Charlotte Station Experiments with Snarky Newscast

WBTV in Charlotte is trying a different kind of newscast, that includes sass and snark. But they aren't doing it on their main channel.

The Charlotte Observer writes that nobody knows what kind of rating it gets, but that’s not the point, at least not yet. Experimentation is the thing for WBTV’s latest newscast, broadcast at 8 p.m. weekdays on its secondary digital channel, 3.2.

Anchored by Brigida Mack and Delano Little, the hourlong show debuted this month on the station’s auxiliary channel that carries Bounce TV, a movie and entertainment network launched in 2011 and targeted at African-America adults.

WBTV general manager Nick Simonette says executives at the station have been thinking about launching the newscast since last year, when WJZY launched its own news department, dropping the 10 p.m. newscast produced by WBTV that it had carried for about a decade.

News director Dennis Milligan says the staff was already available for a second evening newscast. Beyond providing a laboratory for new approaches, the show also meets the station’s goal of better serving the region’s black audience, he says.

“It’s something of a playground for us, trying out things we might not feel comfortable with on the mother ship.”

One of the quirks of the newscast comes at the beginning as a clock ticks down the three minutes for “Rapid Rundown,” a summary of the top stories of the day. Social media connections with viewers are promoted throughout the newscast, and Mack and Little are freed up to interact in a more casual, ad-lib nature than standard newscasts allow.

“It doesn’t drag,” says Mack. “We have great rapport. We bounce well off each other.”

A nightly pop-culture segment is part of the mix, and it has an edge. “We take a cheeky look at the world of entertainment and say snarky things, things the viewers are already thinking at home,” says Mack. Yasmin Young of WPEG-FM’s (“Power 98” 97.9) “Morning Maddhouse” co-hosts the segment Mondays, when Little is usually off.

With an hourlong format, the 8 p.m. broadcast also allows more time to bring in people from the community for interviews, ranging from a Davidson College historian who talked about the genesis of the movie “12 Years a Slave” to Little’s ballroom dance teacher. (Yes, Little does ballroom dance and says it’s great exercise.)

Perhaps most unconventional is the Tuesday night parenting-advice segment, “Ask Mama Mack,” featuring Brigida’s ball-of-fire, hold-nothing-back mom, Stella Mack. At 60, Mrs. Mack has raised three children with tough-love charm. Her segment was the idea of executive producer Kim Saxonwho knew Mrs. Mack through her daughter.

Little, a native of Georgia who holds a biology degree from Georgia Southern University, joined WBTV’s sports department 25 years ago and still holds sports anchoring duties apart from his role on the 8 p.m. newscast. Mack, a Charlotte native who graduated from Myers Park High School and got her broadcasting degree at UNC Chapel Hill, left WSOC (Channel 9) five years ago for WBTV and has been mostly reporting for late newscasts.

Ratings on WBTV’s sub-channel are not measured by Nielsen, but Mack says they know they are attracting viewers through the interaction the show receives on Facebook, Twitter and other social media outlets. Milligan, the news director, says that advertising sales appear to be picking up for the show, too. “There seems to be an appetite for reaching out to the minority community,” he says.