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Tuned In: Satellite push-buttons silly, harmless 'gloss'

Thursday, November 15, 2001

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

Evidently WTAE anchor Mike Clark is "taking action 4 you" when he reports from the station's "Satellite Center" and appears to call up video at the push of a button.

Goofy? You bet. But harmless, too.

Although Channel 4 is the only station to ask its Satellite Center reporter to push buttons -- which really isn't that exciting; I'm doing it now as I type -- it's not the only station in town to create a Satellite Center. WPXI and KDKA also label reports as originating from their own Satellite Centers.

It's another silly TV news construct, a bank of monitors to stand an anchor/reporter in front of in an attempt to show the breadth of the station's news-gathering capabilities.

It's inoffensive gloss that does no damage, but it doesn't have the desired credibility-enhancing effect either.

At least scenes from the Satellite Center are better than Channel 11's shots of the station's Web site, which serve no purpose. Viewers without computers get frustrated enough when TV stations refer them to the Web -- another issue altogether -- but to show the static Web site comes off as really amateurish.

Mold spreads!

Earlier this month, KDKA-TV did a report on the so-called "toxic mold," and this week the nasty slime turned up in a Susan Koeppen report on WTAE.

Obviously, we're knee-deep in a sweeps period.

Quote of the week

In a Channel 11 Andy Gastmeyer report on how to be prepared for a terrorist attack, a "terrorism expert" suggested carrying a metal briefcase.

"I could beat someone to death with that without much trouble," the terrorism expert said.

Once again, it's clear we're in sweeps.

Coverage you can sort of count on

After Tuesday's plane crash in New York, Channel 11 did a database search for other incidents of problems with engines of the type on the doomed American Airlines jet.

It was a decent start, but begged the question, are those same engines found on planes that fly out of Pittsburgh? Channel 4 answered the question (one US Airways trans-Atlantic flight out of Pittsburgh) Wednesday night in a Sheldon Ingram report.

Consistency?

Early in sweeps, WTAE's Jim Parsons mentioned some of the carry-on items restricted by the FAA, including golf clubs.

But last week WTAE ran a report -- one that appeared to come off the feed and not taped locally -- that featured a passenger carrying golf clubs onto a plane, which contradicted the Parsons report. All media outlets need to be careful to send out a consistent message.

Kudos

Assigning reporters to stories based on a "beat" structure is common in journalism. It allows reporters to cultivate sources and become well-educated on the subject. On TV we see reporters assigned to cover consumer news, sports, medical stories, etc.

I'm not sure what you'd call the beat of KDKA reporter John Shumway -- infrastructure, maybe? -- but he does a good job at it, whether it's construction of the stadiums or roadway improvements. Each station does a service by covering road closings, but Shumway does the most complete job, probably due in part to the consistency with which he covers these stories.

While we're offering compliments, Channel 11 deserves one for its coverage of the dwindling supplies at the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank. Newlin Archinal reported on shortages last week and again this week after a food drive failed to restock the warehouse. Other stations have noted the problem, but Channel 11 had it first and most completely.

Contest Cheddar

I'm no fan of contests in newscasts, but I don't see them as the most pressing problem facing TV stations today, either. Still, I couldn't help but guffaw at WPXI's latest, which names a birthday and encourages anyone born on that birthday to call in. The 11th person on the line wins. Shouldn't TV be above goofy radio-style contests? What next, caller 11 wins passes to the "Harry Potter" movie?

While on the subject, WTAE has an embarrassing in-studio announcer with the most exaggerated and insincere facial expressions for its spots that reveal whether a viewer wins a million dollars. What a shock that he resorted to mock consolation last week when a woman didn't win.

Ratings winner

He may be dead, but his really big shew is still a hit.

WQED's broadcast of "The Very Best of The Ed Sullivan Show" (8 p.m. Saturday) has proved a ratings winner.

This past Saturday it beat the first hour of NBC's "Shakespeare in Love" on WPXI and ABC's "Whose Line Is It Anyway" on WTAE. "Sullivan" ranked third in its time slot behind CBS's "Touched By an Angel" on KDKA and Fox's "Cops" on WPGH.

'The Pitch'

Go "Inside TV Land" for the latest behind-the-scenes show on the TV industry, "The Pitch" (9 p.m. tomorrow). A "pitch" is what they call a producer's attempt to sell network executives on his or her idea for a TV series.

Garry Marshall recalls his pitch for '50s-themed "Happy Days" went nowhere until "Grease" became a hit on Broadway and "American Graffiti" drew moviegoers. Diane English said the premise of "Murphy Brown" coalesced in her mind when she heard the Aretha Franklin song "Respect" on the radio ("Respect" became the series theme song).

"The Pitch" is most instructive for viewers unfamiliar with the process of getting a TV show on the air. It's most amusing when creators reveal network "notes," suggestions that executives think will help improve a show. NBC executives suggested replacing Michael J. Fox after seeing the "Family Ties" pilot.

The show's funniest moments are a few inconsistent remarks.

"Raymond" executive producer Phil Rosenthal said CBS wanted a more experienced show runner to oversee the series, but CBS president Leslie Moonves denies Rosenthal's account.

'Facts of Life' movie

ABC will air a "Facts of Life" reunion movie Sunday at 7 p.m. featuring the return of Blair (Lisa Whelchel), Tootie (Kim Fields), Natalie (Mindy Cohn) and Mrs. Garrett (Charlotte Rae), but, alas, tomboy Jo (Nancy McKeon) is nowhere to be seen.

Early reports indicated the gang would reunite for Jo's funeral, but the latest ABC press release suggests the plot has thankfully changed: "They are all gathering back at Peekskill in the week before Thanksgiving to meet Natalie's fiance."

ABC refused to provide critics with a copy of the movie for review, leading one to suspect the finished product is a turkey. I know, I know, how could that possibly be with a show as intellectually stimulating as "Facts of Life"?

Expressing doubts about the show's quality may not be fair, but when a network fails to provide a review tape, that reaction is just a fact of life.

Channel surfing

CBS has renewed "The Ellen Show" for the rest of the season, and UPN has picked up a full season of "Special Unit 2" ... That revival of "Battlestar Galactica" has been dropped by Fox Broadcasting and is now in limbo, according to Daily Variety, because of director Bryan Singer's commitment to "The X-Men 2" ... Broadcasting & Cable reports the syndicated "Howard Stern Radio Show" (midnight Saturday, WNPA) will have its final broadcast this weekend.


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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