Joe Arnold represents a vanishing breed in TV news — a reporter covering politics, almost exclusively. Back in the day, every station had a political reporter who followed the ins and outs of local and state politics, who wasn’t forced to do live shots from fires and murders for the 11 p.m. newscast.
And now, thanks to a push from his bosses at WHAS-TV, Arnold is host of a rarely seen phenomenon — a locally produced 30-minute political show. It airs Saturdays at 9:30 a.m.
Arnold said WHAS-TV General Manager Linda Danna came to him late last year and, noting the importance of the 2014 election cycle, suggested a weekly 30-minute program. “The Powers That Be” launched April 12, with Arnold interviewing strategists Bob Gunnell and Les Fugate on a set in the station’s studios.
“I jumped at the opportunity,” said Arnold, who took over the political beat in 2009 when Mark Hebert left the station for a job at the University of Louisville. “I hope it gains audience and sustains itself. For now, though, we’re committed to doing it through the November elections.”
None of the other local TV stations has made a similar commitment to political news. Political junkies tune in to “Comment on Kentucky” on Friday nights on KET, in which media members talk about the stories they cover. Another option is the cable show “Pure Politics,” which airs weeknights on cn|2 on Time Warner Cable.
While “The Powers That Be” was in the planning stages for some time, it burst on the scene Saturday with little fanfare or promotion. But Arnold says it’s getting plenty of attention from political players, and the first show did a respectable 2.0 rating (14,000 households) in its debut.
“I’ve been hearing from candidates in every election who want to be on the show, not just the (U.S.) Senate campaign,” he said.
The time allowed for politics on nightly newscasts is short, Arnold said, which makes the weekly show an ideal tool to get stories told.
“We do a lot that never ends up on the air, so we’re taking advantage of the chance to air stuff we’re already doing, giving people some context around the big stories,” he said.
In the first episode, Gunnell and Fugate discussed the reaction to the week’s news in Frankfort, including the state Ethics Commission clearing Rep. John Arnold of ethics charges.
The show will not follow a hard-and-fast format, Arnold said, but will allow for airing of segments produced during the week, such as his interview with Shushannah Walshe, an ABC News reporter in town to cover the U.S. Senate race.
Saturday morning TV has come a long way from the cartoon era. Every local station produces an early morning Saturday newscast. For now, WHAS-TV is the only local station that continues local news past 9 a.m.