May 17, 2023 - News

"Chicago Tonight" moves time slots — again

Two anchors on tv

Chicago Tonight hosts Paris Schutz (L) and Brandis Friedman. Photo courtesy of WTTW

After just a few months of broadcasting live at 10pm, WTTW's "Chicago Tonight" has switched time slots, instead broadcasting live at 5:30pm and rerunning the program at 10pm.

Why it matters: January's move to a live, 30-minute 10pm newscast felt like a bold attempt to compete with local networks and challenge the "if it bleeds it leads" format with more substantive reporting.

  • The switch to 5:30 raises the question: Did the late-evening experiment fail?

What they're saying: "I wouldn't say it didn't work," Chicago Tonight executive producer Jay Smith tells Axios.

  • "But after doing that for three months, we decided to move the live broadcast to 5:30 and continue to build that audience at 10 o'clock."

Between the lines: Smith sees 10pm as a spot to serve "a bigger and more diverse audience," but he thinks they can still do that with the rebroadcast even if it's not the freshest news.

  • "There are some things that may happen between 6 and 10, but that's not really our bread and butter."

The upside: Slimming the show from an hour to 30 minutes this year has meant reporters tackle fewer stories, but it's enabled them to dive deeper, Smith says.

  • "So we've done more investigative reporting in the last year than we have probably in the history of WTTW news."
  • Last Friday, WTTW won nine Lisagor Awards.

What's next: "We will continue our expanded investigative reporting, vivid human interest storytelling and essential community-driven dialogue," he says.

  • "We also want to lean into the encouraging news from this recent poll from The Economist and YouGov that finds PBS and BBC are the second-and third-most trustworthy news organizations in America."
  • No. 1? The Weather Channel.

Thought bubble: It was going to be an uphill battle for "Chicago Tonight" to break viewer habits at 10pm. It's going to be even harder now that it's not live.

  • It's still a great show, but it seems like this is less about local news and more about showcasing PBS national programming, which has taken over "Chicago Tonight's" original 7pm slot.
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