TV Q&A with Rob Owen

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This week's TV Q&A responds to questions about "Men in Trees," "Celebrity Circus" and FiOS TV. As always, thanks for reading, and keep those questions coming.

-- Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV editor


Q: I watched the last episode of "Men in Trees" and I loved it so much I decided to watch it again on the Internet. Much to my surprise the episode on the Internet had a different ending than what was shown on TV. It ended with Jack's ex-girlfriend, Lynn, leaving their baby girl on the doorstep of Marin's house and driving off.

Do you know why there were two endings?

-- Janet, 55, Crafton

Rob: It was widely reported that ABC's "Men in Trees" had filmed two endings: One in case the show was renewed and one in case it was canceled. It sounds like Janet caught an ABC blooper, that the network posted the "we're not canceled" cliffhanger ending online after the "drat, we're canceled, let's not have a cliffhanger" aired on TV.

When I checked this week, ABC.com was showing the same version that aired on TV, so someone must have realized the blunder and corrected it. I imagine Warner Bros. may want to save the alternate ending for a DVD release.

The show's ABC publicist confirmed that the alternate ending was posted to ABC.com for a short time.


Q: Will CBS air season two of "Dexter"?

-- Vicki, 58, Pittsburgh

Rob: Don't hold your breath. Showtime's "Dexter" was used on CBS to provide fresh CBS programming during the writers' strike. I suppose a situation could arise that would lead CBS to air another season of "Dexter" (in the summer months, maybe?) but season two would be much more difficult to edit-for-broadcast due to more sex scenes than in season one.

All a CBS representative would say is, "As of now, it's not on the schedule."

Season two of "Dexter" should be on DVD shortly before season three premieres on Showtime this fall.


Q: Is "October Road" canceled? And when will "Pushing Daisies" return? I really looked forward to these two shows every week.

-- Sue, 52, Baldwin

Rob: ABC announced its fall schedule last month, including the cancellation of "October Road." "Pushing Daisies" will return this fall.


Q: I liked "Celebrity Circus" better under its old name/format: "Circus of the Stars" (back in the 70's and 80's)! At least they had current TV stars performing and not "D-List has-beens."

Will they be pulling "Battle of the Network Stars" out of mothballs next?

-- Lin, 41, Pittsburgh

Rob: They sort of did already. Bravo aired "Battle of the Network Reality Stars" in 2005.


Q: Does WTAE still own their VIPIR radar by baron services, and if so, why don't they still show that on-air?

-- Jordan, 15, Pittsburgh

Rob: According to Channel 4 news director Bob Long, the station has "Nexrad level 2 data from both Barons (Vipir) and Weather Central," and the station prefers the Weather Central displays.


Q: Is Mike LaPoint on vacation or is something wrong with his new kids? He's been off for 3 weeks.

-- Jordan, 15, Imperial

Rob: Jordan gets around! Pittsburgh, Imperial, where will he turn up next?

Everything is fine with LaPoint's fraternal twin daughters, Mia and Chloe, who were born May 20. LaPoint was back on the air Wednesday.


Q: Speaking of British sitcoms as you were in a recent TV Q&A, I wish WQED would bring back "Yes Minister" and "Yes Prime Minister." They used to show these on WQEX and they were hilarious. Any chance of that happening?

-- Norman, 64, Butler

Rob: To my knowledge, WQED doesn't refresh their Saturday night Britcoms often (if they do, they haven't trumpeted it in my 10 years in town).

"Our Saturday night shows are quite popular -- we hear from our viewers often -- including WQED's own "Dave and Dave's Excellent Adventures," which rounds out the night of comedy and humor," wrote WQED spokeswoman Rosemary Martinelli in an e-mail. "Yes, we are looking at the BritComs and other related titles, including 'Yes, Minister' and 'Yes, Prime Minister.' As with all programming decisions, there needs to be a certain number of episodes available for each show in order for them to make the schedule. We also need to know if a certain show is still 'in rights' and available for us to even consider.

"If viewers have some favorite British comedies, please write to WQED's program director Chris Fennimore at Cfennimo@wqed.org."


Q: I was reading about the channel changes and hit the link to Comcast Digital World. I put in my zip code and the channels were wrong. I am in 15243 so I tried the other Mt. Lebanon zip codes and it was still wrong. It shows Versus as currently on 60 and yet it is 72. It also shows CNBC as 30 and it is 51. 30 is the weather channel. How is it that they don't even know which channel is which?

-- Chris, Mt. Lebanon

Rob: Rest assured, they do, but there are some complexities to cable systems in this part of the world and it appears you've fallen between the cracks.

"Customers in the 15243 zip code are served by both the Mt. Lebanon and Carnegie head ends, and the Web site reflects the channel lineups for the majority of customers in that zip code," explained Comcast spokesman Bob Grove. "Any customer with questions about July lineup changes can call 1-800-COMCAST."


