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Alan Pergament: WKBW drops Eyewitness News brand, names Hannah Buehler 11 p.m. anchor

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Hannah Buehler (copy)

Hannah Buehler is the new anchor of the 11 p.m. newscast on the former Eyewitness News.

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One nostalgic thing was missing from WKBW-TV’s New Year’s Eve production: Eyewitness News disappeared.

It isn’t the only change at the station.

Hannah Buehler, who has been anchoring the 7 p.m. newscast and co-anchoring the 5:30 p.m. newscast, is taking over as 11 p.m. anchor.

Jeff Russo and Ashley Rowe will co-anchor at 5 and 6 p.m., which will enable them to report at other times.

Rowe, who has been on maternity leave, returns Tuesday.

The dropping of the Eyewitness News brand isn’t a surprise. I reported in June that the station was considering dropping the brand name for the second time in its history.

It is understandable why officials of WKBW’s owner, the E.W. Scripps Company, may think WKBW needs a new image since the Eyewitness News branding hasn’t exactly been drawing many viewers recently.

WKBW General Manager Marc Jaromin explained the decision to replace the iconic brand from the Irv Weinstein, Rick Azar and Tom Jolls era.

“Our rebrand reflects where WNY news consumers are today,” wrote Jaromin. " ‘Eyewitness’ " was born decades ago when local stations were the real-time eyes of the community. Now, in our impressions-based world of cellphones, streaming apps, connected TVs and social media our engagement is much more than traditional newscasts. Our content and rebranding strategy is research-based and reflects the latest forward-leaning news consumer trends.”

It is the second time Channel 7 has dropped Eyewitness News. It did so in 2003 without success when it tried to veer away from the station’s past and then returned the brand in 2008. The change in branding won’t likely have much impact now, either, but it probably can’t hurt.

It is hard to know what – if anything – can change WKBW’s fortunes since the Buffalo TV market historically is so resistant to change and needs a reason to switch from the top two local news departments at WIVB-TV and WGRZ-TV.

The station’s new branding slogan is 7 News.

The station remains deep in third place in the local news ratings but received some encouraging news during the November sweeps.

All of its news time periods except noon saw significant growth, with the 5 p.m. newscast up 57% and the 6 a.m. newscast up 50% from a year earlier.

Of course, it is easy to get large percentage increases when your ratings are so low.

The highest-rated WKBW newscast was a 4.8 at 6 p.m., up 19% from a year earlier. That was less than half the rating that first-place WIVB had at that time. Second place WGRZ, which was off Dish households because of a dispute with its owner, Tegna, also exceeded WKBW's rating by a large percentage.

The rest of WKBW's newscasts had ratings ranging from a 2.5 to a 3.0.

A rating point in Buffalo represents 5,285 households.

Speaking of the New Year’s program, Russo replaced Ed Drantch as the co-host opposite his morning teammate Katie Morse. Drantch announced on social networks that he tested positive for Covid-19.

Channel 7 anchor Keith Radford, who has been part of the station’s New Year’s program for years, appeared from Naples, Fla., wishing viewers a Happy New Year.

The station did upset many viewers when it pulled away from ABC’s coverage when the band Journey was performing.

Of course, it was Journey without former lead singer Steve Perry, as CNN’s Andy Cohen hilariously noted during the cable network New Year’s program he co-anchored with Anderson Cooper.


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TV Critic

Alan Pergament has had a variety of roles at The News since 1970, including as a news and sports reporter. He has been the TV columnist since 1982, with more than year off for good behavior. He is a member of the national Television Critics Association.

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