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Prime return at S.F. NBC affil

KRON-TV in San Francisco will end its 18-month test of early West Coast primetime and return to the traditional 8-11 p.m. hours beginning Sept. 6, the NBC affiliate announced Wednesday.

However, CBS affil KPIX-TV reiterated its intent to continue with early primetime, saying viewer lifestyles still support the wisdom of a 10 p.m. start for local news and that the station expects an 11 p.m. airtime opposite two local newscasts to benefit new latenight entry “The Late Show With David Letterman.”

Officials at NBC’s Sacramento affil KCRA-TV said they were reviewing their research and would make a decision whether to follow KRON’s action as early as today. Both stations have reportedly been under pressure from the network to return to an 8-11 p.m. configuration.

Another beneficiary of the KRON shift will be Paramount Domestic TV, with its magazines “Hard Copy” and “Entertainment Tonight” going into the station’s 7-8 p.m. slot.

Both San Francisco stations shifted primetime in February 1992 following a push by several West Coast affils, who maintained that a change in lifestyle trends dictated an earlier start for local news — demonstrated by high-rated 10 o’clock newscasts on independents like SanFran’s KTVU and KTLA locally.

ABC-owned KGO-TV didn’t make the switch, however, and proved a major beneficiary of the move in terms of boosted ratings for its 11 p.m. newscast. NBC noted Wednesday that no significant changes emerged during the test, in part because KGO didn’t participate “and thereby fractionalized viewing patterns.”

Still, KPIX news director Harry Fuller said the time-shift hasn’t hurt CBS’ primetime performance in the Bay Area — the nation’s fifth-largest TV market — and that initial reasons for switching still exist.

“As we said when we made this change, it fits viewer lifestyles now,” Fuller said. “There are more people up at 10 p.m. than 11 p.m.”

Fuller added that KPIX, owned by Westinghouse, is “looking forward to having Letterman at 11 o’clock.”

Because the FCC denied the stations’ requests for primetime access rule waivers, KPIX is prohibited from airing network programming from 10-11 p.m. That means “Late Show,” which premieres Aug. 30, will begin at 11 p.m. — directly opposite “The Chevy Chase Show” on Fox Broadcasting affil KTVU. “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno” will now start at 11:35 p.m. on KRON.

A lot of acrimony followed the early primetime shift, particularly among syndicators threatened with losing millions of dollars if they suffered wholesale West Coast losses during the 7-8 p.m. time periods.

In fact, King World Prods. filed a $ 5.3 million breach-of-contract lawsuit against KRON for bumping “Wheel of Fortune” and “Jeopardy” from the prime access hour, prompting the Chronicle Broadcasting station’s acquisition of the two Paramount shows.

Networks also were alarmed by the move, saying the stations were tampering with 40 years of broadcasting tradition. Viewers in the Eastern and Pacific time zones have been acclimated to 8-11 p.m. primetime hours, while primetime has always begun an hour earlier in the Central region.

KRON’s return to the old standard will coincide with NBC’s rollout of new shows the week of Sept. 6 (see related story). The station’s parent company, Chronicle Broadcasting, is overseen by John Sias, who, as former head of the ABC TV Network Group, may have been more understanding of the network’s concerns.

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