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TV Fuels Buffalo News Controversy

When I was a little rough on the local TV stations in Buffalo News columns over the years that dealt with the coverage of big events invariably I’d receive a few emails from people condemning me for not holding the newspaper to the same standards.

I’d explain that my job description didn’t include critiquing the newspaper.

I can’t hide behind that excuse now that I’ve left the paper and it is involved in a controversy concerning its coverage of the shootings outside the City Grill.

Naturally, all three local TV news departments Monday highlighted the burning of Sunday’s newspaper by members of the African-American community because of a lead story with the headline: “7 of 8 shooting victims had criminal past.”

The three TV stations either played the story first or second on 5 p.m. and 11 p.m. newscasts.

Channel 2 seemed to be the least interested in the story, devoting the least amount of time to it.

Channel 7 seemed to be the most interested, with reporter Patrick Taney doing a balanced job noting the outrage of community members and adding that the story also had journalistic defenders.

Channel 4’s report by Luke Moretti came closer to Channel 7’s balanced presentation.

All the stations ran the brief statement from Buffalo News editor Margaret Sullivan defending the story by noting it added a valuable piece of the puzzle that helped better understand what happened. The understanding is needed because the violent night has led to an increased focus on the safety of downtown.

Both Channel 4 and Channel 7 interviewed Buffalo State College journalism professor Annemarie Franczyk, who defended the story and said it was the newspaper’s right and responsibility to do such stories and put things in perspective.

On one station, the professor smartly added she didn’t expect the families of the victims to understand why the story was valid journalistically.

The controversy could be a textbook case for journalism classes. I also teach journalism at Buffalo State College as an adjunct (as does Margaret Sullivan) and plan to discuss the controversy when classes begin next week.

The News clearly knew that the story was bound to create controversy. In a nation that often illustrates there is a racial divide about how news is viewed, controversy was inevitable.

A media expert could have surmised that the newspaper knew controversy could be coming just by reading the article’s almost apologetic tone. The article repeatedly made the point through quotes or otherwise that no one was saying the criminal past of the victims meant that they deserved what happened.

That point was either lost on some of the protesters and newspaper burners or they choose to view it as condescending.

The tone of the story indicated that the newspaper undoubtedly anticipated Monday’s outcry. It might have mitigated the reaction by having Sullivan give her statement on Sunday so it ran simultaneously with the story or if she had written one of her occasional Sunday columns explaining newspaper practices and policy.

Journalistically, it is easy to defend the story, as Franczyk did.

The criticism that has the most validity – expressed by Rev. Darius Pridgen on Channel 7 and ignored by Sullivan’s statement – is over its timing so close to the burials of the victims. The placement of a story about the final funeral service for the victims alongside the jump on page 3 of the front page article certainly was questionable.

Of course, Sunday is the day the newspaper gets its highest circulation, which is one of the reasons it looks to make a big splash. In these difficult media times, the need to make a splash sometimes can drown out reason or sensitivity.

If the paper was guilty of anything, it was insensitivity. That is often what gets lost these days in national and local news. Sure news is news and there is rarely a good time to hold it, especially in these highly competitive days.

However, it would have been wiser to wait a few days until Tuesday or even a week to run the story so as to not look insensitive to the families of victims.

Additionally, there is the issue of how the story was played. It was splashed across the top of the page with a provocative headline.

The story didn’t need that play to be noticed or talked about. People would have found it at the bottom of the front page and with a softer, more generic headline.

Today the News chose to ignore the entire issue despite the heavy TV coverage. It didn’t do a story today on the newspaper burning or even run Sullivan’s statement.

That’s wrong. The protests also are part of the story. Ignoring them insults the legitimate feelings of protesters and makes it appear that the newspaper believes it is above criticism.

pergament@msn.com

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A Preview Look at a Few Fall TV Series

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I went to the movies Saturday night and felt like I was watching television.

That’s because before the video game movie “Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World” and the previews began, there were promotional features on three new fall TV series.

