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Tuned In: WPGH anchor says move wasn't planned

Thursday, January 23, 2003

A month ago, Jay Harris didn't expect tomorrow would be his last day as a news anchor at WPGH.

His contract was up at the end of December, and, like many TV anchors in that position, he sent tapes out to stations to simply test the waters.

"I sent a tape to a friend of mine to critique because I really wasn't getting much response," Harris said. "He works at ESPN. He looked at it, his boss looked at it and said, 'Why don't we bring him up for an audition?' "

During his vacation just before Christmas, Harris flew to ESPN headquarters in Bristol, Conn.

"In my heart of hearts, I expected to be here for another three years," Harris said. He even turned down ESPN's first two offers. "I wasn't sure if I wanted to do sports. [My family has] been in this city 12 years, and I'm really proud of what we built up at Fox."

After ESPN asked Harris to propose a deal and they accepted his terms, he decided to make the leap. He starts there Feb. 3 but won't be on the air for several weeks. He'll begin as an anchor on ESPNews (digital Channel 402 on AT&T Broadband; Channel 123 on some Adelphia systems).

"I've always been envious of people like Alby [Oxenreiter] because they are able to put more of themselves into the product," Harris said. "They're able to be more personable. They can smile, laugh, joke -- sports gives you that freedom. You can't do that doing a story about a murder or carjacking."

Harris has been a valuable part of the WPGH team, an anchor whose trustworthiness helped elevate the newscast. He also had much better chemistry with anchor Sheila Hyland than his predecessor, John Huck.

WPGH news director John Poister said Kym Gable and Katie Sesny will fill Harris' chair during February sweeps. Monday night, with all the anchors out with stomach flu, reporter Andy Briggs anchored solo.

"There's nobody who isn't a possibility [for the job]," Poister said. "Whatever happens, it's an important move."

Spotlight's harsh glare

KDKA-TV weathercaster Rebecca Hower got a shock earlier this month when Playboy.com included her in a poll of the nation's "sexiest weather forecasters."

"I wasn't offended, but I knew it might create a stir because Pittsburgh is a pretty traditional town. I just kind of laughed at it," she said. Indeed, local radio stations fueled interest in the poll. Hower ended up being voted No. 2 out of nine featured weather women.

But the more people talked, the more things got misconstrued. Playboy.com showed only Hower's head shot from KDKA's Web site -- news director Al Blinke said Playboy did not have permission to use the photo -- but some people had a different impression.

"My only concern is people would think this is something I nominated myself for," she said. "Some people who don't have Internet access think I'm naked when they just hear I'm 'in Playboy.' "

The timing was particularly unfortunate. Hower, who has been married for five years, is five months pregnant.

"I'm certainly not looking to be in Playboy for any reason," she said, laughing. "How many pregnant women are in Playboy magazine? It was too bizarre."

New look, new show

WQED Multimedia, formerly WQED Pittsburgh, unveiled a new logo and on-air look at a party last night during the live telecast of "On Q."

WQED also announced plans for its first "On Q" spinoff program. This week, the Friday forum segment -- talking heads debate issues of the week -- will become its own series titled "Off Q," airing at 11:30 p.m. Fridays and repeating at 7:30 a.m. Saturdays and 1 p.m. Sundays.

Chris Moore hosts with a special weekly guest panelist plus regulars Alan Cox, Ruth Ann Dailey and Fred Honsberger.

Globes goof

U2's Bono used the f-word while accepting a Golden Globe award for best original song, but how did that make it into NBC's telecast Sunday night?

Easily: There was no delay that would have allowed the network to bleep the word. An NBC spokeswoman said the word was bleeped for the West Coast feed.

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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