WRITTEN BY NEAL ZOREN
21st Century Media TV Columnist
As 2015 approaches, several local television stations will be preparing nostalgia for us to savor for three years to come.
Two stations, WTXF-TV (Channel 29) and WPHL-TV (Channel 17) will celebrate their 50th anniversary on the air. To viewers who remember a three-channel world plus Channel 12, Channels 29 and 17 seems like upstarts. They were a revelation when they added to the programming available on local air. Seniors and boomers, who now include some seniors, will recall having to get a converter and play with tuning it in order to get the new channels on their televisions.
The brave new world that brought more live sports, more wrestling programs, more reruns and more movies for our enjoyment.
Al Meltzer would become one of the first stars launched on UHF. Wee Willie Webber would find new life. Folks like Stu Nahan and John Carlton would become household names for a time. I remember watching the game in which the 76ers clinched the NBA championship in 1967 on the new RCA black-and-white I bought with my own money so I could have a set that had a UHF dial (and round antenna) included. My brother and I jumped up and down on our beds in celebration for an hour after Channel 17 signed off following the game.
History was again made in 1965.
In addition to Channels 29 and 17 joining the TV fold, another station, WKBS-TV, set up shop on Channel 48. That station garnered some significant ratings until a freak family squabble led to another kind of history in August 1983, when Channel 48 became the only station in United States television history to relinquish an active commercial broadcasting license. “Brady Bunch” fans mourned for months.
Also in 1965, Group W Television, a branch of the Westinghouse corporation, won its case to regain ownership of Channel 3, a station it held but that was claimed in 1958 by NBC and held by the Peacock network for seven years while Westinghouse fought.
The Group W folks revolutionized traditional television in Philadelphia. It veered from the model for newscasting established by John Facenda at Channel 10 and practiced at just about every television station in the United States.
Group W expanded newscasts and advanced the use of film and sending reporters on location to cover a story. It hired the first woman anchor for a major newscast, Marciarose. It hired the first full-time black reporter at a local TV station, Malcolm Poindexter. It broke real ground when it brought the first black anchor, reporter, and host from her weathercaster job in Detroit, Trudy Haynes.
Westinghouse’s station was called KYW-TV (after WRCV and WPTZ in earlier eras) also brought in hard-hitting anchors and interviewers like Tom Snyder. It would become the standard by which other stations eventually measured themselves.
While Channel 3 thinks about marking a 50th anniversary of coming to the market in its current form, it and the other veterans, Channels 6 and 10, have to consider milestones coming up in 2017 and 2018 when each station celebrates its 70th year on the air.
When you think of how local television evolved from 1947 to 2015, the changes will astound.
While we miss the original programming and cadres of personalities each station put on the air every day, we have to consider the amazing investment put into news coverage and journalistic talent today.
Broadcasters have given way to specialists, with occasional veterans like Ukee Washington, Pat Ciarrocchi and Mike Jerrick left to represent the hybrid that can do any on-air job necessary from anchoring to making a giraffe’s birthday party seem important.
I hope we’ll see a trio of special programs that reacquaint us with Buckskin Billy, Uncle Pete, Ed McMahon as a clown, the cowboys on Channel 10’s daily western program, Dick Clark, Happy the Clown, Chief Halftown, Sally Starr, Miss Connie, Florence Hanford, Winky Dink, Willie the Worm, Pixanne, Gene London and others who entertained children and homemakers so grandly.
I can’t wait to see how Channels 29 and 17 present the 50 years that widened the scope of Philadelphia television. I even more await the 70-year celebrations I hope all three traditional stations will plan for their anniversary years.
Politics and sports
WIP (94.1 FM) host Rob Ellis, flying solo Thursday, asked his audience whether they thought celebrities should use their fame to advance political causes. Ellis was referring specifically to the St. Louis Rams football players who entered the field with their hands up in protest to a grand jury decision regarding police brutality, but he covered all sports and Hollywood political proselytizing.
Most of Ellis’ callers were for stars using their fame for advocacy purposes.
I am against it. I don’t even like it when politicians are introduced in theater audiences. I watch television to see entertainment or events. I go to the theater to see plays and movies to see films. Even I have derived a good chunk of my income from celebrity interviews, I don’t personally care about their lives, only what they accomplish on a screen or a stage.
Most actors and sports figures are not experts on the topics on which they give opinions. They are people and entitled to their opinions. Frankly, Scarlett, I don’t want to hear them. Ever.
From zombies to food
Like just about everybody these days, I am given to binge watching, to catching up with series like “Orange is the New Black,” my favorite, “Homeland,” and everyone else’s favorite, “The Walking Dead,” which I began viewing to keep up with WPHT (1210 AM) 9 a.m. to noon talk host, Dom Giordano, during our bi-weekly Friday chats on his radio program.
I have been an addict of sorts for stories, real and imagined, since my earliest memory and an interested in almost all movies and television shows on some level.
Cooking is not one of my interests. Sure, I do it every day, usually more than once a day, but I make basic meals with simple recipes. I live by myself, so it’s hard to keep ingredients from spoiling before I get the chance to use them, so I gravitate to meals I can make in quantity and freeze.
I mention this only because I have been binge watching on a channel I thought I’d never watch except for sporadic professional research about what’s on television, the Food Network.
Yes. I can barely believe it myself.
It all happened when I went to a friend’s house for dinner. This friend is a magnificent cook who fusslessly whips up masterpieces in a flash. One of her favorite programs is “Chopped,” one of the myriad of Food Network shows that involve chefs competing against each other for judges’ praise and a cash prize. On “Chopped,” hosted by “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” alumnus, Ted Allen, participants can be amateurs or professionals in the kitchen. Even a dabbler like could be accepted as a contestant.
Each “chef” is given a basket with unknown and sometimes unusual ingredient he or she has to make into a meal. Contestants receive three baskets, one for an appetizer, one for a main course, and one for a dessert. One chef is eliminated or “chopped” by judges after each round, so the four participants at the beginning of each show are pared to two by the time the dessert decides the winner.
I know this a popular format derived from “The Iron Chef,” but “Chopped” is different from most of the programs that feature cooking contests. For one thing, there’s little or no commentary as the chefs are working. You see them in action. While you hear occasional thoughts from the cooks, there’s none of the sentimental twaddle that plagues most reality TV. The contestants may talk about why they want to win the competition, what they’ll do with the cash prize, and about an occasional triumph or disappointment, but for the most part, the show avoids the tears and sickening back stories of most shows and concentrates on the business of showing how the chefs create from the groceries that are given them.
I liked the simplicity of the show and the way it never gives in to emotion. To my surprise, I watched a marathon of episodes that lasted from 8 p.m. to 1 a.m. and watched more when I came home.
I’d better get the DVR ready for my new Tuesday night TV appointment. Who knows? I may find myself preparing meals with pickled watermelon rinds or chocolate donuts one day.