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Walking Through TV Plans for Wallenda Stunt


WBEN’s Tom Puckett had me over a barrel last Friday when he asked Stilltalkintv to predict what the national audience will be for Nik Wallenda’s high-wire walk over Niagara Falls this Friday.

Nik Wallenda Walks Across Pittsburgh

Nik Wallenda: Buffalo Audience Should Be Huge

I felt a little like ESPN’s outspoken analyst Stephen A. Smith when asked who was going to win game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals between the Miami Heat (who won) and the Boston Celtics.

Smith said four words that rarely come out of his mouth: “I have no idea.” Or something like that.

I have no idea how many people will watch nationally or locally. I can’t find anyone in my social circle who is all that interested in watching the daredevil but I learned long ago that my interests and that of my friends can be very different from those of the public at large.

I imagine if a Western New Yorker is home Friday night, he or she will be watching on one of the channels carrying it.

I was confused by hearing the plans of local TV stations to carry the Wallenda Walk, which will be part of a three-hour ABC special airing nationally at 8 p.m. on Channel 7.  ABC is calling the first hour “Megastunts. The Greatest Stunts … Ever.” The final two hour program is called “Megastunts: Man on Wire: Live from Niagara.”

This from an ABC release on Wallenda: “I am very challenge-driven person,” (Wallenda) said. “Don’t tell me, ‘It can’t be done,’ because I’ll find a way to do it.” After months of work and a time-consuming negotiation, the Ontario Parks Commission approved a one-time exemption in February to allow Wallenda to attempt a single crossing, reversing the 128-year ban on stunts. The Niagara Parks Commission has specified that such feats can only be attempted once every two decades.”

 “The walk itself is expected to take approximately 30 to 40 minutes and is expected to draw thousands of spectators on the U.S. and Canadian sides, and boost tourism to the region leading up to and long after the historic event.”

 Local TV is doing its booster-ism part. I thought Channel 7 would be the only station to carry the walk live locally because of its affiliation with Channel 7, but since have heard promotional plans by Channel 4 and Channel 2 to get in on the act.

How it that possible? According to Channel 4 General Manager Chris Musial, ABC’s “exclusive worldwide rights” mean it only has the national rights to the walk. Musial has been told by the Parks Commission he can carry the walk live on WNLO-TV’s 10 o’clock news. He added he probably will simulcast it on Channel 4 at 11 p.m. if it is still going on. Channel 2 has said on air that it plans to stream the walk live on WGRZ.com as well. Channel 2 also plans to carry it live on its 10 p.m. newscast on WNYO-TV. Maybe it will even make No. 1 on the newscast’s silly countdown.

In any event, the Buffalo audience should be, as the local car guy says, “HUGE.”

Nationally, I’m not so sure what to expect. ABC isn’t taking a Wallenda-sized risk. The program airs on Friday night, which is where network TV generally sends programs to die. It is one of the lowest viewing nights of the week, along with Saturday.

The national prime time network competition isn’t much of a threat. NBC is carrying repeats of low-rated comedies and a two-hour edition of “Dateline.” CBS is airing “Undercover Boss” and repeats of “CSI: NY” and “Blue Bloods.” Fox is carrying repeats of “House” and “Bones” and the CW is carrying repeats of “Nikita” and “Supernatural.”

So the Wallenda Walk should dominate nationally as long as viewers aren’t bothered by the long wait before the walk starts after 10 p.m.

There has been some local criticism of ABC forcing Wallenda to be tethered, which substantially reduces his – and the network’s — risk.

I can’t see how ABC could have done anything else. There is an old joke about the lengths that TV will go to get an audience. The joke goes that networks will eventually air live executions to get an audience – and that Fox will eventually air live naked executions.

ABC smartly didn’t want to risk coming close to achieving that level of exploitation if disaster struck. It should be applauded, rather than condemned for the safety measure.

The big question is whether the sentence in ABC’s release about the promotional and tourism benefits for Niagara Falls will become a reality.

I have no idea. I will say that “The Office” gave the Falls quite a promotional boost a few seasons ago when the heavily-watched episode in which Jim and Pam got married in the Falls aired. I’m not aware of any significant boost in tourism after that.

Understandably, the local media is heavily invested in the Wallenda Walk. The local TV stations are walking all over themselves in promoting it. And The Buffalo News carried a front-page story about it Sunday and five more pages of stories in the Spotlight section.

Are they overplaying it? I have no idea. It will be interesting to see next week if the local TV ratings measure up to the hype about the Walk or if they illustrate the media slipped up by giving viewers and readers more than they wanted to see or read about the “megastunt.”



