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WTAE pulls sexy ad; other stations keep it

Thursday, October 24, 2002

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

Everyone is a TV critic from time to time, and it's easy for this pervasive medium to rankle. After what she saw Monday night, Laura Seitz of Mt. Lebanon went into critic mode.

Seitz, a 38-year-old mother of two, was upset by a radio station commercial that aired during WTAE's locally produced Steelers pre-game show. She was watching from the sofa with her children, ages 7 and 9, when the commercial aired at about 8:40 p.m.

The spot, for radio station WRRK "Channel 97," shows an attractive young woman in white bikini underwear and a tank top who smiles while gyrating, writhing on the ground and cuddling an electric guitar. Parts of her body -- thighs, breasts -- are shown in quick-cut, loving close-ups timed to coincide with lyrics in the songs being played.

"It kind of looked like a porno flick," Seitz said. "The camera shots were pretty close, she rubbed her buttocks with her hand and lifted her cleavage up toward the camera."

Seitz told her children to close their eyes.

"My son said to me, 'Isn't that private kind of stuff?' I guess they equated it to her wearing her underwear," she said. "I'm not a prude, but I thought it was crossing the line. It was beyond what is acceptable to force into people's living rooms."

WTAE general manager Rick Henry agreed. He ordered the spot pulled after the station received complaints from viewers.

"We have a screening process, and it should have raised a flag and not gotten on the air in the first place. We made an error in judgment," he said. "I wish it hadn't gotten on at all, but we did the best we could and pulled it when we found out about it."

Henry said the spot isn't appropriate for WTAE in any time slot.

Gregg Frischling, vice president/general manager of WRRK parent company Steel City Media, told Post-Gazette radio writer Adrian McCoy that the company is trying to reach a male audience and that the Channel 97 spot is no worse than many beer ads.

"For our target audience, this isn't inappropriate," Frischling said, adding that although WTAE dropped the commercial, it's still running on WCWB, WPGH and several cable channels.

Alan Frank, general manager of WCWB and WPGH (he also recently added oversight of WCHS and WVAH in Charleston, W.Va.), said the WRRK commercial is appropriate for any time of day and will continue to air in various time slots on Channel 53 and Channel 22.

WPXI general manager Ray Carter said Channel 11 was approached about running the spot but declined to do so.

Using sex to sell a product, any product, is an old trick, but I agree that it's inappropriate for 8 p.m. This commercial isn't alone in that regard.

Just about every episode of NBC's "Friends," a show I enjoy, is not fit for 8 p.m. and certainly not for even earlier in syndicated reruns. Fox's "Boston Public" shouldn't air at 8 p.m. either. But the so-called "family hour" hasn't existed since the '70s, and parents have to be vigilant about what their children watch. It's unfortunate, but it's reality.

'Trace' largely seen

Oh, those wily networks.

CBS, hot on the heels of NBC in advertiser-coveted young demographics on Thursday night, sent critics tapes for review of tonight's "Without a Trace" (10 p.m.), which has been doing better than any other show in recent memory against NBC's "ER."

The network also scheduled a teleconference with series star Anthony LaPaglia.

NBC, moving to stem the tide, will pre-empt a scheduled "ER" rerun with a repeat of the growing drama "Law & Order: Criminal Intent" tonight at 10. "ER" typically doesn't fare well in reruns; the "Law & Order" shows hold up better.

So the battle continues.

For LaPaglia, he's happier than the last time he had a series on Thursday night. He joined the cast of ABC's "Murder One" for its second and last season.

"We were up against 'Seinfeld' at its peak and I had joined a listing ship, so it was a much different experience," LaPaglia said. "Because NBC has dominated the night for the last eight years, the foregone conclusion was NBC would continue to dominate. The fact we've picked up some numbers and done a little better is just a bonus."

LaPaglia stars in "Trace" as senior FBI agent Jack Malone, head of a missing persons task force. Viewers have slowly learned personal details about his character (he's separated from his wife), but the series mostly tells stand-alone stories, which do better in the ratings when a show repeats.

"Actors always want the character-driven stuff," LaPaglia said. "When you are the lead actor in a procedural show, you don't get to do a whole lot of acting. You're mainly passing on information and the guest stars mainly to do the acting."

"Without a Trace," which has been referred to cynically but rightfully as "CSI: Manhattan," has evolved into an engrossing drama series, far more watchable than "CSI: Miami."

"CSI: Miami" wastes its supporting players, especially Emily Procter, and it too often elicits unintentional giggles. Someone needs to stop having David Caruso talk about how "the evidence leads to the truth," because it's getting old.

In contrast, "Trace" is far more sober and has better storytelling. Tonight's episode has its faults, but LaPaglia's showdown with a suspect near the end is intense.

"Sometimes people want these characters to be parental or protective," LaPaglia said. "I'm trying to put as many flaws as I can possibly slip in without upsetting the network or the writers too much. I want to make him somebody really human."

Not joining the 'club'

Even before David E. Kelley's "girls club" premiered Monday to critical disclaim and dismal ratings, people associated with the series began conjuring up excuses for it.

In an interview with the Associated Press last week, co-executive producer Jack Bender said he was optimistic that young adults would watch the series but that he was less certain about the critical response, because, according to the article, "Kelley's long record of success may mean he's due for a drubbing."

That is disingenuous since the Kelley backlash actually started several years ago.

In the same AP article, Kelley trashed Fox's summertime promotions for "girls club."

"I'd watch those promos and think, 'I'd never watch that show' -- and I'd see it was mine," Kelley said. "It was promoted, really, as 'Charlie's Angels' in a law firm.' "

Everyone wants to cover his rear end on this one, pointing the finger somewhere else: It's those darn critics! It's the network promotion!

No, no, it's a really bad show called "girls club."

You can reach Rob Owen at 412-263-2582 orrowen@post-gazette.com . Post questions or comments to www.post-gazette.com/tv under TV Forum.

Thursday, October 24, 2002

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