Watching buses go by sounds about as interesting as watching paint dry, but a TV show produced by GRTC, the local bus authority, is drawing surprisingly strong ratings.
"Life in Motion" runs from 12:30 to 1 p.m. the first Thursday of the month on NBC 12 and has trounced the competition. Only "The Young and the Restless" had more network viewers in the Richmond-Petersburg metro area during February's broadcast. It beat out "Family Feud," "The Tyra Banks Show" and "Jeopardy! 2."
"Wow, that's pretty amazing," says Deb Wenger, a Virginia Commonwealth University journalism professor, of the high February numbers. The ratings dropped a little in March, but the 2008 average so far puts "Life in Motion" in the same range as "Days of Our Lives" -- pretty good for paid programming, says Tracy Berry, local broadcast supervisor for the Martin Agency.
Wenger says the program sounds similar to one in Mecklenburg County, N.C., where the county sponsors a show called "The Mecklenburgers."
"It's about a family that's always dealing with county government," she says. "They're having trash problems, so they learn how to deal with the rules for trash pickup in a way that's more digestible."
It's not exactly a national trend, but Wenger says changes in the telecommunications industry have made it more affordable to create new channels. "My guess is we'll start to see a lot of this niche programming in the future," she says.
On "Life in Motion" the host, Shanika McClelland, takes viewers through a series of segments highlighting local bus transit issues and personalities. Before GRTC, McClelland worked as a news anchor in Kentucky for five years.
February's show kicked off with a story about a young man who proposed to his girlfriend by taking out an ad on the side of a bus. It featured a picture of the engagement ring and a handwritten note. Later in the show, GRTC's chief operating officer, Eldridge Coles, imparts advice on "relationship longevity" gleaned from his 37-year marriage.
Paula Hersh, assistant vice president of marketing for NBC 12, says the longer spots are a good way for organizations whose product is more complex than, say, boxed cereal, to establish their brand. Richmond Renaissance, a downtown booster group that's part of Venture Richmond, has done similar programs, as has VCU.
"Instead of doing the annual brochure," Hersh says, "it's another way to position yourself."