TV Q&A with Rob Owen

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This week's TV Q&A responds to questions about HGTV's "Groundbreakers," the lack of Boston accents on "Boston Legal" and more Comcast queries. As always, thanks for reading, and keep those questions coming.

-- Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV editor


My wife and I have watched "Groundbreakers" on HGTV for the past two years. What happened to Joe Washington, the host who has been with the show from the beginning, I believe, and why don't they tell you the cost of the job as they do on the other makeover shows?

We really like the Saturday lineup of these programs and you get comfortable with the same host and when they're gone, it does make a difference. Obviously, the cost should be given so one can decide if they, too, could afford it.

-- Don, Freedom

Rob: Here's the response I received from an HGTV spokeswoman: "Joe Washington did a terrific job on 'Groundbreakers' for 10 years and we appreciate his professionalism and talent. New episodes of 'Groundbreakers' feature Justin Cave, who provides landscaping expertise as well hosting duties. We look to incorporate more of the costs involved in the projects in future episodes. However, since the homeowners are responsible for the costs of their projects, some prefer that that information is not made public."


"Breakfast with the Arts" on A&E has been in repeats since the beginning of the year. Any reason why? In my opinion, it's gone downhill since Karina Huber came on the scene and they got rid of Elliott Forrest.

Can you shed any light on this?

-- Beth, Washington, Pa.

Rob: The show is no longer in production, according to A&E, which is a nicer way of saying it's been canceled. A new series will soon premiere in its time period.


Isn't it ironic that not one person on "Boston Legal" speaks with a Boston accent?

-- Ernie, Okeechobee, Fla.

Rob: I'm not so sure it's ironic as much as it is sensible. Americans are accustomed to hearing what's called a "flat Mid-Atlantic accent." It's the same reason Pittsburghese was absent from "The Guardian"; producers were wary of scaring off viewers unaccustomed to the sound.


I have really enjoyed the summer series "Traveler" on ABC. I guess it's just a one-time shot to burn off episodes? I hope there will be a legitimate ending to this show. Is there a long-shot chance that it would comeback sometime down the road? What are your thoughts on the show?

-- Rob, North Versailles

Q: What do you think of the show Traveler? I'm enjoying it but don't think it will last. Are there any plans yet to cancel it and if so I hope they at least finish it.

-- Janet, Crafton

Rob: I think it started strong, but since then it's been mostly a lot of conspiracy mumbo jumbo. I stopped watching about two weeks ago, mostly because I know the series will not have a life beyond its current run, which producers say will end with closure to almost all the pilot episode questions but will raise new questions.


Will there be a "Deadwood" movie on HBO, and, if so, when can we expect it?

-- Vicki , Clarion

Rob: Supposedly David Milch plans to work on the "Deadwood" movies after "John from Cincinnati," but I wouldn't hold my breath. If it comes to pass, and that's a big if at this point, it wouldn't air until mid-2008 at the earliest. My gut instinct is that the "Deadwood" movies will go the way of the "Commander in Chief" movie that never happened.


I watch very little television, but one of my favorites is "The Chris Matthews Show," which used to appear on WTAE Sunday at 5:30 a.m. I actually set my alarm clock for this show. Why has WTAE decided to move it to 5 a.m.? This is one of the few interesting news shows around, and they choose to bury it even deeper into the early morning. Like we need more local news -- shootings, muggings, fender benders and all that which seems no more newsworthy than the sun is rising and surely could wait an extra half-hour.

-- Norman, Butler

Rob: It's only a half-hour difference and at that hour, it would be most sensible to just tape the show anyway, regardless of whether it's on at 5 or 5:30 a.m. Channel 4 executives didn't offer a reason for the change, just noting that its new time slot is indeed 5 a.m..


What's up with Sonni Abatta's hair? She was a blonde and now she is a brunette. We like her better as a blonde.

-- Colleen, Whitehall

Rob: Normally I try to ignore these types of nebby questions (especially anything with a "we," which seems to suggest that three people yakking about an anchor's hair constitutes a mass outpouring), but I decided to take a chance that Abatta is secure enough in her skills to have a sense of humor about herself and her public image. For once, I guessed right.

"Thanks for the question," Abatta wrote in an e-mail response. "If only I got as many news tips as I get comments about my hair, I'd be breaking a new story each day! I could bore you with the detailed explanation, but suffice it to say I felt it was time for a change. As they say, variety is the spice of life! Stay tuned -- you never know when the blonde will be back!"


I found Channel 11's coverage of the missing toddler in Mount Washington most amusing. Kimberly Easton had an "exclusive" interview with the mother? Please! Maybe what WPXI should have said was, "Watch our reporter and photographer luck out." The station Web site was no better: "The Toddler's Mother talks EXCLUSIVELY with Channel 11" (There's that word again!)

I realize hype is all part of TV news. However, maybe WPXI should have simply run the report without the "exclusive" banner? I wouldn't call a mother in hysterics running into a WPXI camera crew an "exclusive" interview.

Please, enough already.

-- Tim, Corry

Rob: Why is it that viewers espouse more sensibility than the professionals who work in TV? While hype may be a necessary evil in the TV business, sometimes it needs to be tempered with common sense.


I'm back here in the area and I'm watching Channel 4 and the breaking weather news on Wednesday. Don Schwenneker did a fine job explaining the situation, where the storms were headed, and how long they would last. As soon as the segment was over, the anchors began speaking with a meteorologist from the National Weather Service about the same situation over the phone. They asked him questions that Don had answered less than 2 minutes earlier! Why in the world would the news director slap his weather department in the face like that? It sent the message to me that he has no confidence in Don or his forecast, which in fact was pretty close to what the meteorologist from the NWS said. As a degreed meteorologist myself, I know I would have been very upset if that would have been me in Don's shoes.

