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Tuned In: Reality TV takes lumps in PG readers' poll

Thursday, May 01, 2003

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

Survey says: Viewers are sick and tired of reality TV.

That's the loud and clear message from voters in the Post-Gazette's annual poll, Readers' Remote: Keep or Cancel?

Complete poll results

More than 3,130 votes were cast, 67 percent of them from Southwestern Pennsylvania. The largest block of voters were age 35-54 (1,319), followed by those age 18-34 (1,121).

The Top 10 shows to keep were: CBS's "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" (61 percent), CBS's "Everybody Loves Raymond" (57 percent), ABC's "Monday Night Football" (55 percent), NBC's "Law & Order" (52 percent), ABC's "Wonderful World of Disney" (51 percent), CBS's "60 Minutes" (50 percent), NBC's "Friends" (49 percent), NBC's "Frasier" (48 percent), NBC's "ER" (48 percent) and NBC's "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" (45 percent).

All series in the Top 10 to cancel were "reality" shows: ABC's "Are You Hot?" (75 percent), ABC's "I'm a Celebrity -- Get Me Out of Here!" (70 percent), Fox's "Joe Millionaire" (64 percent), ABC's "The Bachelor" (64 percent), ABC's "The Bachelorette" (64 percent), Fox's "Married by America" (64 percent), ABC's "Extreme Makeover" (64 percent), CBS's "Big Brother" (55 percent), NBC's "America's Most Talented Kid" (53 percent) and NBC's "Fear Factor" (53 percent). More detailed results are available on the PG Web site.

Last year's Top 5 "keep" shows were "Friends," "ER," "Will & Grace," "Raymond" and "CSI."

The highest-ranking freshman series to the poll was CBS's "CSI: Miami," at No. 14 in the "keep" column. Among series on the fence for renewal, NBC's "Ed" -- with help from online fandom -- ranked highest at No. 12.

The series inspiring the most apathy all aired on either Pax or UPN. Pax's "Just Cause" and already-canceled "Body & Soul" each received "don't care" responses from 85 percent of voters.

The relative health of the networks was reflected in people's votes with CBS first, NBC second, Fox third, ABC fourth, The WB fifth, UPN sixth and Pax seventh.

"The Simpsons" was Fox's top show to keep, followed by "24." "Gilmore Girls," "Smallville" and "Seventh Heaven" took the Top 3 spots in The WB's "keep" list.

The overwhelming complaint of viewers centered on the networks' reliance on reality TV.

"With all the 'reality' shows, it seems that quality TV has fallen by the wayside," wrote Diane Hull of Bethel Park. "After filling out this survey, I realized that I don't watch or want to watch, for that matter, much commercial TV."

Amy Murphy, 32, of the South Side, echoed the comments of many viewers.

"Sick of the reality TV. ... What happened to real television programming? If this is reality, I must live in a fictitious world. Come on, networks, get back to being creative, hiring actors and writing scripts!"

Not everyone hated reality TV. A prison inmate wrote in with his favorites, which, ironically, included "Cops" and "America's Most Wanted."

Another voter, 23-year-old John Louis Schurer, volunteered to sit in on network focus groups before series get on the air.

"I would be happy to watch the pilot episodes in a room for all of you and tell which ones are duds before you go and embarrass your network," he wrote.

Steven Czetli, 55, of Churchill, had another concern.

"Season so short, reruns so erratic, it has become impossible to form a habit, which I suppose is a good thing for America," he wrote. "If the desired effect is to enhance program loyalty by limiting product, it is actually having the opposite effect -- extinguishing desired behavior by too many disappointments. I've given up on 'The Practice,' 'West Wing,' 'Ed' and 'NYPD Blue' for this reason."

Patricia Gatto, 60, of Greenfield, expressed disappointment with TV comedies.

"Some of the new TV shows are all canned laughter, and for good reason: No one would laugh," she wrote. "They're just not funny."

In the spirit of last month's TV turn-off week, Suzanne Varkonda, 42, of Beaver, offered this succinct critique: "Very little television is worth watching. Pittsburgh and its surrounding communities have a lot to offer. Get out!"

Only Elaine on "Seinfeld" could say it better.

Wither YOUtv?

KDKA's YOUtv featured people who were willing to walk up to a booth and spout their opinions to a video camera, and the station seemed willing to broadcast those comments no matter how insipid. With three hours of local news each weeknight, that feature seemed a natural way to fill some time.

But YOUtv, launched in August 2001, has became NOtv -- it's been missing in action for several months. KDKA marketing director Mike Gerst said the boxes will be "getting a new direction for greater relevance."

He said the station will focus its efforts on a single location as a go-to point for people to sound off. No location named yet, but YOUtv will be back; after all, there's a lot of time to fill.

More commercialism

This may be spitting into the wind, but I continue to find the presence of sponsor logos and commercial elements inside the sacrosanct bounds of local TV newscasts objectionable.

Granted, it was there in the early days of television (NBC's "Camel News Caravan"), but the maturing medium eventually put blatant commercialism behind it. Now it's returning as conglomerates try to eke every possible dollar out of local news operations.

Most recently, I cited WPXI's use of meteorologist Steve Teeling in a ski report commercial sponsored by an area resort and WPGH's use of a sponsor's name and logo in a sports segment during the news.

The latest examples:

WPGH's 10 p.m. news includes a sponsor's logo on screen alongside sports scores.

In what's become standard industry practice, KDKA previews stories in the next day's Post-Gazette as part of a news partnership between this newspaper and the TV station. Now, previews on the 4 p.m. news also include an on-screen banner with the toll-free number for ordering a subscription to the newspaper.

Commercialism is a slippery slope. Where does it end? When is a reporter's or anchor's or newscast's objectivity, impartiality and independence compromised?

Commercials belong in commercial time. Period.

Channel surfing

President Bush is expected to address the nation at 9 tonight. Expect to see some programming delayed. ... ABC has yanked "All-American Girl" and will air the two remaining episodes on sister cable network ABC Family tonight and May 24. ... A technical glitch knocked WPGH's picture off the air Tuesday for four minutes during "24," which repeats Monday at 11 p.m. and Tuesday at 5 p.m. on FX.

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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