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Tuned In: Educational-TV chief launches cable program

Thursday, June 05, 2003

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

Jerry Starr, who led the ultimately unsuccessful crusade against the Federal Communication Commission's decision to allow WQED to sell WQEX, will be back in the public eye this weekend. Rather than protesting, he's producing.

Starr created and moderates "Homefront," a monthly public affairs program, the kind he wishes WQED would carry. "Homefront" will air at 9 p.m. Friday through Sunday on PCTV, Channel 21 on Comcast's City of Pittsburgh cable system. Low-power station WBGN may carry the show in the future, making it available to a wider audience.

"We're deliberately trying to contrast ourselves with the typical cable public affairs program that has a bunch of white male flacks and hacks screaming opinions at one another," Starr said. "I have long felt that such programs create the idea that there is no possibility of reasonable discussion or common ground."

Starr's goal is to give voice to scholars at Pittsburgh's many institutions of higher learning and to have diverse panels that are able to discuss a specific issue.

Each "Homefront" episode will feature a documentary film followed by a panel discussion. This weekend's premiere features "The Hidden Wars of Desert Storm," a film about the history of U.S. involvement in the region, the first Gulf War and the sanctions against Iraq that followed.

Starr, director of Pittsburgh Educational Television, retired from teaching sociology at West Virginia University this past winter. "Homefront" will continue in production until the show takes a break over the winter while Starr teaches a course on the politics of public broadcasting at the University of California at San Diego.

The premiere of "Homefront" coincides with Monday's widely criticized ruling by the FCC that will allow large communications companies to grow even larger. Starr is writing a book, "Debunking Deregulation," and will tackle the topic of media monopolization in the second "Homefront" telecast, scheduled to be taped June 23 at 7 p.m. at The Andy Warhol Museum. Show tapings are open to the public.

"Homefront" won't attempt to balance liberal and conservative viewpoints, Starr said, because he doesn't believe there are only two options.

"I don't believe in labels," Starr said. "I hear them bandied about, and it always seems to me to depend on the issue."

Starr said he'll sometimes play devil's advocate, quoting status quo positions and challenging panelists, but he's not interested in following the standard TV format.

"We are alternative. If you want that [balance], you can find that all over commercial television. That point of view is ably represented already."

In addition to The Warhol and PCTV, "Homefront" is produced with the assistance of the Robert Morris University Center for Documentary Study and Production.

Additional details on future programs can be found at www.pittedtv.org

News Central blues

Some loyal viewers of Channel 53's 10 p.m. news don't like the new format unveiled last week. In e-mails and phone calls, more than a dozen viewers expressed their displeasure with the revamped newscast.

Their concerns fell primarily into two areas: The national news segment is too long, with too many stories of no consequence to Pittsburgh (reports from Baltimore and other Sinclair-owned stations); and they object to weathercasters, who broadcast from the News Central studios in suburban Baltimore, including themselves among the local populace in forecasts (e.g. "we'll have periods of rain and sun").

Some viewers asked for an address where they can send their complaints. Direct letters to WPGH's owner, Sinclair Broadcast Group, 10706 Beaver Dam Road, Hunt Valley, MD, 21030, or call 1-410-568-1500.

Those concerns will likely fall on deaf ears, as Sinclair has spent an enormous amount of money readying this News Central model.

One possible salvation is tied to the FCC vote earlier this week: Tribune Co. said it's interested in buying TV stations in the Top 30 markets. Pittsburgh is market No. 21.

TCA award nominations

Nominations for awards given by the Television Critics Association were announced yesterday, with HBO garnering 10 nominations. But Comedy Central's "The Daily Show" was the leader among all series.

Here are all the nominations:

Program of the Year: "American Idol" (Fox), "Boomtown" (NBC), "The Daily Show" (Comedy Central), "24" (Fox), "The Wire" (HBO).

Best Drama: "Boomtown," "The Shield" (FX), "Six Feet Under" (HBO), "The Sopranos" (HBO), "24," "The Wire."

Best Comedy: "Andy Richter Controls the Universe" (Fox), "Curb Your Enthusiasm" (HBO), "The Daily Show," "Everybody Loves Raymond" (CBS), "The Office" (BBC America).

Best Individual, Comedy: Larry David, Brad Garrett, Bonnie Hunt, Tony Shalhoub, Jon Stewart.

Best Individual, Drama: Edie Falco, James Gandolfini, Jennifer Garner, Neil McDonough, Kiefer Sutherland.

Best New Program: "American Dreams" (NBC), "Boomtown," "Everwood" (The WB), "Lucky" (FX), "The Wire."

Heritage Award: "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" (UPN), "Law & Order" (NBC), "Reading Rainbow" (PBS), "Saturday Night Live" (NBC), "60 Minutes" (CBS).

Lifetime Achievement: Larry Gelbart, Don Hewitt, Carl Reiner, Aaron Spelling, Oprah Winfrey.

News and Information: David Bloom (NBC), "The Daily Show," "Frontline" (PBS), "Nightline" (ABC), "60 Minutes."

Children's Programming: "Dora the Explorer" (Nickelodeon), "Liberty's Kids" (PBS), "Nick News" (Nickelodeon), "Reading Rainbow" (PBS), "Sesame Street" (PBS).

Movies, Miniseries and Specials: "Door to Door" (TNT), "Hitler: The Rise of Evil" (CBS), "Manor House" (PBS), "Live From Baghdad" (HBO), "Taken" (Sci Fi).

The TCA Awards will be handed out July 19 in Hollywood during the summer TCA press tour.

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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