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The Donald and Other Channel Changers

Donald Trump enters the Oscar De LA Renta Fash...

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I’ve been searching for a reason to explain why WNLO-TV’s “Winging It!” saw a sudden spike in the ratings last Friday.

Then somebody asked, “Was Donald Trump (see right) making the rounds of the national morning shows?”

Funny thought.

If anything gets me to instantly change the channel, it is seeing Trump getting more attention for possibly running for president in 2012 as a Republican. According to some polls, he is currently the GOP’s top choice.

You can’t escape Trump in the morning.

I woke up Tuesday and saw Trump on two network morning shows.

Of course, NBC, home of the Donald’s reality show, “The Celebrity Apprentice,” was one of them.

I woke up today and there was yet another story about Trump on “Today,” this time ridiculing his candidacy with the help of other Republican candidates and consultants.

Trump is one of the prime examples of the dangers of television’s influence on politics. TV loves people who throw out stupid verbal bombs even if they don’t have an ounce of truth to them.

While almost every other serious Republican candidate has stopped the “birther” lunacy surrounding President Obama, Trump keeps playing that card to get attention.

He is even taking away attention from Sarah Palin, the former vice presidential nominee who is another dangerous product of TV’s obsession with focusing on people with name recognition who proudly say stupid things to get attention.

I almost wish there was a FCC rule prohibiting the networks from interviewing potential presidential candidates until they actually declare they are running.

But back to the success of last Friday’s “Winging It.”

It has made me think of a few other people in the news who instantly make me change the channel.

Prince William and Kate: “Today” has a countdown to the big wedding. I just don’t care enough to know when it is and I certainly don’t care enough to know what designer Kate has picked for her wedding gown.

This is coming from a man who vaguely remembers getting up early in the morning to watch and write about the wedding of Prince Charles and Diana.

Of course, we eventually learned that was hardly a wedding or marriage made in heaven. We’ve become much more cynical about the Royals and their romances.

The networks seem much more interested in the latest wedding than anyone I’ve run into. So as soon as the morning shows start talking about The Wedding, I’m out of there as quickly as Katharine Ross left the chapel in “The Graduate.”

Lindsay Lohan: I teach at a couple of colleges. Recently, I asked one class if they cared what was going in Lindsay’s life. Not one did. If kids in their late teens or early 20s don’t care about her latest legal issue, why should their parents or the morning shows?

Britney Spears: Apparently, she has a new album or CD or whatever you call it these days. One national reviewer spent an enormous amount of copy recently that basically said the album is about as stylish as Donald Trump’s hair. If it is that bad, why waste more than four or five paragraphs on it.

Charlie Sheen: Okay, he was amusing for a while. Now he’s just like a politician. He says some ridiculous things, like the studio behind “Two and Half Men” wants him back. And the “Today” show actually ran it like it was truth. The studio has since denied it. Sheen is living in his own world and we no longer should have to listen to be a part of it.

Jane Corwin and Kathy Hochul advertisements: I live in the congressional district they want to serve and can’t wait until the special election in late May so all these flame-throwing ads stop. The only people who can be enjoying these ads work at the local TV stations, which are getting an unexpected advertising windfall.

Someone should tell both candidates to drop their negative ads and just keep running their positive ads. Corwin started the negativity and immediately lost me. Hochul initially took the high road and then was convinced that she had to respond.

Most educated people realize by now that negative ads contain half-truths and outright lies. In the race for Chris Lee’s former seat, you would think class would triumph over lies. Check that. You would hope that class triumphs over lies. I’d vote for the first woman who stops running negative ads. In other words, I might have to sit this one out.

Russell Brand: He hosted “Saturday Night Live” and was featured in a lengthy CBS profile. After seeing both, I have one question: Can anyone tell me why he is getting all this attention? I’d almost rather watch the Royal Wedding than his new version of “Arthur.”  Almost.

pergament@msn.com     

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Debate Over Bryant and ‘The Other F-word’

Kobe Bryant

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What did he say?

That was my question after Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant was fined $100,000 for uttering what some reporters have called an “anti-gay slur.”

That is redundant, of course. I mean have you ever heard of a pro-gay slur?

