Tuned In: WPXI serves up burgers, fries with Friday evening newscasts
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Commercialism alert: WPXI is allowing one of its reporters to shill for a fast food chain during Friday evening newscasts. This fall as part of its high school football coverage, Channel 11 has been featuring the "[Brand Name Fast Food Chain] Pre-game Pep Rally" on its air Friday nights.
On Nov. 3, reporter Rich Walsh broadcast live from the fast food outlet surrounded by screaming teenagers and two mascots for the chain, including a giant inflatable beverage. There was no news in this report, just promotion for both Channel 11's high school football coverage and the fast food chain.
News director Corrie Harding defended the practice.
"As fine a line as this is, I do draw a line between Skylights coverage and some of our news coverage," he said. "We treat the '[Brand Name Fast Food Chain] Pep Rally' event as sponsored by [Brand Name Fast Food Chain]. It wouldn't happen without that sponsorship."
Would that be such a bad thing? Is there really a need for more promotional junk cluttering up a newscast?
"Rich Walsh is there to cover the event, and we have allowed, in the same way stations across the country allow sponsorship of rooftop cameras, our personnel to be involved in that in some way."
Harding said the sponsored "pep rally" is "merely one small element we've made available to sponsors with a large amount of coverage.
"Industrywide, as the market changes, every television station is looking for opportunities that are not damaging to our credibility," Harding said. "It is a fine line."
At WTAE, its Sunday night sports show uses the name of another fast food chain in its title, but the name is not used in the bounds of the newscast, except, perhaps, to tease the title of the Sunday night show.
If a sports segment in a Channel 4 newscast is sponsored, an announcer says the name of the sponsor before the sports anchor begins speaking.
"We are very meticulous about breaking that out," said WTAE news director Bob Longo. "[The name] runs in the break beforehand so talent is never saying, 'Buy a burger' or 'Buy a car.'"
KDKA-TV also has a branded sports show but doesn't currently allow commercials inside the bounds of the newscast. News director John Verrilli described himself as "a real stickler" for keeping the news and commercial content separate.
"We don't have commercial sponsorship within our newscasts," Verrilli said. "We have billboards in commercial time periods, 'Weather brought to you by ...' Those are in commercial pods, but we don't do anything in the newscast itself."
Every station in town offered its top meteorologist's prediction for winter weather, and, not surprisingly, they were all pretty similar: Colder through January, warmer afterward and with more snow than normal through the winter. But not every station agreed on what constituted normal: WPXI's Scott Harbaugh said Pittsburgh gets 38.7 inches of snow in an average winter, but WTAE's out-of-retirement-for-a-night Joe DeNardo said it's 40.6 inches.
So what does the National Weather Service say? It's 40.6 inches, but that's derived from data only up until 2000. According to the NWS, "normal" data is updated every 10 years and the 40.6 is the normal snowfall derived from the years 1971-2000.
Harbaugh used the November through March average snowfall amount, taking out the October and April numbers. October had already passed when the forecast was given, Harbaugh said, and he wanted to concentrate on the primary winter months. Mystery solved.
WTAE's Jim Parsons offered a thorough, understandable, compelling investigative report on property tax breaks used by wealthy homeowners under the so-called "clean and green" program. KDKA-TV's Andy Sheehan did a similar report earlier in the month, but the Parsons report had more depth and context.
WPXI's Karen Welles reported on cameras in Baltimore that have been effective in catching criminals in the act. The script leading into the report suggested such cameras might be coming to Pittsburgh, but nothing I heard in the report addressed that possibility.
Though the endless teases are annoying, KDKA's "Does It Really Do That?" reports by Yvonne Zanos are the best (only?) consumer stories in town these days. Sure, they're fluff, but for anyone who's considered buying the products Zanos tests, these reports offer useful information. Having an arthritis sufferer test the One Touch Can Opener was a smart approach, especially when the product lived up to its advertising.
WTAE's Wendy Bell went "one-on-one" with Rachael Ray, but the report featured more Bell than Ray and at least three uses of variations on Bell's favorite catchphrase: "Check it out." Enough already! Ray mentioned she'd be in Pittsburgh for a book tour soon (Again? She was just here this summer), but Bell never said when that will take place. Perhaps that information will be breaking news some night soon.
'Show Me the Money'
ABC's new game show, "Show Me the Money," isn't as goofy or outrageous as the promos suggest. Yes, host William Shatner and the "Million Dollar Dancers" begin dancing from time-to-time, but this whole conceit seems like a last-minute attempt to distract viewers from noticing what a rip-off of other game shows "Money" is, most notably NBC's "Deal or No Deal." Ratings for Tuesday's premiere were lukewarm at best.
"Money," which moves to 8 p.m. Wednesday next week, benefits from over-the-top Shatner as host, though he's better at empathizing with contestants than one might expect. Still, the only unique attraction here is the ridiculousness that accompanies the end of a successful round.
"I think we should celebrate," Shatner said in Tuesday's premiere. "Ladies, let's salsa!"
Jenji Kohan, creator of Showtime's "Weeds" (officially picked up for a third season yesterday), will speak at the University of Pittsburgh Monday at 6:30 p.m. in Room G-8 (ground floor) of the Cathedral of Learning (a "Weeds" episode screens at 6 p.m.). The speech is free and open to the public. ... WTAE-TV has dropped Mark Madden as a freelance sports commentator on its Sunday night sports show. News director Bob Longo said he would not discuss the reason, citing it as a personnel matter. ... KDKA-TV anchor Patrice King Brown's son, Guy, appears in the opening of ESPN's "Monday Night Football." Just after a different celebrity picks up a football helmet each week, Guy Brown can be seen running and then, through the wonders of computer-generated animation, a blue helmet begins to appear and envelops his head. ... WPXI will air a 30-minute special about the life of Pittsburgh Steelers player Charlie Batch at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 9. ... Aaron Wynkoop, a junior at Penn State from Allison Park, and Breann Vular, a freshman at the University of Pittsburgh from Hopewell, will appear next week on "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" (1 p.m. weekdays, WPXI). Wynkoop will be in the hot seat Monday and Vular will appear Monday and Tuesday during the show's "College Week." ... WQED's "On Q" airs a special about diabetes tonight at 9:30.
This week's TV Q&A responds to questions about "Prison Break," "Boston Legal" and "Reba." Read it online at www.post-gazette.com/tv.
First Published November 17, 2006 12:00 am