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Ch. 4's interim news director has a lot on his plate

By Alan Pergament

This is what I'm thinking about a busy news week:

Channel 4's interim news director, Peter Jacobus, sure has several staff hiring issues on his plate however long he stays here.

That's because the former Channel 4 news director, Joe Schlaerth, had a reputation for being very slow to fill open positions. That was true throughout his 10-year tenure as news director. However, it is possible he wasn't allowed to hire anyone in recent months because he was about to be let go.

I would have liked to ask Channel 4 General Manager Rene LaSpina about that, but she still hasn't  answered my telephone call from Wednesday after Schlaerth was removed.

In any event, here are some of the immediate things that probably are on Jacobus' plate:

Replace former anchor Diana Fairbanks, whose 5:30 p.m. and 10 p.m. newscasts have been filled by Don Postles and Jacquie Walker since Fairbanks worked her last newscast more than a month ago.

Replace meteorologist Brian Shaw, who got a job in Louisville quickly after being led out the door after being fired in early June.

Replace sports producer Jay Harris, who left in March to produce John Murphy's radio show on WGR. That means Steve Vesey and Lauren Brill are Channel 4's only sports staffers at a busy time with the Buffalo Bills in training camp. 

Hire a third sports reporter, which has been on Channel 4's agenda for months. It is unclear if the new sports reporter actually will fill Harris' position.

Replace several important people who worked behind the scenes and have left.

Jacobus has a fan in former Channel 2 General Manager Steve Cohen, who currently is the news director at KUSI-TV in San Diego.

After Wednesday's blog listed some of Jacobus' credentials that I was able to gather from a google search (Channel 4 didn't put out a release), Cohen sent me an email.

"Your description of Pete Jacobus does him some disservice. He is one of the longest standing, most respected news directors in the profession. He is a superior newsman, who has covered most of the major stories of the last four decades. He ran KGO-TV (in San Francisco) in its heyday, and virtually mentored, hired, and led a generation of news executives from New York to Los Angeles.

"We have been colleagues from the time he ran KGO and I was at WXYZ in Detroit. Buffalo will find his leadership and community-based news gathering a refreshing change for viewers of WIVB."

Cohen concluded his email by saying something nice about my coverage of his "crazy profession."

Crazy indeed. In Buffalo, we have a TV channel that covers news that refuses to be interviewed when it makes news.  

I also received an email from WBBZ-TV's John DiSciullo, director of promotion and production, that noted my column last Sunday about all the digital channels available free over-the-air failed to mention the extra channels WBBZ carries. I was aware of it, but primarily dealt with the new sub-channels being offered.

"At WBBZ-TV we offer the following," wrote DiSciullo:

WBBZ    67.2:   THIS TV – the 24/7 movie channel offered by MGM. THIS TV was on our main channel before MeTV launched.

WBBZ    67.3       MeTV-  available 24/7 without our local program insertion.

WBBZ    67.4        DAYSTAR – Religious programming 24/7

Program Note: If you missed the June compilation episode of Visit Buffalo Niagara's web-based series "Buffalo For Real TV" with Nelson Starr as host, be advised it is being repeated  on two Sinclair Broadcast stations this weekend. It airs at 4:30 p.m. Saturday on WNYO and at 4 p.m. Sunday on WUTV. It also was written by Starr. John Paget is the director.

Edward J. Healy, vice president of marketing for Visit Buffalo, Niagara, reports there is a possibility that it will produce another half-hour special to air this fall.

Finally, inquiring minds want to know what happened to Williamsville East graduate Justin Rhodes during Judgment Week on "America's Got Talent"? The singer didn't make it to the round of 48.

Celebration mixed with concern over Schlaerth's departure

By Alan Pergament

The removal of Joe Schlaerth as news director of Channel 4 Wednesday might have caused some Western New Yorkers to ask, Joe Who?

But his departure from the station could have a significant impact on the presentation of local news.

That is why inside the CBS affiliate, the end of Schlaerth's Channel 4 career was greeted with a mixture of celebration and concern.

The celebration occurred because Schlaerth was not a popular boss. That became clear when the LIN station conducted focus groups about station management in 2013 and Schlaerth was given very low grades. I'm told some staffers celebrated by bringing in pizza and brownies.

