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Tuned In: WPGH left fans hanging without 'X-Files' ending

Wednesday, February 16, 2000

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

Although I'm thoroughly sick of "The X-Files" and annoyed by Chris Carter's denouement for the story about Fox Mulder's missing sister, I was even more irked by WPGH's flub.

At the show's emotional crescendo Sunday night, WPGH interrupted "The X-Files" with a promotion for "The Ten O'Clock News." If ever there were a way to ensure myself and other "X-Files" viewers would not stick around for the newscast, this was it.

One viewer e-mailed me, suggesting the Fox station owes it to fans to replay the end of the episode.

WPGH regional manager Dick Singer said he and his wife were as upset with the mistake as other viewers. Singer is considering ways to air the interrupted portion of the program.

"We're looking at it, trying to figure out how we would make that happen," Singer said. "We're talking about a minute's worth of time that was cut out, but you couldn't have asked for a more inopportune minute."

Singer said the station received "a lot of phone calls" for what was human error.

"Somebody inadvertently set the wrong time in the computer for the news update," Singer said. "Those things happen. People do make mistakes."

I also wonder about some of the weather alert crawls local stations put up on screen. During "The X-Files," WPGH aired three crawls reporting a flood watch (less severe than a flood warning) for parts of the viewing area. Another viewer complained to me about WPXI's crawls during the climax of "Homicide: The Movie" just minutes before the station's late newscast.

Do stations run these crawls multiple times as a public service announcement or as promotion for an upcoming newscast in the guise of public service?

Viewers were also displeased by WPXI's decision to air an infomercial in place of NBC's "Meet the Press" Sunday morning at 10:30. Viewer Tim Dean sent an e-mail saying he called the station immediately and was told they had no plans to air "Meet the Press."

"Two more reasons not to watch WPXI (starting to lose count)," Dean wrote.

WPXI program director Mark Barash offered assurances it was a one-time only pre-emption caused by a change in NBC Sports scheduling, which forced the start time of the "Western Pennsylvania Humane Society Pet Telethon" to move back to 11 a.m., which left the hour-long "Meet the Press" homeless.

But WPXI could have shortened its endless morning newscast by a half-hour and aired "Meet the Press" at 10 a.m. The show's publicist said "Meet the Press" is available to NBC affiliates as early as 9 a.m.

GONE: After only seven months on the job, WPGH/WCWB general manager Michael Norten is no longer with the station.

Both stations are owned by Sinclair, and Sinclair's Pittsburgh-based regional manager Dick Singer said Norten's departure was amicable.

"It was ultimately a decision between Sinclair and Mike to end the working relationship," Singer said. "Nothing went wrong; it was a mutual decision."

Norten, who came to Pittsburgh after being sales director at WGNX in Atlanta, could not be reached for comment. His departure comes three months after the last shakeup at the station, when Singer replaced former regional manager Stuart Powell.

Singer will run WPGH and WCWB until a new general manager is hired.

GOOD MOVE: It's a relief to see WTAE has ditched its "Easiest Game in Town" contest during February sweeps. Contests cheapen a newscast.

WTAE general manager Jim Hefner has maintained he doesn't like contests but always felt one was necessary because of WPXI's contest.

"We've never been fans of contesting and decided this February we wouldn't do it, but that doesn't mean we won't in the future," Hefner said. "It just depends."

It depends, of course, on how going contest-less affects WTAE's sweeps month ratings. Hefner said if a contest were needed to blunt the impact of WPXI's contest, the "Easiest Game in Town" could return.

"SPORTS NIGHT" YANKED: ABC pulled low-rated "Sports Night" from the schedule last night and next week. The network plugged in "Drew Carey Show" reruns, which it hopes will draw higher ratings during February sweeps.

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

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