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“Falling Skies” Isn’t So Super or Revolutionary

WEST HOLLYWOOD, CA - JUNE 13: (L-R)  Actor Noa...

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The new TNT alien series, “Falling Skies,” is mistitled. It should be called “Falling Expectations.” Or “Falling Asleep.”

OK, that’s a little harsh.

But with Steven Spielberg’s name attached as one of the executive producers, much was expected of Sunday’s two-hour premiere, which begins at 9 p.m. on the basic cable channel.

Even more was expected because Robert Rodat (“Saving Private Ryan”) and Graham Yost (“Boomtown,” “Justified”) wrote the first two hours.

And early reviews have practically been as positive as all of the raves for the Spielberg-produced summer movie “Super 8.”

The cast also includes the always appealing Noah Wyle (seen above with co-stars Moon Bloodgood and Drew Roy) in his post-“ER” period and character actor Will Patton, whose face is much more familiar than his name.

Despite the positive advance word, the first two-hours of this eight-hour series (subsequent episodes play at 10 p.m.. Sundays) aren’t so super or revolutionary despite a few strong action scenes and one scare. Spielberg could have done this one in his sleep.

Of course, all the early raves had one expecting TV’s equivalent of “E.T.,” “Close Encounters” and “Super 8,” all rolled into one. It would be wiser to view this as mildly entertaining summer fun, though there isn’t much fun in Sunday’s two hours except for a line about the rivalry between the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees.

Neither Wyle nor Patton is required to do any heavy llifting in this film about a resistance team — the 2nd Massachusetts — battling aliens and trying to survive so kids can go back to being kids and history teachers can go back to teaching history rather than making it.

To paraphrase Spiro Agnew, if you’ve seen one alien series trying to survive on special effects and heart you’ve seen them all.

First, I must admit I’m not a big sci-fi fan. I hate most alien series. I bolted NBC’s “The Event” early when it appeared aliens were involved. I never really got into ABC’s “V.”

By now, you’d have to be from outer space not to know the drill when it comes to the set-up of series like this.

In “Falling Skies,” aliens nicknamed Skitters and their robotic attackers are taking over the world for unknown reasons and Americans aren’t too happy about it. The invaders are building large structures around the world and collecting teenagers, which suggests Skitters are either a glutton for punishment or have a plan to humanize them. Kidding.

Wyle plays Tom Mason, a principled teacher who specializes in military history. He’s a widower and father of three boys, one of who is missing and may have been “harnessed” or controlled by the aliens.

Mason seems determined to bore people with his knowledge of the American Revolution and its relevance to how to fight the alien invasion. The only one who seems to want to hear his wisdom is Anne Glass (Bloodgood), an attractive humanitarian pediatrician.

Tom’s oldest boy, Hal (Roy), is a handsome guy who has a hot girlfriend while another religious girl flirts with him for unknown reasons. Well, actually we probably know the reasons.

The human and emotional stories shouldn’t be alien to anyone who is familiar with the practice of throwing soap opera themes (saving dogs, sneaking kisses, finding time to skateboard and play children’s games) in between action sequences.

Patton is Weaver, the leader of the resistance who has about as much use for civilians as big business has for unions these days. Weaver wants the history teacher to follow his orders and find food and weapons before Tom heads off and looks for his missing son. The leader is more impressed by the heroics of a 13-year-old fighter than he is by Tom.

The search is complicated by a group of marauders — led by nasty acting John Pope (Collin Cunningham) — who are involved for unknown reasons. OK, they are apparently looking to take advantage of the alien invasion.

The aliens look like they were built by an erector set. They have lizard hides and six legs and use “Star Wars”-like laser weapons that kill instantly. However, they have an Achilles Heel if anyone can get close enough to shoot them.

After about 45 minutes, I think I know what it felt like to be harnessed — or kept against my will.

Things could get better. They often do after the set-up explains the circumstances and introduces the characters and their dilemmas.  But the first two hours of “Falling Skies” are mostly humor-less and predictable and may make non sci-fi fans quickly grab for the remote control and harness their energies for something more interesting. Like reading a history book.

pergament@msn.com

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Sports on the Air: Thomas Ends Suspense

Goalie Tim Thomas, NHL Hockey player for the B...

