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Tuned In: Regatta coverage took on a little too much water

Thursday, August 12, 1999

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

Ya gotta Regatta. But do you really want to watch it on TV? Yes and no, judging by WPGH's inaugural broadcast of "Regatta Thunder" Saturday.


Technically, the two-hour program went off remarkably well, especially given Channel 53's history of technical flubs on its 10 p.m. newscast. The fireworks lit up the sky from a variety of camera angles (and had Fox fingerprints all over them with music from "The Simpsons," "The X-Files" and "Ally McBeal"), but that only took up the last 20 minutes of the broadcast.

Too often the bulk of "Regatta Thunder" was filler -- programming to sell commercials around.

Still, a few of the reports from WPGH's news staff were informative and entertaining. Katie Sesny's fireworks story set to the "Mission: Impossible" theme was an especially well-edited feature. And the broadcast provided a showcase for any station's unsung heroes: the photographers. Christopher Kunicki shot a calming piece on hot air balloons edited by Daryl Caruana.

WPGH's advertising-driven production of "Regatta Thunder" drew slightly lower ratings than regular Fox programming during July sweeps, but the station out-rated WPXI Saturday night.

John Huck and Sheila Hyland anchored the show wearing those huge headsets usually found on the heads of play-by-play announcers at sporting events.

Huck seemed more comfortable sitting in the middle of Point State Park surrounded by thousands than he does at the news desk in the studio. But Hyland's forced laughter and the banter between the pair were sometimes painful to watch.

Though "Regatta Thunder" wasn't a four-star affair, new commercials for the Port Authority proved ads with high production values and a clever theme can be an art form.

A child in PPG Plaza asks, "Are we going someplace new?" before the commercial launches into a series of familiar signs around town that have been altered. The Gateway Center subway sign becomes "Gateway to the Future" and a No Turn sign becomes "No Turning Back."

And there's probably no turning back for WPGH and its Regatta coverage, nor should there be. Coverage of the Regatta serves the community, but maybe next year the station will consider a more concise one-hour broadcast.

ONE MORE EMMY: Julie Bologna, Channel 11's new morning and noon weathercaster, received a Mid-Atlantic Emmy nomination Tuesday for broadcast meteorology at her former station, WPHL in Philadelphia. The Aliquippa native wasn't on the Emmy list provided to the Post-Gazette because it included nominations only for Pittsburgh stations. This might be Bologna's last opportunity for an Emmy; her new employer doesn't enter the competition.

WTAE SPECIAL: WTAE looks at "Your Family in the New Millennium" at 8 tonight in a one-hour syndicated special with introductions and narration by Sally Wiggin and Mike Clark. The future of marriage, divorce, parenting, money and investments are explored in this latest program in the station's "Pittsburgh Century: A Journey of Change" series.

"Whose Line Is It Anyway?" has been rescheduled for 2:05 and 2:35 a.m.

TEENYBOPPERS UNITE: Oh. My. God. Can you believe there are so many teen-themed shows on tonight?

That's too cool.

Like, the Backstreet Boys "Live in Orlando" on MTV at 8.

No way.


But bummer, "The 1999 Teen Choice Awards" air at the same time on Fox.

What a drag.

WEEKEND TV ALERT: If you want some weird TV this weekend -- and I emphasize weird -- check out BBC America's "The League of Gentlemen." It's a six-part British comedy that airs beginning at 8 p.m. Saturday. Press notes say it's been called " 'Monty Python' meets 'Twin Peaks' " and there's no better comparison.

Three guys play more than 60 characters in Royston Vasey, a fictitious remote British town. The guys dress up as women for some skits (there's also a transsexual cabbie), the most bizarre being Tubbs, who runs the Local Shop with her husband. They only sell "local goods for local people" and they don't take kindly to strangers.

It's strange stuff, but fans of bizarre, dark humor will enjoy visiting this peculiar little town.

For those seeking something more sedate, "The Mythology of 'Star Wars,' " a sit-down interview with George Lucas, airs at midnight Saturday on WQED-TV.

This one-hour program aired a few months ago on PBS, and at the time I complained about WQED not airing it with the PBS feed. While I still object to delayed broadcasts by PBS member stations, in this case, I'm glad WQED waited.

The hype has died down, and this thoughtful one-hour interview conducted by myth-master Bill Moyers seems more appropriate in the post-"Episode 1" era. If it had been aired leading up to the release of "The Phantom Menace," this report would have been lost amid the din.

No matter how loud the promotion, Lifetime's "Any Day Now" is likely to remain small potatoes.

The drama returns for its second season in a new time slot at 10 p.m. Sunday. Annie Potts and Lorraine Toussaint portray best friends -- M.E. is white, René is black -- who recall their youth in flashbacks.

The actresses are first-rate, the themes noble, but it's a little too either-or for me. Characters are either saints or scoundrels, and rarely is real life that clear. This being Lifetime "Television for Women," M.E.'s husband spent too much time last season as a big oaf in the men-are-dogs mode.

With its second season premiere "Any Day Now" still rings false. I understand its appeal, I admire what it's trying to say, but I'm not convinced it's worth my time.

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