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Why one TV exec bumped network news for Brett Favre

Like his local peers, WCCO’s Scott Libin interrupted the network news for Brett Favre’s news conference, and in return had his news judgment — and certain body parts — questioned.
By David Brauer

It’s a sad world we live in when football interupts the WORLD NEWS.  Some people actually care about the important causes that are out there than sports.

After this farce is over could you PLEASSSSE restart the news at the point you cut us off; that is the people who would rather use their brains that sit like zombies listening to Mr. Favre regurgitate for the 100th time why he deserves to be back playing football????!!!!!!

 You actually have the BALLS to break in on the Nightly News when they’re talking about Healthcare Reform so I can watch Favre stand there with a stupid jersey??!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! This is absolutely insane! 

WCCO News Director Scott Libin has seen the comments left on the station’s website, and read the 50-some emails ripping him for preempting Tuesday’s CBS Evening News in favor of Brett Favre’s news conference.

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“In a way, it’s refreshing to know that many people are that passionate about the network news, especially when analysts are always writing it off,” an unflustered Libin said on Thursday, two days after the Favreapoolza explosion.

Libin and his peers at KARE and KSTP made identical calls: When Favre’s presser, scheduled for 5 p.m., drifted into the following half-hour, all deemed the quarterback’s testimonial more important than anything Katie, Charlie or Brian were tossing out that night. (Fox doesn’t have a national newscast, so KMSP was spared.)

Near as I can tell, it’s the first time locals have preempted the national news for a local sports story. Libin says aside from the occasional severe weather or Election Night update, it’s the first time he’s done so in his two years at WCCO.

In return, the guy gets his gonads evaluated and his news judgment questioned.

“To me, it was still news,” Libin says. “To have the story unfold as suddenly as it did … three weeks ago, it wasn’t going to happen, and nine hours earlier, we had no idea it was going to happen. From the time [WCCO sportscaster] Mark Rosen broke the story, it was just such an accelerated pace. This was [Favre’s] first opportunity to speak as Minnesota Viking.”

Libin says he might have waited until the 6 p.m. local newscast “in the age before the 24-7 news cycle. … But we had to pay attention to the expectations of the audience. Remember, this was supposed to air at 5 [and] we’d been promising coverage for hours.”

Viewers seemed eager to watch. In the 5:30 half hour, WCCO scored a 7.2 rating among all households — tops among local news stations, and up from an average 5.6 rating in July.

(Confession: I didn’t touch my dial.)

What viewers missed: a fairly substantive last 18 minutes of the Evening News, including a report on Massachusetts’ health care reform foundering on a shortage of primary-care doctors.

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Still, nothing on that night’s network newscast could fairly be called breaking news — though it deepened our understanding of something other than a diva’s diva-ness.

Would Libin — who saw the national rundown in advance — have gone live to Winter Park if there was a big breaking story at the network level?

“No,” he says flatly. “When the news conference didn’t begin at 5:30, I was at least relieved that we got in half” of the network stories.

He says the remainder of the Evening News consisted of “elective, discretionary stories” that viewers “didn’t have to see right then — it was all at”

Of course, that won’t placate the less web-savvy Evening News junkie, who skews older. (The 25-54-year-old rating was 2.1, not 7.2 — though that was up from the usual 1.4, Libin says).

Like some viewers, network execs aren’t happy when their shows are bumped. WCCO is owned by CBS, and the Evening News arguably lost ratings points by not being on in Minneapolis. It also lost revenue, since no commercials interrupted Favre.

Still, Libin says he had his superiors’ complete support.

“I remembered various training I provided about managing my bosses, so I called my supervisor, who I expect might’ve done the same thing in New York,” he says. “I was supposed to call Tom Kane, president of the stations division, on an unrelated matter the next day, so I knew I’d be talking to him about this. But when we spoke, he agreed with my so quickly I didn’t even have time to get to my argument. He doesn’t want our station to seem less than competitive.”

Libin says the Favre flap does not portent a more cavalier approach to network news — which, let’s face it, hasn’t exactly gotten more substantive in recent decades.

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I asked Libin how 50 angry emails rank as outpourings go. “It’s pretty significant,” he says, adding that he was “surprised” to see the emails already piling up after the early newscasts.

Ironically, though, angry network news fans have nothing on mad golf junkies, who are apparently far more vituperative when a tournament gets interrupted for a severe weather alert.

“It’s worse when it affects a relatively small number of people,” Libin says. “If you have a tornado in, say, Waconia, you’ll hear about it from people everywhere else. Thankfully, what happened on Tuesday is different, more substantive, than people saying ‘I don’t care about a little town being hit by a tornado, I just want my golf.’”