Channel 39 Will No Longer Be Like The Onion's TV News

Big, bold changes are coming to television news in Houston. For the fourth, fifth, 18th time? Who knows?

Next up in the bold-changes batting box will be Channel 39, KIAH, which is owned by the Tribune Company. And the Tribune Company has a "chief innovation officer" named Lee Abrams who has set his sights on remaking local TV news.

"We're out to bust the TV cliches. If you ever watch Onion TV, they mock it and they're right. Some of this stuff is hilariously out of date and we've got to attack. Some of theses cliches are beyond belief," he told media reporter Phil Rosenthal of the Chicago Tribune (he and Abrams work for the same boss.)

So we guess that means Channel 39 won't be doing a story on "Soccer Announces It's Gay" anytime soon.

Abrams, a former rock radio exec, for a while regularly made news on journalism sites with his over-the-top memos on how the Tribune's print publications should remake themselves. It appears he feels the same about TV: "It's elevating us and escaping the grip of the 1970s television playbook that seems to be what every station in America is addicted to," he told Rosenthal.

The Tribune owns TV stations across the country; some do better than others. Channel 39 isn't exactly the leading source for TV news here, so it just may turn into a laboratory:

"We're going to do the greatest level of experimenting where we have the least to lose," Abrams said. "You'll see tweaks to [Chicago's] 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," he said. "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."
What, billboards with anchors in come-hither poses isn't the answer?

No timetable has been announced for any changes, and it's still not clear whether Houston will be in the forefront. But we certainly hope it is, because there's nothing better than watching TV news execs throwing stuff against the wall to see what sticks.

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Richard Connelly
Contact: Richard Connelly