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Tribune's 'Big Willie' Show Fails Test

Last week, the Tribune Company aired a test run of four out of the five episodes taped of Bill Cunningham's new television show. Except in Cunningham's home market of Cincinnati, the test was a ratings and critical failure.

Critics, bloggers and the general public were pretty universal in their dislike for this show created by Cunningham's pals: Tribune CEO Randy Michaels and Tribune President of Programming and Entertainment Sean Compton.

The show, which was called "Big Willie," although Tribune executives have already stated the show's somewhat offensive name will be changed, was aired in seven markets, all on television station owned by the Tribune Company. The show aired at various times during the day, depending on the market, and brought in varying ratings, none of which where very good, with the exception of Cincinnati's.

Broadcasting & Cable today posted the ratings from Nielsen Media Research. Nationwide, the show averaged a 1.1 rating and 4 share -- down 35% from its average lead-in of 1.7 rating and 5 share, and also down 15% from the same time period in July 2009.

Chicago was the only market to air the show after midnight, a move felt by some to hide the embarrassing show from the observant eyes of the Chicago media, who have been very carefully watching the controversial moves made by the new Tribune regime. At 12:30am each day, from Wednesday morning through Saturday morning last week, the "Big Willie" show aired on WGN-TV. It averaged a 0.9 rating and 4 share, which is down 50% from its lead in of a 1.8 rating and 6 share and down 40% from the same time period one year ago.

KDAF-TV in Dallas aired the show Tuesday-Friday at 2:00pm, but it lost 17% of its lead-in audience. KIAH-TV in Houston also aired the show at 2:00pm, but it lost 36% of its lead-in audience. WXIN-TV in Indianapolis aired the show at 10:00am, but lost 42% of its lead-in audience when Cunningham's face appeared. KCPQ-TV in Seattle aired Cunningham's show at 3:00pm, but lost a whopping 54% of its lead-in audience. WNOL-TV in New Orleans aired "Big Willie" at 1:00pm and actually gained slightly from its lead-in, but still only was able to muster a 0.3 rating and 1 share.

It was only in Cincinnati, where Cunningham is a highly-rated conservative radio host on WLW-AM, that scored well for the show and raised the overall average. On WXIX-TV, the show aired at 3:00pm, right after Cunningham's radio show ended. It averaged a 1.9 rating and 5 share, which was up 73% from its lead-in, thanks largely to Cunningham fans turning off their radios and turning on their TVs at Cunningham's urging. It was also a 90% increase for WXIX-TV over the same time period of last year.

Cunningham's show, which featured such lowbrow entertainment as forcing obese women to eat like dogs off the floor and grandmothers who perform in porn movies, was taped in early June at WGN-TV's studios. It is expected that despite the poor ratings and reviews, the show will begin its full production run here in Chicago in September, with a start date as early as October. Some changes to the show, beside changing the title, are possibilities.

Cunningham recently made headlines for reportedly coming to WGN-AM to replace longtime host Steve Cochran, but later turned down WGN's offer so he could stay in Cincinnati. He also is named in a Cook County lawsuit, along with the Tribune Company and others, by participants in one of his taped shows who were angered by his treatment of them and the supposed deceptive way they were lured to do the show. That episode never aired. Cunningham also made national & local news in 2008, when at a campaign rally for John McCain, he used offensive wording against Barack Obama and Chicago in general, causing an embarrassed McCain to immediately disassociate himself from Cunningham and his remarks.


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