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Tuned In: PCNC anchors freeze for laughs

Thursday, August 28, 2003

By Rob Owen

We know TV anchors excel as talking heads. Turns out they make good statues, too.

Almost since PCNC's 10 p.m. news began in January 1994, the anchors have ended the newscast by freezing in place like statues. They generally remain like that for only six seconds, after the news anchor signs off and while the station's copyright credit appears on screen.

It's not a matter of a computer freezing or a tape getting stuck. The show is live, and each person behind the desk tends to freeze at a different time. And sometimes a camera continues to move through the shot.

Sports anchor John Fedko said the game of statues began as a lark about two weeks after the newscast began.

"Remember how the old 'Starsky & Hutch'-type shows in the '70s ended like that?" Fedko said. "We just did it a couple of times early on and it just snowballed."

News anchor David Johnson compared it to the short-lived Leslie Nielsen series "Police Squad!" Nielsen would freeze, the end credits would roll and then he'd blink. Or someone would pour coffee and the cup would overflow.

Fedko said some of his favorite statue moments find him standing halfway and freezing, as his tie continues to wave back and forth.

"It's hard to do without laughing," he said. "No one's laughed yet. Sometimes it gets close, but you can't laugh. The key to not laughing is you can't look at each other."

Former weathercaster Dennis Bowman participated in the statues game and his replacement, Steve Teeling, also freezes on cue. Even the fill-in anchors play along.

"They really get a kick out of it," Fedko said. "Gina [Redmond] is probably the fill-in that can do it best."

Fedko said he's heard from viewers about the statues, which he said have a cult following.

An alert viewer who pointed out this unusual anchor game questioned the anchors' professionalism. I suppose if it were the 6 p.m. news on WPXI it might bother me. But at 10:28 p.m. on low-rated cable outlet PCNC over the closing copyright credit? I can't be a journalism purist stick-in-the-mud on this one. A little irreverence is OK.

Both Fedko and Johnson emphasized that they'd never play the statue game on Channel 11, only on PCNC. And Fedko said the statues usually come after a light "kicker" story, not serious news.

"It's just a different animal," Johnson said, pointing to PCNC's mix of debates, community coverage, "The Fedko Fone Zone" and "NightTalk with John McIntire." "It walks a line of seriousness and occasional silliness."

In writing about the statues game, I realized there was a risk PCNC/WPXI management might do what management so often does: Swoop in and spoil the fun. But it was too amusing to be appreciated only by a cult audience.

News director Pat Maday was unaware of the practice and in all likelihood, so were his predecessors.

"David, John and Steve have wonderful senses of humor," Maday said after reviewing tapes. "That said, I think you'll probably not see it displayed in that way. I think there are other ways for you to see the more personal side of those guys."

Sorry, guys, I really didn't want to see it killed. At least the statues game had a solid nine-year run -- almost as long as "Friends."

Becoming the story?

Last week KDKA's Marty Griffin joined city workers protesting job cuts by blocking traffic on Grant Street in front of the City-County Building.

I can understand covering the story, but Griffin appeared to be going into the street against traffic, becoming part of the story, which isn't what news reporters are supposed to do, no matter how much a "walk and talk" might jazz up a report.

'Brother' pre-empted again

Because of another Steelers game tomorrow night, "Big Brother 4" will be delayed until after midnight Friday at 2:07 a.m. In the event the game runs long or there are delays, viewers are advised to set their VCRs for longer than an hour.

Ridge profiled

A&E's "Biography" will profile Tom Ridge, Secretary of Homeland Security and former governor of Pennsylvania, on Sept. 11. The one-hour special will air at 8 p.m. and will include interviews with Ridge; his wife, Laura; his brother, David; and former chief of staff Mark Holman.

'MI-5' renewed

A&E has picked up the remaining eight episodes in the second season of the British spy drama "MI-5."

Beginning Tuesday, the series will move from 10 to 9 p.m. to avoid competing with FX's "Nip/Tuck" and Bravo's "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" at 10 p.m.

Labor Day telethon

"The Jerry Lewis MDA Telethon" will air on WPXI beginning at 11:35 p.m. Sunday with Bill Cardille hosting for his 33rd year. Channel 11 anchors will join him throughout the telethon, which continues until 6:30 p.m. Monday.

Local segments will originate from the West Court of Monroeville Mall near Kaufmann's. National segments will be broadcast from Hollywood and will include an appearance by West Mifflin magician Michael Grandinetti.

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

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