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“Mad Men” Unhappily Ends Season Sunday

The season of AMC’s “Mad Men” that unhappily comes to a close this Sunday was perhaps best summarized by a couple of exchanges in last Sunday’s exceptional semi-final episode.

Jon Hamm

Jon Hamm: He Played the Good Guy This Season

The first exchange was between advertising executive Don Draper (Jon Hamm) and a less than enthusiastic prospective client about happiness:

“What is happiness?” asked Don. “It is a moment before you need more happiness.”

The second exchange was between Don and a prep school kid named Glenn whose secret date with Don’s daughter Sally (Kiernan Shipka) turned disastrous.

“Why does everything turn out crappy?”asked Glenn.

“You are too young to think that way,” replied Don.

“Everything you think is going to be happy turns to crap,” added Glenn

“What do you want to do?” asked Don. “If you could do anything what would you do”?

Then the episode ended with Glenn driving Don’s car back to school, with Don helpling him steer on occasion.

It was a beautiful ending to the year’s best episode, one that made this viewer wish the season wouldn’t end this Sunday.

“Mad Men” isn’t a big local hit. Last Sunday’s episode had a 2.4 rating locally, though undoubtedly more people watched it when AMC repeated it Monday, On Demand and on DVRs. And many more will watch it when the DVD set of the season becomes available. It also is big on Twitter, though I wish people would stop revealing plot twists immediately after they arrive. It does a disservice to viewers who watch the series later.

Set in the advertising industry in the culture-rich 1960s when the role of women was one of several things changing , “Mad Men” is an acquired taste, sort of like the scotch, bourbon and after dinner drinks that Don and the gang have in the afternoon and evening.

Because so many people watch on DVDs, I hesitate to give too much detail about a season that included an entertaining fist fight, a surprising suicide, an equally surprising decision by one of the advertising firm’s stars to leave for greener pastures and a decision by a female employee to eventually give in to what amounted to prostitution after haggling over the price.

Through it all, the season’s theme seems to be about the difficulty of achieving happiness or at least a semblance of emotional and financial stability..

There have been a decent amount of laughs, including a priceless moment last week when a Jaquar confirmed its 1960s reputation for being unreliable when it wouldn’t start at a key time.

I could have done without the episode in which a former member of the firm became a Hare Krishna, though at least that continued the theme of trying to achieve happiness and pleasure.

It was amusing to see account executive Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser) lose his moral compass and turn into Don, and Don become such a good and principled guy throughout the season. It also was often a joy seeing Don’s young wife Megan (Jessica Pare) assert herself and stand up to her man when he became sexist or threatened to become the old Don.

The diminished role of Don’s former wife Betty (January Jones) also was a plus, since her character is one of the most boring in the series. Jones did have a nice moment last week comforting Sally that illustrated the love-hate relationships that daughters can have with their mothers.

It is hard to tell where series creator Matthew Weiner will take us in this Sunday’s finale. Viewers also should remember that series like this often have their bigger events in semifinal episode rather than in their season finales.

All in all, I’ve been very happy with this season and a little sad it is going to drive off the TV screen after Sunday for several months.


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Murphy’s Departure from Channel 4 Delayed

This is what I’m thinking:

Channel 4 Sports Director John Murphy’s departure from the station has been delayed for more than a month, General Manager Chris Musial said today.

Murphy: Radio Show May Be Delayed Too

“We’re working on final details with him,” said Musial. “Murph will be with us for a while, probably through the end of July.”

In one of the media’s worst-kept secrets, the radio voice of the Buffalo Bills is leaving the CBS affiliate to work full-time for the National Football League team. His new nightly WGR radio show was expected to premiere around mid-July but his delay in leaving Channel 4 could move that date. In addition to his radio show, Murphy is expected to do lengthy video features for the Buffalo Bills website.

The move of play-by-play men to work full-time for teams has become a trend in the National Football League.

Murphy, who has worked in TV at Channel 4 and Channel 7 for 22 years, will eventually follow former sports backup Paul Peck out the door. Peck left to work in the financial services industry.

The station’s new weekend sports anchor, Steve Vesey, has been impressive in his few weeks on-air. Channel 4 also is looking for a second sports anchor. Musial wouldn’t say if Vesey is a candidate for the sports director’s job.

“I think Steve is great and he did terrific work before in Elmira,” said Musial. “Every year, he won awards. We are really thrilled with him.”

WGR sports host Mike Schopp’s disdain for the NBA hit a new low Wednesday when he started giving opinions about Miami Heat star LeBron James after openly admitting he doesn’t watch the NBA. Even though Schopp pretty much restricted his opinions to criticizing James for moving from Cleveland to Miami as a free agent, it is silly for the host to have any opinions about a league he cares so little about it that he said he only checked out the score of the Heat’s loss to Boston in game five on his computer after the game. It would be like me having opinions about Schopp without listening to him (which is becoming increasingly hard to do).