Newspapers, talk shows and NBA announcers have all reported on the incident extensively without mentioning the word that Bryant used on the bench after getting a technical foul in a game with the San Antonio Spurs.

ESPN’s excellent “Outside the Lines” with Bob Ley did a show about it, with the host directing viewers to YouTube if they wanted to know what word Bryant used. 

Sending viewers to YouTube seemed a little silly.

A decent journalistic debate could be had over whether the word should be reported or not to help readers and viewers fully understand the story and the reason for the fine.

I would have reported what Bryant said. In the present media world, mainstream media had to know the word would surface someway. So why not enter the 21st century and deal with it?

You got the sense that mainstream journalists feared that using the word would further its use.

Ley’s program seemed to have the praiseworthy goal of eliminating the offensive word.

But how do you eliminate a word if you don’t know what it is?

Heaven knows, there have been plenty of clues. One guy on Ley’s show referred to it as “the other F word.”

Move down a few paragraphs if you don’t want to know what offensive word Bryant used or are offended by seeing it written.

As the more than 2 million people who have watched the YouTube clip know, Bryant said the more common F-word and then added “faggot.”

There. I said it. I mean I wrote it. I would never say it. No one should say it.

However, it should be noted that it is not unusual to hear it in movie comedy scripts, perhaps most notably in the popular comedy film “The Hangover.”

I only wrote it to so people understand what should be a forbidden word.

Bryant has apologized extensively for directing the word at an official from the bench after he received a technical foul. Undoubtedly, he didn’t realize anyone would hear it. It is barely audible on the YouTube clip of the TNT broadcast.

If a TNT director had been as smart as analyst Steve Kerr – who suggested the cameras get off Bryant a second or so after he said the word – no one would have heard what the star had said.

Of course, that doesn’t make it any less offensive. It probably would be even more offensive if the official that Bryant directed it at is gay. But that is another topic of interest that I haven’t seen or heard addressed and probably won’t be unless the official wants to get involved in the story.  

A little perspective about the use of the word is needed. A sideline reporter on Ley’s program mentioned he had heard the word used several times this season by several players. They were fortunate the cameras didn’t catch them saying it or mouthing it.

In other words, it is in the NBA’s vocabulary. And it has to stop there, as well as in movies and in TV. But it won’t be easy to stop.

ABC’s announcers addressed the issue Sunday during the Lakers playoff opener with New Orleans Sunday. They were soft on Bryant, with Mark Jackson noting the $100,000 fine was a significant piece of change. Earlier, Ley tried to put the fine in perspective with Bryant’s multi-million dollar salary. Ley said it was equivalent to somebody making $100,000 being fined $400.

Of course, that is a silly comparison. People making millions like Bryant can more easily afford a $100,000 fine than somebody making $100,000 can afford $400.

This isn’t about money. One’s reputation is priceless. And Bryant’s has taken another deserved hit.

ABC’s announcers talked about the incident being a teachable moment that could end in something good coming from a bad situation. I wish I could be confident that was true and the other F-word would be eradicated.

The cynic in me suspects that the incident will just mean that players will be more aware of the importance of controlling their mouths and their emotions when the cameras are focused on them.

pergament@msn.com

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“Winging It!” Doesn’t Start So Hot

Buffalo Sabres

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Inquiring minds want to know: How did Channel 4’s new morning program on WNLO-TV, “Winging It! Buffalo Style,” do in the ratings during premiere week.

Not so hot on three of the five days.

Not even medium.

Actually, the ratings for most of the week probably would be considered a mild disappointment when you consider all the promotional time and energy that has been expended on the lifestyles, gossip and cooking show with hosts Victoria Hong, Joe Arena and Allie Hartwick.

The opener a week ago had a 2.9 rating, which is very respectable. That means that 2.9 percent of area homes were tuned in or about 20,000 households. The second hour of “Wake Up,” the show it replaced, generally scored ratings in the 2.0 range.

But you had to expect a higher than normal rating for the premiere. The big question was how many viewers would come back to watch a show with sponsored cooking segments featuring news anchors.

Day 2 on Tuesday had a 1.0 rating, which means that about two-thirds of the opening day audience disappeared. Not a good sign.

