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Lee Abrams Looks To 'Fix' Tribune's TV News

Tribune Company-owned television stations may soon see their newscasts "fixed." An experimental new concept in TV News called NewsFix will begin rolling out this fall.

The idea behind NewsFix is to remove all on-camera anchors and reporters. Instead, the newscast will use only fast-edited video, natural sound and added graphics/special effects to tell news stories. Instead of a traditional newscast, it is meant to be a collection of stories that just roll together.

The first Tribune station to experiment with NewsFix will be KIAH-TV, Houston, TX's Channel 39. KIAH-TV is consistently the lowest rated newscast in Houston between the five local English-language stations that air daily news programs, drawing as low as 0.1 percent of Houston's television audience.

KIAH staffers were called into a meeting Thursday and told about the impending changes, which now involve reassigning the on-air anchors and reporters. The TV news people, used to being able to look good on camera while verbally conveying the day's news, will now be used for new, off-camera duties. The innovative format is expected to begin in late September.

The NewsFix concept comes the mind of Tribune Company's Chief Innovation Officer, Lee Abrams. Lee Abrams is the former radio programming guru brought into the Tribune by CEO Randy Michaels in March 2008. He was the Senior Vice-President and Senior Programmer for XM when he was pulled to Michaels' side. Radio Ink once called Abrams one of the most important radio figures of all time. He is credited with inventing the Album Rock format -- the first successful format on FM radio -- and being one of the architects behind the Classic Rock and Active Rock formats. He supposedly was also instrumental in launching Radio Disney. Additionally, Abrams has dabbled in the music industry, producing albums and working with the careers of some very high profile musicians. A few years ago, he even helped with the redesign of Rolling Stone Magazine.

This is not the first time Lee Abrams has stepped away from the music world, and ventured into television, though. He has worked with MTV before and also helped with the launch of the cable network TNT. He now has his sights on helping Tribune Company newscasts.

In a statement put out by the Tribune on June 29th, Lee Abrams said, "Incremental change at our television stations won't get it done. We have to be radically and noticeably different -- we have to imagine TV and TV news in a totally new way, one that breaks through and reinvents the decades old, tired TV playbook."

NewsFix is Abrams plan for differentiating their newscasts from their competitors' newscasts. Houston's KIAH-TV will be the first to experience NewsFix, but the plan is to slowly roll out the concept to other stations across the country, especially in those markets where the newscasts are under-performing in the ratings.

Tribune Company owns 23 television stations, including Chicago's WGN-TV & CLTV. While WGN-TV is expected to see some elements of NewsFix occasionally worked into its daily newscasts, because of the strong viewership it currently has, a full NewsFix roll out is not expected there anytime soon. Tribune-owned CLTV may see much more "tweaking" in the coming months, though.

In a recent interview with the Chicago Tribune's Phil Rosenthal, Lee Abrams told him, "We're going to do the greatest level of experimenting where we have the least to lose. You'll see tweaks to WGN and CLTV with this new structure. But we have a lot of cities where we're not doing well in morning and evening news, and we're not going to tweak our way out of it. We have to do something dramatic. What happens sometimes is a station will mimic the big guy and end up with the poor man's version of traditional news. To really bust out, we have to do something noticeable and different."

The June 29th press statement made a bold call: "The TV revolution is underway at the new Tribune." Lee Abrams' NewsFix is the opening salvo in that revolution.

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