WMAR stirs up formula in drive for local success TV: Juggling of schedule affects news, soaps and talk shows.

THE BALTIMORE SUN

The wheels continue to churn at WMAR, Channel 2, as the new management team tries to change its status as the third wheel among Baltimore's network affiliates.

Beginning July 7, WMAR will be abandoning the noon news slot, opting instead for an 11 a.m. start time that will, if nothing else, enable them to get the workday news on the air before the competition at WBAL, Channel 11, and WJZ, Channel 13.

"It'll take some time," says WMAR general manager Steven Gigliotti, "but I think it will find an audience -- people who want to get their news before they leave their house for midday appointments or other midday events."

To make the switch, the folks at WMAR persuaded ABC's daytime schedulers to let them start the network soaps an hour earlier. "Port Charles," "All My Children," "One Life to Live" and "General Hospital" will air from 11: 30 a.m. to 3 p.m.

At 3 p.m. the Rosie O'Donnell Show," which appeals to many of the same people who enjoy the daily soaps, will air, followed by "The Montel Williams Show" at 4 p.m. -- a two-edged sword WMAR officials hope will provide a stronger lead-in for their 5 p.m. news.

"We're taking an opportunity here to put two very strong, very locally appealing talk shows side-by-side, to give people something different in the summertime," says Gigliotti.

Also beginning July 7, WMAR will (finally!) begin carrying ABC's "Politically Incorrect," where opinionated people from the entertainment field and all over the political spectrum get to duke it out with each other verbally every weeknight after "Nightline."

Finally, one more change, although you won't see this one until September: Sally Jesse Raphael will move to 10 a.m., preceded by a new edition of "The People's Court," with former New York Mayor Ed Koch presiding.

Escapism for women

Millions of women out there are tired of being helpless as their husbands and boyfriends sit in front of the tube all day watching grown men play games.

Kate McEnroe knows this is true. She's so sure, in fact, that she's got herself a cable channel targeting those very women -- Romance Classics, sister station to American Movie Classics.

"The entire television lineup is predominantly for males 18-34," says McEnroe, president of AMC and Romance Classics. "There's really no network that's just pure escapism for women, where they can escape whatever problems they have for just an hour or two."

Enter Romance Classics, which debuted in January and is available to some 7 million cable subscribers -- though none in the Baltimore area. The key word is romance -- films and TV shows where the guys and the gals get each other, where love is celebrated and where nary a ball is batted, thrown or otherwise launched.

"Romance is really big business," according to McEnroe, who says the network is negotiating with local cable companies to bring Romance Classics to Charm City (Charm? Romance? Sounds like a perfect fit). "It's a [huge] business, when you look at publishing, TV, [video] rentals and movie-going. The top moneymakers from last year, look at 'Jerry McGuire' and 'The English Patient.' They're both love stories."

Even at bookstores, romance is heading nowhere but up. Sales of romance novels -- you know, those bodice-ripping Harlequin affairs -- have gone up 27 and 37 percent in the past two years.

Romance Classics spokeswoman Morgan Fairchild was in Baltimore Friday, cooking chocolate at Hampton's Restaurant. And for next week's baseball All-Star game (slated for Tuesday, July 8), the station is counter-programming with a romance fest that folks around here can catch on AMC.

"Romance All-Stars," with host Julie Brown, showcases some champions of the TV romance genre. At 6 p.m., Lindsay Wagner stars in "Scruples," playing a widow who copes with her husband's death by opening a store where the rich and famous can indulge their fantasies.

At 8 p.m., it's Jaclyn Smith in "Rage of Angels," as an attorney (she's both beautiful and ambitious) in love with two fellow attorneys (Ken Howard and Armand Assante) on opposite sides of the law.

Jane Seymour takes over at midnight, doffing her "Dr. Quinn" outfit long enough to portray Baltimore's own Wallis Warfield Simpson in "The Woman He Loved."

"We counter-program all the big, major sporting events," says McEnroe, "for the sports widows."

Job loss

WXYV's shift from urban to contemporary hit radio did more than change the station's musical identity. It also cost Jean Ross, a fixture at V-103 for 19 years, her job.

Both Ross and her morning-show partner, Tim Watts, were off the air as of Thursday. The following morning, WXYV debuted its new format.

The move, Ross said, came as no surprise. "The station has gone though two management situations in the past year and two months. Everyone comes, and they want to do things differently."

Although not happy about leaving, the Baltimore native agreed with station management's decision to go in a new direction.

"They tried to get V-103 back in the ballgame, but it didn't work," she said of the now-ended battles to regain ground lost when the station allowed popular morning DJ Frank Ski to move over to WERQ-FM (92.3). "We had fallen so far from where we had been, and it's just too far to make up."

Ross and Ski had worked as a team on the V-103 morning show, earning consistently strong ratings. But the show and the station plummeted in the ratings after Ski left in July 1996. Since Ski's departure, ratings for V-103's morning show have slipped from seventh to 10th place, while ratings for the 92-Q show have climbed from sixth to fourth. Overall, the station has dropped from seventh to ninth place, while WERQ has climbed from fifth to second.

Ross insists she leaves the station with no bitter feelings. For now, she'll be concentrating on the karaoke operation she sets up at bars and clubs throughout the area. Already, she says, job offers are starting to come in.

Still, leaving the station she's called home most of her adult life is no happy affair.

"I've been there for 19 years, and I've seen them at the highest point they've been," she says. "Now, unfortunately, I'm seeing it at the lowest point it's been."

Pub Date: 6/29/97

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