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Owen: Ed Sullivan will return to television on WQED

Thursday, September 06, 2001

A really big shew is coming to WQED/WQEX this fall.

The PBS station has acquired the rights to broadcast 26 episodes of "The Ed Sullivan Show" and will repackage the program as "The Very Best of the Ed Sullivan Show."

T.J. Lubinsky, WQED executive producer of fund-raising programming, tapped Sullivan guest and Smithton native Shirley Jones to host the program. She'll be in town to record episode introductions and exits later this month.

The process of bringing back Sullivan's show was long and complicated and required Lubinsky to sign up 95 other PBS stations willing to help pay for the show, negotiate with the owner of the Sullivan library for rights to the program and clear it with the unions that represent musicians featured on the show.

"This has been my dream come true," Lubinsky said. "I've wanted forever to bring this show out."

And it's not a pledge gimmick. Though tapes and CDs will be offered, Lubinsky is adamant that "Sullivan" won't be used as pledge programming. Rather, two half-hour episodes will air back-to-back at 8 p.m. Saturdays beginning Oct. 6.

He sees the show as complementary to Lawrence Welk's program, though he expects Sullivan to draw a younger audience.

"This will appeal to anyone who's 40-plus," Lubinsky said.

Each half-hour is an edited version of one or one-and-a-half episodes of Sullivan's program. Lubinsky said the first show alone features performances by the Beatles, Richard Pryor, Joan Rivers, George Carlin, Elvis, Diana Ross, Ricky Nelson, Ethel Merman and Robert Goulet.

If ratings are good on WQED and other PBS stations airing the show, a second season of 80 half-hours will be packaged for next fall. If that happens, viewers will see a younger Chris Fennimore ("QED Cooks"), who performed in a warm-up band that Sullivan put on the program in two episodes.

For anyone who thinks "The Ed Sullivan Show" doesn't fit the educational mission of PBS, Lubinsky offers this rebuttal: "This is the complete historical documentation of our American pop culture from 1948 to 1971," featuring opera, pop music, show tunes, comedians and novelty acts.

In addition to the Sullivan deal, Lubinsky is preparing for the Nov. 26 and 27 taping of "R&B: 40" at Heinz Hall, featuring the Isley Brothers. It will air on WQED in January and nationally in March.

He's also struck a deal to dip into the archives of Dick Clark-produced shows (including "American Bandstand"), and he's close to a deal to create two Frank Sinatra programs hosted by Sinatra's children.

And after that, there may even be a "Hootenany" reunion. And I swear, I'm not making that up.

Deasy sings for 'GMA'

Good things are happening for Gathering Field lead singer, acoustic guitarist and song writer Bill Deasy. He and his song, "Good Things Are Happening," were tapped last month for a new promotional campaign for ABC's "Good Morning America."

Deasy had co-written the song and performed it and planned to pitch it to country artists. "GMA" executive producer Shelley Ross stumbled upon it during a search through hundreds of songs for just the right sound.

"In the past we had gone with great songs by Shania Twain and Sting, and this time we just wanted something that wasn't connected to anything else, that didn't have its own history," Ross said. "We were looking for an original song."

And one that would wear well, since promotions air daily for weeks, months, sometimes even years. So Ross played Deasy's song over and over, and she never tired of it.

"It was positive, it made me feel good," Ross said.

Ross said Deasy's original song was a little slower, and a few words were changed ("stars are shining" became "sun is shining") to make it better complement the morning news show.

The spots, which air frequently on ABC, feature Deasy in front of a screen with giant images of "GMA" hosts Charlie Gibson and Diane Sawyer on it. Deasy may be invited to perform the song on "GMA" in the future.

Though some artists turn up their noses at commercialism, Deasy said the way the "GMA" folks pitched the promotional concept made it palatable.

"At this point, I can't be too choosy. Someone more like Bruce Springsteen can afford that luxury of having options," Deasy said. "The way they pitched it to me, they really loved that it was a real song and I was a real singer. ... They really tried to make me very comfortable-looking. They really deferred to what was most natural to me."

Deasy said the Gathering Field will continue to play in Pittsburgh, but not as frequently.

"It's not like we're breaking up. We'll always play," he said. "I'll just pursue a solo career more."

Best wishes

Pittsburgh viewers are lucky: Most of the weekend anchor teams on local stations are pretty good. And among them, the pairing of Ted Koppy and Shawn Yancy on WTAE was the best.

News that Yancy would leave the station last month came as little surprise to those in broadcast circles -- it was well known she'd been looking to move on -- but it was still disappointing.

Yancy is a smooth news reader and a likable presence. She'll do well at her new station in Washington, D.C., a Fox-ified affiliate that's sensational as all get out. She'll be a rare, dignified presence.

In chatting with Yancy last month, one could see how, to some degree, viewers get the local TV news they deserve. Critics may complain about station executives paying more attention to style than substance, but so do many viewers.

Yancy said she heard from many people this spring after she cut her hair, something that never goes without notice among the most devoted TV news viewers.

"I have gotten more phone calls and e-mails from people who say how much they like my hair," she said. "The feedback has been so positive. It's not every day someone chops off really long hair and the feedback is nothing but positive. The only person who didn't like it was my almost-2-year-old, because he didn't recognize me at first."

Yancy said she wasn't surprised that viewers took notice of the new 'do.

"We look at people on TV all the time, and change like that is really dramatic. When someone has past-the-shoulder-length hair one day and the next day they don't look the way you've seen them for four years, it doesn't surprise me."

WPXI updates

While Channel 11 searches to replace departed weekend sports anchor Sam Nover, the station is making use of some new-fashioned corporate synergy to fill the chair.

WPXI is owned by Cox, which also owns WTOV in Steubenville, Ohio. WTOV primary sports anchor Bill Phillips is filling in on Channel 11, primarily on Sunday, while Jonas Chaney sits in on Saturday.

News director Jennifer Rigby said despite being down a sports anchor, the station will relaunch its Friday night high school football feature, "Skylights," which depends more on the work of videographers anyway. Beginning this week, "Skylights" will shorten the Friday 11 p.m. newscast, with the news/weather portion ending at 11:15 to make way for sports.

As for departing medical reporter Dr. Mike Rosen, Rigby said she doesn't know yet how he'll be replaced.

"I'm looking for somebody who does what he does, and that's not easy to find," Rigby said. "I'm considering perhaps a local doctor who would come on. I've already had several calls [from local doctors], but I don't know exactly how I'm going to work through it."

You can reach Rob Owen at rowen@post-gazette.com. Post questions or comments to www.post-gazette.com/tv under TV Forum

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