TV Q&A with Rob Owen

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This week's TV Q&A responds to questions about HD cable channels, "This Old House" and "Heroes."

As always, thanks for reading, and keep those questions coming.

-- Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV editor

Q: I was going through the channels the other night and came upon two game shows aimed at viewer participation. "Midnight Money Madness" (TBS) and "Playmania" (GSN), where you call in and answer questions and win money. My question is with the cost to call -- 99 cents per call -- how much money do they make compared to what they give out? Are these shows the new rage? The hosts (usually a pretty girl) entice you to call. Seems like a racket to me.

-- Bob, Emsworth

Rob: If you're implying it's somehow illegal, I don't think that's possible since people have to actively pick up the phone (of their own free will) and make a call in order to be charged.

According to a GSN publicist, "Participation TV is hugely popular in Europe, and we wanted to bring it to the American audience. Viewers can play along with 'Playmania' for free online by logging onto There is only a charge for those who choose to play via text messaging on their cell phones."

I wanted to check this show out, so I watched last Friday night, which turned out to be the show's 100th episode, and one of the blond models/hosts said they'd given away $200,000 to date. My guess would be GSN is making a good bit more than that if it's going to be worthwhile to continue the show.

Q: Whatever became of "The Grand Ole Opry"? It was on TNN, then it move to CMT on Saturday nights at 8 p.m. Now I can't find it anywhere.

-- Paul, Pitttsburgh

Rob: Several years ago it migrated from CMT to GAC (Great American Country), where it can be seen at 8 p.m. Saturday. Consult the cable conversion chart provided by your cable company to see if you receive that channel.

Q: I really enjoyed your article on "The Young and the Restless." I am just curious about the new set. I have never seen so many doors in all my life! Everybody has at least three doors to close before they can have a conversation. It is almost funny.

Concerning "Guiding Light," do you think it is on its last legs? The story line for the umpteenth time is way off base. Changing the time slot was not the smartest thing CBS did for it. I still forget that it is on at 10 a.m.

-- Eva, Pittsburgh

Rob: A guy writes one daytime soap story, and suddenly my mailbox looks like the in-box at Soap Opera Update!

I imagine the closing doors have to do with the desire to create more movement and action in the show. The executive producer discussed that in the article we published.

As for "Guiding Light," CBS did not change its time slot, local station KDKA did. It doesn't seem to have worked out all that well: "Dr. Phil" had lower ratings in October at 3 p.m. than "Guiding Light" did a year ago. Ratings for "Guiding Light" at 10 a.m. are down somewhat from when it aired at 3 p.m., but its audience share remains the same, so most viewers made the move with the show. And yes, I do think "Guiding Light" is on its last legs nationally, evidenced by CBS's willingness to allow KDKA and other local stations to change the time slot.

Need further proof the show is desperate? Here's a press release I received yesterday: "Television's longest running show, 'Guiding Light,' is teaming up with Marvel Comics to produce a very special "Inside the Light" episode unveiling a new super powered character, to be broadcast Nov. 1. The episode, titled "She's a Marvel," written by head writer David Kreizman, focuses on mild mannered and harried cop, mother and wife Harley Davidson Cooper, played by Beth Ehlers. Zapped by an electrical current, Cooper finds herself infused with the energy, and is able to channel it, giving her the powers of a superhero -- levitation and electricity conduction. How will her new powers affect her life?"

Q: On the Oct. 16 "Heroes," when Dr. Suresh was trying to talk to Nathan Petrelli when he was getting in a cab, a disheveled man bumped into Suresh. Was that the cop that Claire's father had prisoner in a lab? I thought it was, but couldn't tell for sure.

-- Audrey, Pittsburgh

Rob: No, it was not the cop (Greg Grunberg), who was in Los Angeles, not New York, where Suresh was.

Q: I saw the TV news piece and just read your article about "The Kill Pit," a series dealing with bank robbery.

There was a series last spring titled "Thief" about high-end professional thieves. It starred Andre Braugher, a good actor, and it has not been picked up for another season.

"Smith" was another series about high-end thieves with the well-known actor Ray Liotta. CBS gave it only three weeks to gather a following before canceling it.

What chance does "Kill Pit" have given the proclivity of the networks to cancel without giving a series much chance of success?

-- Paul, West Mifflin

Rob: If a show with an anti-hero thief as the lead is going to work anywhere, it's on Spike TV, a network that targets young male viewers. And if it's truly closer in execution to "24" than to "Thief," which was sort of slow, then it may work. We'll see.

Q: I am writing to ask if Lifetime has already canceled "Angela's Eyes." The show has only been on for a while, and I am still involved with the plot, and to have it end with no closure would be terrible. I know that they have a habit of ending shows with no warning at all. They just disappear.

-- Diana, Winter Park, Fla.

Rob: No decision on the renewals of "Angela's Eyes" or comedy "Lovespring International" have been announced. A decision will likely be announced in a month or two.

Q: Do you know what happened to "The George Lopez Show"? I hope it wasn't canceled!

-- Nick, Homer City

Rob: "Lopez" will return to ABC's schedule at mid-season (anytime between now and March).

Q: Any idea if "Men In Trees" will stay on for the season? It is nice to have a decent show to watch on Friday nights.

-- Robin, Pittsburgh

Rob: As I wrote in Saturday's column, I've become a fan of "Men in Trees" and hope that it will continue. It's not doing well in the ratings on Friday night, so I'm hoping ABC may give it a shot in another time slot, maybe 10 p.m. Thursday after "Grey's Anatomy."

