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Tuned In: May sweeps period cranks newscast promo machines

Thursday, April 29, 1999

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

Sweeps month is here!

Run for your life! I'm kidding -- sort of. The May sweeps period begins today, which means local stations will do everything in their power to cajole, beg, bribe, manipulate and scare you into watching their newscasts.

Ratings data collected during sweeps is used by stations to set their advertising rates. Stations hope making the biggest bang will reel in the biggest bucks.

Not all news promotional spots are created equal. While I abhor those that use scare tactics ("One teen dead in a car accident, tune in at 11" -- with the unspoken implication -- "to see if it's your child!"), others are less objectionable.

I admired WPXI's teaser during Friday's "Providence." The spot encouraged viewers to tune in at 11 to see "the world's smallest dogs!" I didn't stick around, so I can't say whether the spot was newsworthy (I'd guess not), but that's not the point.

The spot was pandering, but it was savvy marketing. "Providence" features a veterinarian and appeals to legions of pet owners, making this appeal manipulative, but inoffensive. Sadly, these days that's as good as TV promos get.

If viewers had their say, they'd reshape local TV news as I did in a dream team lineup April 1 for the fictional station WROB. Readers wrote in their picks from the available local talent pool, with no mind to budget, of course.

Pat M. suggested adding WQED producer Rick Sebak to WROB.

Dick H. liked my idea of having Sally Wiggin anchor the 11 p.m. news solo, but only if she "wouldn't interact with the sports and weather guys. She giggles a lot." But he wouldn't hire Scott Baker, calling him "over the edge. He gets carried away with the adjectives and especially the emphasis."

Bob S. didn't think I should hire David Johnson ("Have you heard his voice? Have you never watched his facial contortions during his delivery?"), but thought I should add WPXI's Darieth Chisolm to the lineup. Maybe, but only if she stops squinting and warms up a bit.

Pair Mike Clark and Shawn Yancy in the morning, Reid R. suggests. "The two of them are always pleasant and friendly, two qualities that are very much appreciated in the morning." No argument from me about that.

Ruth R. sent in a rhyming response picking "Jen and Ken" -- that would be Antkowiak and Rice -- because their names rhyme and John Steigerwald because "he is so doggone cute." Ruth also likes Larry Richert's "sunny view," but too frequently he seems to me like a smug jester.

Want to sound off on local or national TV any time? Have TV questions? Visit www.post-gazette.com-/tv and click on "PG Online Talk." You'll have to register first, giving your e-mail address for security purposes only (i.e. so we can boot anyone who posts profanity).

AFTERMATH: In the time that has passed since the killings at a Colorado high school, TV news has been at its best and worst.

Katie Couric's interviews on the "Today" show were particularly moving, including her sit-down a week ago today with the father of one victim and the brother of another. While reporters generally shouldn't get involved in the story, Couric held the grieving father's hand during the interview, a particularly human, natural gesture.

The "Today" show didn't interrupt the interview for commercials or a routine 7:25 a.m. local news cut-in, restraint I don't recall seeing before. Kudos to WPXI for sticking with the network.

A few things about the coverage I couldn't stomach: Several networks created special logos for the story that included a bull's eye. I know guns were used, but that struck me as tacky.

Locally, Amy Marcinkiewicz gets the Cheddar award for a report from a classroom in which she erased the word "horror" from a blackboard, saying students won't be able to erase the memory of the shooting spree. That's a little over the top.

Rob Owen can be reached at 412-263-2582 or rowen@post-gazette.com0.

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