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Talk about trying to build silly suspense.

NBC play-by-play man Mike Emrick had this to say about Boston goaltender Tim Thomas Wednesday night after the Bruins 4-0 victory over the Vancouver Canucks in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals: “Will he be the MVP? Let’s learn.”

It was pretty laughable. Over at CBC, the announcers were saying that Thomas (right) was going to be the MVP even if the Bruins lost.

I’m going to try and build suspense, too. What do you think the local rating was for game 7? You’re going to have to wait until you get to the end of this blog to find out.

Of course, there wasn’t much suspense in the final period with the Bruins holding a three-goal lead and the Canucks looking like they had as much chance of coming back from this embarrassment as Anthony Weiner has surviving his embarrasment.

So I exonerate Emrick from blame. He was just trying to keep people interested.

However, I do blame Emrick and everyone else at NBC for failing to put Thomas’ incredible performance in the final series in great perspective before and after he was named the MVP.

Someone might have mentioned that he gave up just eight goals in seven games. That’s the same number of goals that Boston scored in game 3.

Emrick did have a good line when 6-9 Bruin defenseman and captain Zdeno Chara accepted the Stanley Cup from NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman.

“This undoubtedly will be the highest it’s ever been,” said Emrick.

Chara’s exuberance and primal screams as he skated with the trophy made all those stories about Europeans failing to understand the meaning of the Cup as much as North American players look dead wrong.

NBC didn’t mention that Chara is only the second European captain to hoist the Cup. I heard that nugget on either CBC or Versus.

Thomas not only won the trophy. He also won the unofficial honor as best interview subject. He was happy, charming and team-oriented in his on-ice interview with Pierre McGuire, just as he has been all series long.

Asked about the difference in the series, a humble Thomas suggested his teammates’ physical play wore the Canucks down.

No doubt, that was a big difference. But Thomas’ performance and the struggles of Vancouver goalie Roberto Luongo was the most noticeable difference.

McGuire provided a head-scratcher in the interview, talking about the Bruins’ dominance. The Canucks actually out-shot Boston, 37-21, in Game 7 and just couldn’t beat Thomas.

McGuire and analyst Eddie Olczyk agreed on one key coaching mistake. They both thought that Canucks Coach Alain Vigneault should have called time out on a power play to give his first unit more time on the ice with his team down 2-0. He didn’t and the Bruins scored a short-handed goal to put the game away.

Bad coaching move? Probably. But somehow I doubt a timeout would have made much of a difference on a night that Thomas couldn’t be beaten.

Now. I’m sure the ratings suspense is killing you.

Game 7 had a 10.6 rating on Channel 2, which probably only will be behind Boston and other New England markets in the national ratings. That’s an impressive figure but about 25 percent lower than the 13.5 rating for Chicago’s Game 6 Cup clincher over Philadelphia last year.

The difference? South Buffalo’s Patrick Kane — a Chicago star — gave local viewers an extra reason to watch a year ago. And Wednesday’s Game 7 saw a big drop-off after the Bruins took a 4-0 lead.

The rating peaked at 9:45 p.m. at 13.3 and slipped into the 10s and 11s after that.

Finally, there was one bit of suspense for Buffalo viewers. Where was Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs, who lives here? Unlike Dallas Mavericks Owner Mark Cuban after his team won the NBA title,  Jacobs didn’t get the national TV spotlight. However, I was able to find his reaction in a New England cable interview in which he mentioned having six of his children on the ice celebrating.

You can hit the link below and watch it.

http://www.nesn.com/2011/06/bruins-owner-jeremy-jacobs-says-championship-not-about-him-but-about-players-city.html

pergament@msn.com

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Drescher’s New Show is Underwhelming

Fran Drescher at the Life Ball 2009, Rathaus, ...

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The Voice. It is Fran Drescher’s signature as an actress. So naturally I waited to see how long it would take for a joke about the nasally-sounding voice in Drescher’s new TV Land sitcom premiering at 10:30 tonight, “Happily Divorced.”

As they like to say in Las Vegas, the over/under was 10 minutes.

I’m not going to say if I the joke landed in the first 10 minutes and I won that bet.

That’s because I want you to play the over/under game if you dare watch this comedy that is inspired by Drescher’s real-life marriage and divorce to Peter Marc Jacobson.

