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August brings changes and an Elvis dunking

Thursday, August 10, 2000

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

August is supposed to be a dead month for TV, the lull before the fall premiere storm. But local TV knows no such bounds. In the past week, viewers have seen an amiable arrival, a first-class departure and an Elvis crash landing.



ARRIVAL: Steve Teeling, WPXI's new chief meteorologist, debuted Monday on the station's 5 p.m. news and came off as a nice enough guy to replace longtime forecaster Dennis Bowman.

But here's the eerie thing: Both in cadence and in his eager-to-please style, Teeling seems like a younger version of Bowman. Teeling tried a little too hard to show he's been boning up on local geography, but otherwise his first couple of forecasts went well. He even found a new way to describe humid conditions: "juicy air."

Teeling came to Pittsburgh from a station in Phoenix, and he previously worked at a station in Baltimore. And Teeling has the American Meteorological Society seal, which Bowman has applied for.

Contrary to Channel 11's press release, which said Teeling graduated from Southern Connecticut State University with a bachelor of science degree in earth science and meteorology, the school offers a degree only in earth science with a concentration in meteorology. It's a small distinction, but worth noting.



DEPARTURE: Teeling's on-air arrival came just three days after Bowman's departure at the end of Friday's 11 p.m. newscast.

Sports anchor John Fedko kicked off the farewells with what appeared to be unscripted comments. Following his "Fedko Zone," Fedko said it was an honor to work with Bowman and pointed out that he, Bowman and anchor David Johnson had been a team for 13 years.

"It's kind of an end of an era," Fedko said. "It's a little sad."

Newlin Archinal, filling in as WPXI searches for Darieth Chisolm's replacement, tapped her fingers on the news desk. Johnson looked surprised at the commentary and unsure how to respond. It was an awkward position: Agree with Fedko and tick off station executives who surely want the "we-fired-Dennis" story to go away, or transition without comment and seem uncaring. Johnson, fumbling a bit, agreed with Fedko briefly and tried to move things along.

After a commercial break, Johnson was back in control for Bowman's pre-arranged send-off, which was also awkward because Bowman had to thank Archinal, whom he doesn't usually work with.

He acknowledged his co-workers and praised Teeling before turning to talk directly to viewers.

"Thank you folks for making Western Pennsylvania, and certainly Pittsburgh, America's most livable city," Bowman said. "And I hope we all meet again."

Courteous to the end, he handled his goodbye with dignity.



ELVIS HAS LEFT THE AIRPLANE: WPGH's "Regatta Thunder" coverage turned into breaking news when one of three skydiving Elvises had a rough landing and ended up falling into the river near Point State Park.

As with most breaking news events, there was repetitive speculation from anchors Sheila Hyland and Jay Harris about what actually happened. But there was no video of the landing until late in the broadcast, when WPGH got shaky amateur video onto the air.

The coverage improved markedly when sports anchor Alby Oxenreiter got involved. As an eyewitness to the crash landing, Oxenreiter was able to provide a solid description of what happened.

Turned out the skydiving incident wasn't the only thing to delay the fireworks. WPGH reporter Kym Gable was on top of other causes for the delay: a pleasure boat in a part of the river where it shouldn't have been and a sick crane operator on one of the fireworks barges.

Aside from the Elvis near-disaster, WPGH's second-year attempt at "Regatta Thunder" began with more energy than last year. It slowly dissipated until the breaking news event gave the show a renewed sense of urgency, surreal though it was with a skydiving Elvis.

This year's broadcast had more live reports, but the anchors weren't particularly skilled at handling them, particularly an uninformative, all-too-brief interview with Olympic athletes, and meteorologist Matt Morano's attempts to work the crowd at an ice cream stand.

The pretaped packages weren't done with as much creativity as some of last year's reports. The best of this year's "Regatta Thunder" features was about a son planning to compete against his father in the "Anything That Floats" contest, but there was no follow-up. A report on Sunday's "Ten O'Clock News" didn't mention how either one fared in the competition.

One last Regatta item. Last Friday WPGH reported one of the hot air balloons crashed into the mast of a TV news live truck, but no mention was made of the truck's affiliation. Turns out it was a KDKA truck with three staff members inside, including weekend anchor/reporter Jacque Smith. All were shaken, but fortunately no one was injured.


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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