TV Q&A with Rob Owen

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This week's TV Q&A responds to questions about ads on WPXI, Jerry Seinfeld's "Bee Movie" minisodes on NBC and HBO's "Five Days." As always, thanks for reading, and keep those questions coming.

-- Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV editor

Q: I noticed that WPXI airs a lot of ads pitching its news, weather, sports, Web site, mobile phone services, or other products but fewer spots from "real" advertisers.

When I compare this to stations in the Altoona area or other cities, it seems like WPXI has a lot of advertising time it has to fill with its own spots. Is this common for Pittsburgh stations or is it dependent on the quality of programming on NBC or the other networks?

Has cable put a dent into the advertising revenue for the network affiliates? How can an operation like WPXI survive and expand if the TV advertising revenue is shrinking?

-- Kevin, Pittsburgh

Rob: WPXI could fill all that time with ads, but they're using it currently to promote their own product. Right now we're in October sweeps, which is a precursor to November sweeps, so Channel 11 is pumping up its promotions.

"We 'protect' a certain amount of inventory to be used for promotional purposes. That amount varies depending on the time of year," wrote WPXI general manager Ray Carter in an e-mail response to Kevin's question. "In most small markets (like Johnstown/Altoona) the competition is not as fierce and the one or two strong local affiliates don't have to promote themselves as much as larger market stations -- especially those in a market like Pittsburgh where three stations are neck-and-neck."

Q: As you know, Kevin Benson on WPXI works a split shift on weekends. What's his schedule like on weekends? What time does he arrive for morning news? Evening news? Kevin does a great job.

-- J.P., S. Fayette

Rob: Over two weeks I left a couple voice mail messages for Benson and also tried to e-mail him, but I received no response.

Q: What is WTAE doing with Andrew Stockey in the mornings? For over a month he and Jake Ploeger have been alternating weeks as co-anchor, but I have heard no mention of explanation. I'm a viewer who likes continuity, and I'm not getting it from WTAE in the mornings.

-- Renee, South Hills

Rob: I've heard news directors talk about "continuity" but never viewers. WTAE news director Bob Longo promises continuity with Stockey for the rest of the year.

As for Stockey's absence, Renee's nervousness is unwarranted. Stockey has simply been taking vacation time. It doesn't seem like this should require a reminder, but since I hear from so many TV viewers anxious about their newscasters, please keep in mind: NEWS ANCHORS GET VACATION, TOO.

Q: Why doesn't PCNC always put "recorded" on shows that are reruns?

-- Roy, Elizabeth

Rob: I've wondered about that, too, particularly with regards to non-live newscasts. I've always figured that they fear a "recorded" bug would reveal just how much of the station's content is reruns.

Station manager Mark Barash said, "We generally do that for talk shows that are repeated although it may not sit on the screen for the entire show."

And as for newscasts?

"Not all newscasts are all on tape," he said. "Often there are live inserts for weather or breaking news."

Q: Do you know what channel Pittsburgh Penguins games are on in HD on FSN broadcasts for Comcast?

On the Penguins broadcast, they said it was on Channel 226, but that channel is MOJO and the game was not on.

-- Jim, Hopewell

Rob: On former Adelphia systems, FSN-Pittsburgh airs in HD on Channel 769.

In traditional Comcast areas, Comcast has the right to pre-empt MOJO (Channel 226) to air FSN-P programs that are available in HD, including these shows airing tonight: "Savran on SportsBeat" (6:30 p.m.), Carolina @ Penguins (7:30 p.m.), "Penguins Post-Game Show" (10 p.m.) and "FSN Final Score (10:30 p.m.).

Q: I'm a big fan of Jerry Seinfeld, but the recent promo blitz for "Bee Movie" is getting under my skin. The season premiere for "30 Rock" was turned into a commercial for the movie and the "TV Jr." spots that ran during "The Office" were just too much. (Not funny either)

What's the deal with NBC? Are they so enamored with Jerry that they will do anything to get his face back on screen? Is this paid time or are they letting him take advantage as continued payment for his past success?

-- David, Brentwood

Rob: I liked Seinfeld's appearance on "30 Rock" because it completely mocked NBC's obvious desperation in getting him back. The "Bee Movie" plugs on "30 Rock" didn't bother me because it was all part of the joke

As for the "Bee Movie" minisodes, those don't bother me either because I just treat them like the commercials they are and mostly ignore them. I did ask NBC what the financial arrangements were for the minisodes, and this was their response: "We saw a great opportunity to provide additional entertainment content to our air in connection with the promotion of Seinfeld's new movie, which we bought the television rights to. We sold a sponsorship to this short-form content, just as we do with all of our programming."

