WPXI's annual Black History Month special, which airs 7:30 p.m. Saturday, is a well-intentioned but ho-hum affair.
"A Class by Themselves" features a series of short vignettes on graduates of Pittsburgh's Westinghouse High School who have gone on to success in music, sports and business.
But that's all they are: brief biographical sketches that do little to illuminate these graduates as people.
Why not air these as a sweeps series during the news? They'd probably seem less conspicuously skimpy in small doses than they are in this half-hour special that skips from one graduate to another with bits of David Johnson narration in between.
Written and produced by Channel 11 public affairs director Robin Beckham, "A Class by Themselves" features glimpses of jazz pianists and composers Mary Lou Williams, Billy Strayhorn ("Take the 'A' Train") and Erroll Garner ("Misty"), NBA player Charles Cooper and TV producer James Tripp-Haith ("Moesha").
But I wish the special had spent more time with two no-nonsense women, Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra principal keyboardist Patricia Prattis Jennings and former Westinghouse principal Gloria Spencer.
Jennings emphasizes the need for respect for self and others that seems to have disappeared from society, and Spencer speaks of her experience teaching while being unafraid to lay down the rules.
These two women have substantive things to say, and the special might be better if it spent more time fleshing them out as people. There's nothing wrong with profiling famous graduates, but often the most interesting interview subjects are the lesser-known.
"A Class By Themselves" will be rerun Feb. 27 at 7:30 p.m. on PCNC.
WQED PROJECTS: Rick Sebak's next national special will look at flea markets, and planning has begun on a sequel to last year's hugely successful "Doo Wop 50," according to WQED president George Miles.
Mirroring the original, "Doo Wop 51" will probably be filmed at the Benedum Center in May for airing on PBS during the December pledge drive. And a special made up of outtakes from the original program will be assembled for "More Doo Wop 50."
And there could be still more "Doo Wop," Miles said. "The strategy in doing these specials is how do you keep them coming back to you every single week? One of the proposals out to PBS is that after 'Doo Wop 51' we should put together a 13-week series on a national basis."
Although WQED doesn't expect to ever produce national programs on the scale it once did, Miles said he sees potential for telling American stories through a partnership with the National Black Programming Consortium, which is based in Columbus, Ohio, but has an office at WQED in Pittsburgh.
"Our specialty here is telling American stories, whether it's Rick or T.J.'s [Lubinsky] 'Doo Wop,'" Miles said. "If we could work with the National Black Programming Consortium, that would also be about telling American stories. That's what our genre should be, but the monies have got to be there up front."
NEW RECRUIT: Bill Clack, WPGH's newest general assignment reporter, recently joined the station from the CBS affiliate in Richmond, Va.
GROANER: TV news reports should not make viewers groan. They can make us cry or smile, but, with few exceptions, they should not make us groan.
But that was my response to this humdinger. Last week WPXI's Newlin Archinal reported on the opening of the new Home Depot in East Liberty. Near the end of the report, she did her stand-up behind a pane of glass in a front door.
She then opened the door while saying, "Now with Home Depot here, community leaders hope the store will open the door to future development."
A hammer blow to the head would have been more subtle.
CLOSED CAPTIONING: Last month WTAE began real-time closed captioning in its 11 p.m. newscasts, and KDKA has since added the same feature to its noon and 5 p.m. weekday news.
In the past, most stations' closed captioning came off the script, so it wouldn't display anything ad-libbed or not in the TelePrompTer. With real-time captioning, someone transcribes everything as it is said.
GAG REFLEX: In a transparent attempt to keep women watching WTAE's news Monday after ABC's female-skewing "Once and Again," the station promoted a report on Clairton's "Sexy Eddie" Jamison, who has appeared in Playgirl magazine.
The story was newsworthy when Jamison appeared in the magazine, but waiting until sweeps makes it seem like a stunt.
More disturbing than the report was the promo featuring slow-motion shots of Jamison dancing and breathless narration from a female announcer. Would the station use the same titillating tactic with a woman who appeared in Playboy?
"BEGGARS" BACK: Showtime's biting parody of the TV business, "Beggars and Choosers," concludes its first season with five weeks of original episodes beginning Saturday at 10 p.m. No word yet on whether or not the show will return for a second season.
"HOMEFRONT" RETURNS: After three years of my begging and pleading in print, it's finally happened: A cable network heeded my cry for "Homefront" reruns.
God bless TV Land, which will air a 48-hour "Homefront" marathon April 29-30. Set in the 1940s, the drama was broadcast on ABC for just two seasons (1991-1993) and chronicled the lives of three families in fictional River Run, Ohio.
Although serialized, "Homefront" was no soap. It dealt with issues of the era while at the same time maintaining a healthy balance of drama and character comedy. The show's stars included Kyle Chandler ("Early Edition"), Hattie Winston ("Becker"), Kelly Rutherford ("Melrose Place") and Mimi Kennedy ("Dharma & Greg").
Rob Owen can be reached at 412-263-2582 or email@example.com. Post questions or comments about PG Online Talk.