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The Big Picture: Blowing the implosion out of proportion

Monday, February 12, 2001

The ultimate Pittsburgh oooh-aaah orgy -- explosive devices and fireworks -- was strewn across Western Pennsylvania televisions yesterday morning by three of the four local news stations.

WPGH-TV wisely sat out this baby. The last time that Fox affiliate broadcast live from the North Side, the final Steelers home game -- it imploded all over itself. That left yesterday to the rest of the gang, who threw everything they had at us: cold reporters in the f-f-f-field, political analysis, historical essays, archive footage, way too many onlooker interviews and replays, replays, replays.

In the end, we got 121/2 total hours of overblown-up coverage for a Three Rivers Stadium kerplooey that lasted a meager 21 seconds, by my weary VCR's count.

So we got way too much bang for somebody else's bucks.

WTAE-TV invested five hours and more flash-frozen workers than Mrs. Paul's has fish sticks. WPXI devoted 41/2 hours and Andy Gastmeyer in Chopper 11 and 19 cameras, about which it shamelessly boasted. KDKA spent a modest three hours on the air and one rental Goodyear Blimp, and it put on the best show overall. Less can still be more. Even in Pittsburgh when dealing with big bangs.

Herewith, The Big's bang. . . .

Worst reporter vantage: WTAE's Shannon Perrine was on the wrong side of the tracks on the Soused Side. Twice during live shots, a rumbling train passed a few feet behind her.

Worst foul-ups: WTAE had a bad run for a while there. First, it listed the incorrect score in a graphic about the inaugural Pirates stadium game (Reds 3-2, not 3-1). Later, Sally Wiggin and the self-proclaimed Frozen Four crew in Point State Park got wrong both the venue of the 1992 Francisco Cabrera Game 7 (Atlanta, not Pittsburgh) and the number of Three Rivers AFC championship games (seven, not six).

Stupidest slogan: WTAE again wins -- or is it, loses? -- with "Rubble by the River." Come on, the place was called Three Rivers, plural. This slogan could only have been chosen from a pool that included "Knockdown on the Knorthside" and "All-Gone Along the Allegheny." By comparison, WPXI's "The Big Blast" was palatable, and KDKA's "Countdown to Implosion" was downright ingenious.

Stupidest logo: At least KDKA was savvy enough to get its "Countdown to Implosion" clock sponsored. It was an Extra Value deal, if you will. But it made me wonder: Did McDonald's want a different slogan, like maybe "The Big McBoom?"

Funniest moments: WTAE tied itself in this category. Wiggin was attempting to make a segue reference to the weather, but wound up calling Kelly Frey "frigid," prompting Mike Clark to cover his face with his gloved hands. Later, one of the station's 30-plus live interviews included a citizen delivering a four-letter punch line. Wendy Bell also tried to be funny and succeeded while aboard the Gateway Clipper, where she apparently will be appearing every Sunday in February.

Most replays: KDKA unleashed 41 replays in the hour after the implosion, compared with 29 for each WTAE and WPXI. It should be noted that, by its fourth hour, WTAE put together the best replay package -- a montage of as many as 20 perspectives.

Best use of helicopter: WTAE showed a telling shot of the debris piling against the fence between a razed Three Rivers and the new stadium. WPXI had some nice views, but we saw lots of Gastmeyer and, in a taped piece, Jodine Costanzo flying high. When WPXI's chopper shot a close up of an SUV tooling around the site, I thought for a moment O.J. was on the lam again.

Best job on traffic reports: WTAE finished first, but WPXI was a close second. Then again, if you were already stuck on a Downtown bridge without a TV yesterday morning, a fat lot of good those stations did you.

Best job on weather: The honor goes by default to WTAE's Frozen Four member Stephen Cropper. Not long after incorrectly predicting the dust cloud would linger for 15 minutes -- it lasted half as long -- he admitted, "Weather is not an exact science."

Best job on sports, which, after all, was the main tenant in this dang building: KDKA called it a roundtable, although it was really three guys at a curved desk.

Best job in reporting: KDKA's John Shumway had the best access to Controlled Demolition Inc. boss Doug Loizeaux, had the best taped stories, had the best live coverage. He reported first about eyewitness versions to the new football stadium emerging apparently unscathed, then added the first CDI accounts of all being well.

As for a station-by-station breakdown, KDKA won my enduring affection by packing its three hours well.

The pre-bang show was filled with interesting taped pieces, including: a look at Sophie Masloff's brilliant ballpark idea of 1991 (at half PNC Park's cost); Jon Delano's analysis of the political football that has been the stadium-ballpark issue; and the archival story of a 1980 Carlton House implosion starring a bearded Doug Loizeaux. The station also trotted out pertinent statistics in its bottom-of-the-screen graphic. It irritated me yesterday and the past fortnight when KDKA insisted upon giving Three Rivers a gender: a she, like crab soup and ships. What makes a stadium inherently female, plumbing?

WPXI inserted a few decent stories into its two-hour buildup to the tear down and then tuned into CDI's radio frequency, which was cool. All the stations fell into the same live troubles, losing signals or botching audio. But anything following the Hour After was repetitive and redundant and superfluous and highly taxing on my VCR.

The best thing about 121/2 hours of Implosion TV: Rewinding the tape. As my 12-year-old pointed out, you can never get enough of watching a building arise from its own ashes. MOOB!

You can reach Chuck Finder at cfinder@post-gazette.com

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