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Ch.2 scores with hockey fans on Sabres' game-changing story

By Alan Pergament

If you were watching Channel 2 Wednesday morning and its newscasts Wednesday night, you undoubtedly were in hockey heaven.

The NBC station was the only network affiliate to carry the lengthy Buffalo Sabres press conference live announcing the firings of General Manager Darcy Regier and Coach Ron Rolston and the hiring of beloved former Sabre Pat LaFontaine as president of hockey operations and the extremely popular Ted Nolan as interim head coach. (Time Warner Cable's YNN also carried it live.)

By late evening, Channel 2 engaged in some self-congratulation, running a promo that said it was the only place to carry the press conference "on the air and online."

Channel 2 deserves some congratulations for ignoring the bottom line to air the press conference on TV at some cost. It also had the advantage of staying with it at 11 a.m., when its regular morning newscast airs. Sometimes, you make calls to go live to protect your image as the station to head to when there is breaking news. This was one of those times. 

After all, it was legitimately "Breaking News," a phrase that local stations use too often for less important news just to catch viewers' attention.  

Channel 4 chose to ignore the "Breaking News" and stayed with "Let's Make a Deal" on the air and carried the press conference online. Channel 7 stayed with "AM Buffalo," a live show with paid programming that rarely gives viewers anything compelling to watch.

I called those news judgments "stunning" Wednesday because the Sabres press conference wasn't just announcing what was being referred to as an historic sports story. It was a story with business and community significance as well.

I wasn't calling the business-decisions of Channel 2's rivals "stunning." When stations preempt programs for live news, it can cost them advertising revenue and these days every nickel counts. Additionally "Let's Made a Deal" viewers might not be sports fans and would cry foul if they missed a deal or two.

I imagine that the business element may have played a role in the decisions made by Channel 4 and Channel 7 not to interrupt local programs whose importance paled in comparison to the news being made. Or perhaps there was a technological reason for it.

A Twitter follower tried to make the case that people are at work and that made live streaming a "smart call." But companies don't want their employees watching news when they are supposed to be doing work. Besides, we haven't yet seen the day that live streams can generate the audience that  live TV coverage generates.

As expected, all three channels led with the big Sabres story on their 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. news.

Channel 7 stayed the longest, giving about 15 minutes on the team at the top of the 5 p.m. newscast. Of course, with its smaller staff, Channel 7 is known to stay long on big stories because it doesn't have that many reporters to cover anything else.

Channel 2 stayed a few minutes less at 5 p.m., carrying about 11 minutes of Sabres news at the top of its 5 p.m. newscast.

But it offered the most comprehensive coverage, empyting its newsoom. Sports director Adam Benigni was joined by co-anchor Maryalice Demler and reporters Scott Brown, Pete Gallivan, Jonah Jovad, Michael Wooten and Andrew Peters of "Sunday Sports Extra." They covered every aspect of the story.

I could have done without being told about how big the news was on Social Media, which Channel 2 seems to be obsessed with. Of course, Twitter was blowing up. It was big news this community has been waiting to hear for years.

I also could have done without analysis by Demler, whose presence apparently was supposed to tell viewers that this was a big deal.

It might have been a bigger deal to Channel 2 because its network, NBC, carries National Hockey League games, including the Stanley Cup Finals.

In any event, its coverage was much more thorough than that of its biggest rival, Channel 4. At 5 p.m., Channel 4 was off the Sabres story in five minutes.

It was a similar story at 6 p.m. for all three stations. Channel 4 claimed it was giving viewers Team Coverage. It was a two-man team consisting of Sports Director Steve Vesey and reporter Lou Raguse. Backup sports anchor and reporter Lauren Brill was nowhere to be found.

Once again, Channel 4 was the quickest to bail out of the Sabres story because it had to get to the latest installment of its heavily-hyped series on restaurant health code violations, "Dicey Dining."

It has been a ratings grabber for two nights so that was understandable. However, I might have chosen to give "Dicey" a rest for one night and give viewers some real Team Coverage of the Sabres big day.

By 11 p.m. naturally the Sabres story received a little less attention than it had earlier when the news was fresher.

At the end of its 11 p.m. newscasts, Channel 2 ran the results of its silly poll, which asked viewers whether the Sabres moves A) meant nothing B) made them a little more hopeful or C) marked a return of Hockey Heaven.

I would have thought B would have won, but 74 percent optimistically picked C -- a return to Hockey Heaven.

For Channel 2 viewers, it certainly was.

apergament@buffnews.com

  

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About Talkin' TV

Alan Pergament

Alan Pergament

Alan Pergament has continued to blog about television topics since retiring in 2010 as The News' television writer after 28 years on the beat. From local on-air personalities to ratings to the latest on network and cable programming, he keeps you informed.

@StillTalkinTV | apergament@buffnews.com

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