As you may have read, sometime after Drescher and Jacobson divorced, he came out as gay.

In “Happily Divorced,” Fran plays a Los Angeles florist whose husband Peter (John Michael Higgins) comes out while he’s in bed with his wife after they have sex (“during Leno”). There’s no drama, just acceptance. Remember, this is a comedy. They move on – without moving. For financial reasons, Peter stays in the house, which surprises Fran’s first date. Fran’s parents (played by Rita Moreno and former “Lou Grant” star Robert Walden) take it so matter-of-factly they think it doesn’t change the couples’ theater plans — or anything.

With a set-up like that, a viewer naturally can predict the jokes that are bound to come with pretty high accuracy. (Once again, I’m not telling you how accurate I was).

My over/under on a “Glee” joke was three minutes. My over/under on a Broadway joke was four minutes. My over/under on a joke about Peter’s love of flowers was about five minutes. My over/under on a joke about Fran’s lack of gaydar was one minute.

Believe me, playing the over/under game may be the only way to survive the pilot of “Happily Divorced,” which is nowhere near as funny or clever as Neil Patrick Harris’ opening number about Broadway on the Tony Awards, “It’s Not Just for Gays Anymore.”

Viewers will get just about every gay joke cliché there is in the half-hour. That makes you wonder how this marriage of real-life and fiction can survive more than a few weeks before repeating itself.

I admit I did laugh a few times in the pilot – once early when Fran takes a sexual shot at all men — and once late. The late line from Fran’s date (played by D.W. Moffett, whose face is better known than his name) played to the cliché about the male fantasy involving lesbians kissing each other. I should have known it was coming but didn’t include it on my over/under list.

Of course, like all TV Land original series, “Happily Divorced” is practically critic proof. Drescher’s popularity from “The Nanny” (which her real-life husband co-created) a few decades ago is sure to bring viewers to tonight’s premiere in big numbers.

But can it last? My over/under on the show’s longevity is two seasons.

* Channel 2 is having as good an awards year as “The Book of Mormon,” which won Sunday’s Tony as best musical.
On Tuesday, the NBC affiliate won three of the 13 prestigious national Edward R. Murrow Awards given by the Radio Television Digital News Association to stations in markets No. 51 or higher.

Channel 2 won the Overall Excellence award for a small market. Reporter Scott Brown won awards for his continuing coverage (with photojournalist David Harrington) on “The Death of Laura Cummings” and in the hard news feature category (with photojournalist Ben Read) for a report on “The Legacy of Jason Dunham,” the late Marine who posthumously was awarded the Medal of Honor and a Purple Heart and had a Navy destroyer named after him.

Channel 2 was the only Buffalo station to be honored. It was only recently that the Buffalo market slipped out of the Top 50 and became eligible in the small market category.

pergament@msn.com

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Relating to FiOS Subscribers, Bill Maher and Chris Rock

NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 12:  Hugh Jackman (L) and ...

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My instinct Saturday about the impact of a federal court ruling on local FiOS subscribers in Western New York appears to be accurate.

A FiOS spokesman confirmed Monday that the ruling is “another step” toward allowing its customers here to get Buffalo Sabres games in high definition.

He just doesn’t know if it is going to happen in time for the start of next season.
The spokesman said the FCC still needs “to take action” to allow it to happen after a U.S. Court of Appeals agreed Friday with a decision by government regulators to close a loophole in a 1992 law that allows cable TV operators to withhold sporting events in HD from its rivals.

The Buffalo News story Saturday said the loophole isn’t an issue in Western New York because the FCC ordered Time Warner and Comcast to make regional sports programing available to rivals in 2006 when the operators took over Adelphia.

But the same story noted that Cablevision, which owns Madison Square Garden, had used the loophole to bar FiOS and another competitor from carrying HD coverage of New York Knicks, New York Rangers, New York Islanders and New Jersey Devils games.

MSG also carries the Sabres games here and has been using that loophole to prevent FiOS from carrying the NHL teams’ games in HD, which has been a big competitive advantage for TWC here. MSG’s owner has allowed FiOS to carry the standard definition feed of the game but hockey is one of the sports that benefits the most from HD.
The inability of FiOS to carry Sabres games in HD can be a deal-breaker for local hockey fans.