The potential deciding game in the Stanley Cup finals Wednesday drew a big Buffalo audience. New Jersey’s 3-1 win to prevent a sweep by the Los Angeles Kings in the Stanley Cup finals had a 5.9 local rating on cable’s NBC Sports Network. There goes the theory that people can’t find the games on cable. Oklahoma City’s 107-99 win over the San Antonio Spurs to win the Western Conference title of the NBA in six games had a 3.1 local rating on TNT. I must admit I forgot that the hockey game was on the NBC Sports Network Wednesday instead of NBC for a minute or so. The final three games, if necessary, will be carried on Channel 2, the local NBC affiliate.

Inquiring minds want to know: Does Jen Stanonis, the former Channel 7 weathercaster who makes her Channel 2 debut this weekend, have a meteorological degree? Not yet. However, she tells me that she just has a few classes to finish at Brockport State College before she does.

Here’s something wild. I don’t know what this says about the romantic inclination of WNYers, but Channel 2 is trumpeting the fact that it had the highest rating in the nation’s metered markets for the NBC reality series “Love in the Wild.” It had a 5.6 rating, winning the hour in Buffalo. Jenny McCarthy is the host of the “adventure dating series.”

Since the review of the musical “Memphis” at Shea’s today is on what usually is the TV page of the Buffalo News, I think I can give my opinion of the Broadway version I  saw several months ago. I don’t disagree with much of what News reviewer Colin Dabkowski wrote but I think I liked it much more than he did. Reading his review, I doubt that’s because of the lead in this production. It may be because we have different expectations for musicals. They usually have many clichéd elements. “Memphis” is a very entertaining, fast-moving and moving show with some catchy music. If you can afford it, don’t miss it.


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NBA Rates Here; Praise for Showtime and Simon

We all know that Western New York is a NHL town and not a NBA town, right?

Cropped version of Episodes cast TCA 2010.jpg

Matt LeBlanc: Enjoy Showtime Preview

But some evidence to the contrary arrived Tuesday with the local ratings for playoff games in the two leagues. Monday’s games had a level playing field since  both were carried on cable.

Los Angeles’ 4-0 win over New Jersey Monday in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup finals had a 3.3 on the NBC Sports Network (formerly Versus). The first two games had been carried on NBC, with ratings twice as high because it is a broadcast network carried on Channel 2.

Oklahoma City’s 108-103 Monday win over the San Antonio Spurs in Game 5 of the Western Conference finals of the NBA had a 3.2 local rating on TNT. That’s pretty much a draw.

There were some notable differences. The OKC-Spurs game started later, which usually would reduce the audience. However, it went down to the final seconds, which usually would keep the audience watching. The Kings win was a rout early on, which is bound to diminish interest. However, the NHL game was in the sport’s finals, which normally would be an advantage. The NBA game Monday was equivalent to the semifinals.

The point is the NBA seems to have more fans than most members of the local media seem to realize since it is a star driven league with Kevin Durant, Kevin Garnett, Rajon Rondo, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade among the players that make the playoffs such compelling viewing.

Of course, the big ratings winner Monday was NBC’s “America’s Got Talent,” which had a 12.4 rating on Channel 2, the local NBC affiliate. The AGT rating was considerably higher than “American Idol” averaged last season and almost equal Monday to the combined local ratings for ABC’s  “Bachelorette,” Fox’s “Hell’s Kitchen” and repeats of CBS comedies.

If the Buffalo News is going to rewrite my blog a day later, at least it should spell the names in the story correctly. On Tuesday, the News ran an interview with Channel 2 News Director Jeff Woodard that confirmed the report in my Monday blog that former Channel 7 personality Jen Stanonis was going to replace Autumn Lewandowski on Channel 2’s weather team. However, the News spelled the name of Channel 2’s new employee “Stanosis” (perhaps thinking of spinal stenosis) throughout its article. It corrected the spelling online. Perhaps the story will give Stanonis a new nickname – Spinal.

Like (Stefan) Mychajliw , Stanonis is one of the names I constantly look up before I write anything. The News item did include a tidbit that I ignored – that Stanonis was recently married. I don’t know what that has to do with her hiring. I generally try to avoid personal details unless they impact a news personality’s job.

By the way, every member of Channel 2’s weather team – Kevin O’Connell, Andy Parker, Maria Genero, Mary Beth Wrobel and Stanonis — has worked at another local station in town.

The departure of Lewandowski has led to her being supported by a healthy number of viewers and friends on her Facebook page and this blog. I was never a fan and understand the reason for the switch to Stanonis.