Q: After reading the article about characters working in "retail jobs" where the establishments are all fictitious although there is enough similarity with the name to recognize them (Buy More vs. Best Buy and The Work Bench vs. Lowe's/Home Depot) I got to wondering: Why don't TV shows use the real stores? I imagine it has to something with licensing but you would think that the advertising/sponsorship benefits would be greater especially since there seems to be more emphasis on "product placement."

-- Ron, Saxonburg

Rob: It's possible that we'll see more instances of what Ron suggests in the future with a renewed interest in product placement as a revenue generator, but I think it will be a lose-lose scenario.

For corporations overly concerned with the brand image they project, they may not want their store manager to be depicted as a tool the way the boss is on "Reaper."

From a writer's standpoint, you wouldn't want to be strong-armed into making the boss a nicer guy just to please the sponsor.

Q: Because there was nothing else exciting on Tuesday night TV at 8:00 PM, my wife and I started watching the HBO miniseries "Five Days" and we have been enthralled ever since.

It's one of those under-hyped shows that, because of all the twists and turns, bears repeated viewings. With it's large cast, thick British accents, and story-line, the show can sometimes be confusing, but it also makes you really pay attention.

Have you seen it and what are your thoughts about the show?

-- T. Butler

Rob: One of the constant frustrations of my job is that I cannot watch everything, even things that look promising as "Five Days" did when it landed on my desk in the midst of the fall network premieres. I rank series above miniseries and movies in order of review importance because series have the potential to go the distance (I also rank broadcast and basic cable before premium shows because more people receive those), so I'm afraid "Five Days" did not make the cut.

I've heard from other viewers that they're enjoying "Five Days," too, and I've added the discs to my ever-growing pile of TV programming to watch in retirement -- provided we're still using DVD players 30 years from now.

Q: I've been enjoying Damian Lewis in NBC's "Life" and was curious about how it is doing in the ratings. I found this at Zap2It regarding this week's performance: "CSI: NY" posted a 9.0/15 for CBS at 10 p.m., easily beating ABC's "Dirty Sexy Money," 6.4/11, and NBC's "Life," 5.0/8.

Is this pretty much the norm? I was sorry to see that it isn't doing well.

-- Martha, Crafton

Rob: Despite this third-place household rating, "Life" had been doing better in the demos at the start of the season, but it's now behind "Dirty Sexy Money" in that measure, too. My TV ratings expert friend Marc Berman deems both "Dirty" and "Life" as disappointing at The Programming Insider.

My advice: Don't get too attached to "Life."


I always read the complaints about Comcast and agree with many of them, so I did something about it. I ditched Comcast and subscribed to Dish Network. For about the same amount of money -- and actually substantially less money for the first six months as an introductory offer -- I now have more channels, a LOT more HD channels and a DVR, which I chose not to have with Comcast. So far, no problems with the service. People need to be aware that there ARE alternatives out there. Thanks for listening.

-- Bob, Franklin Park

I was reading the Q&A this week and someone asked about Nicole Petallides. Nicole is now on Fox Business Network. This network began broadcasting on Oct 15th. You and I both know what the next question will be when people see this Fox Business Network: What channel is that? or Why can't I get that? I always notice how many people ask you those questions. Anyway, Nicole was always very warm and cheerful at 6 in the morning on 'TAE.

-- Matt, Blawknox

Rob: Thanks, Matt. Have you been overhearing my phone calls here at the office? As the Post-Gazette's Tim Grant reported in the Business section Sunday, FBN is not yet carried by Comcast but is on DirecTV Channel 359.

Last week, I noted that I hadn't received a Comcast channel lineup card "in years," but Comcast spokeswoman Jody Doherty says they are sent out annually: "Comcast customers receive an annual notice from us with the channel line-up (required by FCC). Last year it was January 2007. This year it will be February 2008. New customers receive their channel line-ups in their welcome kit. Comcast customers can also receive a channel line online, in service center lobbies or just by phoning us and requesting it."

So perhaps I missed it last year. She did say it's on plain white paper, not on a card or glossy paper. I miss the days when a cable company provided its customers with a channel lineup in a more durable format that fit neatly in a remote control caddy.


ABC is broadcasting "The 41st Annual CMA Awards" Nov. 7 live from the Sommet Center in Nashville and we have some extra tickets we'd love to give away to your readers! We can offer 2-4 tickets at great viewing seating, retail value $350. It'd be great for a posting on your publication or online Web site. Requirement: a feature about the CMA Awards that mentions the giveaway and tune in to the "The 41st Annual CMA Awards" on ABC Nov. 7 (8-11 p.m.). ...

-- ABC Media Relations

Rob: My editor and I both received this blatant attempt at quid pro quo product placement. Needless to say, we did not respond, but, boy, the TV folks will do anything for some ink.

If you see these particular free tickets offered elsewhere, it's not wrong to wonder what the publication had to do to get them.


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