As I wrote Saturday, these cases tend to drag on even after they appear to be decided. Sure enough, according to another wire service story, the FCC will have to reexamine the part of the earlier decision that the federal court vacated before addressing any program access complaints.

I’m not a lawyer, though I’ve watched many of them on TV. That comment in the wire service story made it sound like the vacated part of the ruling just might delay the FCC taking action in time for the Sabres games to be in HD on FiOS when the season starts in October. But it appears to be coming, barring yet another appeal.

*If Congressman Anthony Weiner eventually gives in to pressure and resigns, HBO host Bill Maher and Jane Lynch deserve some of the credit. Or blame.

On last Friday’s show, Maher and the “Glee” star performed – word-for-word — the X-rated sexting messages that the Congressman sent to a Las Vegas woman. It was another public humiliation for Weiner. Maher’s studio audience howled at Weiner’s sexually-explicit dialogue, which can’t be repeated here. Check that. It can be repeated here. I just won’t do it. But I have added a link down below to the reading. I warn you. It is as funny as it is explicit.

*I laughed out-loud at the end of the Tony Awards Sunday night when presenter Chris Rock said the last place he would have expected to be two years ago on the night of the best basketball game ever would have been hanging out with Nathan Lane.

The choice between watching the Tonys on CBS or Game 6 of the Dallas-Miami NBA finals on Channel 7 was a tough one for me since I love basketball and Broadway.

Ultimately, I chose to watch the game and DVR Neil Patrick Harris (seen above with Hugh Jackman in one of several funny musical performances) after determining DVRing an awards show doesn’t ruin the suspense as much as DVRing a basketball game. ( I also switched to the Tonys during commercials and halftime).

In other words, I heard Rock’s crack on Monday afternoon and related.

* OK. What do you think had more viewers here Sunday – Basketball or Broadway?
The game won, but it was pretty close.

Dallas’ title win over Miami had 7.6 rating here. It was the highest-rated game of the series locally (and about half the 15.0 overnight average nationally). Game 5 Thursday had a 6.9 rating here. The Tonys had a 6.0 rating, though I wouldn’t be surprised if DVR viewing over the next seven days raised it to NBA range.

* Western New York remains the only area without a rooting interest to prefer championship hockey over championship basketball.

Vancouver’s 1-0 win over Boston in Game 5 of the NHL finals had a 7.9 local rating and Boston’s 5-2 win in Game 6 Monday had a 9.1 rating. Wednesday’s Game 7 decider should hit double-digits here.

pergament@msn.com

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McEnroe, Borg Reach a “Certain Age”

John McEnroe at the premiere of War, Inc. at t...

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While watching the HBO documentary on the rivalry and subsequent friendship of tennis legends Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe, I couldn’t help but think about how much it reminded me of an episode of the TNT series “Men of a Certain Age.”

The feeling became even stronger at the end of “McEnroe/Borg: Fire & Ice” when McEnroe (see right) related a story about the time that the Swedish legend told his former rival that he loved him.

McEnroe told his wife, who asked him if he told Borg he loved him back. McEnroe didn’t initially but since has done just that.

I tell this story for those readers who aren’t tennis fans and would have avoided the one-hour documentary without realizing you don’t need to know the difference between a forehand and a backhand to enjoy it. It premiered Saturday but will be available to HBO subscribers throughout the month.

The hour works on so many levels – it is nostalgic, humorous, poignant and loaded with tennis history. Additionally, the two legends discuss their upbringings, their failures and their feelings just as the characters played by Ray Romano, Andre Braugher and Scott Bakula do on “Certain Age.”
Of course, I was predisposed to loving it for personal reasons.

I occasionally used to cover national tennis tournaments in the late 1970s and early 1980s when I was a sportswriter before I became TV critic. That was when McEnroe earned his reputation as “Superbrat,” a teenager and 20something player who could control his racquet incredibly but not his tongue or temper.

I remember covering a tournament in Toronto or New York way back when famous tennis players were easily accessible to the media. After an interview, the supposed Superbrat gave me his home telephone number in case I needed any follow-up questions or wanted to interview him again.