The concern was over the uncertainty his removal brings to a station whose newscasts are dull and stodgy, primary reasons it is losing the demographic battle for viewers ages 18-49 and 25-54 to Channel 2.

Schlaerth was a Channel 4 lifer. He worked at the station for more than 30 years, beginning as an intern and rising through the ranks to assignment editor, executive news producer and eventually news director 10 years ago.

The culture of the station was in his blood and he was viewed as unlikely to make major changes because of it. He was named news director by another Channel 4 lifer, Chris Musial, after Musial was promoted to general manager. Musial was replaced a year ago by Rene LaSpina, who arrived with a reputation of being a tough, bottom-line oriented boss and in a year has pretty much validated that opinion. LaSpina, who declined to return telephone calls, gave Schlaerth a year to fix his management skills and the station's ratings and then let him go. 

Continue reading "Celebration mixed with concern over Schlaerth's departure" »

Ch.4 news director Schlaerth is out

By Alan Pergament

Channel 4 News Director Joe Schlaerth is no longer working at the station, multiple sources inside the CBS affiliate have confirmed.

His departure -- all the sources say he was fired this morning -- is no surprise considering how unpopular he has been inside the news department.

Indeed, it was more surprising that he lasted this long running the news department of the LIN station.

A 1984 graduate of the University at Buffalo, Schlaerth had worked at Channel 4 for more than 30 years, the last 10 years as news director. He began his career there as an intern, worked part-time while at UB and was assignment editor and executive producer before becoming news director in 2004. 

About a year ago when Rene LaSpina was named as Channel 4's new general manager, I wrote that "her biggest decision concerns the status of Schlaerth. LIN was told how unpopular he is when it conducted focus groups about the station’s management several months ago. The station’s improved demographics in May may help Schlaerth."

LaSpina appparently decided to give Schlaerth a year to illustrate he should stay on the job and possibly improve his management skills and the station's ratings.

The same demographics that helped him a year ago may have done him in a year later, as Channel 2 dominated in the key categories that advertisers are looking for this past May.

LaSpina could not be immediately reached for comment. I'm told that she told the staff that Schlaerth had been "removed" rather than use the word fired.

In an attempt to contact Schlaerth in the news department, I was told that he no longer works at the station.

According to sources, the new interim news director is Peter Jacobus, who most recently worked as a news director in Colorado Springs.


Reprising a memorable interview with James Garner

By Alan Pergament

When I read all the glowing and deserved tributes to the late James Garner online and in newspapers after his death Saturday, I decided I couldn't add much to the praise of his everyman likability, charm and good looks. He was what my father would refer to as a man's man.

My dad also used to say "there is only one Paul Newman." "There is only one Clark Gable." "There is only one Humphrey Bogart."

It was his highest praise of an actor.

I'm sure if he were alive, my dad would have said, "there was only one James Garner." 

Garner's TV success in "Maverick" and "The Rockford Files" predated my time as a television critic even if some of you think I've been doing this forever.

I watched those series as a regular viewer and admired Garner's ability to make characters who engaged in questionable behavior become appealing anyway.

But I don't remember much about all those episodes. Heck, I don't remember much about this season's episodes of "House of Cards."

Once I became a TV critic, I didn't have time to watch what I liked in the past. I had to focus on the present and future.

What I did remember was being in Los Angeles for a press conference appearance by Garner with television critics 20 years ago. I didn't remember writing the story, but thanks to a search of this newspaper's online library I found the story with my byline and re-read it.

In 1994, he was promoting six, two-hour versions of "The Rockford Files” that he agreed to make after several years of saying no to returning as private detective Jim Rockford. He also was co-starring in that summer's feature film remake of "Maverick."

Here is an edited version of the 1994 column, which I felt after reading it again captures Garner's spirit,  sense of humor, work ethic, wit and view of the moral responsibility of entertainment.

After years of saying no to returning as private detective Jim Rockford, Garner has agreed to make six two-hour versions of "The Rockford Files" for CBS over the next two years.

Why has he finally decided to reprise an Emmy-winning role that is making a new generation of fans on cable''s Arts & Entertainment channel?

"Money!"" deadpanned Garner. "I'm being -- I think I'm being funny. You want to know the real truth? I'm of an age that I don't know if I could do this three or four years down the line. And I want to do it. And if I'm going to do it, I should do it now. And it's a wonderful character to do; it's been very successful in my life, and I'd like to give it one more shot.

