WKBW-TV’s new female lead anchor Ashley Rowe made a strong first impression Monday on the three newscasts she co-anchored.
The former CTV reporter and occasional anchor has a commanding voice, good diction, reads copy well and only once fell into speaking with a Canadian accent as she co-anchored on different newscasts with Jeff Russo and Keith Radford.
You certainly could see what CTV publicity head Scott Henderson meant last week in Los Angeles when he told me she was going to be a big star that could have a national future. She looked like she could almost immediately step into a Fox News anchor seat.
This isn’t to say that Rowe, who has replaced Joanna Pasceri as Channel 7’s primary female anchor, was perfect by any means on her debut day.
She needs to be more comfortable during the obligatory happy talk. During the end of the 11 p.m. newscast with Russo, she said “exactly” three times in 15 seconds to comments made by her co-anchor.
More importantly, Rowe needs to work on the all important attitude actors and anchors do so well -- faking sincerity. Learning to do that would soften Rowe’s more hard-edged presentation style.
That was especially evident when Radford briefly introduced her on the 6 p.m. newscast.
“You thought it was going to be warmer because we’re so much farther south than Toronto,” cracked Radford.
“Of course I did,” said Rowe, a Los Angeles native who previously worked at CTV in Toronto.
“We have a new face, new member of 7 Eyewitness News, joining us tonight for the first day,” said Radford. “So welcome.”
“Thank you very much,” said Rowe. “I’m excited to be here.”
She didn’t sound so excited in her obligatory comment. On the other hand, she also didn’t sound nervous.
She had been welcomed earlier in the 5 p.m. newscast by meteorologist Aaron Mentkowski after she voiced over a piece about visiting the Botanical Gardens in the winter.
“Wait until summer, you’re going to love it here in Western New York,” said Mentkowski.
“I’m really looking forward to it,” said Rowe.
After a report about the tragedy in Geneseo that left three people in their 20s dead, Rowe pulled a Maryalice Demler and told viewers what they could see themselves. “A terrible story,” said Rowe.
She said it so fast that it lost its impact and didn’t seem terribly sincere. She has to work on that.
She does talk fast. But her diction is so good that it isn’t distracting.
It is a little distracting to see Channel 7 put the faces of Rowe and her male co-anchors in a little box on the right while larger footage of the stories they are talking about appear on the left of the split screen.
Of course, anchors aren’t the only reason people watch newscasts. The news presentation and news choices also play a role. Channel 7 reporters Ed Reilly, Hannah Buehler and Cierra Johnson all did well covering stories. And I was certainly glad to see that weather wasn’t covered too much on my first day back to WNY.
But it did seem odd early in the 11 p.m. newscast to watch a story that raised the question of whether it is a good idea to buy snow tires during the winter and ask the owner of one tire store. I think we know his answer. It played more like an advertisement than a news story.
However, the station’s news product has improved noticeably since owner E.W. Scripps Company took over more than a year and a half ago and very few viewers have seemed to notice.
The big questions now are whether Rowe can develop chemistry with her co-anchors and get more viewers to sample Eyewitness News again. After all, the WNY market is very slow and even resistant to change.
Rowe’s hiring certainly will be a test to see if any viewers have tired of the news products offered by Channel 2 and Channel 4 and want to see something new.
As usual, Channel 7 was a weak third in all newscasts on the Dr. Martin Luther King holiday. Channel 2 won decisively at 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. and Channel 4 won by a big margin at 11 p.m. Channel 7 had a higher rating at 5 p.m. than normal and a lower one at 11 p.m., largely because of an extremely weak lead-in from ABC’s 10 p.m. “Bachelor: Live.”
But it is a marathon and not a sprint so it will take some time to see if WNY will warm up to Rowe and her co-anchors.
If Channel 7 is able to “seize the possible” over the next few years and become more competitive, there even could be one downside.
Rowe could then be viewed as the big star forecast by the CTV publicity head and move on to a bigger market. Could that be viewed as a long-term problem for Channel 7?
But one that Scripps would be happy to have in a few years.