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Tuned In: Pittsburgh faces ride on new 'On Q' bus

Thursday, March 28, 2002

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

It's a wrap for "On Q. "

No, the show's not canceled. It's now being promoted on a Port Authority bus that is wrapped in "On Q" logos.

Unlike most TV station promos, the "On Q" bus doesn't feature the faces of the show's hosts, but recognizable and not-so-recognizable Pittsburghers (Penguin Mario Lemieux, Pittsburgh City Councilman Sala Udin, film office director Dawn Keezer).

That was intentional, station manager B.J. Leber said. " 'On Q' examines our community, and we wanted to put a diverse representation of people on the bus to reflect that. This is not our station, it's the community's station, and the bus will literally travel in the community and we wanted to get that message across."

The "On Q" bus was unveiled at yesterday's WQED board meeting. It will remain wrapped in "On Q"-ness for a year, although the show's funding runs out in January.

"If anything is keeping me awake at night, that's it," said WQED president George Miles. "Corporations, unfortunately, have not stepped up to support the program the way I thought they would."

The station will meet with foundations in coming weeks to seek new funding.

Tonight's "On Q" features a report by Tonia Caruso on the future of Pittsburgh's work force. On Monday, "On Q" will air Jim Cunningham's second of three reports from his tour of Australia and Malaysia with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra.

On the financial front, WQED continues to suffer from the effects of the stalled economy, with accounts receivable and accounts payable up from this time a year ago. Contributions were down through Jan. 31, but the station just came off a successful March campaign, collecting $790,000 in pledges, almost $200,000 more than its goal.

Some viewers complain about the amount of pledge begging that takes place on WQED, but vice president of development and membership Lilli Mosco said the number of pledge days has remained constant for the past five years at 65 days per year.

"We have a commitment to reducing the number of pledge days in the future, but right now we have a budget we need to meet," Mosco said.

The WQED board unanimously voted to amend its bylaws to state that board members are expected to contribute to WQED "at a level of their choosing."

"Many boards have high price tags to join," Leber said. "We don't want to be one of those boards."

She said it's important when seeking funding to be able to tell foundations that the board supports WQED with donations of both time and money.

"We specifically designed it in the wording not to be elitist. If anything, we're conservative," Leber said. "It's just like we ask our members, 'If you're watching, show your support.' "

Professor writes for 'Grace'

One of cable's best original series got a boost from a local playwright.

Ed Simpson, a theater professor at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, wrote an episode of the critically acclaimed ABC Family series "State of Grace."

Simpson's episode premiered last week and will repeat Friday at 5 p.m. and Saturday at 4 p.m. He got the gig after his play "Additional Particulars" won a Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Award last year. The wife of the play's director is one of the "State of Grace" creators and asked if he could take time off from teaching to join the show's writing staff for 10 weeks.

With the blessing of IUP, Simpson went to Hollywood last August and contributed to several scripts and wrote one of his own.

The series, about the friendship between two girls living in the South in the 1960s, stars Dinah Manoff as the mother of one of the children.

Simpson was called upon to alter his script to include an explanation for her character's absence from some future episodes. In real life, Manoff was pregnant with twins, but her character couldn't become pregnant due to an earlier hysterectomy.

"We added a new story angle about her taking a more active role in the family business," Simpson said. "She sort of became a prototype for working mothers."

Simpson said the biggest difference between writing a play and a TV show is the pressure.

"Our network executives were really good and very supportive, but they're executives, and you always get the feeling people are looking over your shoulder," he said.

Simpson returned to teaching at the end of November. He's hopeful an independent film version of "Additional Particulars," which is set in a fictional Western Pennsylvania town, will be filmed in the region this fall or next spring. If "State of Grace" is renewed, it's possible he'll contribute additional scripts as a free-lance writer.

Surviving 'Survivor'

Unlike "Survivor: Africa," which was easy to ignore, "Survivor: Marquesas" has become an enjoyable sociology experiment worth watching. Last week the tribes were shaken as several members of lazy Maraamu got switched to Rotu, and several of Rotu's worker bees headed to Maraamu.

The most compelling characters are also the most despicable. Sean is not just lazy, he's aggressively lazy. He accuses anyone who tries to get him to work of being a slave master.

It's a little disturbing to see "Survivor" producers perpetuating stereotypes by so frequently casting black men as the "lazy one." Gervase, from the first edition, started the trend, and Sean continues it.

Sean's partner in doing nothing is the arrogant, obnoxious Rob, who has a superiority complex that would make Hannibal Lecter blush. Rob is seemingly homophobic and maybe a little misogynistic and compares his experience with the hard-working Rotus to hell on Earth.

Cute Neleh and father figure Paschal have formed a Rodger-Elizabeth-like bond that's sweet, and outspoken Kathy continues to push her tribemates a little too hard. But Maraamu's Sarah, another lazy do-nothing, deservedly got the boot last week.

CBS announced this week that "Survivor 5" is a go. Producers are scouting Central America, South America and Asia as possible sites for the next edition, which will film this summer for broadcast in the fall.

'Farscape' alert

Sci Fi Channel will air the final four episodes of the third season of "Farscape" beginning April 5. The fourth season begins June 7.

Since it's been a good seven months since an original episode of this highly serialized series aired, even die-hard fans might want to catch up with a rebroadcast of the last original episode tomorrow at 9 p.m. Without that refresher, I was a bit lost while watching the first of the four new episodes.

"Farscape," the best sci-fi show currently in production, picks up next month with three episodes that resolve certain stories, while the fourth episode begins new ones.

The episode titles set the tone: "Into the Lion's Den: Lambs to the Slaughter" and "Into the Lion's Den: Wolf in Sheep's Clothing." There's action, humor, death -- the typical "Farscape" fare.

The cliffhanger itself isn't as surprising or as emotional as previous season finales, but it does set the show up to go in new -- and potentially disturbing -- directions in its fourth season.

ABC address change

An alert reader called after a letter she sent to ABC was returned. It seems ABC's Los Angeles office moved. My invitation to the housewarming must have been lost in the mail.

We were able to get the new address into about half the copies of the annual "Keep or Cancel" TV Week that will be in your Sunday paper. But if you plan to write on behalf of "Once and Again" or "The Job," take note of this new address: ABC Television, 2300 Riverside Drive, Burbank, CA 91521.

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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