlete with more Grand Slam singles titles than any player in the sport’s modern era. It will mark something far more profound: the retirement of an athlete who has transformed the game in myriad ways.”

Also in the Post, columnist Jerry Brewer with “Serena Williams is about to shatter the ceiling for retired female athletes.”

The New York Times’ Christopher Clarey, the best tennis writer around, has “Power and Grit That Changed the Game.” Clarey explores the impact Serena and her sister, Venus, have had on the court. If you’re an avid tennis follower, you’ll love this deep look into their games.

Sara Ziegler and Leo Dominguez had a piece in The New York Times with a superb graphic: “Serena Williams Dominated Her Generation, Then the Next One, Too.”

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Tom Jones is Poynter’s senior media writer for He was previously part of the Tampa Bay Times family during three stints over some 30…
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