-- Rich, Houston, Texas (originally from Washington County)

Rob: Interesting point. I would be more annoyed by the redundancy, but I can understand how it could also be interpreted as a vote of no confidence.


Because I was not in the Pittsburgh area last night I was able to watch a wonderful show at 9 p.m. on the Philadelphia PBS station titled "Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song Celebrating Paul Simon." It was the PBS broadcast premiere. I consulted the WQED listings in hopes that they would rerun it and see that not only did they NOT run it last night but will broadcast it only on their HD channel. Not all viewers subscribe to high-priced cable or satellite services with HD channels. My experience with WQED is that they do not respond to these types of questions about scheduling, whether by phone, snail mail or e-mail. I am just wondering why WQED continues to pre-empt such shows, and/or why they choose to broadcast such a show on HD only?

-- Sue, Pittsburgh

Rob: WQED program director Chris Fennimore said he was all set to air the Simon special, but at the relative last minute, producers increased the running time from 90 minutes to two hours. WQED had already scheduled and promoted the local production, "Vanessa's Story," for 9:30 p.m., which is why the station subbed another run of "The Strip Show" in place of the Simon celebration.

Fennimore said the station is already scheduled through July, with pledge taking up much of August. He hopes to find slot for the Simon special in September or October. If he does, I'll get a mention in the paper.


I just found out that Comcast took Country Music Television (CMT) off of its basic/extended line up and moved it to digital cable channel 164. We never received any notification that this was moving nor were there any alerts on the TV channel. Why did Comcast move this channel? This isn't right for the country music fans out there who don't want to pay more money to Comcast. I loathe Comcast and this makes it even worse!

-- Bobby, Moon

Rob: This is the same plight Sci Fi Channel viewers encountered a few years ago when Comcast migrated it to digital as well. You're absolutely right that it's the cable company's attempt to reach into your wallet and pry out more cash. But Comcast does follow the letter of the law in making these changes.

"The FCC requires customer notification of 30 days in advance for changes that are under our control, such as the change of channel number, the addition or removal of channels and changes of channels within service levels," explained Comcast spokeswoman Jody Doherty. "The migration of CMT from Standard Cable to the Digital Classic level of service was advertised in the following papers: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Beaver County Times, Daily Echo (West Virginia), Martins Ferry Leader Times, Morning Journal (Ohio), Washington Observer Reporter, Tribune Review, Steubenville Herald, Valley News Dispatch, Weirton Daily Times, Wheeling Intelligencer and Youngstown Vindicator."

Here's why you might have missed it: The information wasn't included in a big display ad; it was in the teeny-tiny legal notices.


Today when I went to Comcast Cable Channel 1 (OnDemand) and clicked on Premium Channels, I saw a new entry titled "here!" I click on it and it is a gay/lesbian channel and the titles of some of the movies are terribly offensive (e.g., "Lesbian Sex Vol. 1," etc.). Since my children and grandchildren can access this portion of the OnDemand screen, I would like to know why Comcast has this new selection and if there is some way to block it from persons like me who do not wish to access it.

-- Charles, Squirrel Hill

Rob: I looked at this menu myself and most of the titles seemed pretty benign: "Maragret Cho," "Paradise Falls," "Rufus Wainwright" and "The Lair." Yes, "Lesbian Sex" and "Sexplorations" were on there, too, but seeing as neither title can reasonably be construed as offensive and is no way overly descriptive, you're best advised to simply not look at that screen (Comcast says there is no way to block Channel 1's portal to OnDemand). Given that titles for straight-themed Cinemax adult movies can also be found OnDemand ("Best Sex Ever 18," "Hotel Erotica 12"), there's no reason to single out the Here! titles, which are no worse.


A few weeks ago you answered a question about NFL Network being moved to a special premium package but it's still on my digital cable and I wonder when it will be taken off or did they decide to keep it due to complaints?

-- Willie, Pittsburgh

Rob: The change is to take place over a 60-day period. It's only been a month.


Not a question, just a comment in follow-up to the information you provided on WPXI's new automated production system. Saturday while watching the late morning broadcast, my husband and I noticed more gaffes -- graphics and stories out of sync and such. We picked up on a blurb about a classic car show being held at the South Park fairgrounds, supposedly that day, and decided to check it out. About halfway there, we started seeing signs along the roadside indicating that the show was not Saturday but SUNDAY. It was a minor inconvenience and a bit of a disappointment, but we as viewers are conditioned to expect facts from the news. Such a lack of accuracy and professionalism leads viewers to question the credibility of other "information" being provided.

-- Carol, Mt. Lebanon

As per your response to the problems with WPXI's news programs this past week, you were way out of line. Your remark about Trisha Pittman was totally uncalled for, unprofessional and markedly un-funny. -- Debra, McMurray

Rob: I'm surprised that anyone would misunderstand that the person who e-mailed me with that comment was using hyperbole, a common comedic device in the English language. I can't imagine anyone would seriously think his obviously sarcastic suggestion bore any resemblance to reality. The tone was clearly in jest, particularly since it was preceded by a jab that suggested CCAC students might be able to produce a better newscast than the professionals at Channel 11.

I'm sorry you were offended, but people who work in the media need to have a thick skin, a sense of humor and not take themselves too seriously (see: Sonni Abatta, above), although, admittedly, I've run across media folks who are thin-skinned, humorless and prize the image they've created for themselves above all else.

When City Paper jokingly suggested a few years ago that I could be a member of the Hell's Angels, I laughed at the absurdity of it. Trisha Pittman is a professional in a business that's always under scrutiny and often the butt of jokes, so I would certainly hope she could laugh off one viewer's flippant comment that was clearly not intended to be mean-spirited or malicious.


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