"I used to love to get up and go to work every day. My alarm never went off. I was up before it, and I went to work and I was always early. And I stayed there, and I was the last guy leaving the set because I enjoyed it so much. And I want to do that again."

Also returning: Original cast members Stuart Margolin as his ex-con friend, Angel Martin, and Joe Santos as irascible Detective Dennis Becker. But Garner said Noah Berry has suffered a couple of strokes and won't be able to return as Rockford's dad.

More importantl, creator Stephen J. Cannell and writers Juanita Bartlett and David Chase are aboard doing three of the scripts.

Chase (editor’s note: He went on to fame as the creator of "The Sopranos") said the first movie will bring "everyone up to speed to where Rockford is today."

Actually, he hasn't gone far. He is still living on the beach in the trailer.

"This guy can get nowhere fast!" cracked Garner.

One place Garner isn't going is the Universal lot to shoot the films. Garner, who was in a celebrated financial dispute with the studio over profits from the original series, wasn't about to enter the lot.

"I told this to the Universal people when we were negotiating," said Garner. ""To drive onto that lot every day to me would be like sticking a knife in my ribs and reminding me of a very bad circumstance before."

How can he be sure that the problems with Universal won't happen again?

"The deal is different," said Garner. "To put it very simply, they give me the money, we give them the film."

Garner, whose effortless charm was on display for the entire interview, credits his writers for the success of the original show, which ran from 1974 to 1980.

"I love the character of Rockford," said Garner. "It's a wonderful, wonderful antihero. . . . The character's always appealed to me because he's not your average, run-of-the-mill hero."

He will change only slightly, according to Chase.

"His attitudes have not changed," said Chase. "The only thing we can say is, Los Angeles is a vastly different city, and he's found it more and more difficult to live in L.A."

Garner agrees that today's antiheroes don't have the same sense of humor as Maverick and Rockford and often tend to be more mean-spirited.

"I have problems with some of the heroes today who must kill all those people,"said Garner. "I don't  know what it is about producers and writers who have to kill 30 people in the first reel.

"I don't think it's particularly good entertainment. I don't think it's that exciting and I think there's a moral responsibility. Particularly if you're going to do something for television, you have a moral responsibility to do things that are not detrimental to society."

By just making "Rockford" again, Garner is doing his bit for society.

"I get it every day," said Garner. "When are you going to do 'Rockford' again? It's very pleasing to know that people want it."

Some views about news concerning "Curb," "Flash" and "Big Bang"

By Alan Pergament

This is what I'm thinking:

One of the most frequently-asked questions I receive is whether there is ever going to be another episode of HBO's "Curb Your Enthusiasm."

Larry David, who stars in and writes the series, was recently asked himself by HBO programmer Michael Lombardo. The last original episode of the series, which deals with all the things that annoy and irritate David, aired in 2011.

According to one published report, Lombardo told the Television Critics Association that he recently asked David "should I emotionally get 'Curb' out of my head?' And he goes, 'No, no, no, no, no.'""

So there's your answer.

Yes, there possibly will be another season.

To be honest, I've been getting almost as annoyed as David being asked the question for the past few years.

I wasn't at the TCA press tour, but I followed some of the newsy developments from Beverly Hills, Calif. by reading reports from my colleagues.

Continue reading "Some views about news concerning "Curb," "Flash" and "Big Bang" " »

Ch.7 adds third member of sports team; Critics honor "Good Wife"

 By Alan Pergament

It may be last in local news, but Channel 7 beat Channel 4 at something.

While Channel 4 keeps looking for a third member of its sports team, Channel 7 has found its replacement for Allen Leight, who now works for the Buffalo Sabres.

Nick Filipowski arrives at the E. W. Scripps station from KTIV in Sioux City, Iowa, where he has been a weekend sports anchor and reporter. He moves from the 147th TV market to the No. 52 market.

Here is what he says about himself in his KTIV bio: "Growing up in a military family, I lived in eight states and in Japan for eight years.  Moving and living in different places, and experiencing new cultures allowed me to gain a better understanding of sports and the stories that drive the business."

"After graduating from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, I spent the next few months selling shoes for New Balance,  before landing my first job as the Weekend Sports Anchor at KNOP-TV in North Platte, Nebraska.

