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WQED maps future plans, expansion of local programming

Friday, June 29, 2001

By Barbara Vancheri, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

WQED Pittsburgh, trying to secure its niche in an ever-expanding media universe, yesterday mapped out a plan for the future, including a Rick Sebak special called "Pittsburgh A to Z."

Its October airing will dovetail with a similarly titled but independent exhibit at the Sen. John Heinz Pittsburgh Regional History Center.

The TV show will focus on cool or unusual things about the region, such as the Allegheny Arsenal and Chiodo's Tavern.

WQED also is in the early stages of exploring a Pittsburgh version of PBS's "American High" and local series tapping into the growing appetite for gardening and decorating advice.

Those ideas and others sprang out of workshops and brainstorming sessions being directed, in part, by McKinsey & Co. The consulting firm has been working, for free, with WQED since April to help it weigh audience trends, double local content and find future funding and partners.

Under the umbrella of the "Strategic Connection Project," WQED is trying to court young viewers, think beyond TV programming and take advantage of new technologies such as streaming video.

Although WQED's board applauded the project at its meeting, a representative of a group trying to save WQEX objected to the way the idea sessions were assembled -- by inviting established educators, arts leaders and other mainly well-known Pittsburghers.

Matt Cone from the Citizens for Independent Public Broadcasting suggested the public be invited, a recommendation that got, at best, a mixed response.

"We're open to ideas all the time," Tom McGough, chairman of the board, said.

Cone and WQED have tangled in the past over a $20 million deal, before the Federal Communications Commission, to sell Channel 16.

In other news, WQED will expand its broadcast day by an hour -- to 2 a.m. -- Mondays through Fridays starting next week. Mondays will draw upon limited series from the station's archives; Tuesdays, discussion programs; Wednesdays, the best of "On Q" bands; Thursdays, "Mystery" episodes; and Fridays, independently produced documentaries.

The organization also named Karen Farmer White to the newly created job of vice president of educational services.

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