Maybe it is my recent illness talking, but a voice inside my head said “say something nice about (Buffalo News) columnist Jeff Simon.” I thoroughly enjoyed his Tuesday column addressing the changes in atttidue about drunk driving, and the impact on the Corasanti trial. ( I could have done without the start in which Simon talked about himself but you have to accept that going in when reading a Simon column). I also agreed with his take that the key to the not guilty verdicts on the felony charges was in jury selection. That was apparent in the post-verdict interviews with jurors carried on TV. One juror didn’t seem to understand the difference between something being “possible” and reasonable doubt. It is often difficult for jurors to understand what reasonable doubt means.

Local Time Warner Cable subscribers don’t always get to see free Showtime preview weekends that run nationally. But the Showtime preview that runs from June 15-17 will be available locally to all digital subscribers. Such series as the very funny “Episodes” with Matt LeBlanc, “Nurse Jackie” with Edie Falco, “Homeland” with Claire Danes, “Weeds,” “Dexter” and “Shameless” are expected to be available on Father’s Day weekend on Showtime and Showtime On Demand.


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Corasanti Testimony Couldn’t Be Televised


I was asking for the impossible in the Corasanti trial. No, I’m not talking about justice. I was advocating something that would have been against the law.

That’s the word from Erie County Judge Sheila A. DiTullio, who presided over the recent trial of Dr. James Corasanti.

I had suggested in a few blogs that Judge DiTullio allow Corasanti’s key testimony to be televised if she were allowed to do that.

I called the judge’s chambers Sunday night to find out and left a message. She returned my call Monday to explain what the law allows when it comes to TV coverage of trials in New York State. It wasn’t as much an interview as a teaching exercise and a learning experience.

Representatives of the local TV stations had told me that whether cameras were allowed in the court during the Corasanti case was up to the discretion of the judge. Not exactly.

First, some background with the help of stories available on the Internet. Eleven years ago when she was an Acting Supreme Court Justice, Judge DiTullio was an advocate for cameras in the courtroom. DiTullio wrote back then that the state’s 49-year-old ban on court broadcast coverage was “an anachronistic vestige of a bygone era.”

After noting that 48 states permitted “some form of audiovisual coverage” in court, she added that it was “in sharp contrast to New York State, where some 50 years later, [the law] continues to operate as an utter ban on audiovisual coverage in the courtroom, despite nearly ten years of study and experimentation.” According to a story available on the Internet, Judge DiTullio concluded the studies showed that cameras in the court wouldn’t hurt anyone in the case or the court’s integrity.

There is no evidence that she changed her mind. According to Internet stories, the state’s highest court changed the rules. Four years after Judge DiTullio made her comments, the state’s highest court ruled unanimously that New York’s ban on cameras in courtrooms didn’t violate the First Amendment or the New York Constitution. The ruling declared that Section 52 of the New York Civil Rights Law – which was used to ban cameras in the court — was constitutional.

On Monday, Judge DiTullio explained that means that trial court judges now only have the ability to allow cameras in the courtroom for non-testimony, such as opening and closing statements and jury verdicts.

She added that she had no discretion when it came to allowing testimony to be televised and that any New York state trial court judge would be kicked off the bench if they allowed it because of Section 52 of the Civil Rights Law. In other words, she couldn’t have allowed Corasanti’s key testimony or any testimony to be carried.

Her 2001 comments suggest she would have allowed cameras in the court during the Corasanti trial if she had been allowed to.  The public reaction against the acquittal of Dr. Corasanti on all felony charges could have been exhibit A for the argument that cameras should be allowed in the court.

That’s because the vast majority of the public made up their minds that the verdict was unjust without seeing or hearing any of the testimony heard by the jurors. The only members of the public who heard the testimony were the ones who came to court. Televising the proceedings would have allowed the public that has been quick to condemn the jury a chance to see what jurors heard.

Judge DiTullio said she could have allowed the verdict – which wasn’t testimony – to be televised but she used her discretion not to do so “out of respect” for the jurors who were told they would not be photographed.

So what does this mean when it comes to Judge DiTullio’s sentencing of Corasanti on Aug. 18 on his misdemeanor DWI conviction? Considering Judge DiTullio’s past views in favor of cameras in the courtroom and her explanation that non-testimony can be televised, it would be a good educated guess that she will allow cameras in the court on the day that Corasanti could be sentenced to a year in jail or less, community service or probation.

Not surprisingly, coverage of the Corasanti verdict led to a spike in local news ratings Wednesday. At 6 p.m. when the verdict on most counts was in but not yet announced, Channel 2 topped Channel 4, 10.9 to 9.7. Both of those figures were well above the station averages of Channel 2 (8.1) and Channel 4 (8.0) during the May sweeps.

