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Tuned In: Local children's show deserves the big time

Thursday, March 07, 2002

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

Many people try to make TV shows. Often their best intentions result in a production that's more amateurish than professional and definitely not ready for broadcast.

A year ago when I wrote about a children's nature show in pre-production locally, it seemed better developed than many programs, but I was still skeptical.

"The Magic Woods," in script form, was an ambitious project for local cartoonist/musician Matthew Craig and independent filmmaker Matt Kambic, especially since it was their first attempt at a series. The creators had a clear vision for what they wanted the show to look like, but would it be possible to successfully translate that vision from page to screen?

The finished product, a half-hour episode of the proposed series, fulfills just about all the ambitions laid out in that original script. The puppets are top-drawer quality, the special effects are passable and the episode's theme -- the transformation of a caterpillar into a butterfly -- is clearly explained in a way children will understand.

Craig, who also hosts the show, said the audience at a private screening last month reacted positively, and well they should. "The Magic Woods" has the potential to be a welcome addition to children's programming, one that any public broadcasting network or cable channel would be smart to jump at. (Are you listening, PBS? Discovery Kids?)

The show targets children ages 3 to 6 but was appreciated by some kids as old as 9 -- and their parents.

"I was really inspired by 'The Wizard of Oz,' which appeals to children and adults," Craig said. "We want to write to children, but not below adults."

He said they raised about $100,000 to make the pilot and spent $106,000. Now Craig and company have set a goal of raising $3.2 million to fund production of 40 episodes. They're also looking for an outlet for the show to air, starting with PBS.

"Just as we did a really professional job pulling the pilot together, we're going to do a professional job of pitching it," Craig said. "I think we have the resources locally to make those contacts and have those discussions."

Edwards' shows going

Now that Eddie Edwards has sold WCWB to Sinclair, most of the Saturday and Sunday morning public affairs shows he produced or programmed for Channel 22 have been removed from the station's schedule.

"Girl Scouting Today," "Inside/Outside Pittsburgh" and "America's Black Forum" have all been replaced by infomercials.

"Eddie's Digest," which Edwards hosts, will remain in production and continue to air until the last weekend in May. Edwards said he's too busy to continue hosting the program, but he hopes it will remain in production under a different title with the current panelists.

Late night brouhaha

So David Letterman may jump from CBS to ABC? What a dumb move that would be.

Letterman may not like his CBS bosses and he may not be wild about the demographics of the CBS audience, but going to ABC would be like jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire. CBS may always skew older, but its prime-time lineup is certainly in a better position to deliver viewers to late night than ABC's.

CBS has experienced leaders at the helm who know how to run a network and proved they can draw more young viewers with "Survivor" and "CSI." That can't be said of ABC, which, with the exception of the fluke hit "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire," hasn't shown growth in prime time since Disney bought the network five years ago.

Letterman on ABC doesn't make much sense for ABC anyway. Oh, sure, it might give them a short-term revenue spike, but how much longer is Dave going to be on the air? Better to groom someone who will be around for the long haul.

As for Ted Koppel's "Nightline," it sounds as though ABC is ready to toss it out regardless of which network Letterman chooses. Perhaps the thinking is that the plethora of news channels makes "Nightline" irrelevant, although its in-depth take on stories is certainly more journalistic than what the cable channels churn out.

Even if one could successfully argue the irrelevancy of "Nightline" -- and in the current world climate that's a dubious proposition -- it would make much more public relations sense to wait until Koppel retires before canceling the show. To do so now is just bad form. It makes ABC parent company Disney look like the evil empire many have long suspected.

Ming-Na cast in pilot

Daily Variety reports actress Ming-Na, who grew up in Pittsburgh, has landed the female lead in an ABC comedy pilot. Her character will be married to an African-American man, who has yet to be cast.

Variety says her "ER" contract allows her to make a pilot and leave the medical drama if ABC puts the show on its schedule. If not, she'll remain with "ER."

Another great 'Race'

CBS's "The Amazing Race" was the most entertaining reality show since the original "Survivor." It returns next week (10 p.m. Monday, 9 p.m. Wednesday), and, based on the first episode, it looks to be as enjoyable an adrenaline-fueled thrill ride as the first "Race."

The series again moves at a quick clip, shows off attractive locales and is stocked with a well-cast roster of contestants.

As before, each team comprises two people with a previously existing relationship. One pair of stand-out characters are two grandmothers who brand themselves "the gutsy grannies."

"We aren't tough, but we are shrewd and sometimes we're almost fast," says Granny No. 1. Alas, they're the only team to opt out of rapelling 590 feet down a mountainside in Brazil in Monday's premiere.

Other characters include married ministers, squabbling sisters, identical twins and self-described best friends from Miami, Oswald and Danny.

"We're not a couple, but for all intents and purposes we are married," Oswald says cryptically.

As before, the show's biggest downside is its time slot. After a special 10 p.m. Monday premiere, "Amazing Race" moves to 9 p.m. Wednesday opposite NBC's "The West Wing" and Fox's "The Bernie Mac Show."

This time there's salvation: UPN will rebroadcast "Amazing Race" episodes Friday nights.

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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