I’ve seen just about all the new network fall series (yes, bloggers get the same access they did when they were newspaper critics) and have found most of them to be routine and disappointing.

So far, there is only pilot that I have liked a lot – a Fox series, “Lone Star,” about a handsome con man (played by James Wolk, who looks like a younger George Clooney) who goes legit and turns into a Robin Hood-like character.

Of course, promotion is extremely important these days, which is why movie audiences are seeing so many features about TV series. The features often make series look a lot better than they deserve to look.

One of the features on Saturday was on “No Ordinary Family,” an ABC series about an ordinary family that recaptures its mojo and gets some magical powers after surviving a plane crash in the Amazon jungle during a vacation.

It stars Michael Chiklis of “The Shield” as a police sketch artist married to what one would consider a superwoman (Julie Benz see above of “Dexter” and last year’s “Desperate Housewives”) even before she gets superpowers. She’s a brilliant scientist who balances family life. Or at least tries.

Dad needs the superpower more than mom because his ego appears to be bruised by his wife’s success.

It’s a decent family show, a genre that is in short supply these days. I liked the inspirational pilot, but I’m not so sure it wouldn’t have made a better Disney movie than a series.

A second feature Saturday was on NBC’s heavily-promoted “Undercovers,” in which a beautiful married couple (played by Boris Kodjoe of “Soul Food” and Gugu Mbatha-Raw of “Dr. Who”) play spies after being convinced by a sarcastic boss (Gerald McRaney) to get back in the CIA game.

It is from J.J. Abrams, the creator of “Alias” and “Lost,” so expectations are high. Too high.

Call it “Alias Light.” “Undercovers” is beautiful to look at because of the leads and the travel locations. It is a pleasure to watch, but also pretty predictable and the promo feature gives away one of the few plot surprises.

The third feature Saturday was for “The Event,” the NBC conspiracy series that features some funny business aboard a plane. Its stars include Jason Ritter, Scott Patterson and Laura Innes.

The first 15-20 minutes of the pilot jet back and forth between characters, making it almost as confusing as the movie “Inception.” Unfortunately, my DVD went bad in the final few minutes so I don’t know how the pilot ended.

It also is hard to know if audiences will be so determined to clear up the pilot confusion to keep watching on a weekly basis or whether it will just be a cult hit. I don’t see “The Event”  getting a mass audience unless NBC’s hype machine performs a miracle.

The CW fall season gets off to an early start Sept. 8 with “Hellcats,” about a pretty and poor college student (played by Disney Channel star Alyson Michalka) who turns to cheerleading to get a scholarship that will enable her to stay in school.

This being a CW series, “Hellcats” is aimed at pre-high school, high school and young adult girls and hits its target audience.

It has some inspirational similarities to “Glee” but also one major difference. Most of the high school students – including the cheerleaders — in “Glee” are misfits who are easy to root for on a weekly basis. The “Hellcats” are all pretty and popular cheerleaders.

However it a season that doesn’t like look it will have much to cheer wildly about, “Hellcats” has heart so it at least gets a passable grade from a critic who obviously isn’t anywhere near the target audience.

But, hey, I also really like “Glee.”

pergament@msn.com

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T.O., Chad Put on Fox Show

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Tony Siragusa, TV critic.

The Fox analyst turned into one Friday night during a sideline interview with Cincinnati Bengal receivers and new best friends Terrell Owens (right) and Chad Ochocinco during the Bengals’ 22-9 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles.

At one point in the endlessly silly and entertaining interview, Siragusa appeared to turn to Ochocinco to praise his VH-1 reality series, “Ochocinco: The Ultimate Catch.”

I’m not sure what was sillier – Siragusa praising the dating series or wasting so much time with the attention-needy players while the game was being decided.

Check that. It was a preseason game so ex Bill Owens and Ochocinco were differently the better entertainment choice.

Siragusa’s apparent praise of Ochocinco’s series had to sting Owens a little since his reality series, “The T.O. Show,” also runs on VH-1 and these guys are in competition for everything — catches, TV ratings, screen time, headlines and any attention.