Needless to say, that gesture didn’t fit his image. It was one of the early lessons I received about how complicated national sports figures can be.

The HBO special also illustrates that lesson at times. One of several interesting stories in the program concerns the time that Borg was in an intense match with McEnroe, who was going a little crazy over bad line calls. Borg asked McEnroe to meet him at the net, which McEnroe thought would likely lead to him being chewed up by a guy who rarely questioned anything. Shockingly, Borg just told McEnroe to relax and that it was only a game. McEnroe proceeded to relax and win the match

That meeting at the net between two rivals was one of the early sparks to their lifelong friendship. It became increasingly clear that McEnroe needed Borg on the court to fuel his competitive fire. He also needed him off the court as they aged and had “Certain” feelings about their legacies and lives.

I had another reason to be predisposed to enjoy the documentary. You see one of McEnroe’s biggest victories over Borg was a five-set classic at the U.S. Open on Sept. 7, 1980, a few months after the historic 18-16 fourth set tiebreaker at Wimbledon that McEnroe won before Borg won the fifth set and match.

The tiebreaker is a big part of the documentary. I remember it well. I had more reason to remember McEnroe’s U.S. Open win.

You see that was the day my daughter planned to see the world for the first time. It was also the day that Buffalo Bills ended a 20-game losing streak against the Miami Dolphins.

I covered the NFL game, got to the hospital in time to see whether my daughter was ready to be born. When I was told that she wasn’t quite ready, I was sent to a waiting room TV to watch the McEnroe-Borg match because I wasn’t allowed in the delivery room.

At least that’s my memory and my story.

To be honest, my mind wasn’t really on the tennis match so I don’t remember much about McEnroe’s five-set victory.

My daughter was born very early the next morning – Sept. 8, 1980 – and I was celebrating as much as McEnroe that day.

Please forgive me for becoming a little sentimental. If it is too much, blame Borg, McEnroe — and Ray Romano.
pergament@msn.com

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Sports on the Air: FiOS May Have Won a Sabres HD Battle

Will FiOS subscribers in Western New York be able to see Tyler Myers, Ryan Miller and other Buffalo Sabres in high definition next season?

That certainly appears to be a possibility after a U.S Court of Appeals agreed Friday with a decision by government regulators to close a loophole in a 1992 law that allows cable TV operators to withhold sporting events in HD from its rivals.

A Buffalo News story today said the loophole isn’t an issue in Western New York because the FCC ordered Time Warner and Comcast to make regional sports programing available to rivals in 2006 when the operators took over Adelphia.

But the same story notes that Cablevision, which owns Madison Square Garden Network, had used the loophole to bar FiOS and another competitor from carrying HD coverage of New York Knicks, New York Rangers, New York Islanders and New Jersey Devils games.

MSG also carries the Sabres games here and has been using that loophole to prevent FiOS from carrying the NHL teams games in HD. That has been a big competitive advantage for TWC here. MSG’s owner has allowed FiOS to carry the standard definition feed of the game but hockey is one of the sports that benefits the most from HD and FiOS’s inability to offer it can be a deal-breaker for Sabres fans.

Of course, these cases are complicated and I may be misreading what it means. The cases also tend to drag on even after they appear to be decided. So if the ruling does apply to FiOS here, it doesn’t mean the case won’t go to another overtime on appeal.

pergament@msn.com

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Abe Vigoda Mystery on “Today” Is Solved

NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 08:  NBC 'Today Show' host...

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Why Abe?

That was the question many “Today” fans had when 90-year-old Abe Vigoda made an appearance Wednesday during a live dance number to Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’” on Meredith Vieira’s final show as co-host.

I was curious enough to go on the internet and find a Dec. 30, 2009 story about the day that Vieira surprised co-host Matt Lauer by having Abe deliver a cake on a birthday Matt and Meredith share. (I am being a gentleman here by not saying who is four years older).

Meredith took that day off, but phoned in happy birthday to Lauer before telling him she had a surprise guest. He guessed that Vigoda was the surprise as he wheeled in the cake. It seems that Vigoda has been one of Matt and Meredith’s favorite guests.

So there you have the in-joke.

The Dec. 30 scene is still available on the internet if you google it.