Day 3 on Wednesday had a 1.5 rating, Day 4 on Thursday a 1.4 rating.

But on Friday, the rating surprisingly spiked to a 2.5, which was in the range of the opener. Why? Haven’t a clue. Maybe viewers expected to see more about the Buffalo Sabres win over Philly in game one of the Stanley Cup playoffs. The first week averaged a 1.9, which was inflated by the 2.9 opener.

That hardly seems to justify the expense or the embarrassment of using news personnel on sponsored segments. It almost seems to justify the name I’ve heard some former staffers have placed on the show before it premiered — “A Wing and a Prayer.”

Oh, well, it is a marathon and not a sprint. After Friday’s comeback, it is only fair to give it more time to catch on before we declare it time slot suicide.

* The Sabres 5-4 loss to Philadelphia Saturday in Game 2 of their playoff series had a 17.3 rating on MSG, down from the 18.9 for the opener. Saturday’s game had a 5 p.m. start, which probably led to the decline.

A year ago, the second game of the Sabres series with Boston carried by NBC had a 20.5 local rating on Channel 2. Of course, games on broadcast channels typically get higher ratings.

* Speaking of ratings, it was amusing to read in a national newspaper that Buffalo was No. 1 when it came to a percentage increase in the ratings for ESPN’s NBA coverage. The increase was 141 percent from a year ago.

That made me wonder if Buffalo had suddenly become a big NBA town despite the lack of coverage it gets from the local TV stations.

So I called an ESPN press spokesman, who relayed the information that NBA ratings here grew from a .5 to a 1.2 this season.

As any math major would know, it is a lot easier to get a big percentage increase when the ratings are really low to begin with.

As impressive as the 141 percent gain sounds, the NBA on ESPN gets even fewer viewers than “Winging It!”

Still, it is clear that all the attention that the NBA has received from the moves of LeBron James to Miami and Carmelo Anthony to the New York Knicks has led to more local interest in the NBA.

The first two playoff games on ABC this weekend had solid ratings by Channel 7 standards. Miami’s win over Philadelphia Saturday had a 2.3 rating. New Orleans upset of the L.A. Lakers Sunday had a 3.0 rating.

pergament@msn.com

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Sabres Fever Already Is Very High

Tyler Myers during a Buffalo Sabres game.

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If the TV rating for the Buffalo Sabres’ 1-0 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup playoffs is any indication, Sabre Fever already is very high.

The game had an 18.9 rating on MSG, which was 50 percent higher than the Sabres’ 2-1 victory over the Boston Bruins (12.2) in a first-round playoff game in 2010.

Of course, the Sabres game was the top-rated program on all of TV locally Thursday night by a wide margin.

The second-place show Thursday was Fox’s “American Idol,” which had an 11.8 rating, which is low for that popular program.

By comparison, the 18.9 rating was much higher than four of the six games against the Bruins in last year’s playoffs.

The only two games that were higher last year were Game 2 (20.5), which was carried by NBC, and the final Sabres loss in the series in game six (19.7).

As high as Sabres Fever is during this year’s playoffs, it is nowhere near what Bills fever usually is during the regular season. Bills regular season games typically get ratings in the high 20s, as well as the 30s and even the 40s on occasion.

And that’s despite the fact that the Bills haven’t made the playoffs since Tyler Myers (see above) was in middle school. 

pergament@msn.com

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“Friday Night Lights” Starts Season a Winner

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It is time to get sentimental about “Friday Night Lights.”

And with “Friday Night Lights.”

The fifth and final season of the series about life in a small Texas town where high school football is king has already run on DirecTV’s The 101 Network.

Now it hopes to get a larger audience on NBC from the majority of people who don’t get DirecTV.

I reviewed the opener several months ago when it played on DirecTV, but I expect a wider audience for my review now that it is running on a major network and the blog has developed a much larger audience.

Check that. Now that it is on NBC, which hasn’t been a major network for a while.

But here goes an updated version of my October review.

In a TV season that hasn’t had a new must-see new hit, “Lights” shines as brightly and as beautifully as ever tonight in a premiere episode entitled “Expectations.”

