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Drafting a local-news dream team? Let's see . . .

Thursday, April 01, 1999

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

In an unprecedented move, all four local TV news outlets have agreed to pool their resources to create a single news team for the good of the community.

April Fools.


But it's an intriguing notion. What if you could take elements from each of the stations and put them together into one news organization? Which anchors would you pick? Which reporters? Which segments?

Here's what I came up with:

For the 11 p.m. newscast, usually the most-watched of the day, I'd have WTAE's Sally Wiggin anchor alone. She reads most of the stories now anyway, so why not? It's not unprecedented - the ABC affiliate in Washington, D.C., recently moved to a single-anchor late news format.

In the morning news race, which for me is one of the most useful simply because you're starting your day and want to know the weather forecast, I'd hire WTAE's Scott Baker and Michelle Wright. They've got good chemistry and maybe in the morning Baker wouldn't be quite as over-eager as he sometimes seems in the evening.

At noon I'd hire KDKA's Jennifer Antkowiak and Ken Rice. Ant-kowiak - the softest, most comforting local anchor - already does the noon news, and her pairing with Rice works well at 5 p.m.

WPXI's Peggy Finnegan and David Johnson, who deserve better than the needless hyperbole they have to read nowadays, would handle the 5 p.m. news, and KDKA's solid, staid pairing of Patrice King Brown and Stacy Smith would anchor at 6 p.m.

I've broken up few anchor teams, perhaps due to lack of imagination, but I don't pretend to be a talent scout who might be able to astutely envision different pairings.

However, for the weekend evening newscasts I'll take some liberties, pairing the best two weekend anchors currently on the air at different stations: WPGH's Jay Harris and WTAE's Shawn Yancy.

My fictional station would be an NBC affiliate, just so I could have the "Today" show. As a responsible team player I'd air the weekend "Today" show, too, and only submit viewers to two hours max of local news weekend mornings. For those newscasts, WPXI's Bob Bruce and KDKA's Karen Schroeder would be my anchors of choice.

Putting together a sports staff for my station (call letters WROB) would be the toughest job, simply because this market has a wealth of knowledgeable, entertaining sports authorities. I've narrowed it down to WPGH's Alby Oxenreiter, WTAE's Andrew Stockey, WPXI's Sam Nover and KDKA's John Steigerwald.

For weather, I'd take the DeNardo Weather Watch team and add WPXI's Dennis Bowman as the No. 2 weathercaster behind Joe. I'd also steal KDKA's Stormtracker, which seems like a useful gadget.

Every station has beat reporters, but I'd add two that are woefully lacking in this market: political reporters and an arts and entertainment reporter/critic. I'm not sure who I'd pick to be political reporters since our stations don't do much of that now.

For entertainment, I'd consider Liz Miles, because she seems genuinely interested in the entertainment scene. I'd definitely want the person in that position to be comfortable acting as a critic, reviewing movies, local theater, etc.

On the consumer beat I'd pair WTAE's Wendy Bell and KDKA's Yvonne Zanos.

The single personality I'd be most excited to have is KDKA's Dave Crawley as my station's feature reporter. Imaginative and a gifted storyteller, Crawley's work deserves more prominence on local airwaves. The night ABC aired the Barbara Walters interview with Monica Lewinsky, Crawley produced a rhyming report on alternatives to watching the spectacle. Such a report could have merely been self-serving to CBS, but to Crawley's credit he made the piece stand out as the work of a talented reporter.

Since I'm apparently the general manager of WROB, I'd also hire PCNC's John McIntire and bring his "Night Talk" show to my station to air nightly at 7 p.m. Unlike many public affairs shows, McIntire's program is both informative and entertaining (love the Clinton impression). He's like a news anchor freed from the necessary chains of propriety.

I'm not wild about the music in any of the local newscasts, so I'd order a music package used on some NBC affiliates that includes the NBC chimes. For graphics I'd probably go with the KDKA look, and I'd use KDKA's set, but with a new picture in the background. The daytime backdrop of the Fort Pitt Bridge looms a little too ominously for my taste.

Chopper 11 or Sky 4? It's a toss-up. I prefer the sleek, black coloring of Channel 4's helicopter, so I guess I'd go with that one. But in an effort to save money on fuel, I'd only send the chopper up when a news story warranted, not just to report on routine traffic snarls.

So there you have it. Come up with any combos on your own and send them to me or e-mail them in. I'll publish the most creative suggestions in a future column.

FILLING IN: WPXI has hired Fred Sandusky as a temporary fill-in weathercaster while the station makes up its mind about the future of suspended weather anchor C.S. Keys. I wonder, though, if Sandusky could have a long-term future with the station: He's included in promotional spots that encourage viewers to "meet the Channel 11 News team."

Rob Owen can be reached at (412) 263-2582 or rowen@post-gazette.com

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