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KDKA-TV weathers contract negotiations

Thursday, January 30, 2003

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

Contract negotiations happen every day in the TV business, and usually they're discreet, personal affairs. Not this week at KDKA-TV, where the buzz over Gabrielle DeRose's departure had no time to settle before word of negotiations between morning weathercaster Jon Burnett and station executives gained currency.

Burnett, who joined KDKA in 1982 as co-host of "Evening Magazine," has worked without a long-term contract since July. As with DeRose, KDKA offered Burnett a new contract that would reduce his compensation. Since the retirement of Bob Kudzma last year, Burnett has gained additional weather duties on the noon news.

Burnett, also heard on KDKA-AM, would not comment on the negotiations.

News director Al Blinke said he expects Burnett to remain at KDKA.

"I can't imagine why he would leave," Blinke said. "I have no reason to believe why Jon won't be here for a long time."

Blinke confirmed that the station is in contract negotiations with Burnett, but he wouldn't confirm whether Burnett was offered lower pay.

"I'm not talking about what he's being offered," he said. "It's none of anybody's business what he's being offered or what I'm talking to them about."

Blinke said he has interviewed weathercasters for a part-time, vacation relief position, but that those people are not being considered to succeed Burnett.

With weathercaster Rebecca Hower going on maternity leave in a few months, the station needs a fill-in forecaster. If negotiations go south and Burnett departs and Hower goes on leave, Jeff Verszyla would be alone in the weather center.

When Kudzma retired last year, he said he'd return to do fill-in work. So far, that hasn't happened.

"If he wants to come back and do fill-in work, I'd be more than happy to have him come do it," Blinke said.

Kudzma said he's hamstrung by tax laws. Because he collects Social Security, his income is limited until he turns 65 in a year and a half. Should he make too much money before then, he would be heavily taxed.

"I'd be more than happy to return if certain arrangements can be made," he said. "I really would like to go back on the air just to work with the people I got to know and love."

Returning to TV

Former WPXI 11 p.m. anchor Darieth Chisolm will return to Pittsburgh TV this spring as a general contributor to WQED's "On Q."

Since leaving Channel 11, Chisolm has remained in Western Pennsylvania and has been busy caring for her family, helping her husband with his business and running a business of her own (www.WalnutGroveSales.com). But she has missed television.

"I loved what I did, and more than anything, I miss the reporting of stories," she said last week. "Even as an anchor, you get to do so little of that."

She's especially excited to be able to create stories for "On Q" that will run three to five minutes. "You can really tell a story, as opposed to a 30-second drive-by."

Should Channel 11 need a new anchor at 11 p.m. or in another slot, Chisolm doesn't rule out a return.

"If they [called], I certainly would answer the phone," she said. "The door, I'm assuming, is always open. I left on very good terms. If it was something I could do part time, maybe [I would consider returning], and that's a strong maybe."

Sweeps?

Usually you can feel the momentum build for sweeps, but this go-round, it's particularly muted even as the February ratings period begins today.

Maybe the hype surrounding all the January premieres of reality shows overshadowed what's coming in February. More likely, it's just that sweeps has changed.

Miniseries, once a staple, are completely missing. Instead, more networks are sticking with their regularly scheduled programs or specials, or they're introducing still more reality shows. (ABC introduces "Are You Hot?" and "I'm a Celebrity -- Get Me Out of Here!")

Trumped-up sweeps "excitement" may build as the month progresses, but with only a few exceptions so far, it doesn't feel particularly "super-sized" or "very special."

Better 'Bonnie'

"The Bonnie Hunt Show" (9 p.m. Tuesdays, ABC) is often hit or miss, frequently depending on how the unscripted, improvised segments on Hunt's fictional talk show play.

Next week, Robin Williams drops by as a psychic, and the show comes together almost perfectly. Even the scripted segments with Bonnie and her family are funnier than usual. For a hit-or-miss series, next week's episode is definitely a hit.

Awesome 'Alias'

Finally, the folks behind ABC's "Alias" are taking some chances, and the show is better for it. Sunday's post-Super Bowl episode was a riveting shocker that after a year and a half fulfilled the show's promise.

Sure, most episodes end on a cliffhanger, but there's a timidity to the show that never allowed it to do anything truly shocking. An episode might end with it seeming as if Will (Bradley Cooper) was killed, but come the next week, Will would miraculously survive.

Not anymore. "Alias" needed a jolt like the constant plot twists on "24." Destroying the evil Alliance and killing off sweet, benign Francie (Merrin Dungey) and replacing her with an evil double was a brilliant move. It's also a blessing for Dungey, a versatile actress hamstrung by a thankless role as the clueless best friend of double agent Sydney Bristow (Jennifer Garner).

"Alias" was a show I never watched religiously, but I'm more likely to tune in now that I know the writers are willing to stir things up.

'Kimmel' goes live

"The honeymoon with ABC is over," declared the star of ABC's new "Jimmy Kimmel Live" (12:05 a.m. weeknights, WTAE) at the start of his second broadcast. Even Kimmel seemed surprised how little time it took for him and network executives to find themselves on opposite sides of an issue -- in this case, whether to allow audience members (many wearing baseball caps backwards) to drink alcohol during the show.

"A guy backstage vomited and Disney took it away and now we're serving milk and cookies," Kimmel said. "I vomit every time I ride Space Mountain and they don't close Disneyland."

He has more to worry about than whether his fans can get wasted. He's yet to master the art of looking at the camera that's directed at him (hint: it's usually the one with the red light aglow). Instead, he either stares at his guests or looks at the studio audience.

Technical gaffes aside, "Jimmy Kimmel Live" isn't that funny. Kimmel has an easy, conversational style with his guests and guest co-host (this week it's Snoop Dogg). But his low-key, sleepy-eyed comedic style doesn't fit the show's attempt to create an exuberant, late-night frat party.

Quote of the week

WTAE reporter Jon Greiner had this to say last Thursday at 11 p.m. during a live report from the bitter cold outdoors.

"I would much rather be at home watching my news director stand out here, but that's the way it goes."


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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