"She provided this monster lead-in to the local news that drove ratings for two hours straight after her show ended in some cities," Hofstra University media studies professor Bob Papper said in describing what came to be known as the Oprah Factor. "With that going away, everybody's scrambling for a piece of the action."

Joerres predicts his station will maintain its news audience at 5 p.m. without Oprah, based on "the strength of the brand" on WBAL News.

"The brand of WBAL is a long-term term brand in Baltimore," he says. "And the strength of that brand in news will continue to persevere through and through."

Beyond news, one of the strongest performers over the summer were the courtroom shows. "Judge Judy" and "Judge Joe Brown," both of which air on WBFF, finished fourth and sixth among all shows.

Bill Fanshawe, general manager at Baltimore's Fox affiliate, will be doubling down on the courtroom offerings this fall adding "America's Courtroom" from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m., followed by "Judge Judy" at 5 and 6 each night.

"With 'Judy' running at 5 followed by the news [at 5:30], and then 'Judy' again, what I'm doing is hammocking the news inside of 'Judge Judy,'" Fanshawe says. "She's a very good lead-in to the news, and we think we can definitely make some gains with Oprah gone."

Fanshawe, who also runs Baltimore's WNUV and stations elsewhere across the country for Sinclair Broadcast Group, says he has used the Judy-as-hammock strategy before and attracted a healthy audience of younger viewers.

He will be competing for that audience with WMAR, which is targeting young demographics with its new 4 p.m. show, "Right This Minute," according to General Manager Bill Hooper.

The show embraces social media to the point where it lets audience members determine what news stories it will cover in the same way trends are determined on Twitter.

"It's a show that's trying to position itself for today's video-centric, social media world," says Hooper. "We think there's going to be a big opportunity with the Oprah audience searching for something different. But we're obviously just not going with the regular talk-show type thing. This is a pretty different looking news show."

david.zurawik@baltsun.com

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