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Tuned In: WCWB could use broadcasting lessons

Thursday, October 19, 2000

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

Unacceptable. WCWB, the little station that can't (stay on the air, that is), went to static Tuesday night about 10 minutes into "Buffy the Vampire Slayer." This was the second time this year an original "Buffy" was interrupted by WCWB's disappointing failure as a broadcaster to, well, broadcast. Grrr, argh.

The station was also knocked off the air in May due to storms and a power failure. WCWB was back on the air Tuesday by the first few minutes of its 9 p.m. show, "Angel."

If WCWB owner Sinclair Broadcasting can't keep the station on the air, would it please consider selling the affiliate to a company that can?

To make matters worse, this was a "critical" episode in the show's serialized plot, according to hints a friend in Texas dropped during a phone conversation Tuesday night. Her WB affiliate manages to stay on the air just fine.

My devotion to "Buffy" is no secret, but imagine if this happened during "ER" or "Judging Amy" or some show you watch. Now, imagine it happening twice in a year. You'd be angry, too.

Local advertisers who bought spots during "Buffy" must not be pleased. I imagine they'd prefer to advertise on a station that makes it a priority to deliver their commercial message.

Because the station was off the air for the majority of the "Buffy" episode, Channel 22 was able to get permission from The WB to rebroadcast the show after midnight Friday at 1 a.m.

As we learned from this same debacle in May, when the station goes off the air, it's best to stay off the air until the show concludes. If a substantial portion of a program is interrupted, The WB is willing to give its affiliates permission to rebroadcast the episode.

WCWB regional program director Terry Caywood said the station received numerous calls from disappointed viewers yesterday.

"This pains us every bit as much as it pains the viewers," Caywood said. "I wanted to watch it too."

Caywood said this week's outage was caused by a disruption in power from Duquesne Light at the station's transmitter.

"There was apparently a fire in a transformer in Monroeville where our transmitter is," Caywood said. "That transformer blowing up is what took out our section of the power grid."

After multiple outages this spring, WCWB executives said they ordered a back-up generator to keep the station from going off the air during power failures.

"It has not been installed yet," Caywood said. "Obviously these are not simple things to install, it's not like putting in a light bulb. We'll put it in as soon as it arrives."

I'll believe it when I don't see the station go off the air again.

POLITICAL WINDBAGS SPAR: Last week on PCNC's "NightTalk with John McIntire," the usual Friday night free-for-all became incomprehensible as McIntire's guests insisted on speaking at the same time.

Republican consultant Bill Green, Democratic city controller Tom Flaherty and Republican campaign manager Kent Gates (currently attached to state attorney general candidate Mike Fisher) sparred amongst themselves as McIntire looked on, occasionally trying to distract them long enough to bring up a burning issue, specifically, George W. Bush's geeky laugh.

After coming back from a commercial break 20 minutes into the broadcast, Green was gone.

"You're looking live at Mean Bill Green, or what's left of him," McIntire said as the camera lingered on Green's empty chair. "He stormed out of here because he claims Tom Flaherty talks too much and between he and Sharkboy Gates he can't get a word in edgewise ... You might think I was kidding because you would think people in politics are used to having a rough and tumble, but apparently not."

Then Flaherty blabbered about how Green's departure affirmed the Clinton-Gore record, while Gates promised to stay and "hold up my end of the bargain."

It was train-wreck television at its worst. And still all involved will probably wonder why some people despise politicians and political operatives.

Earlier this week McIntire said it was the first time anyone has walked out during a "NightTalk" broadcast. But he had only one regret about Green's departure.

"If he's going to walk, I wish he would have done it on the air so we could have gotten some mileage out of it," McIntire said, adding that Green was scheduled to return to "NightTalk" for an appearance last night.

On Tuesday Green said he simply got fed up with Flaherty.

"I chose to leave as opposed to pursue another 45 minutes of frustration," Green said. As a viewer trying to understand what was being said, I know how he felt.

ADVERTISING IDIOCY: This next item has nothing to do with my own political preferences, just common sense. And common sense seems to be lacking in the awful political commercial local Republicans are running on behalf of Melissa Hart and against Democrat Terry Van Horne.

In the spot, a cowboy hat is plastered atop a photo of Van Horne's head and an obnoxious announcer asks whether Van Horne is from Pennsylvania "or Taxes," stressing the "a" to make "taxes" sound like "Texas."

It's not the politics of this spot that make me angry every time I see it, it's the stupidity of it. The ad brings to mind a candidate I would think Republicans wouldn't want to trash. I hear "Texas" and think of George W. Bush. This commercial, paid for by Republicans, inexplicably links taxes and Texas, which does their top dude, Dubya, no favors in drawing votes in Western Pennsylvania.

NEW REPORTER: Tom Sussi joins WPGH as a general assignment reporter, replacing the departed Lisa Beatty. Sussi comes to Pittsburgh's Fox station from WKBD, the UPN affiliate in Detroit.

WPGH is still searching for a replacement for weekend sports anchor Greg Toland, who departed this past weekend. Free-lancer David Sullivan, a candidate for the full-time job, will fill in while the search for Toland's replacement continues. Sullivan was a sportscaster for Channel 11 in the early 1980s.

ENOUGH ALREADY: It was one thing when TV Guide tried to sucker "Star Trek" and "X-Files" fans into buying multiple issues with different collector's covers. Then the magazine expanded beyond sci-fi to shows such as "Dawson's Creek" and non-TV entities, including 'N Sync.

But 24 different covers this week from "The Simpsons" is beyond over the top. Even "Simpsons" executive producer Mike Scully realizes the absurdity of it.

"I'm especially excited because I buy 24 TV Guides each week and get tired of looking at the same faces," Scully said in a TV Guide press release.

The sad thing is, some "Simpsons" fans are probably completists who will go hunting for each one of the 24 covers.

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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