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Tuned In: Anchor Huck to leave WPGH, Pittsburgh

Thursday, October 21, 1999

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

John Huck, a founding anchor of WPGH's 10 p.m. newscast, will leave Channel 53 when his contract expires at the end of December.

Huck, who has been with the station since the newscast's launch in January 1997, said he has at least one offer elsewhere and several other possibilities he's pursuing. But he would have preferred to stay at WPGH.

"I did negotiate to stay here," Huck said. "That was my hope and my plan; we just couldn't reach an agreement. It doesn't make either of us at fault; sometimes two sides can't agree. I have absolutely no malice in my heart toward anyone, not only my colleagues, but also the management. They've treated me very well here."

Huck said the station wanted a longer-term commitment; he wanted more flexibility.

"I don't blame them; they want to establish their people," Huck said.

WPGH general manager Michael Norten described the negotiations with Huck as amicable.

"If you put the length of the contract and the dollar amount together, it became difficult for us to get together," Norten said. "I understood what he was trying to accomplish and he understood what our needs were; it just didn't work out."

Norten said a search for Huck's replacement will be conducted inside and outside the station. Weekend anchor Jay Harris would seem to be a likely candidate. Norten wouldn't comment specifically on Harris but said, "We would consider every possibility."

Huck, who joined WPGH after working as an anchor/reporter for CNN Headline News, said he likes Pittsburgh and will miss the community.

"It's one of the nation's best-kept secrets, and it will be interesting to track the city's progress in the coming years," Huck said. "If there was a way of staying here, I would love to explore that option, but I don't think that's going to happen."

With the departure of Huck, only two on-air members of WPGH's start-up news team remain: sports anchor Alby Oxenreiter, whose contract is up in December, and weekend weathercaster Karen Eden.

Norten said negotiations with Oxenreiter are progressing and may be completed as early as this week.

Given the amount of branding the station has done revolving around Oxenreiter (i.e., "Ox on Fox"), chances are he and the station will come to terms. If Channel 53 loses Oxenreiter -- the station's most recognizable on-air talent -- the news division will be in deep trouble.

NO CONTESTS? A few viewers have contacted me to complain about KDKA's "send in your lottery tickets to win" contest, saying the station is hypocritical because it boasts about "no contests" in its news promotions.

KDKA isn't getting much help from its parent company. CBS is giving away $10,000 daily at www.iwon.com, a Web site CBS has a majority stake in. On Nov. 14 a $1 million winner will be announced on CBS.

KDKA spokesman Michael Karas said the station's "Second Chance Giveaway" was done in association with the Pennsylvania Lottery during September. Winners' names appeared on screen during breaks from "The People's Court." Another "send in to win" contest is running now that doesn't involve putting winners' names on screen.

So how do these contests differ from the contests KDKA condemns other stations for promoting?

"First, it was in an entertainment program and it wasn't a newscast," Karas said. "Secondly, it didn't air in a sweep or ratings period."

While I see the difference between a contest tied to news and a contest tied to entertainment programming, it's clear from the calls I've gotten some viewers think a contest is a contest is a contest. Maybe it's time for KDKA to embark on a new crusade.

TV TALK: Chatter is on the rise at www.post-gazette.com/tv in the PG Online Talk forum. Post your critiques of prime-time shows, local anchors or newscasts. If you have questions about TV, ask them there and I'll do my best to answer them.

WHAT ARE THE ODDS? Sunday's Mets win forced another game in the National League Championship Series, bumping NBC's Tuesday night lineup, including the episode of "Will & Grace" I wrote about in the Sunday Magazine. "I Never Promised You an Olive Garden" will be rescheduled after the World Series.

NEW EPISODE: Here's a heads-up or a warning, depending on what you think of Comedy Central's "South Park." A new Halloween episode airs at 10 p.m. Wednesday followed by "The New York Friars Club Roast of Jerry Stiller."

BEHIND THE SCENES: Tonight at 11 WQED will air the latest "Livelyhood," a magazine-style PBS program about how Americans work.

Hosted by comic Will Durst, tonight's installment, "Carpool to Nirvana," looks at methods of getting to work, pleasant work environments and the life of a television critic.

Durst tagged along with Milwaukee Journal Sentinel TV critic Joanne Weintraub as she attended the Television Critics Association press tour last summer in Pasadena, Calif. The segment gives a good overview of that experience and explains why the trip isn't a fun-in-the-sun vacation.

If you watch closely you'll see yours truly during Durst's roundtable discussion with TV critics. Former Post-Gazette reporter Eric Deggans, now TV critic at the St. Petersburg Times in Florida, also offers criticism tips to Durst. The best description of a TV critic's role comes from the San Francisco Examiner's Tim Goodman, who says, "We watch TV so you don't have to."

Rob Owen can be reached at 412-263-2582 or rowen@post-gazette.com. Post questions or comments about TV to www.post-gazette.com/tv under PG Online Talk.

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