 The series received Emmy respect last season, with the actors playing the best husband and wife team on TV, (Buffalo born) Kyle Chandler (see above, Coach Eric Taylor) and Connie Britton (guidance counselor Tami Taylor), deservedly getting nominations.

 This being high school, the departure of Minka Kelly (Derek Jeter’s fiance), Scott Porter (who now is on “The Good Wife”),  Adrianne Palicki (who was on this year’s flop “Lone Star”) and Zach Gilford (“Off the Map”) as regular cast members have been skillfully handled. They all will return for appearances in the final season.

 Tonight, the Taylors have to deal with the heartache of seeing their daughter Julie (Aimee Teegarden) head off to college.

 It is a very sentimental goodbye that should resonate with any parent who has experienced the emotional pain of seeing a child leave while at the same time being proud that they raised him or her to be independent.

 At one point, Eric looks at his wife and daughter having a conversation about shopping at the kitchen table and says “I’m going to miss this.”

 There is a lot to love about “Lights,” with the Taylors’ ideal family life high on the list.

 The remaining characters from the original cast in tonight’s premiere include bad boy Tim Riggins (played by Taylor Kitsch) and good guy Landry Clarke (Jesse Plemons). However, it looks like they also will be taking a back seat to the newcomers on the series.

 And the show’s writers have done a great job in the past few seasons incorporating new teen characters played by Michael B. Jordan, Matt Lauria, Jurnee Smollett and Madison Burges into the series. This year, they have added Grey Damon (“90210,” “True Blood”) to the cast as a basketball player who initially takes the very un-Texas like position that “football is stupid.”

 Though “Lights” has been one of the best shows on TV for four seasons, it never has been able to attract the audience it deserves for a combination of reasons.

For one thing, it isn’t easy getting viewers to watch family dramas.

The pace also can be a little slow and the number of scenes and characters can make it difficult for newcomers to follow.

The football backdrop also may have turned off many female viewers from even trying it, though those who have seem to love it.

 The story lines also can be a little too dark and depressing since they deal with very real issues involving teens in a poor Texas town dominated by football – including the inequities between funding of schools, teen pregnancy, abortion, drugs, racial discord, neglectful and abusive parents and boyfriends and the difficult of escaping the cycle of poverty. 

But it is the intelligent way that “Lights” deals with all those life issues that makes it a TV classic that deserves to go out a winner.

 And all indications tonight (and in next week’s second episode) are that it has a solid game plan for a final season after last year’s winning season in which Coach Taylor left the comfort of Dillon High to go cross-town to coach with considerably less resources at East Dillon.

This year, Tami joins her husband at East Dillon. It won’t be an easy move for her, either. The guidance counselor is about to face frustrations after heading East at season’s end after taking a principled stand that upset the Dillon School Board.

 It looks like Coach Taylor will once again try to teach his players at East Dillon lessons about teamwork, pride and family, while his frustrated wife tries to help them overcome the low expectations that their parents have given the players and fellow students.

 In the end, if you don’t shed a tear or two as the Taylors prepare to say loving goodbyes to their daughter, then check your pulse to see if you alive.  

If you can’t tell, I’m going to miss this series.

pergament@msn.com

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Not Mad About Reiser’s New Show

Paul Reiser in Philadelphia

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Regular readers of this blog and my former TV column at the Buffalo News know that I often start some columns of notes after using the phrase “This is What I’m Thinking.”

But they may have forgotten the origin.

It came from a phrase that Paul Reiser (see above) often said when he co-starred opposite Helen Hunt in the hit NBC sitcom “Mad About You.”

In other words, I’ve been a big fan of Reiser (but a bigger one of Hunt), who is back at 8:30 tonight on a new NBC comedy, “The Paul Reiser Show.”

He plays himself. And this is what I’m thinking after watching four episodes:

It was a little sad watching the self-deprecating Reiser.

Not because he is older, which he is.

Not because he is chubbier, which he is.

Because his show isn’t terribly original.

It’s a direct steal of one of my favorite HBO series, Larry David’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” with a little tweaking.

It isn’t as if Reiser is trying to hide that he stole the idea. David appears in tonight’s premiere, which focuses on the competition between them to host a game show. And the episode is directed by Bryan Gordon, who directs “Curb.”

