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WJZ seeks younger viewers so it squares off against 17-year-old 'Square Off'


Saturday night television in Baltimore is going to be a little less community oriented after tonight.

WJZ (Channel 13) is pulling the plug on "Square Off," ending its 17-year run as one of the highest-rated public affairs shows on local TV.

In fact, based on that November "sweeps" ratings from A.C. Nielsen, the discussion-and-debate show hosted by anchorman Richard Sher is the highest rated weekly public affairs show on Baltimore TV.

So why is the station axing it?

"While the household numbers continue to be good, the demographic appeal of the show is not what it once enjoyed. And you know what that means," Marcellus Alexander, WJZ general manager said yesterday.

What it means is that the station can make more money with a show with a younger audience than the audience for "Square Off," which is mostly made up of persons 55 years in age or older.

WBAL (Channel 11), for example, has counterprogrammed against "Square Off" with "Baywatch," the syndicated bikini-and-bod show starring Pamela Anderson and David Hasselhoff.

Starting next Saturday, "Entertainment This Week," the weekend version of "Entertainment Tonight," will replace "Square Off." It is a syndicated show that features news on the entertainment industry, and it has younger demographics.

Alexander acknowledged all public-affairs and news shows draw older audiences, but pointed out other stations don't air them from 7 to 8 on Saturday nights, part of the time period known as prime access. Stations generally get higher rates for local time after 6 p.m., the closer it gets to prime time, which starts at 8.

Sher was offered a chance to continue "Square Off" in a less lucrative time period -- 1 p.m. Saturdays -- but said he didn't think there would be enough of an adult audience to make it worthwhile.

Alexander said the station wants to keep the "Square Off" concept alive by airing one show every three months -- one is planned for April. Sher said he'll be the host of the shows as long as the station wants.

"It's been a terrific 17-year run," Sher said yesterday. "I'm just sorry to see it going off the air every week."

Tonight's telecast will be a retrospective of the show's 17 years, Sher said, with 20 of the more popular panelists over the years.

"I think viewers will get a little teary, if they've followed the show over the years," he said. "We've got four panels of five people each and they reminisce about the good things they remember, the difficult times, good laughs, the rough moments on air, the near fistfights in the parking lot after some of the shows. Like I said, it's been a terrific run."

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