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Wednesday, December 2, 1998 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Kstw-TV's Evening News Team Gets The Ax

Seattle Times TV Critic

The increasingly ugly economics of television have claimed another victim, and this time it's the people at KSTW-TV.

Yesterday, owner Paramount Pictures announced it would end the Seattle station's 10 p.m. newscast. After 21 years of daily coverage, KSTW will air its final show Friday night.

The abrupt ax swing by Paramount, which owns 19 stations nationwide and took over KSTW in June 1997, has to be a heart-breaker for the 60 or so people in KSTW's news department. After the trauma of switching from a CBS to a UPN network affiliation, the team eventually formed by Don Porter, Christine Chen, sportscaster Rod Simons and meteorologist Neal Barton seemed to be settling in nicely. They even got voted "Best News Team" by Seattle Weekly readers this past summer.

But the folks who will be forced to look for new jobs (Merry Christmas!) aren't the lone sufferers in this scenario. Any time a local station ends its newscast is cause to mourn; one less voice in the marketplace cheats viewers of diversity and a different take on the same stories. One less voice also means less competition, that marvelous factor that keeps everyone on their toes.

Even KCPQ-TV news director Todd Mokhtari, who oversees Seattle's remaining 10 p.m. newscast, wasn't gloating: "It's a bad sign for our industry."

KSTW executives yesterday referred all questions to the parent company. Paramount issued this cold little statement:

". . . After long and careful evaluation, we have concluded that there is more than enough news programming in (the Seattle) market. In addition to the half-dozen 24-hours-a-day news channels, there are at least three stations running several hours of news programming daily. Therefore, we believe we can better serve our viewing audience by airing entertainment programming at 10 p.m. . . . We are grateful to the dedicated professionals at KSTW who have produced the station's nightly newscast."

Executives at Paramount, which also owns half of UPN Network, are kidding themselves if, by "entertainment," they mean more of the junkola that was UPN's prime-time programming this past fall. And few syndicated reruns will get better ratings than the 4.6 averaged by KSTW's newscast in November. It's also going to be harder for KSTW to lure advertisers without the local newscast that is a station's prime identity.

However, local consideration wasn't part of Paramount's equation. Having already closed news operations at its Boston and Tampa stations (Sacramento is rumored to be next), the entertainment giant just needed to cross Seattle off its list.

"M # A # S # H" and "Cheers" will start filling in at KSTW beginning Saturday night.

Copyright (c) 1998 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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