The “tweak” concerns the difference in Reiser and David’s personalities. David plays a character true to his real-life self – an annoying, self-centered grouch and jerk.

Reiser has a reputation for being a good guy, which isn’t exactly funny. So we’re asked to believe he can occasionally be as big a jerk as David but at least he feels badly about it.

As David is in “Curb,” Reiser is surrounded by an eclectic group of friends that he met through his kids’ schools or from the neighborhood he lives in. Think Ray Romano’s “Men of a Certain Age” and add a more comedic tone. Or at least an attempt at a more comedic tone.

Jonathan (Ben Shenkman) is an anal lawyer with a son who is afraid of his shadow. Fernando (Duane Martin) owns a restaurant and is named after a song in a Broadway hit. Habib (Omid Djalili) owns a warehouse business that specializes in selling overstocked novelty items to discount stores; Brad (Andrew Daly) is a rich, dull guy.

Amy Landecker also is aboard as Paul’s wife.

Reiser starts each episode talking to the camera, explaining who he was and who he is. That is a good idea since the audience that advertisers seek probably wouldn’t know him from Larry David or Jerry Seinfeld (who started “Seinfeld” talking to the audience through his stand-up routine).

Then Paul and his friends are thrown into situations that are supposed to lead to laughs.

Next week, Paul picks up the wrong kid for a play date, which frightens the kid left behind. Meanwhile, Paul is frightened by an actor and parent who thinks Paul did him wrong.

The April 28 episode, “The Generator,” finds Reiser unknowingly becoming the spokesman for a tool company. Meanwhile, one friend almost dies in an accident and another practically dies going on a diet.

The May 5 episode is the best of the four. Called “The Batting Cage,” Paul behaves like a jerk – or Larry David – while also taking a swing at selling school wrapping paper.

The four episodes are played out of order so characters are introduced after we’ve already met them. It’s a little maddening.

The episodes have several things in common with Reiser: They are low-key, unoriginal, a little old school, bloated but pleasant.

To use one of David’s least favorite expressions, “having said that,” I’m thinking very few people will be mad about Reiser’s new show either positively or negatively.

Rating: 2 and a half stars out of 4

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ABC’s “Happy Endings” Forces Humor

Elisha Cuthbert promoting “24”

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The headline in TV Topics Sunday about tonight’s new ABC comedy, “Happy Endings” played off the title: “A ‘Happy’ group of friends.”

Even though “Happy” is in quotes, the headline suggests that this group of six friends approaching or just beyond their 30s is just fine with where they stand in life.

After watching three episodes – two of which air tonight at 9:30  and 10 on Channel 7 – it is clear that happiness is a relative thing.

They may be enthusiastic, silly and playful, but I would hardly call them happy.

Dave (Zachary Knighton of ABC’s “FlashForward”) gets left at the altar in an early scene stolen from a film 30somethings may not remember – “The Graduate.”

His friend Max (Adam Pally) is food obsessed, worried that he is chubby and even more worried if his parents ever find out he is gay.

Alex (Elisha Cuthbert of “24,” see above) is the beautiful girl who left Dave at the altar and isn’t ready to get back in the dating game.

Penny (Casey Wilson of “Saturday Night Live”) may be partly responsible for Alex’s reluctance to date. Penny is desperate and believes it is a man’s world that forces women who are 30 to claim they are 26.

Jane (Eliza Coupe of “Scrubs”) is a married woman with self-esteem issues who goes into couples’ therapy by herself without telling her husband.

Brad (Damon Wayans Jr.) is Jane’s affable husband, who may be getting a little tired of being called the black Hans Solo by his wife.

All the name dropping and pop culture references in the first three episodes (there are John Mayer jokes in different episodes) get more than a little tiring and the complaints of the Magnificient Looking Six become more than tiresome than they are funny.

The show reminded me more of a line from “The Big Chill” than it did of the sitcom “Friends.” You may recall the line from Chloe: “I haven’t met that many happy people in life. How do they act?”

They don’t act like they do in “Happy Endings,” which is loaded with forced humor and only made me laugh two times in three episodes.

