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Tuned In: CBS may lose young viewers along with 'Now and Again'

Thursday, May 25, 2000

Now and again younger viewers watch CBS, but not often. With the network's cancellation of fantasy series "Now and Again," young viewers may be even more infrequent visitors to the graying network.

The program didn't draw a large audience, in part due to incompatible lead-ins, but it was one of the few CBS shows to attract young viewers, a network priority.

"We want to bring in somewhat younger viewers," CBS Television president Leslie Moonves said in a teleconference earlier this week discussing his goals for the upcoming season. But by canceling "Now and Again," how many young viewers has CBS flushed away?

Moonves said canceling "Now and Again" was a close call, but he's confident the new "Fugitive," "C.S.I." and other new dramas will accomplish his goal of drawing younger viewers to the network. He may be right. But why should viewers bother getting hooked on a new series when they know there's a pretty good chance it will get yanked?

"Now and Again" creator Glenn Gordon Caron said he's "still in a state of shock that we weren't picked up." He has no plans for wrapping up the show's cliffhanger in a book because one of the companies involved with the series is still trying to find a network to pick it up. An inevitable -- but too late to do any good -- save-the-show campaign has taken flight at http://www.slidersweb.net/nowand- again.

Moonves said he didn't know whether the show's cliffhanger will be resolved in a TV movie -- I'm guessing it won't -- and he seemed to disapprove of the way "Now and Again" ended its season.

"We do not encourage marginal shows to put on a cliffhanger," Moonves said. "They do that to trick a network into renewing it, but we're certainly sorry it ended that way."

MISSING "BUFFY": "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" must be cursed.

A year ago The WB delayed the season finale in the wake of the Columbine shootings. Tuesday night Pittsburgh fans missed the first 15 minutes of this season's last episode because storms knocked WCWB off the air.

The station didn't get back on the air until about 10 minutes into the episode, and then there was static until about 20 minutes into "Buffy." This would be unfortunate no matter the episode, but it was especially confusing because the season finale featured surreal dreams.

A spokesman at WCWB said the station would be willing to find an alternate time slot to rebroadcast the entire episode, but The WB network would not allow Channel 22 to air the show again.

At press time The WB was trying to make arrangements for WCWB to re-broadcast the episode. Stay tuned.

SWEEPS END: Channel 11's gratuitous Monday night live report -- featuring reporter Keith Jones in a padded outfit being attacked by a dog -- dramatized how some viewers feel: Assaulted by local stations hungry for ratings points.

A pack of wild dogs would be more subtle.

Mercifully, the May sweeps period concluded yesterday, although I'm still scratching my head over KDKA's report on the iwon.com online contest.

Yvonne Zanos dutifully acknowledged CBS's involvement in the Web site, but given KDKA's anti-contest stance, it was weird to see this story.

There's not much difference in the motivation for staging a contest and promoting a report on a contest -- they're both enticing viewers to watch by offering hope of winning or learning how to win.

When stations weren't busy airing their final sweeps features Tuesday night, they were overwhelmed by news. The turnpike tollbooth accident, storms and the United Airlines purchase of US Airways kept local stations busy.

WTAE and KDKA had the most thorough reports on the burgeoning airline deal. WTAE's Washington Hearst/Argyle bureau reporter was the only one I heard mention plans to spin off US Airways' operations at Reagan National Airport into a new airline. KDKA's Bill Flanagan did a complete job presenting the history of US Airways. But no news outlet -- print or TV -- has been consistent in reporting what cities are United hubs (is Denver one or not?).

MEDIA LITERACY: Every April when anti-TV do-gooders implore Americans to turn off the TV for a week, my reaction is always the same: No.

Although I understand the value of turning off the tube from time to time -- boy, do I understand it -- I'm a much bigger supporter of media literacy, the notion that viewers are best served by understanding how the media work.

In recent weeks WQED offered two examples of quality media literacy.

"On Q" reporter Michael Bartley interviewed local station executives on sweeps and contests. (Full disclosure: I was interviewed with Duquesne University professor Maggie Patterson after Bartley's story ran, but I'm talking about Bartley's piece, not my contribution.)

Bartley clearly explained how the sweeps period works, why some stations use contests and why some stations don't. It's the kind of story you simply won't see on a commercial station.

Likewise, Eleanor Schano's "Agewise" featured a two-part interview with Pittsburgh's top female anchors. It gave viewers a chance to see the anchors as real people with feelings. Seeing them in this light may also have dispelled some false assumptions viewers make about the people they watch every night on TV.

Both pieces reminded me of the PBS special a few years ago that looked at the making of NBC's "Homicide: Life on the Street" and the behind-the-scenes wrangling between producers and the network.

Here's hoping PBS and WQED will act as media watchdogs more often.

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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