"I love the Yankees, Nets and Broncos. Yes, I bleed Husker red."

The Broncos? Channel 7 will have to talk to him about that. 

He doesn't arrive until mid-August, which means the station will have to cover the Buffalo Bills training camp with Sports Director Jeff Russo and backup Shawn Stepner.

Channel 4, which lost sports producer Jay Harris to John Murphy's Buffalo Bills radio show on WGR and only has two on-air sports staffers in Steve Vesey and Lauren Brill, has been looking for a third member of the sports staff for weeks. However, the station is often slow to fill positions.

In another sports note, John Hager, program director of 97 Rock and Sports Radio 1270 The Fan,  wouldn't say if 1270 is interested in carrying Syracuse University football and basketball now that ESPN 1520 has dropped the Orange in favor of a new deal with the University at Buffalo.

But he did't rule it out, either.

"We are looking at several options to replace UB sports, and should have an announcement soon," Hager said in an email.

Finally, "The Good Wife" may have been ignored in the best drama category of the Emmys, but the Television Critics Association honored the CBS series for "outstanding achievement in drama" at its annual awards Saturday in Beverly Hills, Calif.

Here are some other TCA winners:

"Breaking Bad" of AMC as the program of the year.

Matthew McConaughey of HBO's "True Detective" for individual achievement in drama.

Julia Louis-Dreyfus of HBO's "Veep" for individual achievement in comedy.

"COSMOS: A Space Time Odyssey"  on Fox for outstanding achievement in news and informational programming.

"RuPaul's Drag Race" on LOGO for outstanding achievement in reality programming.

"The Fosters'" on ABC Family  for outstanding achievement in youth programming.

"Orange is the New Black" on Netflix for outstanding new program.

"True Detective" for  outstanding achievement in movies, miniseries and specials.

"Veep" and "Louie" (Fx)for outstanding achievement in comedy.

NBC's "Saturday Night Live" earned the Herritage Award and director James Burrows earned the Career Achievement Award.  

UB deal means Syracuse is being dropped from ESPN 1520

By Alan Pergament

The move of University at Buffalo football and basketball radio broadcasts from Sports Radio 1270 The Fan to ESPN 1520 won't make every local college sports fan happy.

That's because it means that Syracuse University games in those sports no longer will be carried by the 50,000 watt station where UB is headed in a move that will increase the exposure of its athletic program.

Greg Ried, the general manager of ESPN 1520 and all local Entercom stations, confirmed Thursday night that Syracuse is being dropped.

"ESPN 1520 will be exclusive to UB sports as far as full season coverage," wrote Ried in an email.

Asked if that meant Syracuse games wouldn't be carried on any Entercom station -- it also owns WGR and WBEN -- Ried wrote: "As of right now we will not."

That would seem to leave an opening for 1270 The Fan to carry the Orange if Syracuse is willing to go on a station affiliated with CBS Sports Radio that only operates with 1,000 watts at night and 5,000 in the daytime.

I reached out to a 1270 representative Thursday night to see if the station would be interested in carrying Syracuse and will report when I hear back.

While Entercom's decision to carry the local college team is commendable and understandable, you could have a lively debate here whether there is more local interest in UB basketball or Syracuse basketball.

There are a lot of Syracuse graduates in the area (full disclosure: I am one of several members of the local media who is a SU graduate if you didn't know that already), its basketball program is annually one of the best in the country and it now plays in the prestigious Atlantic Coast Conference.

Syracuse's two appearances in the NCAA tournament at the First Niagara Center last March -- it lost the second game to Dayton -- attracted so many SU fans that they were like home games for Jim Boeheim's squad.

However, just about every Syracuse basketball game is carried either on national or local television, which might reduce interest in its radio broadcasts.

Still, Syracuse's games should be attractive enough to interest 1270 The Fan enough to consider trying to make a deal to carry them to offset its UB loss.

If not, it wouldn't be shocking to see Entercom try to carry some Syracuse games on one of its stations in the area when they don't conflict with UB games.    


UB football, basketball broadcasts moving to ESPN 1520

By Alan Pergament

One of the complaints about the radio broadcasts of the University at Buffalo football and basketball broadcasts last season was that the station carrying them often couldn't be heard near the Amherst campus.