By the way, Lauer mentioned that he and Meredith also share a birthday with LeBron James and Tiger Woods.

pergament@msn.com

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Vieira Is a Genuine Star, Will Be Tough Act to Follow

NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 08:  NBC 'Today Show' host...

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This is what I’m thinking:

*I’m going to miss co-anchor Meredith Vieira (see right) on NBC’s “Today.” But I’m not going to miss spelling — or should it be misspelling — her name. It is one of the trickiest celebrity names to spell.

The only star name that probably gets spelled wrong more often is Miami Heat star Dwyane Wade.

But back to Meredith. I watched Wednesday’s hour-long goodbye tribute to Meredith Wednesday on my DVR last night in between watching hockey fights on Versus. And I unashamedly admit that I shed a few tears as Matt Lauer, Ann Curry, Al Roker and Natalie Morales told Meredith how much they enjoyed working with her.

The happy hour was a good distraction from all the slimy Anthony Weiner coverage. Viewers always want to think that popular national and morning teams Bryant and Katie, Matt and Katie, Bryant and Jane, John and Jodie, Victoria and Joe and Ginger and Patrick really, really like each other.

But that’s not always the case. On Wednesday, Matt’s love for Meredith seemed genuine. In fact, every bit of the mush-fest seemed genuine.

It will be tough for Lauer to duplicate it with Curry, who may have traveled the globe to add to her reporting credentials but doesn’t exude the naturalness on TV that Vieira does.

*The NBA and NHL have both given their networks what they hoped for – final playoff series that are tied at two games apiece, thereby assuring that there will be at least six profitable games.
It will be interesting to see how that translates locally, where Buffalo is just about the only city in America where pro hockey beats pro basketball in the ratings.

After two Boston wins carried by cable’s Versus, the final two or three games of the Vancouver-Boston series will air on Channel 2, the local NBC affiliate. NBC is thrilled to get them but would be more thrilled if Vancouver was in the United States since that Canadian city’s ratings don’t count. That hurts the NHL badly, since the markets of the participating teams generally get ratings much higher than anywhere but Buffalo and have a great impact on the national rating.

Much has been made of the NBA’s national ratings improvement for the Miami-Dallas finals. But you could make a case that the ratings are a disappointment for a series showcasing stars like Miami’s LeBron James, Wade and Chris Bosh and Dallas’ Dirk Nowitzki. After all, three of the first four games were decided on a final possession.

ABC is calling it the “most-viewed” NBA finals in seven years, not the highest-rated. There is a difference. There are more viewers available every year because the population increases. ABC added the 9.6 national rating for Game 4 made it the second “most-viewed” game four in 7 years. But viewership was actually down from last year when Boston played Los Angeles in the finals.

Why? As in hockey, the markets of the participating teams matter. Boston and Los Angeles are much bigger markets than Dallas and Miami. If LeBron, Dwyane and Chris were playing in L.A., ratings for the series would be much higher.

The Buffalo market hasn’t fallen in love with the NBA finals. The rating for game 4 was actually slightly lower than the rating for game 3 here and about 40 percent lower than the national average.

* Speaking of basketball, Josh Lucas became one of my favorite actors when he starred as Coach Don Haskins in the 2006 movie “Glory Road” about the NCAA title that Texas Western won over Kentucky. So I was glad to see that Lucas will star in a new NBC series, “The Firm,” based on the John Grisham novel and subsequent movie.

* Fox has announced some changes in its reality-loaded summer lineup. Starting next week, “Masterchef” will air Mondays and Tuesdays. “Hell’s Kitchen” will premiere July 18 and July 19. Fox has also added “Buried Treasure” to its lineup Aug. 24. “Antique Roadshow” twins Leigh and Leslie Keno help people discover unknown treasures in their houses in that series. So don’t throw anything out.

Fox also is using Tuesdays this summer to try and find an audience for the comedy “Raising Hope” that was renewed despite relatively low ratings. And “Glee” reruns” return next Thursday at 9 p.m.

