"Topical" heat wave: CBS11's Regent Ducas makes an urgent appeal
04/25/07 05:03 PM
By ED BARK
FORT WORTH -- A big storm is brewing on this early Tuesday afternoon. Not just outside CBS11's offices but in the minds of some reporters.
Regent Ducas, finishing his first month as the station's latest news director, already has reshaped the station's ratings-starved newscasts. You don't hire a coach to run the same plays, and he's made that very clear since arriving last month from CBS affiliate KCTV-TV in Kansas City.
"Instead of taking a more issue-oriented approach to news, we're going to take a more topical approach," Ducas, 42, says during an interview in his office. "It's all about the here and now of news. That's one of the changes you'll feel, sense and hear on the air. A bit more urgency. Not so much the way it's been."
This week he inaugurated a "First Five Minutes" gambit at the top of 10 p.m. newscasts, importing it from the Kansas City station that he took to No. 1 in the ratings. It's supposed to give viewers the feeling that they're getting something piping hot and served fresh. On Monday's late night newscast, four live reports were squeezed in, with an emphasis on crime.
"The biggest battle at night is turnoff," Ducas says. "So the message I'm trying to convey is don't go to bed quite yet. We're going to give you as much as we can in the first five minutes. New. Fresh. Not something you heard on the radio that morning. Give us at least five minutes. Then it's our job to drag you along, keep you going. It's my plan to execute that."
Ducas talks with a sense of the urgency he's demanding, his body language seemingly punctuated by a continuous series of exclamation points. Some reporters were very afraid at first and some still are -- privately. Ducas concedes as much. But as he inarguably notes, the station's 10 p.m. newscasts have been squandering a good part of the oft-generous lead-in audience provided by CBS entertainment programming. It's left the station a sinking third at 10 p.m. after a run for the top bottomed out in the past year.
"CBS is a fantastic network. It's a hot network," Ducas says. "And there's no reason why we shouldn't be able to deliver on the audiences they give us."
The new guy's approach is "run and gun if you will. I'm sure there is an adjustment period. I'm sure some people are wondering to themselves whether they're going to make it under this new format, whether they even subscribe to it in the first place."
He figuratively arrived at CBS11 "with boxing gloves on," Ducas says. "I thought I'd have to battle. But I've really done very little of it. It's been remarkable. I'm incredibly impressed with the competency of the people at CBS11.
"I think we have the players to pull it off. But the proof will be in the pudding and in daily performance. I'm a very performance-oriented person. I'm all about accountability."
CBS11 also is sharpening its prime-time teases, which Ducas feels were too passive in the past.
"Promotion is critically important, maybe as important as the actual newscast. It has to match the intensity of what we're going to have on the news. You need to zero in on who you are. And we're going to be this live, latebreaking, investigative type of television station that brings you this urgent news. If you want the in-depth story about something, we're not going to be the station to come watch.
"My lead story may not be the most important news of the day, but it's going to be the freshest, most topically driven news that the viewer will be able to get in the area."
Ducas insists he's not copying a very similar format used by NBC5, which had a five-year winning streak broken in February by Belo8. But the Peacock remained No. 1 with 25-to-54-year-olds, the main advertiser target audience for news programming.
Nor is he ruling out expansive investigative reporting, Ducas says after veteran CBS11 gumshoe Robert Riggs is mentioned.
"There absolutely is a place for him," but it likely won't be in the newscast's first five minutes, Ducas says. "When we get everything rolling together, investigations will be a major part of what we are."
Ratings frontrunners Belo8 and NBC5 regularly stock the closing half of their newscasts with stories obviously aimed at women viewers, who watch in appreciably greater numbers than men. Ducas acknowledges this, but says he basically doesn't care.
"You're not going to see a lot of diet-oriented stories in the second quarter-hour. Absolutely not," he says. "If that's the magic to success, then I'm not going to try to beat 'em at their game. I'm a big believer that solid, topical news is going to drive viewership. I'm just not into tailoring news."
Ducas also must fix his station's early morning newscasts, which are in far worse ratings shape than the latenight productions. Former Belo8 morning personality Scott Sams is newly installed, but CBS11 will be losing co-anchor Shannon Hori after her three-year contract expires in July. She wants to spend more time with her Florida-based husband.
The early morning show "used to be laid-back and lifestyle-oriented," but now will match the urgency of CBS11's other newscasts, Ducas says. He expects Sams to re-bloom and grow on viewers, many of whom still remember him from his 19 years at Belo8.
"He's such a great pro, as pro as pro gets. So the last person I'm worried about is Scott and his adapting to this formula."
Whatever the daypart or city, Ducas is banking on his belief that news viewers are all pretty much the same. They supposedly want fresh, not always nutritive produce, something they haven't seen before, a hook to keep them on the line. So it'll be a snap-pop approach at the new CBS11.
"The Internet has changed everything," Ducas says. "In my (TV) world, everything gets old fast. Viewers are just going, going, going.
"And you've got to match their lifestyle, and go get 'em."