Q: I just read your changes in the Comcast lineup. My question is with so many channels leaving the analog channels, is Comcast going to drop the monthly bill?

Doesn't Comcast need regulatory approval to do this? My mom loves Ion and Hallmark but she couldn't work the digital remote.

-- Tim, 48, Robinson

Rob: A reduced cable bill? Surely you jest, Tim.

"These moves to respond to overwhelming customer demand for additional HD choices and faster Internet speeds do not require federal approval," explained Grove. "We are offering free digital boxes to our analog customers for a year, which will allow them to start enjoying the choice and control that comes with digital cable for no additional cost. We're also offering these customers discounts on up to two additional outlets. None of our competitors offer analog service like we do.

"In regards to our remote controls, our Comcast technician will educate new digital customers on the operation of the remote, as well as inform the customer on the many programming options available through the digital converter box."


Q: Previously I had inquired as to whether Comcast would apply an extra charge to supply an analog signal once the conversion to digital went into effect. It seems the government requires them to maintain the analog signal to lessen the impact of the change on the subscriber. At the same time a Comcast spokesman said there would be no additional charge, but she neglected to say the analog basic service would drastically shrink. If this is not an increase in price, what is it?

-- Louise, 62, Jeannette

Rob: Comcast's Grove said, "Analog service is not mandated by the FCC, but maintained by Comcast to provide more choices for customers. More than 90 percent of the channels available to Standard Cable customers in Jeannette today will be available on the same level of service in mid-July. Those customers who take advantage of our 12-month offer of free digital boxes will have even more channel choices and access to more than 10,000 On Demand choices a month for no additional cost along with a clearer picture and better sound quality."


Q: Please find out why Verizon's FiOS TV is broadcasting the emergency alert system for thunderstorms. They have been interrupting shows since June 13th. You cannot change the channel and anything you are recording is ruined. They are just repeating information that is being shown on the bottom line by local TV anyway. They even cut away from the U.S. Open on the 18th hole while Tiger Woods started to putt and finally came back when it was sudden death on the 19th.

I know people in Pittsburgh are used to the local TV stations trying to scare us into buying up all the milk and bread, but Verizon FiOS TV has taken the "the sky is falling" to a whole new level.

-- Dave, 35, Venetia

Rob: Blame government regulation, not Verizon.

"Verizon, like all broadcast stations, cable TV systems and satellite providers, must have Emergency Alert System (EAS) capabilities and follow EAS protocols as defined by the Federal Communications Commission," explained Verizon spokesman Lee Gierczynski. "EAS alerts on the state/local level are initiated by County Emergency Management; Pennsylvania Emergency Management; Pennsylvania State Police; or the National Weather Service (NWS). The alerts deliver important public safety and emergency information such as AMBER alerts and weather information targeted to specific areas.

"Verizon does not initiate the alerts, nor does it decide when those alerts are aired. It is mandatory that Verizon relay to subscribers alerts that have been assigned certain severity level and alert type codes by the initiating agency.

"When Verizon transmits an EAS alert to a FiOS TV subscriber, the set-top box tunes off the channel currently being viewed, tunes into the channel that contains the alert and then returns to the channel previously viewed when the alert is finished. The time length of the alert varies depending on the message being communicated, but alerts about storm warnings typically last only a minute or two.

"While some customers may feel inconvenienced by these brief EAS alerts, they provide an extremely valuable public service, delivering life-saving information about potentially dangerous storms, flash floods, kidnapped or missing children, or hazardous situations.

"Verizon is working on future EAS enhancements that will give us the ability to generate a text crawl on top of the channel being viewed so that the set-top box will remain on the channel unless the severity level dictates a mandatory channel switch."


Q: I am all in favor of warning the public of oncoming storms. But why do they have to do it when you are watching On Demand? If I am watching TV, I am in the house in Washington County and I really don't care about a strong storm in Northern Armstrong County.

Friday night I was recording a show on my DVR and a thunderstorm warning came up. It stopped the recording of the program which just happened to be the mid-season cliff hanger.

It is summer in Western Pennsylvania. We have thunderstorms. So what? A tornado, that's different, but a thunderstorm that will blow through in five or 10 minutes? This is total overkill. If they have to do it do it on the local stations, why interrupt Showtime or On Demand.

People talk about Steelers overkill, but the local TV fasination with thunderstorms overshadows the Steelers by far

-- Pat, 54, Oakdale

Rob: See the answer above as well as these FCC regulations.

"It was about this time last year that we reevaluated the Emergency Alert System storm designations and based on customer requests, we downgraded the alert status from a watch to a warning broadcast notification," noted Comcast spokeswoman Jody Doherty. "We have had little if any questions raised on the alert system since that time. The National Weather Service utilizes the EAS system to trigger the weather warnings. The EAS system is driven by county information. Due to the geographic footprint of our fiber network and cable systems we have multiple counties loaded into each EAS unit. The National Weather Service sends the warning by county, which determines which EAS unit will send the message out over the cable system. With an increasingly high digital base, the digital channels as well as the analog channels must show the weather alert warning. This in turn also affects the DVR and VOD platform."