At 10 p.m. when both stations carry newscasts on other stations, Channel 4 had a 6.3-3.2 edge. Once again those figures were well above the May sweeps averages of Channel 4 (4.5) and Channel 2 (2.1). Qt 11 p.m. Channel 4 won decisively with a 12.5 rating, 40 percent above its May average of 8.9. Channel 2’s 11 p.m. news was delayed that night because NBC carried the first game of the Stanley Cup finals between Los Angeles and New Jersey, which the Kings won in overtime. Channel 2 News had a 5.6 rating after the game ended, slightly below the 6.0 it averaged in May.

Speaking of the Kings-Devils series, L.A.’s overtime win Saturday night in game two had a 6.8 rating on Channel 2, about a point lower than game 1 here. L.A.’s win in game 3 Monday was carried on NBC’s cable sports network and figures to have a lower rating.   


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Autumn Leaves Ch.2 Weather Team; Stanonis Hired


This is what I’m thinking:

Autumn Lewandowski is out, Jen Stanonis is in at Channel 2.

Autumn: Leaves in Late Spring

Channel 2 News Director Jeff Woodard confirmed the weekend weather switch this morning after being asked about industry rumors. 

Lewandowski’s last weather forecast as a Channel 2 part-timer was Sunday night. Stanonis, who used to be a full-timer at Channel 7 doing weather and news reports before going back to college to get a second degree, will make her Channel 2 debut as a part-timer on the weather team this weekend.

It is unclear why Lewandowski was let go but sources say she was never a favorite of the station’s management team.

“She’s moving on for other opportunities,” said Woodard. Of the hiring of Stanonis as a part-timer, Woodard said: “We’re excited to have a veteran that knows the Buffalo market and the weather patterns here.”

Some first impressions of Steve Vesey, Channel 4’s new sports anchor, after watching him for parts of two weekends. Overall, the impressions are very favorable. He is a step up from several recent Channel 4 hires, primarily because he had years of seasoning in the Elmira market that has been a Channel 4 farm league for years.

He tried too hard to write clever intros or parting comments after stories on opening weekend, with a batting average of about .250. He settled down a little in week two.

On the positive side, Vesey is an enthusiastic fast-talker while showing rapid highlights and seems to know his stuff on a variety of sports. However, he shouldn’t immediately try to pass himself off as a Buffalo Bills or Buffalo Sabres expert since he just arrived from Elmira.

It is unclear if Vesey was hired to replace weekend sports anchor Paul Peck’s or Sports Director John Murphy after he leaves. He appears to have the skills to be the sports director if that’s how Channel 4 decides to go.

Now that former Channel 2 reporter and talk show host Stefan Mychajliw has accepted the Republican, Conservative and Independence party endorsements to run for the office of Erie County comptroller, he had to go from Channel 2’s noon debate program, “Two Sides with Kristy Mazurek.” His last day was Thursday. David J. Shenk, the Democrat who is the current comptroller, could have demanded equal time if Mychajliw had stayed on the air.

According to the Buffalo News, Shenk is going to be challenged for the Democratic nomination by businessman George F. Hasiotis. I don’t know whether he has the skills needed to be comptroller, but Mychajliw’s communication skills and name recognition certainly will be advantages in the race. However, he also has some significant negatives because of his roles representing former Buffalo Schools Superintendent James Williams and former Erie County Executive Chris Collins.

Mazurek is expected to work with different guest hosts daily in Mychajliw’s absence. 

Inquiring minds want to know: What happened to Buffalo News sportswriter Rodney McKissic after his month suspension for plagiarism ended and the newspaper decided to go with Tim Graham and Jay Skurski as Bills writers to assist Mark Gaughan? For now, McKissic remains at the paper in a behind-the-scenes role. He lost his job covering the Bills in addition to his suspension.



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Proof that Ch.2 Should End Backwards 10 at 10

This is what I’m thinking:

English: Kevin Costner Français : Kevin Costner

Kevin Costner: DVR Alert

It was smart for Channel 2 to drop its silly 10 at 10 feature on Wednesday and Thursday nights on its newscast on WNYO-TV. It would have been ridiculous for the station to delay its coverage of the top story of the day – the verdict in the Dr. James Corasanti case and the reaction the day after — until 10:15 p.m. when it runs the No. 1 story in its backwards gimmick.

I’d use the experience of the last two nights to kill the whole idea. After all, a newscast that waits 15 minutes to deal with the top story essentially is telling viewers that there is no news that is that important.