But if T.O. was upset, it was never visible. He seemed on a mission to filibuster during the interview, hogging camera time and even putting in a pitch to do some toothpaste commercials while he flashed his beautiful white teeth.

In short, T.O. looked happier Friday night than he did all last season playing for the Bills without a decent line or quarterback.

 Oh, by the way, T.O. caught three passes for 67 yards in the game, which would have been a good day’s haul for any Bills receiver last season.

* In another amusing note, a couple of local TV stations somehow felt the good news of the Bills’ surprising 34-21 victory over the Indianapolis Colts Thursday night was dampened Friday by news that second-year tight end Shawn Nelson was suspended for four regular season games for violating the league’s substance abuse policy.

A  little perspective is badly needed. Nelson has great potential, a word that former Bill Fred Smerlas once said was a French word that meant he isn’t very good right now. (Actually, Freddy was much more colorful than that.)

In short, we’re not talking about Tony Gonzalez or Jeremy Shockey. Nelson caught 17 passes last year and wasn’t even starting in preseason.

* If you missed the Bills victory Thursday on Channel 7 and are one of the fortunate ones to get The NFL Network, be advised it will be replayed again at 4 p.m. today.

pergament@msn.com

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TV Interest in Bills Increases

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StillTalkin TV, BBE.

Oh, you don’t know what BBE stands for?

It stands for Buffalo Bills Edition.

Here are some thoughts about Channel 7’s coverage of the Bills surprising 34-21 victory Thursday over the Indianapolis Colts:

* While the perception is that interest in the team is down this year, TV ratings indicate otherwise.
The Bills victory over the Colts had a 15.7 rating on Channel 7, which was more than double the rating for any prime time competition Thursday. The New England game with Atlanta on Fox (Channel 29) had a 1.0 rating opposite the Bills game.
The Thursday rating was an improvement on the 14.3 rating for the Bills 42-17 disastrous loss in Washington six nights earlier.
The  two games have averaged a 15.0 rating, which is about 20 percent higher than the 12.7 average for the first two preseason games against Chicago and Green Bay that were carried last preseason on Channel 7. So go figure.

* There was some good news for armchair fans right off the bat. The big letters BBE that were in the center of the graphic showing the score were reduced in size, thereby eliminating a distraction in the embarrassing loss to the Redskins. By the way, BBE stands for Buffalo Bills Entertainment.
To make BBE smaller, it looks like all the type was reduced, meaning the names of the teams and the score was smaller, too. Too small.

* Probably the biggest thing on the minds of Bills fans early was the “size” of the crowd inside Toronto’s Rogers Centre. The Buffalo News reported attendance was 39,583 but that seemed high judging by the view of the empty seats.
However, crowd size seemed to be one of the topics that announcers Ray Bentley and Steve Tasker were going to ignore. The two men working for the Bills chose to ignore all the empty seats and any discussion of how well or how badly the Toronto series has been doing at the box office.

* More surprising was the omission that came after first round draft choice C.J. Spiller made an electrifying 31-yard touchdown run to give the Bills a 7-0 lead. My guess is that many Bills fans noted that it was the first TD by the Bills first team offense in a preseason game in 20 possessions or since 2008.
It might have been worth noting by Tasker and Bentley even though it was the end of a negative stat.

* Of course, the ex-Bills announcers are there to praise the 2010 edition, not bury them.
“If you’ve got  a back who makes three guys miss on a play you’re going to win,” praised Tasker.
“A Thriller by Spiller, let me just say it,” added Tasker.
And later Tasker added: “C.J. Spiller looks to be even better than advertised.”

* Tasker and Bentley had trouble deciding whether quarterback Brian Brohm had done enough in the game to unseat Ryan Fitzpatrick as Trent Edwards’ backup. Late in the game, they declared the competition “a push.” Brohm hit some passes early and made quick decisions, but he didn’t light up the scoreboard. The Bills didn’t score a touchdown during his time in the game. The most telling comment the announcers have made in preseason is that either Brohm or Fitzpatrick is likely to be cut because rookie Levi Brown wouldn’t clear waivers and will be the No.3 QB.
Bentley noted that Coach Chan Gailey likes Brohm “a little bit.” You have to wonder if the backup decision might come down to who has a smaller paycheck.