Of course, there has been a renaissance of comedies about friends this season. “Happy Endings” follows Fox’s “Traffic Light,” which followed NBC’s “Perfect Couples.” Of the three, “Traffic Light” is the most clever and well-written.

“Happy Endings” is from the “How I Met Your Mother” school of comedy, which isn’t surprising since the staff includes someone associated from that show.

“Mother” and several other comedies these days suggest that jealousy died in the 20th century and that people who break up can immediately watch as their former significant others date.

It may seem a bit abrupt, but hey, it is only TV so one shouldn’t expect characters or situations to be believable. In one of the show’s more absurd moments, a character is living in a crawl space above the ceiling of Dave’s apartment.

The plot lines in the first three episodes certainly are relatable and familiar. Tonight’s opener is a premise pilot that quickly establishes what the show and characters are about.

Subsequent episodes deal with such subjects as Jane and Brad’s foolish attempt to find a couple they can become fast friends with; Penny’s date with a man who is perfect, except for his legendary offensive last name; and Max’s foolish attempts to hide his sexuality from parents.

Only one of the episodes ends with what I what consider happiness.

And the episode – which deals with Max ultimately coming out to his parents – also ends with a bigger surprise: It has a few laughs.

Rating: 2 stars out of 4

* I had to laugh this morning about how long Katie Couric hung around in the green room before her appearance on NBC’s “Today” with old friend and co-host Matt Lauer.

“Today” promoted Couric’s appearance for more than an hour before Lauer asked her about her book and, more importanly, her future plans now that it has been widely reported she will be leaving the CBS Evening News.

Couric said she hasn’t decided to leave the Evening News but she seemed much more excited about discussing syndication possibilities than she did about staying at CBS.

And I can’t imagine CBS was too happy about her appearance on a rival network being promoted for more than an hour before she went on with Lauer.

pergament@msn.com

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Channel 4′s Silly New Amusement Ride

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Channel 4 has borrowed or stolen most of Channel 2’s recent good ideas – including its news rundown and focus on internet deals.

Now it apparently has decided to use one of Channel 2’s bad ideas as the model of a new 8 a.m. weekday show on CW 23, “Winging It! Buffalo Style.”

You may recall that about three years ago local radio personality Janet Snyder was the host of a Channel 2 local program with Chesley McNeil and Kevin O’Neill that asked for audience feedback through the internet.

It didn’t last very long before Channel 2 threw in the towel on “Today in Western New York” (TIWNY).

“Winging It!” reminded me of a sillier version of the Channel 2 flop, which didn’t have sponsored segments.

Channel 4′s version uses news anchors Joe Arena and Victoria Hong and even has Hong participate in a sponsored cooking segment.

At least I think that was Joe and Victoria. They were so enthusiastic, upbeat and determined to exhibit some personality sitting next to CW girl Allie Hartwick that I thought someone kidnapped the anchors and put some happy mannequins in their places. Or else they had their morning coffee from Tim Horton’s (which is a sponsor and has three cups on the set desk) spiked.

A better Buffalo-oriented title for the new show would have been “Fun… Wow” because the opener  had the vibe  of a wild amusement ride. The show focused on news, gossip (including the startling raise the cast of MTV’s “Jersey Shore” is reportedly receiving), and the all-important debate on whether America is ready to give up cursive writing. (Two “Shore” cast members are seen above). 

At one point, Allie went up in the cockpit of a small airplane to learn how to fly. You could sense her fear.

If you ask me, “Winging It” had it all wrong.

It would have been a lot more fun to watch Hong getting frightened in an airplane and it would have been more appropriate for Hartwick to be involved in the sponsored cooking segment.

The never-ending cooking segment (it played at various times in the hour) was identified as sponsored in small print as Hong and a guest chef cooked. Well, actually, Hong never did any cooking. She had an apron on, but was just window dressing as the chef illustrated how to make Chicken Marsala in seven minutes.

“Winging It” tried to pass the segment off as live, but there were a few hints to the contrary. For one thing, Hong wore a blue dress in the cooking segment and a red one for the live elements.

For another thing, the chef said another show was premiering in April 3, which was more than a week earlier.