Q: Is there a reason why HBO's "Big Love" DVD set is so ridiculously overpriced at $99.98? Even the "Sex and the City" DVD sets are approximately only $45 a season (and they appear to offer far more extras).

-- Lin, Pittsburgh

Rob: Actually, HBO TV on DVD titles are generally much more expensive than other TV shows on DVD (each season of "Deadwood" started at $99 suggested retail price, same for the upcoming "Sopranos" release). The discrepancy between "Sex and the City" and other HBO shows could have something to do with "Sex" episodes running 30 minutes when the dramas run up to an hour.

Q: Just a thought on "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip": I was feeling the same as you, and I'm trying to like the show, but there seemed to be a lack of focus and a compelling reason for each show. Why should we care, what is the central crisis that seeks our support, why care about these characters? Then in the second half of tonight's episode there was a glimmer of hope, a little insight. It may be too late, but this show could be good. Let's see in two weeks.

-- Rob, Sarver

Rob: I actually thought this week's episode was the worst one yet, a triple threat of treacly stories: The rubes from Ohio, the search for a sophisticated African-American comedian and the blacklisted writer. The first two featured dialogue that showed how out-of-touch Aaron Sorkin is with the characters he's trying to write; the third was just a too-obvious attempt to tug at the heartstrings.

Q: What HAS happened to "Grey's Anatomy"? The storylines are fractured. The cast is bloated and the writing is, too. The "Grey Matter" blog this week shows how unhappy viewers are. Where is Shonda Rhimes? The Mer/Der relationship is down to a few minutes of screen time. (Not that anyone cares anymore. What happened to dating? That lasted one episode!) In fact, "Grey" has disappeared! They had a good thing going; now it seems like they got the ratings and figure that we will take anything they hand us for stories. Burke will operate when he isn't able? Izzie gets no punishment for what happened with Denny? I guess they added "McSteamy" and thought we would forget continuity in what they already had built and had us vested in. "CSI" might not have much to worry about after all. Is the cast fighting because they are frustrated, too? Even they have to feel like this season is not going well.

-- Marsha, Morgantown, W. Va.

Rob: Actually, I liked last week's episode quite a lot.

Many of your complaints seem to arise from a desire for realism, but "Grey's" has never been all that realistic. As for Shonda Rhimes, she's still overseeing the show and, presumably, breaking up fights (the much publicized Isaiah Washington-Patrick Dempsey incident, see, although, interestingly, she's evidently not doling out punishment for bad behavior. You have to wonder if the epithet hurled had been racial rather than sexual if the outcome would be different, not because Rhimes is a black woman, but because society looks more disapprovingly at racial slurs.

Q: What's the story with Channel 13? The new season of "This Old House" was supposed to start the first week of October. WQED does not start the new season until the 21st. They then show a new episode of "Ask This Old House" and show a rerun from last season of "This Old House." I thought these shows were supposed to run together. Why a new show of one and a rerun of the other?

-- Rodger, Pittsburgh

Rob: WQED's programming is often a mystery, although once executive director of marketing Rosemary Martinelli explains it, this case does become more understandable:

"'This Old House' is a 26-episode program consisting of two construction projects per season. 'Ask This Old House' consists of the one-project-per show format.

"Because we are in the early stages of the second project of 'This Old House' from last season (which we repeat immediately after we air it in its entirety due to viewer interest), we are obligated to finish it before we start the new season. That new season begins at 4 p.m. Dec. 16 on WQED.

"'Ask This Old House' is in its current season and is the show that features individual home repair jobs. The episodes are new, and we are airing them at the time we note in our schedule, 3:30 p.m. Saturdays. Our WQED viewers are still seeing all the shows; rest assured that all the segments are included."

Q: As a follow-up to existing Comcast subscribers gaining Fox Sports Pittsburgh in HD, could you also please let us know when those of us coming from the land of Adelphia can expect to FINALLY get WPGH-DT added to the program list?

-- Tony, Murrysville

Rob: "We are currently reviewing channel line-ups," a Comcast spokeswoman said. "There will be no immediate changes to customer channel line-ups until [sometime] during 2007."

Q: I noticed in your Q&A's this week that Comcast is going to air FSN-Pittsburgh in HD. This is great news and long overdue. I, however, live in the Ross area (Fox Chapel) for Comcast. This area receives fewer HD channels than other Comcast areas. We do not receive, for example, ESPN2HD, TNTHD, WPMYHD, INHD2, UHD and others that I know are available in, for example, the Cranberry area. You mentioned in your Q&A section that Comcast broadcasts 17 -- that is far from the case in the Ross area.

Do you know when the Comcast Ross area will be getting the other HD channels that many of Comcast's other areas already receive?

-- Bill, Pittsburgh

Rob: Comcast has been promising upgrades to Ross for a long time, because I know we've answered this question before. But it looks as if there hasn't been much movement in getting you folks on board with the rest of the region.

Here's the Comcast non-response: "We are very much aware that High Definition is becoming more and more popular. Comcast Three Rivers Region is continuously evaluating the services that we provide. While there is no firm date at this time to make an announcement, it is our desire to offer services that our customers want."

Q: Do you know of any new Comcast HD channels due out soon and if they will bring back NFL-HD that they had last year?

-- Patrick, Upper St. Clair

Rob: According to Comcast, the eight live games that NFL Network has this year will be available on INHD1.


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