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Tuned In: To enter or not to enter, that is the question

Thursday, August 07, 2003

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

The 2002 Mid-Atlantic Emmy Award nominations will be announced today, and, as in years past, WTAE and WQED are expected to take home the bulk of the nominations. And for good reason: They're the only Pittsburgh stations that regularly enter the annual competition, which largely pits Pittsburgh stations against Philadelphia outlets.

Employees at KDKA, WPXI and WPGH will sometimes pay the entry fee to submit their own work, but the stations themselves don't enter the competition.

Awards serve many purposes, of course, boosting morale and creating bragging rights. At WQED, executive producer of local programming Jocelyn Hough said the Emmys offer an independent evaluation of the station's work that can be shared with funders.

"It is validation we're able to compete with stations in Philadelphia that have [more] money and resources," she said.

Grace Stewart, executive director of the Mid-Atlantic Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, said the regional Emmys are judged by people who work in the TV industry in other parts of the country in an effort to get an impartial evaluation.

This year, Pittsburgh entries were judged by chapters based in New York, Washington, D.C., and Boston. An individual ballot is created for each Emmy category, and judges base their scores on the entry's content, creativity and execution. Stewart said the entries with the highest scores comprise the nominations (think of them as finalists) and the top scoring entry wins the Emmy at a September ceremony in Philadelphia.

For early submissions, chapter members pay $60 per entrant ($170 for nonmembers). If three people worked on a single entry, that's $180 for the entry.

Hough said WQED spends $2,000 to $3,000 per year on entries. She worked at KDKA for 16 years, leaving in 1996, and she said it wasn't unusual for Channel 2 to spend $5,000 on entries back when it participated in the Emmys.

To enter individual achievement categories, members pay $45 ($145 for non-members). At WQED, employees who enter and win are reimbursed.

"It is money well spent," Hough said. "It does matter to be able to say you're an Emmy-nominated program, an Emmy-nominated station, an Emmy-nominated person. Folks in the industry know that means you probably do quality work."

One complaint I've heard over the years is that stations buy their way to Emmy awards, but, Hough said, every contest costs something to enter. The Emmys' Stewart agreed.

"We believe that this encourages stations and individuals to be selective in entering their best work," Stewart said. "Even at that, paying entry fees does not guarantee that an entry will be recognized, as only a small percentage of entries in a given category are even nominated."

WTAE news director Bob Longo said there were previous administrative issues with the handling of the regional Emmys -- tapes for judging were lost, found and judged in a rush; he felt the awards favored Philadelphia stations -- but he said in recent years the organization "has gotten its act together." He encouraged all Pittsburgh stations to enter the competition.

"The more the merrier," he said. "It's always fun to beat more people."

At WPXI it's been a long-standing policy not to enter the Emmys, and cost is a factor.

"We are very limited, as a station, in the amount of awards entering we do," said news director Pat Maday. "It's a pretty expensive proposition. We enter a few each year, a couple of AP categories, generally one or two Radio-Television News Director Association categories and [locally] the Golden Quills."

KDKA news director Al Blinke did not return calls seeking comment.

Maday said that if every year a single station won the bulk of all awards, it might make a difference in viewer perception. As it is, he said, all the stations win some awards each year.

"In the end, it's not really how many awards you win, it's, are you giving folks the coverage they want?" Maday said.

That said, awards might be a barometer of whether stations are giving viewers the news they need.

'Neighborhood,' 'Barbershop' repeats

Next week's 11 a.m. episodes -- beginning at 11:17 a.m. due to pledge -- of "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" on WQED were created for children who are just getting ready to start school.

The five episodes, which first aired in the early '80s, are designed for children entering kindergarten or first grade who might be frightened or anxious.

Channel 13 also will repeat "The Barbershop: A Black Horizons Special," which visits three local barbershops to explore the relationships between barbers and their patrons. The special, hosted by Chris Moore, plays at 8 tonight and again at 10:30 p.m. Aug. 22.

'O.C.' a summer hit

Fox's new teen soap "The O.C." was a hit with viewers Tuesday night, winning its first half-hour in national household ratings and losing few viewers in its second half.

Since writing my review in this past Sunday's TV Week, I've seen two more episodes, and the show is growing on me. Is it something I'd watch during the regular season? Not necessarily, but the next two episodes prove it to be a well-constructed soap with a sense of humor.

When nerdy Seth Cohen (Adam Brody) walks in on his crush, the hot girl next door Marissa (Mischa Barton), dressing, she grabs his arm to take him out and asks if he needs a ride to a "Star Wars" convention.

" 'Star Wars' convention?" Seth asks. "Couldn't you have at least said, 'X-Men'?"

Much of the pilot's over-the-top -- or perhaps too realistic -- scenes of teens in party mode disappear as the series concentrates on developing its core characters.

The pilot's production values also take a dip, which is par for the course. Subsequent episodes don't have the same opulent look, particularly the Cohens' back yard of Astroturf grass and "Melrose Place"-shallow swimming pool. At least they're still filming some exterior scenes on the same cul-de-sac seen in the pilot. It offers a nice touch of "Knots Landing" nostalgia.

Brokaw explores illiteracy

NBC's Tom Brokaw spends an hour exploring adult illiteracy in a "Dateline" special, "A Loss for Words" (8 p.m. tomorrow).

For eight months, cameras followed four adult students who were tutored in reading, also capturing the social hardships that illiteracy inflicts.

You can reach Rob Owen at 412-263-2582 or Post questions or comments under TV Forum.

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