The hour was stuffed with features from CBS news and additional fluff stories. There also were brief conversations between Joe and the young web producer who was keeping track of viewer responses on Twitter and Facebook.

Melissa Holmes could be the luckiest person on the Channel 4 staff because she doesn’t have to cook on the show. She appears a few times to read news or to interview a behind-the-scenes news assignment guy  about what Channel 4 News plans to cover that day.

One of the top news stories Monday was about all the Buffalo Sabres fans lining up for playoff tickets, an experience that the guy noted used to be bigger news when it wasn’t easier to get tickets on the internet.

An animated Mike Cejka also appeared a few times to deliver weather reports. He wasn’t quite as enthusiastic as Joe, Victoria and Allie, but he was in the ballpark.

I never thought I’d use animated and Mike Cejka in the same sentence, but then again I never thought I’d see the day a news anchor would appear in a never-ending sponsored-cooking segment.

 It probably isn’t fair to judge the show on just the opener, but I’d rather watch another hour of “Jersey Shore” than the second installment of “Winging It” (which is about to start as I post this).

Let’s just say the opener made me long for the good old days before cursive writing and news ethics were in jeopardy.

pergament@msn.com

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Visit “House,” Dismiss “Law”

Olivia Wilde in 2010 Independent Spirit Awards.

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One major character exits NBC’s “Law & Order: L.A.,” one major character returns to “House.”

Clearly, it is a pretty big night in broadcast TV by non-sweeps standards.

The 150th episode of “House” (8 tonight, WUTV), is more intriguing, the two-hour “Law and Order” (9 tonight, WGRZ-TV) more passionate.

The return of the character Thirteen, a/k/a Dr. Remy Hadley (Olivia Wilde, see right), is the focus of a road trip episode of “House” that has dual mysteries.

Of course, there is the usual medical mystery involving a patient who is a hoarder.

In addition, there is the mystery of what in the world Thirteen has been doing with herself.

The obvious answer is she’s been off making movies.

But Dr. House (Hugh Laurie) is never content with the obvious.

He picks her up at her most recent residence – jail – and then spends a few days doing silly things and trying to get to the bottom of the very serious business of what she did to get behind bars.

Of course, House is a bit of a jackass in playing the game.

A regular “House” viewer who knows Thirteen’s history has a better chance of guessing what she did and is likely to know it can’t be too bad or else it would be tough to sympathize with her.

As a bonus, the absence of Thirteen this season enables the writers to explain what has been going in in House’s personal life this season – he romanced Dr. Cuddy (Lisa Edelstein) and then took part in a sham marriage to a beautiful foreigner.

Best of all, the episode has a strong emotional payoff that illustrates that Dr. House isn’t out of surprises.

While Thirteen’s return seems a natural evolution, the first hour of the two-hour return of the struggling “Law& Order: L.A.” is designed to jump start the series by introducing a swift character change.

NBC has been heavily promoting the opener by noting something is going to happen to a lead character for the first time in 20 years.

You don’t have to be much of a detective to know that the character is played by Skeet Ulrich. All you have to do is Google the show to discover that the detective played by Ulrich is going to be a goner and that Alfred Molina is leaving the district attorney’s office to go back to becoming a cop.

The transformation seems more than a bit abrupt and less sentimental than one might expect for a show dealing with the shooting of a policeman.

The telegraphed episode about a Mexican drug gang also has several implausible moments, including the idea that an 11-year-old witness would have minimum security before testifying against a drug lord.

 What “Law & Order:” has going for it is a blood-boiling scene between Ricardo Morales (Molina) and his boss, the district attorney played by Peter Coyote, about the disconnect between justice and politics.

The stronger second episode of the night finds Molina in a new role that he may be better suited for as an actor. And it revolves around an interesting case involving a serial killer.

“House”: 3 and a half stars out of 4

“Law & Order: L.A” First hour: 1 and a half stars; Second hour: 3 stars

pergament@msn.com

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WNGS Owner Hopes to Fly High Again

Shows like The Beverly Hillbillies featured an...

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How is this for kismet?

The man who now owns WNGS-TV in Springville is a former Hollywood helicopter TV news reporter.