*This just in: The 6.8 rating for Vieira’s final hour on “Today” is higher than any NBA games here and much higher than the 4.0 rating that Versus got here for the two Boston wins. Of course, that’s an apples and oranges comparison since the games last three hours or so. A better way of looking at Vieira’s final show is to note that “Today” had a higher rating from 8 a.m. to 9 a.m. than “Good Morning America” on ABC (4.0) and “The Early Show” (1.7) combined.

pergament@msn.com

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Sports on the Air: NBA Tops NHL Here With an Asterisk

Kevin James in Las Vegas, Nevada in November 2007

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This is what I’m thinking:

* The NBA Finals are now getting higher ratings  than the Stanley Cup finals in Buffalo. But that statement should come with an asterisk.

That’s because Monday’s Game 3 and tonight’s Game 4 of the NHL series between Vancouver and Boston air on the cable channel Versus while all the games in the NBA finals air on ABC, a broadcast network with greater viewership reach.

But even when the NHL games are on Channel 2, the local NBC affiliate, ratings here are pretty close in what is presumed to be such a hockey team that the Buffalo News often runs pregame stories on an upcoming hockey game over a game story on an exciting NBA Finals game that ended near midnight the previous night.

Game 2 of the NBA series last Thursday had a 5.5 rating on Channel 7, the local ABC affiliate. Last Saturday’s Game 2 of the NHL series had a 6.6 rating on Channel 2, the local NBC affiliate.

Sunday’s Game 3 of the NBA series had a 5.7 rating on Channel 7. That was 40 percent higher than the 4.0 rating for Monday’s Game 3 of the NHL series on Versus that also may have been diminished by the fact the Bruins won in a 8-1 rout.

Dallas’ comeback victory over Miami Tuesday night to tie the series at two games apiece had about a 5.2 rating on Channel 7.  The lower rating for an exciting Game 4 makes one wonder if there is any local momentum as the series heads to six or seven games.

The NBA games featuring Miami stars LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and Dallas star Dirk Nowitzki  are getting slightly more than half of the national rating here, while the Buffalo market is in the Top 3 of hockey ratings. NHL ratings nationally were bound to be lower than last year because Vancouver is a Canadian market that doesn’t count in the U.S ratings.

*ABC play-by-play Mike Breen is at the top of his game. He repeatedly told viewers Tuesday night that Dallas is known for making fourth quarter comebacks. It may have seemed like a desperate attempt to keep viewers past 11 p.m, but then the Mavs came back to win again.

*I’m going to miss the good-natured banter between ABC analysts Mark Jackson and Jeff Van Gundy next season when Jackson leaves the booth to become the coach of Golden State.

*Marv Albert isn’t being called Gus Johnson’s NFL “replacement” but he has taken the vacant NFL play-by-play job on CBS now that the enthusiastic Johnson has headed to Fox. No word on whether Steve Tasker – Johnson’s former announcing partner – will be teamed with Albert. But Buffalo fans should hear plenty of Albert.

*The Buffalo News is making noises about dropping the Associated Press. That would be a severe blow to the sports section, which uses the wire service extensively. In today’s paper, there are AP stories on the NBA game, a NHL free agent, Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor, Tiger Woods and major league baseball. One imagines the threat is more about reducing the amount paid to AP, whose stories run online hours before the newspaper carries them. For that reason, if I were running the sports department (a scary thought), I’d try to cut down on the number of AP stories that run and use other wire services.

*Have you become tired of all the commercials for the next Kevin James movie “Zookeeper”? The movie is co-written by Buffalo native Nick Bakay, who worked on James’ TV hit “King of Queens” and co-wrote the 2009 surprise James movie hit “Paul Blart: Mall Cop” with James (see above).

* Three former Buffalo Bills are part of the NFL Boot Camp for aspiring announcers — John Fina, Dustin Fox and Nick Ferguson. Raise your hand if you remember when Fox and Ferguson played for the Bills.

pergament@msn.com

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CBS’ Pelley Goes Classy Route

Scott Pelley in Antarctica

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Twelve minutes. After a commercial break.

That’s how long it took new CBS Evening News anchor Scott Pelley (right) to address the humiliation of Congressman Anthony D. Weiner during a bizarre afternoon press conference Monday.

It was shocking. Not the press conference (Weiner seemed to be lying all last week). The news decision.
So I turned to NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams with the help of Time Warner’s Start Over feature to see what the No. 1 newscast in Buffalo and the nation lead with Monday.

Sure enough, it was Weinergate.