That won't be a problem this season as UB announced today that those broadcasts are moving from AM 1270 to ESPN 1520, a 50,000 watt sports station owned by Entercom.

By comparison, Sports Radio 1270 The Fan is a 1,000 watt station at night, 5,000 watts during the daytime.

Besides carrying UB football and men's and women's basketball games, 1520 will also carry 30-minute weekly shows with football coach Jeff Quinn, men's basketball coach Bobby Hurley and women's basketball coach Felisha Legette-Jack, the school announced.

The games also will be carried on stations in Rochester, Albany and New York City, which UB said makes it the first time in school history that it will have a radio network carrying games across the state.


Praising, criticizing Channel 2 for promotion and advertising

By Alan Pergament

I've come to praise Channel 2 for its promotion and criticize it a little for promoting something involving an advertiser during its newscast.

First, the positive.

The praise goes to the promos, which the station usually does very well.

I'm not counting the one currently running in which it has viewers mouth promotional cliches that sound like they've been brainwashed into thinking Channel 2 is "on their side," "holds people in power accountable" and gives a "voice to the voiceless."

That promo is pretty lame.

But you may recall that I wrote a while back about members of the station's promotional department -- Dan Meyers, Jim Caskie and Justin Wahowski -- getting nominated for the prestigious national Promax Awards.

It turns out they won one gold, two silvers and one bronze medal late last month in Las Vegas.

The gold winner was for its promo, "Winter's Coming."

One of the silvers was for the comical "We're Ready for the Olympics" campaign, which I thought was its best promo. It's the one that had several staffers involved in Olympic events, including anchor Maryalice Demler on skates.

Continue reading "Praising, criticizing Channel 2 for promotion and advertising " »

Ch.7 plans show from Judge Judy as news lead-in for Now

By Alan Pergament

One of the big reasons for the decline of Channel 7's news is the lousy lead-in it gets at 4 p.m. weekdays.

That isn't expected to change much this fall when it plans to carry a new judge show, "Hot Bench," produced by CBS and Judge Judy opposite Channel 2's powerhouse "Ellen" and Channel 4's "Dr. Oz."

The talk show from Queen Latifah moves back an hour to 3 p.m.  in place of the canceled show from Katie Couric.

Down the horizon, Channel 7 may have to run a new program being produced by its new owner, E.W. Scripps.

Called "The Now," Scripps premiered it on its stations in Kansas City and Denver this week at 4 p.m.

Scripps executive Brian Lawlor said in a Scripps release that the program will have a heavy emphasis on what is trending on social media.

"I believe The NOW will set the pace for the type of programming that audiences on multiple platforms crave," Lawler is quoted as saying in the Scripps release. "The audiences want to know what's happening right now, give their own take on those events, and share their thoughts with their own social media networks." 

The release said the program will expand to six more stations in the months ahead, including at the  Detroit station Scripps purchased at the same time as Channel 7.

But the expansion of "The Now"  won't include Buffalo's Channel 7 -- at least for now.

"We are not slated to be part of the initial rollout of The Now," wrote Channel 7 General Manager Mike Nurse in a text response. "It requires a dedicated crew locally for that show alone and the feeling was there were too many other priorities initially."

"We are excited about the various programming opportunities from Scripps and are closely following the rollout of 'The Now' as it reflects a different and topical approach to early fringe's 4 p.m. programming and a fresh alternative to syndicated talk."

Of course, another significant reason for Channel 7's decline is the cutback in its news staff. It is expected to rectify that with announcements of new hires shortly.

The celebration of New York Yankee great Derek Jeter during Fox's telecast of the All-Star game Tuesday gave the game a significant local ratings boost from a year ago when Yankee great Mariano Rivera was honored.

But it was no World Cup final by a longshot.

The American League victory averaged a 5.7 rating on WUTV from 8 p.m. until 11 p.m. and fell after that. A year ago, the All-Star game averaged a 4.6 rating here. Germany's World Cup victory over Argentina Sunday -- which obviously was more important to soccer than the All-Star game  is to baseball -- had a 10.4 rating locally during game time.

The Nike advertisement in which a variety of sports stars -- including Michael Jordan at the end -- first responders and ordinary people tip their cap in Re2pect to Jeter (who wears No.2) ran during the game. It is an instant commercial classic.  

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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.

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