Phil Arno, 60, a former news photographer in Buffalo who spent 18 years in Los Angeles working for TV stations and writing scripts, now owns the independent station.

The North Buffalo native believes his reason for trying to disprove the theory that you can’t go home again is a little out-of-the-ordinary for a man his age.

“I came back to raise a family,” said Arno, a graduate of Canisius High School and Canisius College. “My wife is from New Orleans. We decided Los Angeles is not the place to raise kids.”

The couple has twin 12-year-old boys and a 7-year-old daughter, which puts the children in the perfect demographic for such early WNGS favorites as “The Beverly Hillbillies,” “Mr. Ed” and “Ozzie and Harriet.”

Confession time. A few mornings ago I woke up, switched from “Wake Up” on Channel 4 and hit Channel 5. I stopped as former Los Angeles Dodger manager Leo Durocher and ex-Dodgers Sandy Koufax and Johnny Roseboro appeared in an episode of “Mr. Ed” in which the talking horse was giving batting advice.

A few nights earlier, I turned off Channel 4 news and on my way to Channel 7 stopped at Channel 5 to watch an episode of “Ozzie and Harriet” in which Ricky Nelson was dating a girl more interested in David Nelson.

And a few afternoons, I ran into a black and white picture…

Well, you get the picture.

I keep on stopping at Channel 5, which is an ideal cable and satellite spot for WNGS to land after it returned to the air over the winter. The station previously carried HBO and a channel guide. Being on Channel 5 certainly gives WNGS an advantage over the extra Channel 2 digital channel that carries old series from RTN.

“I had to do a lot of calling and pleading,” said Arno in getting that location on TWC, Verizon’s FioS and DISH. It is on Channel 67 on DirecTV. “I was very surprised no one knew that channel 5 was available.”

Arno bought the station from a religious broadcaster, Daystar, and says he is almost at the break-even point in four months.

“Sales are right where we want to be,” said Arno. “We took a station that has a low profile and had an absentee owner and want it to reach its potential. It is a full-power station that is just like 2,4, and 7 and has just languished.”

He says eight employees are working for WNGS-TV, which has its office in Eastern Hills Mall and its transmitter in Springville.

The programming costs haven’t been high. Most of the advertising for the movies and series from syndicator THIS TV is shared between the station and the shows’ owner under a barter arrangement or it is cheap because it doesn’t cost much to buy old series, especially if they are in the public domain.

There is one significant relatively expensive exception – the station’s deal to televise 21 New York Yankee games.

“We do have to pay for those,” said Arno. “It is a good product for the market. We intend to do a lot more than just show games.”

Some Yankee fans feared that the games wouldn’t be televised in high definition. But WNGS is on Channel 710 on Time Warner Cable in high definition.

The Yankee games should help drive awareness about the station, which presently is being driven by word of mouth.

Arno said the shows getting the best feedback have been the movies, “Cash Cab” and the “Beverly Hillbillies.”

“I see Buffalo as a tremendous local market with a sense of local pride,” said Arno, who added there is something unique about WNGS.  

“We’re the only owned and operated station,” he said. “Buffalo deserves a local station. Nobody else is local. They all have out-of-town owners taking millions out of this market.”

The Yankees and a talking horse that doubles as a batting coach could just help Arno get a big enough share of the millions to make his purchase of the station a home run.

* Laugh of the day: Donald Trump, now one of the front-runners for the 2012 Republican nomination fior President, this morning telling “Today” show co-host Meredith Vieira after repeatedly blasting President Obama and adding the world is laughing at the United States. ”The world won’t be laughing if I’m elected President.”

Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, David Letterman, Jay Leno, Conan O’Brien and Jimmy Kimmel should provide plenty of laughs from that line tonight.

* Speaking of “Today,” Channel 2 mentioned at the top of its 11 p.m. newscast Wednesday that there was some shocking news about co-host Matt Lauer. That immediately led me to google Lauer and learn that he has told NBC executives he wants to leave the program when his contract runs out in December of 2012. I expected a much bigger shock. The days that stations should run such teasers are over because it is so easy to learn the facts without waiting for a report when you want to go to bed.   

 pergament@msn.com  

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