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Are viewers ready to break from reality?

Thursday, March 06, 2003

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Maybe? Perhaps? Could it be? Could the reality TV juggernaut be loosening its grip?

Monday's debut of "Married By America" on Fox didn't draw in viewers by the "Joe Millionaire"-ful. Actually, it was pretty much a ratings loser. So was ABC's "The Family" Tuesday night, which registered lower ratings than are typical for "NYPD Blue" or last year's time slot occupant, "Philly."

And the new "Let's Make a Deal" on NBC? It tied for third in its premiere Tuesday.

Not everyone is eager to see reality TV diminished. Former Pittsburgher Tim Beggy has been riding the reality gravy train since appearing in the second season of MTV's "Road Rules" in 1996.

Now 30, Beggy called from the Atlanta airport on his way to Cancun, Mexico, with other reality TV stars to appear at a Maxim magazine spring break party.

"The [reality] wave keeps getting bigger and bigger, although people won't admit it," Beggy said. "It's not going away, and being one of the trailblazers or pioneers, you get to ride that wave longer than anyone else has."

Beggy said he is prepared for his notoriety to come to an end at some point, but he said when it does, it will be his choice, not the industry's.

"When I receive my fulfillment, I'll get out and walk away and do something different," he said. "The variety of work that is out there is awfully entertaining to me."

Beggy acted in an upcoming episode of "The Drew Carey Show," although he said acting is not his ambition.

"I really enjoy being myself and enjoy hosting, but you get phone calls and before you know it you have a part, and there you go," Beggy said.

He gets to be himself in USA Network's latest "Eco-Challenge," which airs at 10 p.m. May 5, 6 and 7 and at 9 p.m. May 8. Beggy joined up with other reality-show stars to form an "Eco-Challenge" team.

This summer he'll host a new History Channel series, "Guts and Bolts," that he said is loosely based on a book and Web site called "How Stuff Works."

Beggy said he investigates how a Taser works and later gets to feel its effect. There are also plans to explain how FedEx works by FedEx-ing Beggy from California to Pittsburgh.

With all these projects in the works, there is one that's fallen through: Beggy and Susie Meister of Ross, a contestant on a later "Road Rules," are no longer an item.

'WENN' musical delayed

A musical based on the canceled Pittsburgh-set series "Remember WENN" was scheduled to be performed this month at the Helen Hayes Performing Arts Center in Nyack, N.Y., but it's been delayed until a year from now.

Series creator Rupert Holmes will write the music and book, translating the TV show to the stage. His work on other projects has forced the postponement.

Another Channel 19

On WTAE you might occasionally see a report from the Uniontown area with a "News 19" logo on the mike flag in the shot.

No one's pilfering footage from WNPA, Pittsburgh's over-the-air Channel 19. Channel 4 has a loose arrangement to share footage with a newscast that airs on Charter Communications' cable Channel 19 in Uniontown.

News 19 tapes weekday afternoons and airs at 7 p.m. on a public access channel and repeats at 10:30 p.m. and midnight. The newscast started in December and is produced by Calkins Media, which owns the Uniontown Herald Standard. The newscast can be seen by 39,500 cable subscribers in the area.

News director Joanne Hunt said the TV outlet has nine people on staff, including four anchor/reporters and two photographers. Hunt said there are plans in the future to air the program live and add noon and weekend newscasts.

"Even though Pittsburgh is close, a lot of things happen here in Fayette County, and our people were wanting to see local sports, local news and local weather," she said. "We felt a need for that."

Hunt said Channel 4 has used tape from three stories produced by News 19 so far.

"We're pretty proud of that," she said. "We enjoy the relationship. They have the experience and have been in it longer than we have."

In its nascent state, News 19 isn't in the same league as Pittsburgh stations. It has the sound, look and feel of a college or resort-area newscast. Reports are longer than what's normal on local newscasts, with little editing.

Sweeping up

The final night of sweeps, Feb. 26, offered only one noteworthy report: Channel 4's Jim Parsons investigated convention center construction workers drinking on their lunch hour.

Unlike too many reports in the sweeps month that just ended, this one was thorough, illuminating and worthy of the promotion it received.

Channel 11 promo

Cheers to a new WPXI promo that has, of all things, humor!

Years ago, Channel 4 used humor effectively in its Don Cannon-Paul Long promos, but lately it's been all about competition and "we're better than they are."

The Channel 11 spot features David Johnson running around the newsroom. "At Channel 11 News, you can find news anchor David Johnson just about anywhere except here," the announcer says as the camera is trained on an empty chair.

Then viewers see Johnson moving quickly, asking questions and making suggestions. It's a bit of heightened reality -- some of what he's seen doing is more typically the purview of producers than of a lead anchor -- but it's still the most enjoyable news promo since KDKA's "I See It All, I See the News" spot.

News director Pat Maday, who has a split-second cameo at the start of the commercial, said other promos devoted to individuals are in the works. A John Fedko promo was shot yesterday, but Maday would not specify which other employees will be featured.

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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