Q: Is there a number we can use to contact Verizon's FiOS installation department to speak with someone who is knowledgeable about what is causing delays in service in a particular area? Everyone around our neighborhood in Aspinwall (O'Hara, Fox Chapel, other Aspinwall Streets, etc.) are getting FiOS as an option, but we are not. I was told by a Verizon installer on another job that the coil of cable hanging on a telephone pole some 50 feet from my front door is the FiOS fiber optic, which I've noticed there since last summer. The same employee hazarded a guess that our condos, privately owned, may be getting lumped in with an apartment/town home complex across the road, which must be dealt with differently that owner occupied residences.

However, everyone from top down seems entirely unable to answer my question when I call through the normally provided numbers.

That said, why is the heavily regulated communications area so much more difficult to communicate with that the private sector? (My guess is the M-word.)

-- Johannes, Aspinwall

Rob: I don't think this will tell you when FiOS TV will be available, only whether it is or is not, but a Verizon representative has this suggestion: "Customers can check availability of FiOS services by visiting Verizon's Web site and inputting their phone number. They also can check by inputting a physical address. If customers are not currently eligible, like this customer appears to be, they can opt to receive e-mail notification when FiOS services become available."

Also, for current Verizon users wondering what HD channels are likely to be coming next -- I haven't had any luck getting many hints -- you can find a preview in this article.


Q: I subscribed to Verizon FiOS Internet service when it become available in Brookline. I was told, at that time, that TV service would soon be available. Since that time, FiOS internet and TV service has been provided to most surrounding communities. Why is the TV service still not available in the city?

-- Ron, Brookline

Rob: Because Verizon has yet to reach a franchise agreement with the City of Pittsburgh, something we reported last year.

Verizon's Gierczynski notes, "Verizon has made substantial investments in the construction of a video hub office in the city of Pittsburgh that has been serving the surrounding area. It would only make sense that we want to maximize the return on that investment. Verizon has approached the city about the possibility of offering video service but we don't share the details of private conversations."

Why does it seem like you have to answer so many questions about Comcast and HDTV? It seems like every week there are always questions on why a show isn't in high def. Can't the writers find these answers by calling their provider? Or is it quicker just to go through you? I get tired of reading about everyone's cable/Comcast/HDTV/yada yada yada problems.

Just when the letters seemed to have stopped about "Where the local newscasters are?" when they are out more than 3 days, we're overloaded with technical cable issues. CALL YOUR PROVIDER AND FIND OUT THE ANSWER ON YOUR OWN. If you don't like how they handle things, CHANGE PROVIDERS! And yes, I have cable/Internet/phone through Comcast with HDTV connected to four televisions, three computers and four telephones. When I call Comcast, I always get courteous service from a customer service rep.

Please bring back questions on actual TV shows.

-- Rose, 45, Cecil

Rob: While I agree with Rose's premise that some people who write in are lazy and unwilling to do their own research (that applies to the questions about TV shows, too, which we've often already answered in the Post-Gazette), the "questions on actual TV shows" have never disappeared. They're always at the top of the TV Q&A, followed by local TV questions and then the onslaught of cable provider questions at the end. And no one is forcing Rose or anyone else to read questions that don't interest them.

I long ago began to segregate the cable questions to the bottom of TV Q&A so you don't have to read them if you don't want to. Are they my favorite questions? No, but I feel an obligation to try to help viewers get a response to these concerns when they aren't able to get an answer from their TV providers. That said, viewers really should try to contact their cable company or local TV station or do a Web search for the answer to their questions before e-mailing the TV Q&A.

FEEDBACK

I normally do not watch the news on WPXI, but the other day I was watching "Judge Judy" and for some reason left the 5 p.m. news on. They cut to a story and then when the video ended, cut back to Peggy Finnegan, who was sitting there on camera with a huge mirror blocking her face while she fixed her hair. I guess the director must have quickly cued her because she then looked like a deer staring into the headlights. She made a quick apology about "having a hair out of place." It was hysterical to watch. I'll have to remember, if I need to watch news, I'll turn to KDKA or WTAE. If I need a good laugh, I'll watch WPXI. It really makes you wonder what goes on off camera during the local newscasts.

-- Don, 48, East McKeesport

Rob: News director Corrie Harding said this blooper wasn't attributable to a technical issue, just human error.

"We simply jumped out of a piece of video sooner than we wanted to, and Peggy was trying to do a quick fix, and unfortunately, got caught," Harding wrote in an e-mail. "I wish I could say that this kind of thing would never happen again, but as it's been since TV went on the air (and newspapers started printing!) people will make mistakes. Please assure your readers it's not something we want to make a habit out of."



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