KVUE investigative reporter Andy Pierrotti is one of several people hoping to change that.
In a 30-minute special that airs Saturday at 5 p.m., Pierrotti takes a look back at some of the station’s recent reporting on the state’s troubled nursing homes and offers a preview of some of the solutions that could possibly come out of the current legislative session.
“We’re talking about people who have outlived their savings and are living in homes that accept Medicaid or federal funding,” Pierrotti said. “These facilities are getting millions in taxpayer money and they’re not being held accountable.”
KVUE found that common problems include physical abuse and medication errors that can sometimes prove deadly.
“We have an opportunity to change this – and we should,” Pierrotti said. “I wanted this to air during the session because there’s proposed legislation that can help fix a lot of what we’re seeing.”
The forecast is grim for fans of KVUE’s digital weather channel.
Currently found on channel 24.3, the round-the-clock service features a mix of local and national forecasts, as well as live radar, traffic conditions and more.
But the launch of the Justice Network on Jan. 20 will displace that content, according to the station.
“As to the 24/7 Weather Channel, it has been a priority over the years and will remain a priority for KVUE to provide this vital information to our viewers,” president and general manager Patti Smith said in message to viewers. “With technological advances, we know that we can share this information in a variety of ways, and continue to serve Central Texas with the most comprehensive weather information. Towards that end, we suggest our viewers utilize kvue.com, our KVUE Radar mobile app and the KVUE WeatherCast mobile app to provide the weather information previously displayed on our dot.3 channel.”
The Justice Network, when it debuts, will feature a variety of crime-focused programs, including many that previously aired on TruTV and its predecessor, Court TV. Some of those shows include “Alaska State Troopers,” “Body of Evidence,” “Dominick Dunne’s Power, Privilege and Justice,” “I, Detective,” “The Investigators,” “LA Forensics,” “Locked Up Abroad,” “Masterminds,” “Missing Persons Unit,” “Murder by the Book,” “Over the Limit” and “Psychic Detectives.”
We waved goodbye to well-known newscasters and watched as our friends and neighbors were featured on a host of nationally televised shows, among other things.
Here’s a look at some of the year’s biggest local TV stories.
Judy Maggio retires: After 33 years anchoring the news at both KVUE and, more recently, KEYE, Maggio retired in May.
Since leaving, Maggio has spent the past several months traveling, volunteering and enjoying live music around town.
Hema Mullur, a University of Texas graduate who most recently worked in Denver, was hired to take Maggio’s spot alongside Walt Maciborski on KEYE’s 5 p.m., 6 p.m. and 10 p.m. newscasts.
Other TV departures: Several other familiar faces also left Austin stations in 2014, including KEYE weekend anchor Deeda Payton, KVUE morning anchor Jessica Vess, KXAN meteorologist Natalie Stoll and KVUE meteorologists Andrew Chung and Ilona McCauley.
LIN Media merger: Austin-based LIN Media, owner of about 50 TV stations nationwide, was gobbled up by Media General, a Virginia-based broadcaster, in a $1.6 billion merger finalized this month.
The deal gave Media General three Austin stations: NBC affiliate KXAN, CW affiliate KNVA and MyNetworkTV affiliate KBVO.
TV news ratings: KVUE and KXAN continue to be the stations to beat in the Nielsen ratings.
KVUE spent most of the year in first place mornings and at 10 p.m., while KXAN is the usual No. 1 at 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. Middays, a spot KVUE typically wins, went to KXAN during the most recent “sweeps” period.
Austin on TV: It’s no secret TV producers love Austin. That was especially evident in 2014, when “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” “The Daily Show” and “Watch What Happens Live” all taped here.
Reality TV, meanwhile, continues to mine our city for talent, with locals popping up most recently on “The Real World” and “Undercover Boss.”
Lifestyle shows: Two Austin TV stations launched lifestyle shows this year.
The shows — KEYE’s “We Are Austin” and KXAN’s “Studio 512” — differ from traditional newscasts, in part, because local businesses can pay to be featured in segments.
Eye-opening tweet: Time Warner Cable News got some unwanted international attention after tweeting out a traffic update that included four images of nude men.
The cable news outlet quickly issued an apology and yanked down the tweet, but not before screengrabs started circulating online. Oops.
The battle between KVUE and KXAN for TV ratings dominance continued in November, with both stations notching first-place wins.
ABC affiliate KVUE is the region’s top choice for news mornings and at 10 p.m., while NBC affiliate KXAN ranked No. 1 middays and at 5 p.m. and 6 p.m., according to Nielsen data.
Stations in Austin and elsewhere across the country use ratings in November and three other “sweeps” months to set advertising rates.
Mornings have been an especially strong time period for all of Austin’s TV stations for several years now – and that trend continued in November. At 6 a.m., for example, newscasts airing on KEYE, KTBC, KVUE and KXAN combined to reach about 50 percent of Central Texas households watching TV at that hour.
No other local news time slot comes close to grabbing that much audience share in Austin.