Not to beat a dead horse but Channel 4’s questionable use of its legal expert, Terry Connors, on the Corasanti case looked even more inappropriate Wednesday after the verdict when he became part of the story. That’s when a Channel 4 reporter interviewed Connors about what the family of Alix Rice felt after Dr. Corasanti was acquitted of all the major counts.

Just telling viewers that Connors is the attorney for the Rice family in the civil suit against Dr. Corasanti wasn’t enough to overcome the conflict of interest to use him as an analyst on the criminal trial. At least Channel 4 used former District Attorney Frank Clark as well to augment Connors’ take on the proceedings. After it added Clark, it should have benched Connors on this case. He is going to be a bigger part of the story when the civil suit proceeds if a settlement isn’t reached.

Where in the world is Matt Lauer? He’s everywhere. On Thursday, he anchored the NBC Nightly News in place of Brian Williams. He did his usual strong job until the end when he seemed to briefly forget where he was. “I’ll see you tomorrow on ‘Tonight’ (pause) on ‘Today,’” he said, quickly correcting himself.

Former New England Patriot Tedy Bruschi has never been a favorite of Buffalo Bills fans. But on Thursday when asked what team he thought improved significantly in the AFC East during the offseason, the ESPN analyst picked the Bills.

Don’t you just love those TNT interviews with San Antonio Coach Gregg Popovich during the NBA playoffs? On Thursday, he was asked by Craig Sager how the Spurs managed to come back from a big early first quarter hole against the Oklahoma City Thunder. “Just keep playing,” deadpanned Popovich, who makes Bill Belichick seem talkative. The Thunder eventually rolled to an easy win.

No wonder NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman told the Buffalo News that he loves our market. Not surprisingly, the Buffalo market had the highest-rating in the country for the Los Angeles Kings’ 2-1 overtime victory over the New Jersey Devils in the first game of the Stanley Cup playoffs. The game had a 7.9 rating on Channel 2, which was much higher than the game had in the L.A. and N.Y. markets of the teams. That isn’t surprising since people on the coasts have so many interests besides hockey. As big as the Buffalo rating is, a rating point counts for a fraction of the viewers of a rating point in N.Y. and L.A.. Many more people watched the game in the cities of the two participating teams than in Buffalo.

DVR alert: If you missed the highly-rated History Channel series starring Kevin Costner, “The Hatfield and McCoys,’ be advised that all three parts of the series are being repeated from 6 p.m. to midnight Saturday on the channel.


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Local TV Acquits Itself Well on Corasanti Verdict


I understand where Erie County District Attorney Frank Sedita is coming from when he says he hasn’t been as “astonished” by a jury verdict in 24 years as a prosecutor.

He was referring to the acquittal of Dr. James Corasanti Wednesday on all major charges related to the death of 18-year-old Alix Rice almost a year ago.

I haven’t been as astonished by a local verdict in almost 40 years. That’s when I covered a trial in which a jury acquitted a Buffalo policeman of all charges even though his own attorney asked for him to be convicted of lower charges.

My memory is the jury – which was lambasted by the judge – looked at the defendant as if he were their son and decided to let him off.

To paraphrase Jay Leno’s famous question to Hugh Grant, Western New Yorkers want to ask Corasanti jury members “what were you thinking?”

The verdict is just a reminder that predicting jury verdicts is a dangerous exercise. Unless some members of the jury are eventually persuaded to talk, we’ll have to live with speculation about their thoughts. (Update: Patrick Lakamp of the Buffalo News just posted an interview with the jury foreman).

Before the verdict came in, I suggested to a friend that the jury just may conclude ”there but the grace of God go I” and let the doctor off. I made this comment after visiting a friend Tuesday night who lives off of Heim Road. I remarked to my driver that the road was so dark that I could see having trouble seeing someone crouched low on a skateboard wearing dark clothes even if I were sober.

Perhaps that was what the jury was thinking despite evidence that made most of WNY conclude Dr. Corasanti deserved to be convicted at the very least of leaving the scene of an accident.

The danger of predicting verdicts was highlighted Wednesday when former Erie County District Attorney Frank Clark predicted on Channel 4’s noon news that Dr. Corasanti would be convicted of at least two serious counts about seven hours before he was acquitted of all charges except of a misdemeanor. Some legal experts also were surprised that Corasanti’s lead attorney, Joel Daniels, didn’t deliver the closing statement and questioned whether having Cheryl Meyers-Buth do it was a good idea. In hindsight, it sure didn’t hurt.

As I pointed out Wednesday, almost all the legal experts on the local channels weren’t at the trial 24/7 so they might have seen things differently from a jury who sat through everything.

Though quick comparisons were made to the acquittal in the O.J. Simpson case, there were significant differences. Except for the opening and closing statements, the Corasanti trial wasn’t televised so most WNYers didn’t hear everything or much of anything. There was no racial element. And perhaps most significantly, Simpson didn’t testify while Corasanti did.

