Utah’s year in TV: Surviving change
A lot about TV in 2013 looked familiar — with a few twists.
There were many Utahns on reality shows and a rare local big-money winner. KUTV-Channel 2 remained atop the local news ratings, but there wasn’t much good news for any of the local stations.
KSL pulled more NBC programming off the schedule and added a long-running network series it hadn’t aired before.
Here are the highlights from the year gone by:
Sole survivor • Utahn Tyson Apostol returned to “Survivor” for a third time and came away with a million bucks. His girlfriend, Rachel Foulger, was voted out early in “Survivor: Blood vs. Water,” but Apostol outwitted, outplayed and outlasted the other 19 contestants to become the second Utahn (after Todd Herzog) to claim the title of Sole Survivor.
Senior citizen • In April, KTVX-Channel 4 — the state’s oldest television station — celebrated its 65th birthday.
Changes • KSL-Channel 5 made a number of staffing moves in an attempt to juice up its ratings. The contracts of several longtime on-air personalities — including sportscaster Tom Kirkland and morning anchor Scott Haws — were not renewed.
Ratings race • Little changed in terms of the local news rankings — KUTV-Channel 2 remained No. 1, followed by KSL-Channel 5, KSTU-Channel 13 and KTVX-Channel 4.
The big news was that television news became less big. From November 2012 to November 2013, overall viewership of the four late-night newscasts fell 20 percent.
More polygamy TV • The “Sister Wives” left the state for Nevada, but another family of a Utah polygamist picked up the torch. “My Five Wives,” featuring Brady Brown and, yes, his five wives, aired as a TLC special in November. The cable channel has picked it up as a series, set to debut on March 9.
Big loser • Utahn Hap Holmstead competed on “The Biggest Loser.” He was eliminated on the last episode that aired in 2013 … but he has a chance to get back in the competition in the first episode of 2014 (on Jan. 7).
Rebuilding project • Nexstar, which finalized its purchase of KTVX-Channel 4 and KUCW-Channel 30 in December 2012, hired veteran TV exec Richard Doutre Jones to run the stations. He made a number of changes to the news staff and look, including installing a new lead anchor team — Kim Fischer and Don Hudson.
On point • “Breaking Pointe” returned for a second season on The CW, and the reality show about Ballet West remained compelling viewing and more than a bit of a soap opera. Allison DeBona and Rex Tilton broke up and — maybe — got back together. Christiana Bennett and Chris Ruud broke up. Zach Prentice emerged as the new villain, annoying just about everybody.
Paw-erful • Cassidy, a three-legged Shetland sheepdog, was honored (along with his owner, Kathy Cain) on the Hallmark Channel’s Hero Dog Awards.
Anti-Mormon • The AMC series “Hell on Wheels” cast Mormons as murderous villains.
Let’s dance • As usual, there were Utahns among the finalists on “So You Think You Can Dance.” Among the women, Brittany Cherry finished 10th, Malece Miller finished sixth and Jenna Johnson finished fourth.
Idol worship • “American Idol” auditions returned to Salt Lake City. In July, the cattle call drew a fraction of the number of hopefuls who turned out in 2009; in October, judges Jennifer Lopez, Keith Urban and Harry Connick Jr., along with host Ryan Seacrest, returned to check out the talent. (The new season premieres Jan. 15.)
KSL vs. NBC • KSL continued to pre-empt NBC programming, yanking “Hannibal,” but only after four blood-drenched episodes aired. And the station refused to air the gay-themed sitcom “The New Normal” through the end of its run in April.
“SNL” at long last • Eighteen years after it became an NBC affiliate, KSL began airing “Saturday Night Live” on Saturday nights. Channel 5 gave up on its low-rated “SportsBeat Saturday.”
Demolished • Utah’s “Kings of Crash” got their own show on the Velocity channel — and this reality series about locals deeply involved in the distinctively Utah version of demolition derby was surprisingly entertaining.
Wirth watching • In November, longtime local TV storyteller Craig Wirth returned to KTVX with a weekly history feature.
Scott D. Pierce covers television for The Salt Lake Tribune. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org; follow him on Twitter @ScottDPierce.