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Tuned In: A mighty wind of storm coverage

Thursday, June 19, 2003

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

Last Thursday's storms blew down trees and blew out local stations' regular programs. The wicked weather also led to a near meltdown at WPGH.

Overall, WTAE had the most compelling coverage. The station has learned how to use Scott Baker most effectively in breaking news situations, tossing to him as a solo anchor in the newsroom.

In addition to meteorologist Joe DeNardo, Stephen Cropper was in the weather center, and Channel 4 has been touting them both in promos. That must be sweet justice for Cropper, who was bumped from his weekday spot last year when the station promoted Don Schwenneker, who was on vacation last week.

As usual, not all viewers appreciated the prolonged coverage, which ran from the 5 p.m. evening news until, and in some cases after, 8 p.m.

Viewers were doubtless thankful that KDKA cut away from coverage in time for the start of CBS's "The Amazing Race." That goodwill was erased, however, when Channel 2 interrupted the climax of "Race" for a weather bulletin that surely could have waited until the commercial break.

"It is so exhausting," said one viewer who e-mailed me about the coverage. "Better to put on [regular] programming and have a runner at the bottom of the screen."

I'm always annoyed when local stations beat a breaking news story to death, but in fairness, TV stations cover a wide area and weather is different from other news stories. Even if it's not storming at your house, it may be in other places in range of a station's signal.

KDKA and WPXI had fine coverage, but WTAE seemed to be the quickest on the air with chopper shots and reporters on the ground. WTAE also was the first station I heard suggest that viewers send them pictures of storm damage via cell phone.

But being first doesn't guarantee entirely good coverage.

"This is not the time for guesswork," WTAE's Baker said. But that didn't deter it from happening.

Reporter Jon Greiner asked a man in the storm's path whether he thought it was a tornado or straight-line winds, as if any citizen untrained in such detection could do anything more than offer a guess.

In an interview with a boy, who said he was not scared during the storm, Greiner declared, "Well, you're a brave young man," then pointed the mike at the kid for comment. The boy stared at the microphone dumbfounded, which was a pretty reasonable response.

Channel 53 weathered its own storm Thursday night. First, a Katie Sesny report rewound in midstream and then began to play again from the beginning. Then the station lost its signal from News Central in suburban Baltimore ("no signal" appeared on screen).

After more than five minutes of commercials -- the same "Frasier" promo aired at least three times -- WPGH got back on the air and continued local news coverage, but News Central remained MIA. Not that that's a bad thing.

The station was able to air a weather report from Elizabeth Hart at News Central, but it had a herky-jerky quality to it that made her occasionally look and sound like Max Headroom. Then the newscast ended about eight minutes early and commercials and promos played through until 11 p.m.

WPGH news manager Sharon Ritchey said there was a signal strength problem on Channel 53's end of the connection to News Central. It's since been resolved.

"If it was weather-related, it played a small part in it," she said, pointing to Tuesday's newscast, which was unaffected by heavier rain than what lingered last Thursday night.

More 'Sopranos'

Turns out "The Sopranos" will have a sixth season after all.

The 13-episode fifth season, currently in production, will premiere in March 2004. According to a report in yesterday's New York Times, a 10-episode sixth and likely final season will begin production in late 2004 or early 2005.

More 'show killers'

Sunday's story about actors whose presence in a TV show frequently dooms it to a short life generated a fair amount of response on the PG TV Forum. Readers noted several actors who deserved to be on the list, so we include them here.

I was particularly disappointed to realize I had overlooked Titus Welliver, an intense actor CBS was determined to make a star, casting him in crime dramas that invariably failed, including "Big Apple" (2001, CBS), "Falcone" (2000, CBS) and "Brooklyn South" (1997-98, CBS). He was also a series regular the second season of "That's Life" (2000-02, CBS).

Margaret Colin, an excellent actress, hasn't had much luck, starring in the well-regarded but short-lived "Now and Again" (1999-2000, CBS), "The Wright Verdicts" (1995, CBS), "Sibs" (1991-92, ABC), "Leg Work" (1987, CBS) and "Foley Square" (1985-86, CBS).

Jon Tenney has failed in comedies and dramas, adding "Kristin" (2001, NBC) to a list that also includes "Get Real" (1999-2000, Fox), "Brooklyn South" (1997-98, CBS), "Good Company" (1996, CBS), "Crime & Punishment" (1993, NBC), "Equal Justice" (1990-91, ABC) and "Dirty Dozen: The Series" (1988, Fox).

Poor Bess Armstrong starred in one of the best shows of all time, "My So-Called Life" (1994, ABC), but she's also starred in some stinkers, including "That Was Then" (2002, ABC), "Married People" (1990-91, ABC) and "On Our Own" (1994-95, ABC). She also appeared in one of my favorites, a show that should have been a long-running hit but wasn't, "All Is Forgiven" (1986, NBC).

Actress Bess Meyer flopped in "Brother's Keeper" (1998-99, ABC), "George & Leo" (1997-98, CBS), "The Boys Are Back" (1994-95, CBS), "Room for Two" (1992-93, ABC), "Parenthood" (1990, NBC) and "Normal Life" (1990, CBS).

Joe Morton makes some noteworthy guest appearances, most recently on "Smallville," but his series never seem to go the distance. Failures include "Mercy Point" (1998, UPN), "Prince Street" (1997, NBC), "New York News" (1995, CBS), "Under One Roof" (1995, CBS), the excellent anthology "Tribeca" (1993, Fox) and another show killer magnet, "Equal Justice," which was set in Pittsburgh.

'Miners' Story' on video

ABC's TV movie "The Pennsylvania Miners' Story," which aired in November, will be released for rental on home video and for sale on DVD ($29.99) on Tuesday, less than a year after the events it depicts. The 100-minute film contains no commentary track or other notable extras.

Shuttle specials

Discovery Channel will debut two hours on the destruction of the space shuttle Columbia and its crew, airing from 9 to 11 p.m. Wednesday.

"Falling from Space: The Challenge of Re-Entry" explores the engineering challenges of re-entering the Earth's atmosphere. "Columbia's Final Mission: 16 Days" will feature footage from the crew's onboard cameras and explores the personalities of the astronauts.

Spike TV nonsense

Although Spike Lee is causing an unwarranted legal ruckus about the new name for TNN, which was to be Spike TV, the network's new shows, previewed in the upcoming issue of the Post-Gazette's TV Week, will air as scheduled.

Once legal matters are settled, we'll switch TNN to whatever its new name is in TV Week's cable conversion chart.

Demo derby

Bleary-eyed from looking at all those tiny numbers in the Nielsen ratings book last week, I goofed in evaluating WPXI's 11 p.m. demos in persons and women 25-54. Turns out Channel 11 was steady in women and up a point in persons, not down.


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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