* Someone please tell Tasker to eliminate “courageous” from his vocabulary during football games. He used that word to describe one of Brohm’s passes. He should have used “risky,” not courageous.
But Tasker made at least one comment that was right on the money right before the Bills took a 24-21 lead into halftime. “That might be the best half of football in preseason that I’ve ever seen the Bills play.”  Might be?

* Laugh of the night: Tasker referred to Levi Brown as Travis Brown, a former Bills quarterback. I doubt many Bills remember good ol’ Travis as well as Tasker did. Less amusing was the telecast missing a Colt fumble and a Bills recovery late in the game.

* With the Bills beating last year’s AFC team in the Super Bowl, it wasn’t hard for Bentley or Tasker to be positive at game’s end.
Bentley saw “a lot of good things” and Tasker noted the team’s best players – Spiller, Edwards and Lee Evans – made the biggest plays in the game.
Unlike the Redskin game, no one would argue that the Entertainment in BBE was missing Thursday night.

pergament@msn.com

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Channel 2 Adds Some Balance

Laura Linney at the Lincoln Memorial on the Na...
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This is what I’m thinking:

* Channel 2 made a nice makeup call Wednesday night when it did a brief story about whether young professionals would still be willing to go downtown after last weekend’s shootings near the City Grill.

The station interviewed a young male and a young female — who live and work in the city — out of a crowd of 400 professionals attending a meeting at a restaurant-bar a block from City Grill.

Both professionals interviewed said they wouldn’t be deterred from going downtown because of the shootings.

A few days earlier, the station ran a web comment from a mother who said she would no longer go downtown to attend Buffalo Sabre games with her daughter.

Channel 7 also previously ran an interview with a young woman who said she rarely goes downtown and would be more hesitant to do so now.

TV news can turn perception into reality with such reports so it is always good to add some balance.

Of course, TV news tends to use one or two people to speak for the community and it isn’t a good practice. But at least Channel 2 showed Wednesday that there are two schools of thought about the issue.

Unquestionably, the attitudes of people who live and work downtown are more important than those who occasionally go there and are predisposed to be nervous about the recent violent acts and less likely to go downtown anyway.

I would have preferred more interviews and a longer story. But at least one station acknowledged that balance and perspective are needed to the view that the shootings will severely harm downtown.

* Channel 2 also was the only station Wednesday to speculate strongly that the City Grill shooter “may have” left the area for the Carolinas. Channel 2 reporter Marissa Bailey cited a source close to the investigation for that report at the top of the station’s 10 p.m. and 11 p.m.

The qualifier “may have” makes the story pretty safe, since it also means that the shooter may not have left the area.

I didn’t see the speculation get the same attention on any other station or in The Buffalo News.

Channel 2 “may have” a scoop or it “may have” egg on its face eventually.

* The media was understandably hesitant to say anything negative about the crime victims immediately following Saturday’s shootings. But notably Channel 4’s Rich Newberg said Wednesday that Willie McCaa – who was killed — was scheduled to go on trial for robbery this week. Newberg added he had been shot two years ago.

* Channel 4 is using former Erie County District Attorney Frank Clark as a legal analyst. A few days ago, he phoned in some comments. It would be nice if the station mentioned that Clark is a former DA.

* It is fashionable to say that the City Grill shootings have given Buffalo some bad national press attention. However, that doesn’t extend to the “Today” show on NBC. I’ve watched it three mornings this week and there hasn’t been a word about the shootings during its news segments. Most of the coverage has come from cable news, which has 24 hours to fill. Perhaps because violent city crimes are so common the Buffalo shootings are not a big national story for network news. In a way, that’s sad.

* Unintentionally funny of the line of the week comes from Channel 4 reporter Lorey Schultz after saying two police cruisers arrived in a neighborhood. “I’m not sure what that’s all about,” said Schultz before adding she would find out before the next newscast.