As I’ve written a few times, I wish Erie County Judge Sheila A. DiTullio had allowed cameras in the court when Corasanti testified if she had been able to allow it since I felt his testimony would be key to the verdict.

Almost all the experts on local TV’s coverage Wednesday speculated Wednesday that Corasanti won his own case with his own testimony because the jury found it credible and believable. District Attorney Sedita acknowledged as much in his post-verdict press conference, adding he didn’t agree with the jury about the credibility of Corasanti’s testimony. (The jury foreman told The News’ Lakamp that Corasanti’s testimony wasn’t as ”pivotal” as lawyers suggested post-verdict.)

Without being able to have cameras in the court for most of the trial, local TV news did itself proud Wednesday. Every station covered almost every angle of the verdict. During the early news, all the stations had experts speculating about an acquittal on the serious charges because the jury was considering lower charges that the judge had told them to ignore if they convicted on the serious charges.

Kudos to Channel 4’s Luke Moretti, George Richert and Rachel Kingston, Channel 2’s Michael Wooten, Melissa Holmes and Claudine Ewing and Channel 7’s Ed Reilly and John Borsa. Interestingly, the answer to Ewing’s question to defense lawyer Thomas Burton about what Corasanti said to him after the verdict was played by all three stations even though the question was only heard on Channel 2. “Thank you for being my friend,” answered Burton.  

I just wish the stations had been allowed to carry the verdict live to see that exchange and the emotional reaction inside the court room.

There were a few things I could have done without. Channel 4 and Channel 2 kept on shouting “Breaking News” from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. about the verdict even when nothing new was happening. It almost felt like a “Saturday Night Live” bit after a while. I also could have done without a Channel 4 story about whether Dr. Corasanti was continuing to practice and would be able to practice if he was convicted of a felony. The story seemed predicated on a guilty verdict on the serious charges that never came.

But those are minor criticisms. The larger questions now are a) whether Dr. Corasanti’s notoriety will enable him to practice in WNY or whether he’ll have to leave town to practice b) whether he will go to jail on the misdemeanor charge that could land him behind bars for a year c) will any jury members ever defend or explain their verdict and d) who will win the civil trial brought against Dr. Corasanti by the Rice family if a settlement isn’t reached. Time will tell and I’m sure TV news and the Buffalo News will be all over those questions.  

Except for those minor criticisms, the local stations acquitted themselves very well on a “shocking” must-see TV night.


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Ch.4 Should Have Benched Connors as Analyst

Diana Fairbanks: Pressed Clark for Answers


I’ve been gone almost a month and expected that Channel 4 would come to its senses in the interim and stop using Terry Connors as its legal expert to analyze the trial of Dr. James G. Corasanti.

But there was Connors outside Erie County Court Tuesday delivering his cautious take on the final arguments offered by the prosecution and defense after Channel 4’s Jacquie Walker reminded its audience that Connors is the attorney for the family of the late Alix Rice in a civil suit against the prominent doctor.

It’s a blatant conflict of interest for Connors and Channel 4 is wrong if it thinks acknowledging his association with the civil trial is enough to use him.

I would have liked to have seen a story somewhere that explained the impact of a guilty or a non-guilty verdict on the later civil trial.

I asked a prominent defense lawyer – let’s call him a PDL for now on — Tuesday what verdict Connors should be rooting for to help the civil case. The PDL said that if he were Connors he would root for a guilty verdict since it would solidify the civil case, which doesn’t have the same difficult burden of proof as a criminal trial.

The PDL attorney added that while a not guilty verdict would enable Dr. Corasanti to make a good living again, it wouldn’t necessary mean that there would be more money to get from him civilly since in all likelihood the doctor’s insurance would cover any civil award.

“A guilty verdict puts him out of business,” explained the PDL. “I don’t know how much insurance he has. But I assume his insurance is all they can get anyway.”

The PDL added the fact that the teenager died instantly probably would reduce the civil award since the amount of time there was pain and suffering wouldn’t have been extended.

Of course, this is just speculation. But it is clear that Connors has a vested interest in the results of the trial and he shouldn’t have been analyzing it for any TV station.

It wasn’t like there aren’t other prominent lawyers available. Channel 2 used several prominent lawyers to analyze the case, including former Erie County District Attorney Frank Clark, Paul Cambria and Dennis Vacco.

To its credit, Channel 4 didn’t solely rely on Connors Tuesday. It also used Clark, who had double duty on Channel 2 and Channel 4.

