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TV Notes: Ticker attack moves from cable to KDKA

Thursday, April 03, 2003

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

Informative headline service or headache-inducing distraction?

That's what viewers will have to decide about the news ticker that began scrolling across the bottom of the screen during KDKA-TV newscasts this week.

The constant presence of a ticker on cable news channels became popular after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in 2001, but other than weather forecasts during the morning news and school closing information on snowy days, local stations had avoided using a ticker until now.

KDKA news director Al Blinke said the station got no negative calls from viewers on the ticker's first day on the air. Blinke said cable networks acclimated viewers to the constant scroll.

"In this day and time, there's a lot of information we don't necessarily give people when they want it," he said. "People can watch the headlines while we're giving local news and other news."

But can they? Personally, I can read the scroll or pay attention to the anchor or reporter. I can't do both at once. It's like patting your head and rubbing your stomach.

Currently, KDKA's scroll carries mostly national news from a news ticker service, but Blinke said it will be localized in the future. In sports segments, the ticker offers game scores and stats. It disappears during weather reports.

"There are animated graphics, and I want people to pay attention to the weather," Blinke said.

He was eager to add a ticker even before the war in Iraq, but he's not ready to declare it a permanent addition to KDKA newscasts.

"We'll play that one by ear," he said. "If it seems to be something the public likes, I may consider keeping it on long term."

WTAE news director Bob Longo said his station has the capability to run a crawl and considered using it as part of Channel 4's war coverage, but, he added: "We don't see any need to insert it right now.

"If the news of the day were of such drama and importance that the network had to be on, yet there was still a lot of local headlines and issues that needed to be covered, it gives us the clear option to stay with network coverage and give viewers local headline information."

WPXI news director Pat Maday said Channel 11 has used a news ticker sparingly in the past, most noticeably in the days following Sept. 11, but he has no plans to make it a regular part of the news.

"Sometimes it can just be a distraction from the newscast if you use it a lot," he said.

WPGH news director John Poister said Channel 53 will add a news ticker eventually.

"The feeling at the corporate headquarters is they would rather have a crawl on," Poister said. "We've waited on it for a little while. We want to make sure when we do it it's at least going to complement the newscast."

He also cited concerns about how labor intensive it would be to add local news to a ticker. WPGH experimented with a ticker on election night to positive feedback, Poister said.

"We were able to spotlight races on the crawl we would never have gotten to had we put them on with an anchor," he said.

Van Dine to retire

KDKA-TV consumer reporter Wayne Van Dine, who has worked part time in recent years, will retire from the station at the end of May.

Van Dine, a Kittanning native, joined KDKA in 1978 and gained prominence helping individual consumers with their problems in his "Take it 2 Wayne" segments.

Jenna's odds

Could Pittsburgh's "Survivor" star Jenna Morasca be the winner of "Survivor: Amazon"?

BoDog.com, a Costa Rican-based sportsbook and casino, removed odds-to-win for the CBS reality show from its Web site after the company determined that CBS employees had placed bets.

BoDog president Rob Gillespie said CBS staffers skewed the odds on Morasca or contestant Matthew Von Ertfelda winning to the point where "legitimate players were shying away from wagering."

CBS spokesman Chris Ender, invoking dialogue from ABC's mysterious "Twin Peaks," would say only, "The owls are not what they seem."

Joke's on ABC

The consistently funny, insightful TV commentary Web site www.teevee.org let loose with its best April Fools' Day parody yet. On Tuesday, the site became a dead ringer for ABC's home page.

In the TeeVee universe, ABC officially adopted "The Reality Network" as its brand identity. New series imagined by the TeeVee writers include "Race for the Cure" (imagine "The Amazing Race," except that one player each week is injected with a toxin and the last to the finish line doesn't get the cure and dies), "The Cat" (like "The Mole," only players have to figure out which contestant is in fact a feline) and "When Animals Attack Animal Rights Activists" ("You'll gasp as an endangered Asiatic black bear devours a particularly aromatic PETA member, believing him to be rotting meat").

Not only is the satire of reality TV spot-on, the TeeVee writers nail ABC executive Lloyd Braun's tendency to commit malapropisms in a message about the network's new identity.

'South Park' renewed

In the midst of seven new episodes that began its seventh season, Comedy Central's "South Park" will be around for another two seasons of 15 episodes each, keeping the show in production through 2005. There's an option to continue the show for a third year, through 2006.

'Sterling' sacked

NBC's 'Mister Sterling" is this year's "That's Life," a series watched by relatively few (according to the Nielsen ratings) that generates the most calls to my desk.

After a healthy ratings start in January, viewership for "Mister Sterling" eroded throughout its run, which ended last month. NBC has not officially canceled the series but is expected to do so in May.

With a 'Trace'

Fans of CBS's "Without a Trace" (10 tonight) know that series lead Jack Malone (Anthony LaPaglia) is separated from his wife, but she's never been seen. Rather than going down the same path as with Norm's wife on "Cheers" -- much discussed, but never seen -- "Trace" producers decided that Malone's wife will finally show her face in tonight's episode.

Actress Talia Balsam will play Maria Malone, who surprises the missing persons team when she shows up at the office after she receives a threat from someone possibly related to one of Jack's cases.

A good 'Scare'?

The witch is back.

Shannen Doherty, last seen playing an enchantress on The WB's "Charmed," hosts Sci Fi Channel's new "Candid Camera" rip-off "Scare Tactics" (10 and 10:30 p.m. tomorrow). But it has a twist on "Camera" -- instead of just tricking friends and loved ones, "Tactics" seeks to "scare the hell out of them," Doherty says.

Participants, including one who's already suing the show, are put in sci-fi and horror show-type scenarios, including one sap who's told he's been exposed to biological waste and a group of campers who are terrorized by Bigfoot.

Former "90210" star Doherty participates in some of the set-ups, posing as an investor in a "plasma gun" that a doofus patsy is made to think he fires and kills Doherty's "Uncle Jimmy."

"Dude, that is messed up," the mark says when the ruse is exposed. "That is not cool."

True, it's not cool. It's low-class entertainment that's occasionally funny but also guilt-inducing when you realize that the emotions of real people are being grossly manipulated in a bid to entertain the masses.

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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