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WPGH news director quits to work in radio

Thursday, March 13, 2003

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

John Poister, news director at Sinclair-owned Fox affiliate WPGH, quit Tuesday, just a few weeks after the TV station's most successful ratings in a sweeps period.

Poister became news director in March 2001. He was the third person hired to work at the upstart news operation in September 1996 before becoming executive producer and later assistant news director. WPGH's 10 p.m. news premiered in January 1997.

It's a real loss for the station. In an industry often obsessed with ratings and promotion, Poister is a good newsman and a good guy, that rarest combination.

His last day at the station will be April 11. On April 14, Poister will begin work as program director at talk radio WPTT (1360 AM) and as creative services director for WPTT, WJAS (1320 AM) and WSHH (99.7 FM).

Poister said his departure from WPGH was not motivated by an increasing number of dictates from Sinclair, which, earlier this year, instituted "central cast" weather from its Maryland headquarters on WPGH's weekend newscasts.

"[This move] was a surprise to my bosses at Sinclair in Baltimore and, to be honest, it was a surprise to me," Poister said. "I felt we had achieved the level of acceptance that we could build off of. I've had nearly seven years here and it was probably a good time for some new people to come in or for people who have worked under me to go in."

Poister previously worked for Tony Renda, owner of Renda Broadcasting, which operates the radio stations where Poister will soon be based. Poister's career has encompassed several years in radio at the former WTAE-AM working with Lynn Cullen and Doug Hoerth, who are now on WPTT.

"My career is a not a conventional career by any stretch of the imagination," Poister acknowledged. "I like all kinds of different things in broadcasting. I don't like getting boxed in doing just one thing."

In his final weeks at WPGH, Poister will continue to search for a replacement for former news anchor Jay Harris. After he departs, managing editor Sharon Ritchey will become interim news manager at WPGH.

Signed

KDKA news director Al Blinke confirmed that weathercaster Jon Burnett has signed a new contract with the station.

Burnett will continue to appear on the morning and noon newscasts "for right now," Blinke said. "Anything is possible down the road."

Comcast changes

New cable company Comcast has introduced new segments at 25 and 55 minutes past the hour on CNN Headline News.

In addition to WPXI's local news updates, Comcast blocks out what's usually a Headline News entertainment report with the features "Seeking Solutions with Suzanne" and "Comcast Newsmakers."

"Seeking Solutions" is the fluffier of the two. Hosted by Suzanne Roberts, the wife of Comcast's founder, it's a Q & A lifestyles segment with various Philadelphians. There are no plans to tape segments in Pittsburgh.

My favorite edition is on self-defense. Viewers get to see Roberts, with a crazed look in her eyes, throttle an "attacker" during a self-defense exercise.

"Newsmakers" is hosted by WQED's Tonia Caruso, which would be a little shady if she still worked for a news organization, but technically, WQED is not.

The sole reason for my trepidation is the purpose of "Newsmakers," which essentially offers a platform for community and political leaders to spout off on topics of their choosing. These are the same political leaders cable companies need to make nice with regarding cable franchise agreements, and what better way to do that than by giving them a free platform to espouse their views?

Caruso, formerly a reporter at WTAE-TV, acknowledged that if she still worked for a commercial station, she couldn't appear on "Newsmakers" and wouldn't want to, but she said working for WQED changes the dynamics.

"At WQED, we're more of a forum for the community," she said. "['Newsmakers'] is an extension of a forum, and as long as the politicians have equal time and know that though they come on there in a positive light to talk about whatever issue they want to talk about, they also know I'll ask them to comment on what critics are saying about it."

In addition, Caruso said, talking with politicians and community leaders has given her ideas for future "On Q" stories.

'Ed' moves

Next week, NBC's "Ed" moves from 8 p.m. Wednesday to 9 p.m. Friday, a night with fewer viewers. But Squirrel Hill native and executive producer Jon Beckerman said the idea for a change originated with the show's producers.

Since the beginning of the series, producers have asked NBC to give "Ed" a later time slot. They feel the prototypical "Ed" viewer -- age 37, married with children, professional, well-educated -- is unavailable at 8. As evidence, Beckerman said the show's ratings usually rise in the second half-hour. Now that "American Idol" airs at 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, ratings for the second half of "Ed" aren't holding up as well.

"We just got to the point where we felt like we know what Wednesday at 8 is, and it hasn't gotten to that next level [ratings-wise]," Beckerman said by phone. "If they're willing to give us a chance somewhere else, even though it has a risk attached, let's try it."

The April 4 season finale will have "a major plot point for the show, something of real significance," Beckerman teased.

Sabrina Lloyd, who joined the cast at mid-season as Frankie, will appear in the three remaining episodes. Chris Isaak appears in the final three episodes as Jamie Decker (named after Beckerman's brother), a love interest for Carol.

A potential romance between Ed (Tom Cavanagh) and Carol (Julie Bowen) has always been at the show's core, and Beckerman is now more willing to consider that than he was when the series began.

With three years down and a realization that "Ed" won't run forever -- its renewal for next season is not a lock -- Beckerman sees light at the end of the production tunnel.

"You get to a point where something you might not have wanted to do at the end of season one or season two, you can start giving some consideration to," Beckerman said. "We're obligated to tell the end of the Ed and Carol story, and our task is to do that in a satisfying way that will make people who have been hanging in from the beginning feel like things turned out the way they might have hoped."

'Farscape' farewell

Rewarding a loyal audience is an alien concept to the producers of Sci Fi Channel's original series "Farscape" (8 p.m. tomorrow), which comes to a halt March 21. The series finale gives viewers a final, bittersweet cliffhanger that may never be resolved.

"Sometimes things don't happen quite the way you imagine them," says human John Crichton in next week's finale, echoing, no doubt, the sentiments of the show's producers, who didn't get the opportunity to complete their story.

Actually, even after Sci Fi Channel canceled "Farscape," a satisfying ending to the series exists, but it comes about a minute before the conclusion that viewers will see.

I'd almost encourage more fragile fans to stop watching after this week's penultimate hour, but there are too many emotional payoffs next week.

Fans, before you tune in for next week's finale, put any heavy objects at a distance, lest you pick them up and hurl them at the television set when the end arrives, and warn the neighbors not to worry, because you may emit a bloodcurdling scream.


You can reach Rob Owen at 412-263-2582 orrowen@post-gazette.com .

Thursday, March 13, 2003

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