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Tuned In: Bowman firing points to new priorities in weather

Thursday, July 06, 2000

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

TV is an ugly business.

In most professions, you only lose your job for gross incompetence or doing poor work. Or if the company closes.

In TV, even if your station has climbed high in the ratings and attracts all the right (i.e.: "young") demos, you can still get the boot.

This is to say I'm disappointed by Channel 11's decision to dump Dennis Bowman, the station's longtime lead forecaster. Looks like I'm not alone. Phone calls and e-mail have streamed in since the announcement, both to my desk and to WPXI.

Channel 11 news director Jennifer Rigby said station executives felt a change was necessary.

"There's a lot of things that go into our decisions, and research is one of them," she said, emphasizing that Bowman's replacement, Steve Teeling, is a full-blown meteorologist. Bowman received a certificate in broadcast meteorology from Mississippi State University almost two years ago and is under evaluation to receive his American Meteorological Society seal of approval.

"Weather is a big driver in local news, and it's also becoming more complicated," Rigby said. "The equipment we use and the graphics we use have to be very technically driven. You need to be a meteorologist, plus you have to have terrific on-camera presence. And to put those things together in one package is a difficult thing to do. That's the direction we're going. We want a meteorologist with all those skills."

That implies Bowman is lacking in some area. He's clearly dedicated to meteorology; otherwise, why take additional courses? Maybe he's not a computer whiz, but wouldn't hiring a weather producer make more sense than replacing Bowman? WTAE recently made that move.

WPXI may be taking steps to better compete in the important weather realm once Joe DeNardo retires from Channel 4. Although Bowman is a well-known local personality, Teeling will gain that stature. But he may be a better bet from a promotional standpoint because he has a bachelor of science degree in earth science and meteorology from Southern Connecticut State University. DeNardo's preordained successor, Stephen Cropper, with a certificate from Mississippi State, is at the same level Bowman will be at once he gets his AMS seal.

Maybe Channel 11 is thinking long term, making plans to promote Teeling as the only chief forecaster on one of the Big Three stations with a true meteorology degree.

My other guess -- and it's only a guess -- is the audience research on Bowman wasn't as positive as station executives like, and they saw an opportunity to replace him with a younger, more computer-savvy model. It's similar to what KDKA did last year when Stacy Smith was taken off the 11 p.m. news and replaced by Ken Rice.

Rigby guessed Teeling is in his mid- to late 30s, while Bowman just turned 50, but she said age had nothing to do with the decision.

Regardless, TV is an ugly business.

COMING AND GOING: In addition to the announcement that Bowman will be replaced (whose 16 years of service merited only two sentences in a press release), the station took great pains (and seven sentences) to praise 11 p.m. anchor Darieth Chisolm, who resigned to spend more time with her family.

Rigby said a search for Chisolm's replacement internally and externally will soon begin. Jodine Costanzo will be first to fill in as co-anchor on the 11 p.m. news with David Johnson. While she works weekdays, reporter Natasha Brown takes Costanzo's usual spot alongside Keith Jones on the weekends.

Along with the departures of Bowman and Chisolm, part-time reporter Allison Ash left the station a few weeks ago.

SUMMER SERIES: This weekend I head to Los Angeles for the Television Critics Association summer press tour. I'll send back reports on the networks' plans for their new fall series, but before I go I wanted to offer capsule reviews of programs premiering while I'm away.

Some are cable shows that typically launch in summer; others are broadcast series relegated to summer if network execs think they're saddled with losers.

"Oz" (11 p.m. Wednedsay, HBO): Edie Falco is gone, but the rest of the cast of the gritty prison drama returns for the fourth season premiere. It's business as usual as strong convicts try to swindle the weak. Tobias Beecher (Lee Tergesen) seeks to do something nice for Nazi skinhead Vern Schillinger (JK Simmons) when his guilt for getting Schillinger's son killed last season gets the better of him. New characters join the cast, including an undercover narc, and the episode ends with a shocking cliffhanger that leads to several more departures.

"Opposite Sex" (8 p.m. July 17, Fox): A bland-as-can-be teen drama about the first three boys to attend a formerly all-girls high school. Jed (Milo Ventimiglia) moves to Northern California with his dad and brother, pining for his girlfriend back East. Then he discovers he's surrounded by girls at his new school. There's the requisite sex talk and sex in Jed's dream sequences, but otherwise it's pretty innocent -- and boring. No wonder Fox waited until summer to burn off "Opposite Sex."

"Strong Medicine" (9 p.m. July 23, Lifetime): It's "ER" on estrogen as the women's channel debuts its first lackluster medical drama. Janine Turner plays an uptight establishment doc forced to work with an unorthodox doctor (Rosa Blasi) who runs a clinic. Whoopi Goldberg, one of the show's executive producers, has a cameo in the pilot, which is rife with cliches. "You're not going to die, Chloe, not if I can help it," Turner says in one scene. Get me rewrite, stat!

"Mysterious Ways" (8 p.m. July 24, NBC): It's a more miraculous "X-Files." Adrian Pasdar plays an anthropology professor who seeks to understand miraculous phenomena. Rae Dawn Chong is a hospital psychiatrist who is skeptical of miracles and religion after her husband's death. They team up, Mulder and Scully-style, to explain how a boy who fell into a frozen pond managed to get out. And the answer has nothing to do with aliens. It's a decent show for the "Touched by an Angel" crowd with a surprising amount of humor, mostly involving Pasdar's character.

"Sammy" (8:30 p.m. July 25, NBC): David Spade co-created and gives voice to several characters in this dull animated series loosely based on Spade's relationship with his real-life father. It's a laugh-an-hour comedy, but since the show runs 30 minutes, the odds of finding humor aren't good.

"Baby Blues" (8 p.m. July 28, The WB): Easily the better of the two new animated comedies premiering this week, "Baby Blues" is based on the comic strip about suburban parents Darryl (voice of Mike O'Malley) and Wanda MacPherson (Julia Sweeney). The first episode doesn't get all its comedy cylinders running until the last 10 minutes, but then it's pretty funny. The second episode is even better. This is an animated show that could have been a hit, so it's disappointing to see The WB burning it off as a Friday night summer series. Maybe the network thinks the show's focus on the parents makes "Baby Blues" of little interest to The WB's teen audience.

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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