CBC Prime Time News

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Prime Time News
CBC PTN logo.jpg
Title screen used from 1992 to 1994. A different opening used for the 1994-95 season was essentially identical (aside from the title) to the open used by The National from 1995-97.
Starring Peter Mansbridge
Pamela Wallin (1992–95)
Hana Gartner (1995)
Country of origin Canada
Original language(s) English
No. of episodes N/A
Production
Running time 60 mins.
Release
Original network CBC
Original release November 2, 1992 – June 1995

CBC Prime Time News was a Canadian nightly newscast which aired on CBC Television from 1992 to 1995.[1]

Background[edit]

For the previous ten years, the CBC's nightly newscast, The National, had aired at 10 p.m., and was followed by a 40-minute newsmagazine package called The Journal, which was hosted by Barbara Frum. However, following Frum's death in early 1992, the CBC took the opportunity to revamp its flagship newscast.

The CBC's live coverage of the Charlottetown Accord referendum results on October 26, 1992 effectively acted as a soft launch for the show,[2] which formally debuted on November 2. With Peter Mansbridge and Pamela Wallin as equal cohosts of a package which replaced both The National and The Journal, Prime Time News combined news and Journal-style features into a single integrated program which aired at 9 p.m.[3]

Despite the change, The National was not entirely discontinued; concurrently with the change on the main network, the CBC's separate all-news channel CBC Newsworld adopted the title for its own prime time news program.[4]

The program's choice of name also created a conflict with CBC Radio's Prime Time, whose host Geoff Pevere spoke out against the potential confusion caused by the television and radio programs having such similar names.[5]

Ratings performance[edit]

Although ratings were strong at first, with its first week seeing a full 30 per cent improvement over The National's average ratings during the previous year,[6] the approach proved unpopular, both within the CBC and with network audiences and critics. The National had been produced by the CBC's news department, while The Journal belonged to current affairs, and bringing the two departments together was fractious.[7] As well, the on-air rapport between Wallin and Mansbridge was visibly tense at times. Critics especially lambasted the debut episode, whose lead story was the last full day of the 1992 United States presidential election, as "an uninspiring collection of newsreading, charts and cutaways to foreign correspondents" more reminiscent of a local television station than a national network with the high reputation of CBC News,[8] and viewer response to the new program's format was highly unfavourable.[9]

As well, because the program aired at 9 p.m., it was competing in one of the most heavily watched timeslots on the commercial networks. Although The National and The Journal had faced commercial competition at 10 p.m., they had been much more successful at carving out their own niche because in that time slot, almost all of the commercial networks were airing drama series. At 9 p.m., Prime Time News had to compete with popular sitcoms such as Cheers, Frasier, Seinfeld and Murphy Brown.[2]

As a result, Prime Time News rapidly dropped off in the ratings, seeing a 12 per cent viewership decline after its first week alone;[10] by the end of the first month ratings were lower than The National.[11] CTV National News concurrently saw its ratings jump 40 per cent,[10] overtaking the CBC in national newscast ratings for the first time in its history,[12] and CBC Newsworld's edition of The National saw viewership gains of 30 per cent over that network's prior prime time lineup, and itself sometimes garnered higher ratings than Prime Time News.[4]

The shift also resulted in significant ratings declines for several other programs, including Man Alive and The Nature of Things, whose timeslots had been shifted to accommodate the new program.[13]

Format revisions[edit]

In the fall of 1994, Prime Time News returned to the 10 p.m. time slot, and to a format closer to the old National and Journal.[14] Mansbridge again became the sole anchor of the news portion of the show, and Wallin became the host of a magazine segment very similar to The Journal.[14] However, the show retained the name Prime Time News for the 1994–1995 television season, and Wallin sometimes appeared as substitute anchor of the main news portion when Mansbridge was absent.

Ratings recovered significantly following this shift;[15] by December, the show was regularly drawing fully 95 per cent of The National's former audience.[15]

In April 1995, Wallin was dropped from the program,[16] and was succeeded by Hana Gartner in June.[17] In the fall the newscast officially reverted to the name The National,[1] while the magazine segment became The National Magazine. This format remained in place until The National was again re-launched as a one-hour newscast in early 2001.

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b "CBC gives last rites to PTN, revives The National". Ottawa Citizen, September 2, 1995.
  2. ^ a b "The News at Nine; CBC's new Prime Time News goes up against the U.S. networks' slickest hits". The Gazette, October 31, 1992.
  3. ^ "Debut of Prime Time News shakes up entire CBC lineup". The Gazette, November 2, 19912.
  4. ^ a b "Newsworld is big winner after changes at CBC news". The Gazette, December 12, 1992.
  5. ^ "The Prime of their lives". The Globe and Mail, October 31, 1992.
  6. ^ "Prime Time News debut has ratings up 30% over National". Ottawa Citizen, November 5, 1992.
  7. ^ Knowlton Nash, Prime Time at Ten (McClelland & Stewart, 1987), ISBN 0-7710-6703-8.
  8. ^ "CBC launches a Prime Time `turkey`". Calgary Herald, November 3, 1992.
  9. ^ "Ratings high but viewers cool to CBC news debut". Edmonton Journal, November 6, 1992.
  10. ^ a b "CTV lures audience and anchor from CBC; CTV News ratings up 40 per cent since CBC's Prime Time News debut". Ottawa Citizen, November 21, 1992.
  11. ^ "CBC's news show suffering". The Globe and Mail, November 24, 1992.
  12. ^ "As viewers drift off, CBC sails rough seas". The Globe and Mail, December 27, 1993.
  13. ^ "CBC repositioning turning off viewers". The Globe and Mail, December 10, 1992.
  14. ^ a b "CBC turns back the clock on nightly newscast". Edmonton Journal, September 7, 1994.
  15. ^ a b "Prime Time News reclaiming audience". Toronto Star, December 29, 1994.
  16. ^ "CBC, Wallin come to terms after `firing' from Prime Time". Edmonton Journal, May 26, 1995.
  17. ^ Greg Quill, "CBC picks Gartner to replace Wallin". Toronto Star, June 3, 1995.