 The comment illustrates how determined the stations are to appear to be on top of things. In the good old days – which might have been a few years ago – most reporters wisely didn’t say anything if they didn’t know what was happening.

*Showtime reports that the Laura Linney (see above) comedy, “The Big C,” about a schoolteacher that decides to live life to the fullest after being diagnosed with terminal cancer, was its highest-rated original series premiere in eight years. Monday’s episode had 4 million viewers nationwide. That speaks to Linney’s reputation. It also indicates that the fear was unfounded that many viewers would be turned off by the idea of using cancer as a backdrop for comedy.

 pergament@msn.com   

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Perspective and Balance Needed

 

It was one of the more horrifying comments made in the wake of the downtown weekend shootings near the City Grill.

And it was made by a television reporter, even though he tied the comment to someone else.

I’m talking about what Channel 7 reporter John Borsa said during the 5:30 p.m. news Tuesday in an introduction to a story about the impact of the weekend shootings and other violent acts during the summer in the entertainment corridor.

Borsa said it has “prompted some to call this the death of downtown. That might sound dramatic to some but there are 40 real estate developers, bar and restaurant owners who right now are very concerned…” 

Might sound dramatic?

I suppose we’re lucky that Channel 7 didn’t lead into Borsa’s comment with a headline that said “The Death of Downtown.” 

Perspective can get easily lost during big and tragic stories and some overreaction is inevitable. Of course, the media coverage can drive perception by the choices it makes.

 On the whole, the local stations have acted responsibly and given those most personally impacted by this terrifying story a forum to express their sadness, their concerns, their anger and their hopes that something positive can come from the tragedy.

But local news has also made some questionable calls in allowing one or two frightened citizens to speak for the entire community.

 On Monday, Channel 2 ran a web comment from a viewer who said she and her daughter wouldn’t go downtown to see the Buffalo Sabres play this season. Before Borsa’s report, Channel 7 ran an interview with a young female adult who said she doesn’t come downtown often and “really doesn’t want to” because of the shootings.

Of course, it would have been much better to find a few people who do go downtown often and ask them if the shootings would alter their behavior.

The fear that the violence will impact downtown business is very real and worth full coverage. But it is a story that needs some balance so the perception of a few frightened people doesn’t become reality.

To its credit, Channel 2 reporter Josh Boose provided some balance in his story Tuesday night about downtown businessmen looking for answers to protect their investments.

Boose went to Mayor Byron Brown, who never has been considered a quote machine, and asked him what he would tell people concerned about going downtown. The mayor replied that he believed that downtown is safe.

“This is really an anomaly, very rare, very strange, a very isolated incident,” said the mayor.

It is hard to argue with that balanced perspective.

By the time the Sabres season starts, it is doubtful that the shootings will keep many fans away from the HSBC Arena.

By the time local colleges begin their fall semesters, it is doubtful that the shootings will keep many college kids away from Chippewa Street.

The attention spans of most people can be brief, which means predictions of doom and disaster usually end up being way off base.

Would you stop going to malls if there were a shooting? Would you stop flying because a plane crashes? Would you stop riding a bus if one was involved in a crash? Would you stop driving a car if someone dies in an accident?

 Maybe you would in some cases for a few days or even a week.

 But after awhile perspective returns and resilient people realize that one can’t stop living because of events that rarely happen and media reports of the death of anything can be greatly exaggerated.  

 pergament@msn.com    

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Some Newsworthy Annoyances

Jon Hamm
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As I’ve written before when I was a newspaper columnist, I get easily annoyed.

Maybe not as easily as Larry David of “Curb Your Enthusiasm” fame.

But at times it is close.

Things that happen on TV can be especially annoying. Here are a few of my latest annoyances.

* I’m annoyed when a TV news department decides a news event is so horrific that it needs a title and some dirge-like music and doesn’t realize the story speaks for itself.