Clark was much more interesting and opinionated than Connors, who perhaps tried to avoid being opinionated because of his conflict of interest. Clark did admit he was mildly surprised that Cheryl Meyers-Buth delivered the defense closing argument rather than lead attorney Joel Daniels. Pressed by Channel 4 anchor Diana Fairbanks why he thought Meyers-Buth made the summation, Clark speculated that sometimes people feel jurors would rather hear from a female lawyer in this situation.

Of course, all the lawyers were asked the unanswerable question of how long deliberations would take and what verdict would likely result if they took a while. It is guess work and nobody wanted to go out on a limb Tuesday. (Clark did predict on Channel 4 at noon today that there would be a conviction on a few counts.) It is unclear how much of the trial the so-called legal experts watched and if they watched enough to make an educated guess.

TV news viewers certainly wouldn’t find it easy to know what to expect since only the opening statement and closing arguments were allowed to be televised. The best and most thorough trial coverage was by Patrick Lakamp of the Buffalo News.

Ideally, it would have been beneficial if TV viewers could have seen Corasanti’s testimony, which may be key to the verdict. I’m going out on a limb guessing that Judge Sheila A. DiTullio would have allowed the Corasanti testimony to be carried if she was able to legally. Hopefully, that’s one of the answers we’ll get after a verdict is reached.


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Pardon the Interruption But I’m Back


It is nice to be back stilltalkintv.

BEVERLY HILLS, CA - JULY 30:  Host/musician Hu...

Hugh Laurie: He Didn't Treat Me

To be honest, it is nice to be able to talk about anything.

With apologies to Michael Wilbon and Tony Kornheiser, please Pardon the Interruption between blogs while I have been living through an episode of “ER,” Grey’s Anatomy,” “House” and just about every medical show for the past four weeks.

I will spare you many of the details, other than to say I owe my life to my terrific, fast-acting girlfriend and two angels who live next door to me – a cardiologist and a nurse. Best move I ever made was living next to a cardiologist and his wife.

I did get a kick out of a former colleague’s remark that he was surprised to learn I had a heart when he learned of my attack. I want to thank him and all my friends and readers who have expressed concern over the last few weeks in humorous and serious ways.

My initial fear after the attack was that I was going to get too soft because I seemed to cry after watching just about every season finale during my recovery. I knew I was in trouble when I cried during  the “Revenge” finale. Kidding. It was just about the only finale that I didn’t cry over, which was an indication that I was finally recovering. I loved the series finale of “House” with Dr. House (Hugh Laurie) and Dr. Wilson (Robert Sean Leonard) riding off into the sunset together on motorcycles, and the season finale of “Glee,” which I caught On Demand after I left the hospital for a second time. I will talk about them more in an upcoming blog.

During my time off, I read the Buffalo News online and came away more determined to fill what I believe is a glaring need — the coverage of national and local television.

My initial schedule won’t be as heavy as it was before my health scare. I don’t plan on writing daily at the start. More likely, I will borrow a future page from the New Orleans Times-Picayune and write three times a week. The blogs may be written at various times of the day and not just early morning. The schedule will expand back to normal as my energy level increases and after I deliver about 140 final grades to college students waiting patiently for them.

But enough about me.

It’s time to deliver the results of the local May new ratings, one of the areas the Buffalo News seems less interested in covering. I’ve always found who is No. 1 to be interesting. But that’s me.

It was a good sweeps for Channel 2. It won the 6 a.m. morning competition by a wider margin over Channel 4 than it did a year ago. Channel 2 also was No. 1 at 5 p.m., 5:30 p.m. and 6 p.m., though the 6 p.m. win was practically a dead heat.

With Oprah Winfrey no longer serving as Channel 4’s news lead-in, the former No. 1 station saw declines everywhere but at 11 p.m., where it was No. 1 by a wide margin thanks to the help of the prime time lead-ins from CBS programming. Its 8.9 rating at 11 p.m. was flat from a year ago. Channel 2, meanwhile, slipped almost two points from a year ago to a 6.0 and was closer to third place Channel 7 (5.0) than Channel 4. Channel 7 remains a distant third in all time periods.

The 10 p.m. race has become a little more interesting. Channel 4’s newscast anchored by Diana Fairbanks on WNLO has more than twice the audience that Channel 2’s newscast anchored by Melissa Holmes has on WNYO-TV. However, a year ago, Channel 4’s newscast had three times the audience. Channel 2’s newscast saw a .1 increase to a 2.1 rating, while Channel 4’s newscast dropped 1.7 rating points to a 4.5.

Channel 4 shouldn’t cry too much about the ratings drops for now. After all, audiences are being asked to adjust to all the new personnel changes at the station in the past year or so. In the meantime, Channel 2 is adjusting to life on top everywhere but at 10 and 11.




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