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Local 'Doo Wop' special airs nationally on PBS

Sunday, August 08, 1999

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

Doo Wop music specials have become a fund-raising mainstay on WQED-TV, so when it came time to export the music to PBS stations across the country there was just one way to go.

"I hate to use a 'South Park' analogy, but it's bigger, longer and uncut," said WQED producer and chief Doo Wop instigator T.J. Lubinsky. "It's big scale, big budget and big money."

Local specials have cost about $20,000, but the national scale of this production required $500,000, with sponsorship from Rhino Records, PBS and WQED.

"Doo Wop 50: Five Decades of Vocal Group Harmony," airing Tuesday from 8 to 11 p.m. on WQED, was taped over two days in May at the Benedum Center. Although a local broadcast is scheduled for this week, "Doo Wop" won't air nationally until December.

Jerry Butler, crooner of "For Your Precious Love" and "Only the Strong Survive," hosts this musical special. Lubinsky, whose grandfather founded Savoy Records, patterned "Doo Wop" after ABC's "Motown 25" from about 10 years ago, reuniting groups for the first time in years.

The Chantells, a girl group that pre-dates Diana Ross and the Supremes, split up 30 years ago. "Doo Wop" reunites them on stage. Four different groups recorded the song "Gloria," Lubinsky said. He convinced singers from each group to take part in a medley of the song for "Doo Wop."

"We have some moments like that that could never have happened anywhere else," Lubinsky said. "If you're into music, it's a wonderful thing."

  TV Preview: "Doo Wop 50: Five Deacdes of Vocal Group Harmony

When: Tuesday at 8 p.m. on WQED/WQEX

Host: Jerry Butler


Other performers include The Capris ("There's a Moon out Tonight"), The Del Vikings ("Come, Go With Me"), The Penguins ("Earth Angel"), The Marcels ("Blue Moon") and The Platters ("The Great Pretender").

Since Lubinsky came to WQED in January 1998, bringing a love of Doo Wop with him, WQED has become the Doo Wop station due to the response from viewers who pledge dramatically more during Doo Wop specials. But won't WQED's Doo Wop infatuation get tired?

"You mean the Riverdance effect?" Lubinsky said. "This is the music of the pre-Boomers, it's part of history, it's part of their youth. If this works out and everybody makes their money back, we'll definitely do a sequel."

Lubinsky's big dream is to create a national Doo Wop series, produce it in Pittsburgh and distribute it to PBS member stations. An "Austin City Limits" for Doo Wop. But that dream will remain on hold until this special airs nationally.

What viewers see on WQED this week should be almost identical to the national version, Lubinsky said. Although the actual program is only about 80 minutes, pledge breaks and in-studio performances will expand the show to three hours.

You'll notice a lot of talk about "this public television station" rather than specifying WQED. That way other PBS stations can use the whole package and insert their own local material at a few pre-determined times.

"That's a trend with PBS stations," Lubinsky said. "Rather than everybody trying to do new pledge breaks, they just run other people's pledge breaks."

While the national air date is months away, Cleveland's PBS affiliate will air "Doo Wop" this week, too.

"Because this show has never been done before, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame [in Cleveland] was juiced about doing some sort of exhibit," Lubinsky said. "This was a chance to tie into events happening in Cleveland."

About 120 minutes were shot for "Doo Wop," and those who pledge $100 will get a video that includes the complete concert.

"Not every PBS station in the country knows what Doo Wop is, so we could only get PBS to commit to 80 minutes," Lubinsky said. "On the show there's just one song from each group, but the home video has everything."

So how exactly does Doo Wop differ from rock 'n' roll?

"If you grew up with it, you called it rock," Lubinsky said. "It was the music that took off after Elvis and before The Beatles. It's the forgotten third of rock and it was named Doo Wop in the '70s when promoters started putting together shows. They started calling them Doo Wop because the lyrics and songs were doo wops."

For a PBS station, there's another good reason to avoid the rock 'n' roll label.

"Rock 'n' roll just has a bad connotation in the PBS world," Lubinsky said. "It just hasn't worked. Someone wrote about that rock special from a few years ago and said, 'Only PBS could make rock 'n' roll dull.' That's why this is no documentary. It's wall-to-wall music."

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