Which brings me to Channel 4’s 10 O’Clock News on Channel 23 Monday night. The wedding party shooting that ended with four deaths Saturday morning led the station to proclaim the story “Murder on Main Street.” Of course, with dramatic music. Stop it. Please. And fast. Let the emotions of the story play out without inflating them or inflaming them.

* I find it just as annoying when a news department uses a provocative email or web comment from one citizen – often anonymous — who supposedly speaks for the community.

On Monday night, Channel 2 played a web comment from a viewer following the shooting story and other violent acts that said she and her daughter used to go to a few Buffalo Sabres games downtown every season and then added “we won’t be doing that this year because of the violence.”

That’s an incredible overreaction to a story about an isolated incident that hasn’t occurred in a few decades. If a station is going to play a comment like that, it should also look to carry a statement from someone who has a more balanced perspective.

* On a lighter note, I’m annoyed by the Prime Time Demand handling of AMC’s “Mad Men.”

I missed the third episode while I was at a Wyoming wedding and forgot to DVR it. I tried all last week to watch it On Demand but it wasn’t available until Monday. That was a day after the fourth episode ran on Sunday. In other words, I had to watch the fourth episode before I could get the third episode On Demand and I didn’t know what Don Draper (Jon Hamm, see above) was up to the week before. Can’t whoever is in charge make episodes available on Sundays before the new episodes play? I’m just asking.

* Finally, I wasn’t the only one annoyed by the large letters BBE that appeared in the constant graphic on the screen during the Buffalo Bills’ 42-17 loss to the Washington Redskins last Friday. The letters were distracting and took up way too much of the screen. Besides, it took me awhile to realize that BBE stands for Buffalo Bills Entertainment. That was false advertising. Few would label a 42-17 loss even in preseason “entertainment.” Hopefully, the large letters BBE will be gone during Thursday’s telecast of the game in Toronto against Indianapolis and “entertainment” will be back.

pergament@msn.com

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Cautiously Optimistic About The Big C

Cathy Jamison (Laura Linney) worries about being too boring early in tonight’s 10:30 premiere of the Showtime series dark comedy about a woman dealing with cancer in her own way, “The Big C.”

But have no fear — this series with the potentially uncomfortable subject matter is never boring. Strained perhaps, but not boring.

That’s largely due to the astonishing, life-affirming performance of Linney, who may be best known around here for the Academy-Award nomination she received for her performance in “The Savages” as the daughter of an elderly man she and her brother brought home to a Buffalo nursing home.

It can be debated whether trying to find comedy from a cancer diagnosis is appropriate – especially by those who have fought the disease or know loved ones who have. I have a very close friend who understandably wouldn’t consider watching the show for that very reason.

But there is no debating that Linney sparkles as Cathy, a tightly-wound schoolteacher whose diagnosis leads her to live life to the fullest and change her behavior with her emotionally-challenged and childish loved ones and strangers.

“The Big C” is another Showtime series starring a big name actress that deals with independent women. But this one is different from Edie Falco’s “Nurse Jackie” and Mary Louise Parker’s “Weeds” in that Linney’s character is much more sympathetic and easier to love.

A Minneapolis school teacher, Cathy is surrounded by an exceptional cast of quirky characters – some would say too quirky — who are much more interesting than she is on the surface.

Her husband Paul (Oliver Platt, in a role he practically invented) is a child who drives a motor scooter and steadfastly avoids eating onions. Her teenage son Adam (Gabriel Basso) is a spoiled brat and practical joker. Her brother Sean (John Benjamin Hickey) is into liberal causes and eating trash.

The cast also includes a smart-aleck student with a salty tongue, Andrea (Gabourey Sidibe of “Precious” fame); A handsome, caring young doctor played by Reid Scott (“My Boys”); and a contentious neighbor, Marlene (Phyllis Somerville), who has a dog and initially no need for human friendship.

Cathy’s interaction with this group of mostly misfits (except the doctor) leads to the show’s humor. The material isn’t laugh out-loud funny, but symbolically and darkly humorous.

