Channel-hopping of the near future:
Zap. Zap. Zap. Oh, look. It's Aaron and Harry and Wayne slinging the nightly news, weather and sports.
But wait. It's only 10 p.m. Weirder, the station you're tuned to is not KIRO-TV but KTZZ, traditional home of Lucy and Jeannie and The Beav.
Do not adjust your imaginary set.
KTZZ next month plans to join the ranks of several other independent TV stations that air local newscasts produced by a network-affiliated competitor.
"It's a concept whose time is here," said Don Fitzpatrick, a San Francisco-based TV news consultant.
Since January, when an ABC affiliate in Scranton, Pa., started producing a 10 p.m. newscast and feeding it through a fiber-optic link to WOLF-TV across town, similar rent-a-newscasts have appeared in other markets, including San Francisco, Portland and Spokane.
"Ten years ago," said Paul Brandt, news director at KREM-TV in Spokane, "this would've been not only unthinkable but unspeakable."
"What is the best way to do what we do best? No longer is it just putting our programs on our own channel."
Stations like KIRO have built up sizable news departments, and hunger for more news viewers. Re-run laden indies like KTZZ yearn for the local identification which "Perry Mason" and "I Dream of Jeannie" can't deliver.
"Most of our programs you can find somewhere else. And we're on a zillion different channels on the cable systems," said Wade Brewer, general manager of KTZZ, Channel 22. Or Channel 6, or Channel 25, depending on your cable company. "This is a first step to make us look like a local station."
A local station that, for 30 minutes Monday through Friday starting Sept. 16, according to Brewer's timetable, will happen to look a lot like KIRO-TV.
An hour before they present their usual 11 p.m. report on Channel 7, KIRO anchor Aaron Brown, weathercaster Harry Wappler and sportscaster Wayne Cody will battle head-to-head with Seattle's only other 10 p.m. newscast, on (and produced by) KSTW.
More people watch TV at 10 p.m. than 11, when prime time ends and stations in the East and Pacific time zones traditionally air their local news.
Accordingly, ABC, CBS and NBC are all feeling pressure from West Coast affiliates to move prime-time an hour earlier. Until they do, co-op news arrangements like the one between KTZZ and KIRO are a way to reach viewers who like their late news earlier.
"It'll be a different show" than KIRO's 11 p.m. newscast, said John Lippman, KIRO News director. Less quirky. More reporter-voiced stories. A separate producer. "Duplication will be very low."
Lippman called the KIRO News channel-crossing "not a done deal," but "about 95 percent sure." Among other details, the two stations still must agree on what to call the show.
Misidentification is a bottom-line concern. To compile detailed demographic data on viewership, ratings services rely on diaries. They require a viewer to log the channel number and call letters of the station being watched, along with the title of the show.
"Get this," said James Gabbert, president of San Francisco's KOFY (Channel 20), which airs a 10 p.m. newscast supplied by NBC affiliate KRON (Channel 4). "Ours is called `KRON Newscenter Four at 10 on Twenty.' Imagine Patty Polyester sitting at home watching this thing, trying to fill out her diary."
In an attempt to reduce confusion, KTZZ's call letters will appear on screen at all times during the 10 p.m. newscast, Brewer said.
The subcontracted newscast will allow KTZZ to grab some of the dollars that many national advertisers set aside to buy commercial time only during newscasts - a kitty that locally, Brewer estimated, amounted to about $30 million last year.
Tapping KIRO to use its already up-and-running news department to produce the newscast will save KTZZ the millions of dollars it could cost to staff and equip a newsroom.
No cash will change hands between the two stations to pay for the preparation of the 10 o'clock newscast, or for its air time, Brewer said. Instead, the approximately eight minutes of commercial breaks inside the program will be divvied up in a "pretty equitable split" between KIRO and KTZZ.
Lippman hopes the additional viewers attracted by the show will vault his station into the late-news lead in Seattle.
"We want to super-serve the market," said Lippman. "This says we're in the news business, not the delivery business."