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Anchorless TV news to debut in Houston

When radio legend Lee Abrams became “chief innovation officer” at the Tribune Company, he vowed to reinvent TV news. Abrams didn’t last long in his job, but his inspiration, the anchorless NewsFix format, will debut on KIAH-TV, the CW Network affiliate in Houston, this weekend.

NewsFix, which Abrams once described as a “1970s television playbook,” replaces the anchors in the studio with a newsreel-style narrator, radio personality Greg “Grego” Onofrio, and a large world map studded with icons. The map looks like an iPhone app that corresponds to the day’s top stories.

Many in the TV news community are watching the stripped-down NewsFix experiment to see how well it works. It appears to be a blend of short video and audio segments, sound bites and music that, while faster and flashier, resembles the old newsreels from the 1950s and ’60s.

Roger Bare, KIAH’s vice president and general manager, agreed with that description.

“It is, but it’s updated,” Bare told The Chicago Tribune. “The pacing is faster, and it’s updated in a YouTube kind of way. It’s a newsreel updated for the 21st century, and we’re trying to let go of as many conventions as possible.

“This is not a show that’s stacked like a traditional newscast where, OK, 15 minutes in, I know I’m going to get a weather tease and then the full weather 10 minutes later with sports at the end,” Bare continued. “Each individual program segment will start with local news and move into national and international news with some kind of feature or commentary. So people that come in and watch pieces of the news are going to get a flavor of what the entire newscast is.”

NewsFix, which has previously been soft-launched, officially goes on the air Saturday at 5 p.m. and 9 p.m. KIAH was chosen due to the station’s younger demographic and the fact traditional news programming has not worked in the market.

Besides Onofrio, who eventually will get a backup on weekends, Bare said other voices will include such experts as a local constable talking about crime. The people featured in the stories also will be able to share their perspectives.

NewsFix won’t “tease any news story,” Bare said. No one will say what’s coming up, but there will be visual tags to indicate segments and stories that are in queue.

Abrams quit Tribune last October after employee complaints about a companywide e-mail he sent that included a link to an Onion TV video clip of a newscast parody he labeled “Sluts,” which contained profanity and nudity.

About 80 percent of the old newsroom staff remains at KIAH with on-air personnel leaving, the newspaper said. There is a mix of writer-producers, editors and hybrid producer-editor slots dubbed “preditors.” Some of the new hires had TV experience, but some didn’t. News experience wasn’t necessary for many new jobs, such as audio designer.

Bare said much of the program will be preproduced.

“But we still have the ability that if something happened that was in the public interest or something people needed to know while we’re in the newscast, we can go live and insert that,” he said.

Click here for a NewFix preview.