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Charleroi native shaped 'Muhammad' program

Thursday, December 12, 2002

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

On Sept. 11, 2001, Charleroi native Alexander Kronemer was in an editing booth in San Francisco working on the PBS documentary "Muhammad: Legacy of a Prophet" (9 p.m. Wednesday, WQED).

"In our minds we were finished filming except for pick-up shots," Kronemer said in a phone interview this week from his home in suburban Washington. "After that event happened, not only were some of our interviews very much dated, we realized it was too big not to take into account."

People were re-interviewed, the two-hour program was re-edited, and it premieres next week on PBS stations nationwide. Kronemer, a 1978 graduate of Charleroi High School, is credited as creator and producer of the program with Michael Wolfe. It tells the story of Muhammad, who established the religion of Islam.

"In the beginning, I was mainly viewing this as an educational service, an important story people should know about," Kronemer said. "Post 9/11, I see it as an important and maybe even vital step towards trying to create a greater atmosphere of understanding and support for pluralism in this country.

"When prominent, respected leaders stand up and almost unchallenged say Muslims are worse than Nazis, it worries American Muslims about what might be coming next," he said. "I see this as a way of helping to build community and rebuild trust in this country."

Kronemer, who is Muslim, said one of the difficult tasks in telling the story of Muhammad was finding a way to depict it visually.

In Islam, pictures or re-enactments of Muhammad and his close companions are not allowed, Kronemer said. To overcome that challenge, Kronemer and company decided to marry the historical with stories of Muhammad's present-day followers who pattern their lives after his example.

"We call it history in the present tense," he said. "We're telling a 1,400-year-old story, but telling it through the contemporary lens, not of people today looking back, but people today whose lives in some way help us tell the story about that man 1,400 years ago."

"Legacy of Faith" includes interviews with a Brooklyn firefighter who converted to Islam as a young man, a congressman's chief-of-staff and a nurse in Michigan, many of whose patients are Muslim immigrants.

"Anybody who knows the story of Moses would find the story of Muhammad quite familiar," Kronemer said. "It's the story of a man trying to form a new religious identity, of a lawgiver trying to pull a group of unruly people into some kind of new identity."

PCNC morning news

WPXI's news staff premiered "PCNC This Morning" on its sister cable station Monday. The one-hour program, airing at 7 a.m., isn't intended to be viewed in its entirety so much as stumbled into and out of.

It's an endless cycle of weather, traffic and news, punctuated only by taped sports and business segments while the Channel 11 morning gang is broadcasting cut-ins during the "Today" show (although something happened Monday and WPXI missed the 8:05 a.m. weather cut-in).

"PCNC This Morning" replaces reruns of WPXI's 6 a.m. news, but Monday it felt pretty much the same. Instead of a taped rerun, it's a live rerun.

That won't always be the case. On mornings when there's breaking news or changing weather conditions (yesterday's ice storm, for instance), "PCNC This Morning" may prove a valuable resource for viewers.

Perhaps this new program will spare us a repeat of last Thursday's endless morning snow coverage, which brings us to...


I really can't blame weathercasters for blowing the forecast last week. Meteorology is an inexact science and a forecast is only a prediction. But I can blame local stations for hijacking the airwaves last Thursday morning, completely blowing out the national news programs on ABC, CBS and NBC.

Granted, the snow was unexpected and local viewers deserved coverage of what the road conditions were, when the snow would stop, etc. But ignoring all national news was ridiculous.

Couldn't they at least have cut back to the networks at the top of the hour for national news? If any station did that or even had local anchors read national stories, I missed it.

Estate planner Neil Cohen of Morningside called to voice his frustration. "It's snowing, it's December, it's Pittsburgh. That's a surprise, right? This is not Sarasota."

Even though most forecasters underestimated the amount of snow Pittsburgh would receive, that didn't stop stations from touting their coverage of the snow with slogans like WPXI's "Local weather coverage you can count on." Ironic, of course, since we couldn't count on it last Wednesday night.

VOD debuts

About 15,000 Adelphia Cable subscribers in the South Hills can now get video-on-demand programming for $5.95 per month if they subscribe to HBO, Showtime or Starz premium channels. Video on demand is a technological leap forward from pay-per-view, which allows you to tune to a movie at a predetermined time.

With video on demand, you can essentially "download" a movie or TV show episode anytime, even pausing, rewinding or fast-forwarding it as you would a videotape or DVD.

Adelphia's new service is available to subscribers in Mt. Lebanon, Bethel Park, Upper St. Clair, Peters Township, Union Township and Finleyville.

Whither 'Monk'?

Some viewers have called me, wondering about the future of USA Cable's "Monk," which airs Monday at 8 p.m. on ABC through the end of this month.

New episodes should turn up on USA by next summer. ABC has the rights to a second run of already-aired "Monk" episodes but hasn't decided if or when those reruns will air. A new series takes the 8 p.m. Monday time slot in late January.

Promos ruin '24'

Fox's previews and promotions for newly minted hit "24" are giving away too much. Last week's previews robbed this week's episode of a surprise ending, giving away a gruesome discovery in a car trunk.

Fox isn't alone. Earlier this fall The WB showed previews for a "Gilmore Girls" episode, including scenes of Rory crying on a dance floor, a scene that came in the show's last 10 minutes.

Promotion is necessary, of course, but networks should adhere to a 20-minute rule, limiting scenes used in previews to those from the first 20 minutes of a given episode.

Channel surfing

Daily Variety reports CBS has put "Robbery Homicide Division" on indefinite hiatus despite improved ratings in a trial run this past Saturday at 10 p.m. ... The trade paper also reports Pittsburgh native Antoine Fuqua, who directed the film "Training Day," has signed a deal with Universal Network Television to produce and direct new series. As part of that, one-hour action dramas are already in development at CBS and Fox.

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.

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