KVUE once again came in first at 4:30 a.m., 5 a.m. and 6 a.m., but it was Fox-owned KTBC that reported some of the strongest year-over-year gains. Ratings for each installment of Fox 7’s five-and-a-half-hour morning show were up by double digits, including an 80 percent jump at 4:30 a.m., 63 percent at 5 a.m. and 47 percent at 6 a.m.
Fox 7 general manager Michael Lewis said the station’s current morning team, which has been in place for a little less than a year now, is clicking with viewers, prompting Central Texans to switch stations.
“They have tremendous chemistry and genuinely like each other,” Lewis said. “That comes through on the air.”
Stronger ratings for the morning news broadcast helped boost numbers for shows that air later in the day on Fox 7, Lewis said. That includes daytime talk shows and the station’s noon newscast, which doubled its audience year over year.
“I’m absolutely thrilled,” he said. “When you’re successful in the morning, that sets the tone for the rest of the day.”
The ratings bump was almost enough to push Fox 7’s noon newscast into first place, but KXAN drew a slightly larger audience.
At 5 p.m. and again at 6 p.m., KXAN was a dominant No. 1, with an audience about as large as the second- and third-place stations combined.
In late news, Fox 7 took first place at 9 p.m., with KVUE in the lead at 10 p.m.
The 10 p.m. news race featured a new addition in November. With Fox 7 now competing in that time slot, viewers have a choice between English-language newscasts airing on four local broadcast stations.
It appears as if the increased competition might have hurt some Austin stations, with both KEYE and KVUE down year over year. KXAN, however, managed to increase its 10 p.m. audience by about 10 percent compared to November 2013.
Nielsen’s next sweeps period is in February.
November Nielsen ratings
Each ratings point equals 7,293 Central Texas households. The first number is ratings points, the second is share (the percentage of in-use TV sets tuned to a particular channel) and the third is total households.
A new crime-focused TV network will sign on this January in cities across the country, including Austin.
The Justice Network will air as a digital subchannel on Gannett-owned stations nationwide, including KVUE.
Programming on the Justice Network will largely consist of repeats of shows that previously aired on other broadcast and cable networks, including “Alaska State Troopers,” “Body of Evidence,” “Dominik Dunne’s Power Privilege and Justice,” “I, Detective,” “The Investigators,” “LA Forensics,” “Locked Up Abroad,” “Masterminds,” “Missing Persons Unit,” “Murder by the Book,” “Over the Limit” and “Psychic Detectives.”
Local affiliates will also contribute content, such as safety tips and details on wanted criminals and missing children.
“Recognizing that by 2013, half of the top 50-rated prime shows on television were justice-oriented programming, our management team saw the need to satisfy America’s obsession with justice,” said Steve Schiffman, Justice Network’s CEO. “We are proud to be a part of this unique multicast network’s efforts to make a difference in people’s lives, fight crime and to keep communities safer.”
Early risers have likely noticed a new face on KVUE’s top-rated “Daybreak” and “Midday” newscasts.
Recent arrival Cori Coffin has been anchoring the ABC affiliate’s 5 a.m., 6 a.m. and 11 a.m. news broadcasts on a temporary basis alongside Bryan Mays and meteorologist Albert Ramon.
Coffin comes to Austin after spending the past three years at KREX in Grand Junction, Colo., where she also handled morning and midday anchor duties.
At KVUE, Coffin is currently filling in for anchor Yvonne Nava, who is on maternity leave after giving birth to her second son, Bodhi, late last month.
When Nava returns after the holidays, executive news director Frank Volpicella said Coffin will take over as anchor of KVUE’s 4:30 a.m. newscast, a spot vacated by Jessica Vess, who left recently to take a public relations job at Austin Community College.
Weekend morning anchor Jade Mingus has been handling 4:30 a.m. duties on an interim basis, Volpicella said, with former KVUE anchor/reporter Amy Johnston-Harper filling in for Mingus on Saturday and Sunday mornings on a freelance basis.
KVUE investigative reporter Andy Pierrotti takes an in-depth look at the state of mental health care in Texas during a 30-minute special this weekend.
“The Cost of Troubled Minds,” set to air at 4:30 p.m. Sunday, is the result of seven months of digging, according to Pierrotti, who joined the station about two years ago.
What he and a pair of KVUE photojournalists found is likely to surprise many viewers, Pierrotti believes.
“The issues impacting the mentally ill in Texas are mind-blowing,” he said, “and there’s certainly no easy fix.”
Pierrotti said that the poor are particularly at risk because state budget cuts in past years have severely impacted services that are available to them. While some funding has been restored, advocates say more money is needed.
“They may have helped a little, but there’s still a long way to go,” he said. “All the Legislature did essentially was add back about the same amount that was taken away 10 years ago.”
KVUE also found there’s a shortage of psychiatrists in many parts of the state that’s making the situation even worse.
One woman featured in the special has checked herself into emergency rooms hundreds of times because she had no other access to mental health services she required. Those frequent visits potentially cost taxpayers as much as $1 million, Pierrotti said.
“Austin is doing a little better than some other parts of the state because we’re a fairly progressive city, but this is still something we’re dealing with here, too,” he said. “With the population gains we’ve been seeing, it’s not going to go away any time soon, either.”