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Tuned In: No cliffhangers here: Easy answers to queries

Thursday, June 27, 2002

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

Letters, e-mail and phone calls, we receive plenty of each at the TV desk. Responding to the e-mail is easy. Phone calls aren't bad either, as long as the person leaving the message on my voice mail includes a phone number (believe it or not, that doesn't always happen). But letters are particularly vexing, especially if the writer doesn't include a phone number. There are simply not enough hours in the work day to write a response.

Here are a few questions (and the answers) culled from recent correspondence:

Please tell me it isn't so -- Josh on "The West Wing" and that caricature of a women's rights leader becoming a romantic item! And what happened to Danny and C.J.'s romance?

Alas, it is so. Amy, played by the monotone Mary-Louise Parker, will return for at least 10 episodes next season.

As for Danny and C.J., that story, like so many others on "The West Wing," just stopped without resolution. (Is Moira Kelly's first-season character, Mandy Hampton, still lost in the White House somewhere?) Timothy Busfield, who played newspaper reporter Danny Concannon, is now a supervising producer on NBC's "Ed."

Why do some TV newscasts start before the top of the hour?

To keep you from switching channels.

This isn't a new phenomenon, but it can be annoying. You tune to any of the local stations at 5 p.m. only to discover the lead story is half over because the newscast started at 4:58.

"The reality is you want as many people to watch as possible," said WPXI news director Pat Maday, explaining why stations start the news as soon as the preceding show ends.

"Everybody's trying to get on first and nobody wants to be last," said KDKA news director Al Blinke.

"It's not so much to get a competitive advantage as it is to not lose any viewers you might have," said WTAE news director Bob Longo.

Channel 11's Maday said his station's 5 p.m. news, which starts at 4:58 and 30 seconds, has started at that time for at least four years.

"I tend to think people are used to it," he said. "The way we tend to cover stories, especially on a story that leads the 5, we're almost always going to have enough coverage so if you tune in a minute later you're still going to get the story."

And, of course, chances are pretty much 100 percent that whatever leads at 5 p.m. will be repeated at least once during the evening news block.

What are the ratings for the weekend newscasts?

Weekends aren't that important in the grand scheme of TV ratings, but it's worth looking at for trivia's sake every now and then. Here's what the May household ratings showed:

At 7 a.m. Saturday, WTAE and WPXI had identical ratings. At noon, KDKA was on top with WTAE second. But on Sunday, when WTAE is the only local station with a noon newscast, Channel 4 beat out non-news programming on the other stations.

At 6 p.m. Saturday, KDKA was first, WTAE was second and WPXI was third. On Sunday at 6, when KDKA's news didn't air until 6:30 p.m., "The CBS Evening News" was first, WTAE was second and WPXI was third.

In the 10 p.m. newscast battle, WPGH won both weekend nights in May, doing particularly well on Sunday, which proved to be the highest-rated Channel 53 newscast of the entire week, likely due to "The X-Files" lead-in.

KDKA owned 11 p.m. on weekends in May, though WPXI was close behind on Sunday nights. WTAE came in third both nights.

Potential ratings booster

KDKA's Blinke confirmed his station will begin broadcasting drawings of the Powerball Multi-State Lottery on Wednesday and Saturday nights as a lead-in to the 11 p.m. news. The lottery debuts in Pennsylvania this weekend.

It's a smart move that could potentially boost the station's late news ratings those nights, just as the Pennsylvania lottery drawings increase viewership at the end of the 6 p.m. news hour.

Mark Barash, program director at WPXI, which frequently jousts with KDKA for the No. 1 spot at 11 p.m., said his station never had an opportunity to consider airing Powerball. He said stations that carry the Pennsylvania Lottery have first rights of refusal for Powerball.

Prime-time pre-empt

Channel 11 will pre-empt "Scrubs" tonight at 8:30 to air the "Storm Team 11 Severe Weather Guide," a half-hour special made up of reports that have aired throughout the month during newscasts.

Our local stations are pretty good about not pre-empting too many shows in prime time, and at least this is a repeat that's getting bumped. But it's also one of the episodes in NBC's week-long "Scrubs"-a-thon, an effort to promote the smart comedy that's moving to the 8:30 Thursday time slot where it's pre-empted tonight. The station deserves at least a minor jeer for sabotaging NBC's promotional efforts for this worthy series.

Local stations benefit when they pre-empt network programs because they're able to sell all the advertising in the program rather than getting to sell only a few spots while the network sells the majority.

Best Emmy ad

The Emmy Award nominations will be out next month, and in advance of that, networks, agents and even the actors themselves are buying ads in industry publications trying to goose their chances.

The best I've seen is for Kathryn Joosten, who played Mrs. Landingham on "The West Wing." The ad has pictures of her as Landingham and as a guest star on "Scrubs." The copy reads: "You watched her die on 'The West Wing.' You watched her die on 'Scrubs.' Don't let her die again! For your consideration, guest star in a comedy."

Channel surfing

Look for PCNC's "NightTalk with John McIntire" to get a new set by late summer or early fall. ... PCN (Pennsylvania Cable Network) will air a series of programs about the state's amusement parks Sunday nights at 7 beginning July 7. Ligonier's Idlewild Park will be featured Aug. 18 and Kennywood will be highlighted Aug. 25. ... PBS announced its follow-up to "Frontier House" and "The 1900 House" yesterday. "Manor House," premiering in 2003, will transport a family back to Edwardian England for three months of filming.

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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