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Tuned In: Promotional ads show childish side of TV

Thursday, March 02, 2000

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

Round two. First there were the weather wars, with WTAE saying our radar is bigger than their radars. KDKA responded with a promotional counterpunch. Then WTAE appropriated video images of Larry Richert.

Now get ready for the consumer war.

WTAE swiped "Taking Action 4 You" from KDKA-AM radio, and now KDKA-TV is responding with the "Consumer Action Advantage," which had its debut on the station's Web site this week. Pretty soon the stations will be claiming their reporters get more "Action" than their competitors. On second thought, maybe not.

Regardless, it's "Action" vs. "Action," but will viewers really care? I doubt it. Both stations will just continue with their childish promos even if the reports they're promoting offer useful consumer advice.

Promotional spots don't have to be infantile.

WPGH touts its one-hour advantage over the other stations' late newscasts in a clever radio spot that spoofs the game show phenomenon (a Regis Philbin sound-alike hosts "Twenty One Greedy Millionaires"). There's no name-calling, no pot shots.

The irony of the local news war is that WPXI is taking the high road. Channel 11 has promotional spots that tout only the station and why it offers "coverage you can count on." Spots for the occasional scary sweeps feature aside, Channel 11 has the classiest image promos in town.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT: The latest of Becky Thompson's "restaurant reports" on WPXI last week didn't merely show the mistakes made by restaurants; they also showed the solutions restaurateurs came up with to correct unsanitary conditions.

These were good reports. They didn't show a camera crew trying to get comments from fleeing owners and they didn't try to tell viewers death was waiting if they ate at any of the restaurants in the reports.

Likewise, Channel 11's Andy Gastmeyer offered a worthwhile report on restaurants that violate state laws about non-smoking areas. That has more relevance to the daily lives of viewers than recent sweeps stories about how the government wastes money (what a shocker!).

WORD CHOICE: My ears perked up while listening to WTAE's Saturday morning newscast last weekend. Substitute anchor Ellen Gamble read a story about a day that "turned deadly" for a PennDot worker who was hit by a car. As it turned out, the guy was OK, so "deadly" was a stretch.

COMEDIANS ONE AND ALL: In a sweeps report last week, WTAE's Wendy Bell reported on the Web site www.realage.com, which purports to reveal a person's "real age" (as opposed to physical age) based on a survey.

Dr. Mike Rosen on WPXI did the same report during the last sweeps period, but no matter. Few if any of these stories break any news. Plus, Wendy Bell took a different approach, getting anchors Scott Baker, Andrew Stockey and Michelle Wright to take the test and reveal their "real ages" and their real ages.

But the jaw dropper came after the report when anchor Sally Wiggin said, "There are simple things you can do to reduce your 'real age,' like flossing your teeth and having sex -- not at the same time." Gulp.

"Your dentist is on the phone right now," co-anchor Mike Clark shot back.

The whole exchange sounded like something you'd see in a TV news parody on Fox's crude animated comedy "Family Guy" (which, incidentally, returns to the air next Tuesday).

OOLA-LA: With so many Pittsburghers rushing out to see our "Wonder Boys," it's worth noting one of the lesser-known actresses in the film has a recurring role on an NBC sitcom. Actress Jane Adams, who plays the pregnant waitress Oola in "Wonder Boys," appears as Mel, the girlfriend of Niles on "Frasier." Just wanted to clear up any cases of I-know-I've-seen-her-before-but-I-can't-remember-where.

TALES FROM "HOLLYWEIRD": Last May, Fox announced "Manchester Prep" for its fall schedule, but scrapped the show before it aired. A year earlier, Shaun Cassidy's "Hollyweird" fell victim to a similar fate.

Cassidy, who has a new show ("Cover Me") premiering Sunday at 8 p.m. on USA, said the story behind "Hollyweird" will someday make for a good book.

"This was a show about three kids with video cameras running around chasing scary things, and Fox didn't see that as a viable franchise," Cassidy said at the January TV critics press tour. "And six months later a movie called 'The Blair Witch Project' came out."

Cassidy said Fox executives changed their minds about the concept of the show midstream, so he bailed.

"If I'm an architect who's designing a house, I get one shot at my own house and then I hand it in," he said. "And if somebody says, 'That bathroom should really be on the ceiling,' I can say, 'Look, I really don't think the bathroom should go on the ceiling.'

"And they say, 'But we're paying you, you've got to put the bathroom on the ceiling.' And I'll either put the bathroom on the ceiling, because I don't think it will destroy the integrity of the house, or I'll say, 'It's going to be unhealthy for you to live in that house, I'm going to resign from this thing.' "

SATELLITE SUBSCRIBERS: If you're waiting for DirecTV to offer local channels in Pittsburgh, don't hold your breath. A spokes-man said DirecTV is "still evaluating additional markets" and has no timetable for when Pittsburgh channels will be available. DISH network offers some local channels.

Rob Owen can be reached at 412-263-2582 or rowen@post-gazette.com.

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