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TV Note: Don't always believe what's in the paper

Tuesday, December 11, 2001

Readers fume when newspaper television listings don't match what's on TV -- and rightly so.

They get cozy in their easy chairs, snack and beverage in hand, in anticipation of a drama, comedy, movie or sporting event. Then, to their surprise, something altogether different comes up on their screen.

Why is this?

In a nutshell, blame intensive competition, the economy, and just lousy TV shows that get pulled by the networks at the last minute.

In November, for example, "Wolf Lake" was scheduled to air at 10 p.m. Wednesday on CBS. At least it said so right there in the pre-printed Sunday TV books. Well, 10 p.m. came and went, and no "Wolf Lake."

Instead, CBS inserted -- at the last minute -- the first of three weekly Garth Brooks concerts.

(The corrected and updated listing appeared in most daily TV pages, including the Post-Gazette. Daily listings will always be more up-to-date than what's in the Sunday TV Week.)

So what happened?

"Wolf Lake" was bombing in the ratings, judging from previously broadcast episodes. It could have had something to do with the show's premise: Residents of the Pacific Northwest had the ability to transform themselves into wolves.

With the all-important ratings sweeps month of November just starting, CBS feared "Lake" would drag down its weekly ratings average, negatively impacting future ad revenues. So "Lake" abruptly went on "hiatus" -- likely never to be seen again.

Another problem: When a network affiliate bumps a network show, the station sometimes neglects to also pre-empt the promos for those shows in the days leading up to bumped broadcasts.

Viewers tune in for, say, "Ed," and no "Ed."

Another headache is sports.

National Football League games, as listed in Sunday TV books, sometimes get switched at the last minute by either the local station or the network, upsetting another group of viewers.

Broadcasters switch games to offer more competitive contests or to allow a station to carry a game of more interest in their geographic area.

Those new online program guides sometimes don't reflect what's actually on the tube, either. A few weeks ago, for example, one service continued to insist that "Gunsmoke" was on TVLand all weekend, while in fact "Facts of Life" episodes were playing in a marathon.

(Bob Betcher, Scripps Howard News Service)

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