30 year-old newscast axed for lifestyle series

Almost 30 years after debuting its iconic “Live at Five” newscast, WNBC New York is scrapping the 5 p.m. report for an hourlong lifestyle program in the fall.

Set to bow Sept. 14, “LX New York” will air live from Rockefeller Center and around the market. Show is produced by NBC Local Media’s LX.TV unit, which feeds locally tailored programming to the Peacock’s O&O stations.

“LX New York” is targeting suburban women who would typically tune in to cable — women’s networks like Lifetime, as well as Food Network and Bravo, according to LX.TV founder and general manager Morgan Hertzan. The show will feature fashion, cooking, gossip and general entertainment fare, including celebrities talking about New York. “LX New York” talent will frequently venture into the tristate region’s suburbs.

“If you’re a suburban housewife in New York, we’ll come after you and find you,” Hertzan said.

“LX New York” will include news headlines and weather reports, along with interactive elements. Hertzan and Vickie Burns, WNBC’s veep of content and audience development, said the show, which will be rich in New York content, is not initially intended to be customized and rolled out for the other markets in which NBC owns stations.

WNBC’s news struggles have been well documented, and its 5 p.m. newscast has long had trouble finding an audience. In September 2007, it and sister NBC O&O WTVJ Miami scrapped their 5 p.m. newscasts for a 7 p.m. news program. WNBC now airs the syndicated show “Extra” at 7, while Chuck Scarborough anchors an hourlong 7 p.m. newscast on its digital channel New York Nonstop, which debuted in March.

WNBC has recently increased its lifestyle content, at times at the expense of news. Early plans for New York Nonstop suggested a 24/7 news channel; the project’s working title prior to launch was New York’s NewsChannel. WNBC’s website was redubbed NBCNewYork.com, with more of an entertainment and fashion focus. (The whole station group took on that Web model.) Earlier this month, Burns shifted from VP of news and content to VP of content and audience development. She said a search is under way for a person to manage news at WNBC.

Asked if newsroom layoffs would result from the fall’s 5 p.m. shift, Burns said: “We’re investing in a growth opportunity. We’re not looking at retrenchment.”

The hosts of “LX New York” have not been announced, though LX.TV’s Sara Gore has been rumored to front the program.

Sue Simmons and David Ushery anchor NewsChannel 4 at 5 p.m. (the newscast no longer uses the Live at Five branding). Simmons will continue to anchor the 6 and 11 p.m. newscasts, and Ushery will still anchor and report for the station.

NBC Local Media acquired LX.TV in January 2008. It was initially a broadband video network catering to “young, affluent urbanites.”

Hertzan said “LX New York’s” advertising mix will include grocery stores, tourism, department stores and home builders. The program will borrow the “great big house party” vibe, he said, from the old Live at Five programs.

(Michael Malone writes for Daily Variety sister publication Broadcasting & Cable.)

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