The most troublesome aspect of the first three episodes concerns Cathy’s decision to keep her cancer from her loved ones, who therefore misunderstand and battle her new attitude. However, Cathy’s choice can be viewed as a reflection of her inability to let loose and share things even with those she loves.

Perhaps by the end of the first season’s seven-episode run, Cathy will have come out of her protective shell and realize that sharing can be one of life’s best coping mechanisms.

It also isn’t until the third episode that Cathy expresses any strong anger about having terminal Stage Four melanoma. Until then, she largely deals with the diagnosis in a cheerful, smiling, self-deprecating way that appears to be her primary way of coping.

The series isn’t a tearjerker. Cathy’s actions don’t always make sense and the behavior of her quirky loved ones can become more than a little annoying.

But have no fear of the subject matter. “The Big C” celebrates life with one of America’s greatest actresses.

Rating: 2 and a half stars out of 4

pergament@msn.com

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The Art of Attribution is in Danger

Sunday is usually a day of rest for stilltalkintv but an exception is being made because of the tragic events that led to the shooting deaths of four people after a wedding party in a downtown restaurant.

Here are a few thoughts about the coverage:

* I woke up Sunday morning in time to catch departing Channel 4 “Wake Up” anchor Jericka Duncan (she is going to a Philadelphia station) report that Buffalo police investigators “may have the wrong man in custody.”

A minute or so later, veteran reporter Rich Newberg said “Buffalo police may have arrested the wrong man.”

My immediate thought was whatever happened to attribution?

Channel 4’s reporters appeared to arrive at their conclusions because a relative of a wounded victim said that Keith D. Johnson was the wrong man.

By the end of Channel 4’s story, Newberg reported that Erie County District Attorney Frank A. Sedita III was expected to go to City Court today to ask that the murder charges against Johnson be dropped. (They were dropped this morning).

It made this journalist wonder why Channel 4 didn’t say at the top of the story something like this: “District Attorney Frank Sedita said he expects to ask a City Court judge today to dismiss the charges against a Buffalo man arrested in connection with the shooting deaths of four people.”

Attribution like that certainly is much stronger than just having reporters say the wrong man may have been arrested.

After watching Channel 4’s report, I picked up The Buffalo News story. In the second paragraph, the story said “law enforcement officials said they think they got the wrong man.”

Now that’s the proper attribution. It certainly is more powerful hearing law enforcement officials think they have the wrong man than it is hearing a reporter or a relative of a victim think that.

The second paragraph was followed by a comment from Sedita noting he has “serious reservations about whether we have the right guy here.”

The point is that attribution often seems to be a lost art in journalism. And that’s sad.

* Not to pick on Channel 4, but I found it appalling that its Saturday newscast featured some outrageous online comments from viewers about the story that were read by anchor Joe Arena. One viewer comment claimed Buffalo has become “the murder city” and another viewer comment claimed that Buffalo has become “a war zone.”

If a station is going to allow outrageous comments like that to be made on its air, it should at least give statistics that indicate whether there is any evidence to back them up.

* While I am on the subject of attribution, it is time to address a lighter story about the origin of the word “Fandemonium” in regards to the good old days when the Buffalo Bills were very good.

A Buffalo News story today says that former Buffalo Bills play-by-play man Van Miller “coined” the term.

Sorry, that’s not exactly the case.

According to Bills observers, the word “Fandemonium” was initially coined by former Bills linebacker Darryl Talley and quoted by Buffalo News reporter Gene Warner in a story that ran before Miller said it.

However, Miller should be credited for spreading the word on a subsequent radio broadcast and making the phrase part of Bills history.

pergament@msn.com

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Tasker and Bentley Go Soft on Bills Opening Disaster

Some random thoughts while watching the Buffalo Bills not even reach low expectations in a 42-17 preseason loss to the Washington Redskins Friday night:

* Ex Bills Steve Tasker and Ray Bentley assuredly were a lot softer on the Bills during Channel 7’s telecast than the team’s fans undoubtedly were in their living rooms and area bars.

