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Tuned In: Sweeps stories stand out amidst implosion coverage

Thursday, February 08, 2001

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

There's a new condition afflicting Pittsburgh TV viewers. It's characterized by a tendency to throw the remote control at the TV and scream exhortations to the heavens along the lines of, "Just blow up the *$#@#$*&% stadium already!"

Implosion fatigue has set in.

It was bad enough last week when local stations seemed to lead every broadcast with a report on plans to implode Three Rivers Stadium. KDKA had a countdown clock complete with sponsorship by a fast food chain ("Want fries with your newscast?"), which follows KDKA's decision to sell off the sports report to Dick's Sporting Goods in the form of a nightly trivia question read by sports anchors.

KDKA, which staged tailgate parties at the stadium for its morning news, wasn't the only station that went implosion-happy. Every local news outlet got into the act.

Then the implosion was delayed. Now we're suffering through another week of hype. It's enough to make one welcome sweeps stories.

And why not? So far there's been nothing grievously outrageous. During the first week of this sweeps month -- one of several times a year when the number of people watching local stations is measured to set future advertising rates -- several worthwhile consumer stories stood out.

KDKA's Yvonne Zanos reported on product downsizing, packaged goods that contain less than they used to but cost the same amount. And Mary Robb Jackson did a balanced report on the pros and cons of new "invisible" orthodontic braces.

WPXI's Becky Thompson reported on a "Blues Cruise" (excellent play on the kids' show titled "Blues Clues") that took her and a hidden camera to Florida to chronicle how a vacation deal that appears too good to be true probably is. (She gets bonus points for humor by comparing her lousy room on a cruise ship to the third-class passenger compartment in "Titanic.")

WTAE's Mike Clark and Marilyn Brooks were blunt and unsparing in personalized reports on their individual efforts to lose weight. Both revealed their weight before and after dieting. Weight loss isn't, ahem, a weighty topic, but their willingness to discuss appearance as it relates to health is admirable. After all, in the TV news business, the way someone looks can have positive and negative career-altering effects.

SOMETHING DIFFERENT: Last week, KDKA's 5 p.m. newscast included a segment with Ken Rice interviewing Susan Hawk, a contestant from the original "Survivor."

I know, I know, you're sick of "Survivor" hype, but it was nice to see an anchor conducting an interview. That rarely happens on Pittsburgh stations, although KDKA seems to be doing more of it now.

This particular interview didn't go that well -- Rice and Hawk kept speaking at the same time -- but it's a welcome differentiation among the homogenized local newscasts.

KDKA has also introduced in-studio interview segments in its morning newscast, usually at 6:20 or 6:40 a.m. News director Joe Coscia implemented interviews during the morning news at the station where he previously worked, too.

Interviews give KDKA's morning news a slightly different feel than its competitors and gives local arts groups TV time, something they don't often get on the fast-paced evening newscasts.

POINTLESSLY LIVE: "Why is that guy standing in the dark and cold where something happened hours ago?" It's a continual complaint about TV news, and the pointlessness of it was demonstrated by a technical complication Monday at 11 p.m. on WPXI.

Poor Reg Chapman was reporting live from Robinson, presumably near the spot where two high school basketball players were killed in an auto accident. (I say "presumably" because it was too dark to see much.) The first part of his stand-up went fine, but after coming back to him live after a taped package, viewers could barely make out the outline of Chapman's body. The light shining on him had gone out.

Chapman gamely plowed on in darkness, but the station cut back to David Johnson in the studio without explanation.

HELPING PETS: After watching the stadium implosion Sunday -- scheduled for 8 a.m., though KDKA, WPXI and WTAE will begin live coverage at 6 a.m. -- settle in for the PETelethon on WPXI and PCNC.

Benefiting the Western Pennsylvania Humane Society, the telecast airs 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on WPXI and 2 to 3 p.m. on PCNC. Peggy Finnegan, Bob Bruce and Newlin Archinal are some of the Channel 11 personalities who will be hosts of the program.

STORK VISITS ANOTHER ANCHOR: Just a few days after WPGH's Sheila Hyland gave birth to a son, KDKA's Jennifer Antkowiak gave birth to a baby boy early yesterday morning.

Nicholas Anthony, Antkowiak's third son, weighed in at 6 pounds, 13 ounces. KDKA news director Joe Coscia said they're both doing well.

THEN AGAIN: Though pitting "Survivor" against "Friends" does viewers no favors, the competition is inspiring better TV.

Last week's 20-minute "Saturday Night Live" sketch showcase was much funnier than any 30-minute sitcom the network has aired in that slot in years.

It began with a political sketch (former president Bill Clinton kept interrupting a televised address by President Bush), which has been "SNL's" strong suit in recent years.

The highlight of the truncated "SNL" may well have been the opening credits, filmed "Survivor"-style, complete with the words "13 cast members," "20 minutes" and "one frightened network," a nice bit of self-deprecating humor at the expense of NBC.

This season's reinvigorated "Weekend Update," thanks to new co-anchors Tina Fey and Jimmy Fallon, contributed a worthy segment capped by a spot-on parody of a confused Elizabeth Taylor (Molly Shannon) at the Golden Globes.

Forget about bringing back "The Weber Show" -- NBC would be wise to put an "SNL" sketch series in this time slot every week.

"BLVD." MOVES: Beginning March 6, Showtime's "Resurrection Blvd." is moving to Tuesdays at 10 p.m. Taking its former Monday slot at 10 p.m. is the new "Chris Isaak Show," which will premiere March 12.

"Resurrection Blvd." was recently renewed for a 20-episode commitment, which will begin this summer. The series stars Michael DeLorenzo, Elizabeth Pena, Tony Plana and Nicholas Gonzalez.

The "Chris Isaak Show" is described as a quirky behind-the-scenes look at the life of rock crooner and sometimes actor Isaak. The comedy series will feature a number of guest stars and a regular cast of both fictional and real-life band members. (Zap2it.com)

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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