And with that, I immediately became a Scott Pelley fan.

By burying the Weiner story in the middle of the newscast, Day One of the Pelley Era immediately sent a message to serious news viewers that it is going to focus on what is important (what’s going on Afghanistan Monday) over what is sensational.

It probably won’t get CBS out of third place after years there with Dan Rather and Katie Couric, but at least CBS is going the classy route.

Locally, Pelley’s debut on Channel 4 (5.3) finished second to Williams on Channel 2 (7.0) with a rating that was only slightly ahead of CBS’ ratings here last week (5.1) with Harry Smith in the anchor seat for Couric. ABC’s newscast with Diane Sawyer (4.2) was third, largely because of the poor lead-in it gets from Channel 7′s 6 p.m. newscast.

Pelley was the same calm, reasonable news reader that he has been on “60 Minutes.” But there were some noticeable differences in the Pelley-led newscast from the Couric newscast.

Gone was the introduction from actor Morgan Freeman, replaced by the voice of the guy who introduces “60 Minutes.” Pelley also seemed to rely more on the CBS reporting staff, giving them face time while asking them questions pertaining to the stories they covered.

On the Weiner story, Pelley asked reporter Nancy Cordes “help us understand why Congressman Weiner matters.”
Cordes explained that Weiner has become President Obama’s leading outspoken liberal critic, the congressman who tells the president when he is straying from that side of the Democratic party.

Cordes report also noted that Weiner is the third congressman from New York State to become disgraced. The other two – Christopher Lee and Eric Massa – were from Western New York and resigned.

Speaking of Lee, one couldn’t help but think of how wise he was to resign to avoid the press conference humiliation that Weiner subjected himself to in hopes of keeping his seat.

The 24/7 cable news business was all over the Weiner press conference, with everyone from CNN’s Anderson Cooper to MSNBC’s Chris Matthews and Fox’s Greta Van Susteren asking so-called experts to explain the unexplainable – why powerful men make jackasses of themselves over sexual matters.

I mean haven’t they all watched “The Good Wife”?

Cooper also found time to interview historian Douglas Brinkley about Sarah Palin’s refusal to admit that she made a mistake when summarizing Paul Revere’s ride.

Cooper noted that Palin used her “gotcha” defense, saying the Revere story came from a “gotcha” question. Cooper then aired the harmless open-ended question that lead Palin to rewrite history before showing several more instances of Palin shouting “gotcha” when asked harmless questions. It seemed to be Cooper’s smart way of telling Palin “gotcha” over that bogus defense.

Brinkley tried hard to balance his opinion by noting that he was glad Palin took a New England tour to discover America and American history. But then he said something that many newsmen have been afraid to say – that Palin’s version of history has zero credibility.

You decide if it is worse for a politician to decline to tell the truth about his or her sex life to try and avoid embarrassment or to fictionalize history rather than admit a factual mistake that is so much easier to catch.

Finally, Couric also made news on Pelley’s first day in the anchor chair. She confirmed that she made a deal with ABC to have a news presence this August and to premiere a talk show syndicated by a different branch of the network in September of 2012.

The question is where would Couric’s show land here in the post-Oprah era? It doesn’t have to land on Channel 7, the local ABC affiliate.

Channel 2, the local NBC affiliate, appears all set in the afternoons with “Dr. Phil” and “Ellen.”

Channel 4, which is losing Oprah this fall, is ready to carry Anderson Cooper and Dr. Oz this fall. If Cooper’s show hits, it won’t need a replacement.

Channel 7, where Oprah’s show originally ran, would appear to be the most likely to carry Couric’s show with a big IF. The IF is over what it would cost to carry it. Channel 7’s owners haven’t been in a spending mood. Right now, the ABC affiliates carries “The Doctors” at 4 p.m., but that show could be moved to 3 p.m. if ABC drops “General Hospital” or allows affiliates to replace it.

And then there’s WUTV, the local Fox affiliate. It carries Maury Povich at 4 p.m. Couric’s show would seem to be an improvement if it isn’t too expense.

If the Top 4 network affiliates pass, WNLO and WNYO would be options. But I’m sure putting Couric’s show on little-watch stations isn’t what ABC’s syndication arm has in mind.

pergament@msn.com

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