At game’s end, Bentley noted that there were some “bright spots” for the Bills. He added that 16 injured players on the roster were unavailable and noted the game “was probably not a true test of what the Buffalo Bills will be this season.”

It was hard to immediately see Bentley’s “bright spots.” The early field goal drive?

Earlier Tasker noted that the Bills “didn’t stop playing.” So I suppose that could be a “bright spot.”

Hey, they were auditioning for full-time jobs. So why would they stop playing?

Referring to Bills Coach Chan Gailey, Tasker also said “No question this night did not turn out the way he wanted.”

You think?

Tasker and Bentley seemed more like apologists during the game than announcers.

Nobody expects announcers picked by the team to be assassins but a little more honesty would be preferable to their soft criticism. The lead of the game story today in the Buffalo News story written by Allen Wilson was “Ugh” and called Coach Chan Gailey’s debut “a colossal flop.”

Now that’s an honest assessment. Just once you wish Tasker or Bentley had stated the obvious, especially when the Bills were down 35-3: The Bills are playing worst than expected and the quarterbacks still don’t have a chance to find any open receivers with backup linemen protecting.

* Some of the graphics during the game made one feel like he was taking an eye test. Last season’s statistics were in such small type that you’d need better than 20-20 eyesight to read them.

* Just got my first text from my older son, who was at the game. By the way, the game wasn’t played in the nation’s capital as you may have read. The Skins now play in Landover, Md., not D.C. Anyway, it is safe to say my son was a little more critical in his text than Tasker and Bentley were during the game.

* Don’t you hate it when announcers immediately side with the officials even when replays make some calls look questionable. Tasker quickly called a Skins reception near the goal line a touchdown before a commercial. After the commercial, Bentley noted the receiver may have been juggling the ball before he crossed the goal line. During the season, it would have been worth a challenge.

* Hey, some actual criticism. Tasker noted that Bills rookie back C.J. Spiller was put in the no-win situation of pass blocking a defensive end and that receiver Lee Evans should have tried harder to break up a pass that was intercepted. Still, it was hard to see what Evans could have done to prevent the interception. Bentley called out rookie linebacker Arthur Moats, who hustles but may have been beaten defensively on a few plays. I say “may” because Tasker wasn’t sure who was supposed to cover a wide open receiver.

* Since the goal of the game is to find players, it would have been nice to hear Tasker or Bentley tell viewers if anyone was playing well for the Bills.

* Here is what I believe to be an announcing first in a preseason game. Tasker talked about Bills fans having “angst” because of the way the team is playing and they are only down 14-3. Never heard “angst” used before in a game. Imagine how much angst there was when the game was 35-3.

* Tasker and Bentley agreed that Gailey kept quarterback Trent Edwards in longer than expected to make him feel more positive rather than sit him after an interception. Bad idea. Things only got worse for Edwards as the game went on.

* Comic relief: With the Bills having a fourth down and about a yard to go, Tasker suggested they go for it with 32 seconds left in the half. Then Bentley pointed out there were several minutes left in the half and Tasker was looking at the play clock. Who could blame Tasker for wanting to make this game end quickly? It would have been a good idea to call it a half then anyway.

* Tasker and Bentley both applauded Gailey’s decision to go for a first down deep in the Bills territory. Neither veteran announcer thought the obvious: The Bills were just trying to draw the Skins offside. It didn’t work.

* Turning philosophical with Bills down 21-3, Tasker said “you think the sky is falling. You forgot there are five more months of football. You’re going to play a lot better than this, you’re going to play a lot different.”

Right after those optimistic words had gotten out of Tasker’s mouth, the Redskins ran back a punt for a touchdown and a 28-3 lead.

A little humor was called for. I could almost hear Bills Nation collectively saying “the sky is falling! The sky is falling!”

“This is not the start (the Bills) had hoped for,” assessed Bentley.

You think?

* It’s the fourth quarter and I suspect I did what many Bills fans did. I put the volume on mute and phoned a Buffalo native who lives out of town and whose first question was: “Why are the Bills so lousy?”

Clearly, the “angst” is spreading out of town.

pergament@msn.com

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