Talent light, but not slight

Covering Southern California-based awards, parties and events and interviewing the full gamut of celebs since arriving on the “KTLA Morning News” only a few months after it had launched in 1991, Sam Rubin’s longevity can be credited to in-depth research, making all the right connections and … the power nap.

“I’m, by far, the best napper of the group,” Rubin says.

The stalwarts of the “KTLA Morning News” team — anchors Carlos Amezcua and Michaela Pereira, weatherman Mark Kriski and Rubin — are 4:30 a.m. risers, having to be on their game when the network’s two-hour signature show kicks off at 7 a.m. (And Kriski goes on air at 6.)

The talent could be forgiven if ratings concerns kept them up at night. “Morning News” averages 149,000 total viewers — down from 220,000 a year ago. Local competitor KTTV (Fox) currently has 183,000, down slightly from the same time period a year ago.

On the overall morning news landscape, KTLA is a tad below NBC’s “Today” and far better than fifth-place “CBS Morning News” for total viewers.

KTLA performs best in the 25-54 female demo, in which it is third — above CBS and NBC and below KTTV and ABC. But the battle for local viewers is critical.

“If you look across the nation, local stations have to be more local,” adds Kriski, a Canadian import with 15 years experience as a radio DJ. “There are 10 to 15 outlets that know how to break a national story. We can’t cover events in the Persian Gulf as well as them, but we can beat them on local coverage.”

Adds Pereira: “Viewers care profoundly about the area in which they live. You care if there’s a red-flag warning in the San Gabriel Mountains or fixing potholes in your neighborhood.”

Executive producer John Hensley also believes viewers tune in for local news — and how it affects them personally — as they get ready for the workday.

“What we offer is the local angle that you’re not going to get from ‘Today’ or ‘Good Morning America,'” explains Hensley. “We know this town.”

Like most morning news programs across the country that have sprouted up in its wake, KTLA strives to find balance in topics that range from the latest in Baghdad to “Beauty and the Geek,” from Beltway politics to Sanjaya’s hair.

But despite the jovial atmosphere, everyone takes their jobs with the utmost seriousness.

“My mission is that we do the news accurately and get it out there,” says Amezcua, who had previously done extensive investigative news coverage on local news teams in San Diego and Denver and was a network correspondent for CBS. “I think I’m the most serious one on the set. I take my journalism very seriously, even though we’re a light program.”

Says Pereira: “When you reach this level, and we’ve all been in the game for a while, you know not to chuckle when it’s inappropriate.”

Still, the tone of the show took awhile to develop. Back when “KTLA Morning News” began in the early ’90s, management was not convinced the public would respond to the freewheeling banter so common today, and so the show had a difficult time distinguishing itself from the competition. It was strictly news-driven.

“There was a genuine feeling that it was a tremendous failure, and we would be fired,” Rubin recalls. “But thinking that the show was over anyway gave us the freedom to open everything up for us. We were strictly formatted, and there wasn’t anything unique about it.”

Now, while people tune in, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re literally watching. In other words, the voices of the anchors and reporters are often similar to Muzak — the backdrop of viewers’ bedrooms as they shower, brush their teeth and prepare for the day.

“We’re radio with pictures,” Amezcua says. “People listen to us a lot. Sometimes if we have something very visual, I’ll say, ‘You need to come see this.'”

Numbers aside, the gang’s light touch makes for an amiable newscast.

“From my standpoint, we’ve taken the pomposity out of delivering the news,” Amezcua says.

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