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Tuned In: ... And the annual TV turkey awards go to

Thursday, November 23, 2000

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

Today we give thanks for our families, our friends, our health, our blessings, maybe even our local TV news.

But -- and you knew a "but" was coming -- because TV news infuriates as often as it informs, this wouldn't be a Thanksgiving day column without the annual TV turkey awards. Dig in.

BETTER BAD LUCK NEXT MILLENNIUM: At midnight Jan. 1, WPXI seemed to be hoping for disaster, or at least a bite from the millennium bug. Alas, Y2K was A-OK and Channel 11 was left with more than 10 reporters/anchors covering nothing.

WOULD YOU LIKE SOME PORN WITH THAT "TOUCHED BY AN ANGEL" RERUN? In the same week this spring, AT&T Cable Services announced it would add both family-friendly Pax TV and a hardcore adult entertainment channel to its local cable systems. The deal with Pax later fell through.

MISSPELLINGS GALORE: Newspapers have their share of flubs, but in local television WTAE is long-regarded as the station with the most on-air spelling bloopers. Channel 4 didn't disappoint during a May report on public restrooms. The graphic on screen indicated a report on "Pubic Restrooms."

That same month Channel 11 reported on a Philadelphia "Peir Collapse."

LET'S SETTLE THIS ONCE AND FOR ALL, WHO'S THE !@#$&^*@!#? This summer Bryant Gumbel was caught on-camera during CBS's "The Early Show" calling someone a "bleeping idiot." Early reports indicated it was a reference to a member of the conservative Family Research Council Gumbel had just interviewed. Later it was suggested he was dissing weathergoof Mark McEwen. CBS executives refused to comment on which idiot Gumbel was referring to, but I think we can all agree Gumbel looked pretty idiotic himself.

THEY DO PROMISE TRAFFIC EVERY 10 MINUTES: In June a Cincinnati traffic helicopter crashed on a highway, causing a massive traffic backup.

While we're talking traffic, it seemed odd that in a recent story for KDKA-TV about safety on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, reporter Andy Sheehan did a stand up while walking along the turnpike's paved shoulder. How safe was that?

TIMING IS EVERYTHING: When the Olympics aired on NBC in September, delaying WPXI's late newscast, WTAE urged viewers to tune in at 11 p.m. because its news would start on time. There was just one problem with this plea: The station ran it on a Monday when "Monday Night Football" causes Channel 4's 11 p.m. news to be delayed.

EWWWW: Last month during the 5 p.m. news, anchor KDKA Ken Rice read a story about the "exploding deer population." Exploding deer? That does sound like a messy problem.

MAKE THAT A "DOUBLE SUPER SECRET" UNIT: Last week during his report on a profiler who contributed to the investigation in the murder of Scott Drake, WPXI reporter Alan Jennings said the agent is part of a "super secret unit of the FBI" But if it really was "secret," do you think the agent would sit down for an interview with a broadcast journalist?

A STARR IS BORN: In his book "Air Wars: The Fight to Reclaim Public Broadcasting," Jerry Starr recounts his efforts to block WQED's sale of WQEX. It got us to thinking: What if they make the book into a movie, like "The Insider"? Around the office we're betting Danny Glover will play George Miles, with Ralph Nader as Starr. I'm hoping to have Rick Schroder cast as me.

NO IFS, ANDS OR BUTTS: When Al Roker tossed to the local weather during Tuesday's first half-hour of "Today," the local weather from Channel 11 failed to come up and instead Pittsburgh viewers could hear Roker and co-host Matt Lauer talk about a "big butt," a "huge butt" and "Whoo, that's a tushee."

HOW NEW IS "NEW"? A reader e-mailed to offer this turkey. She watches PCNC's 10 p.m. news and can't stand a promo for WPXI's "Jeopardy!" that touts the game show's "New season, new attitude." She says the same spot has aired nightly for a long time and that means "it is NOT a new season in that the ad's been running for close to two years!!! Doesn't ANYONE at PCNC watch the newscasts to notice this?"

THOSE DARN CABLE GUYS: This one was also brought to my attention by a reader, upset that after getting HBO for years without a cable box, suddenly a box was required. Turns out AT&T's rebuilt systems will require converter boxes to get HBO, an additional $4 per month fee. Plus the cost of HBO. Bah humbug.

PROP COMICS? Finding different ways to tell the same old story brings welcome creativity to TV news reports, but sometimes reporters try too hard.

For a story last week on underage binge drinking, WPXI's Keith Jones staged his own tailgate party for the live portion of his report, complete with beer and hot dogs sizzling on a grill, as if viewers wouldn't understand tailgating without a demonstration.

Twice in recent weeks I've seen KDKA's John Shumway board a stopped bus during afternoon rush hour to get riders' opinions on the never-ending presidential election. It's spontaneous television, to be sure, but if I were a bus rider, I'd be thinking, "Kick the reporter to the curb, I want to go home!"

USING WHAT DATA? WPXI continues to promote it's 11 p.m. newscast as "Pittsburgh's No. 1-rated newscast at 11." But in the most recent ratings period, October 2000, KDKA was No. 1 in household ratings, the most general ratings measurement that indicates the most popular station in the time period.

Perhaps Channel 11 is relying on demographic ratings to make their claim, but if so, the promo should be more specific.

CRITICAL FACULTIES IMPAIRED: And finally, a much-deserved turkey award directed squarely at myself for a horrible lapse of judgment that resulted in listing NBC's "DAG" and "Deadline" among the best new shows of the fall. They weren't.

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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