WRITTEN BY NEAL ZOREN
21st Century Media Columnist
Versatility is the main trait of this year’s Most Valuable Player in local television.
Fewer people on local newscasts are true broadcasters, generalists who can play any role.
The MVP for 2014 epitomizes broadcasting. This person can handle any kind of story and proves it on a daily basis. No subject is beyond this person’s reach. More than that, this year’s MVP has a wonderful track record of community involvement and interest in matters ranging from music to education.
Perhaps the greatest reason for choosing this particular MVP is longevity. For several decades, this person has brought us information, served as a congenial host, displayed expertise on several topics, and built a reputation for kindness and civility that is unanimously confirmed among people who know him or work with him.
The Local Television MVP for 2014 is Ukee Washington.
Other people came to mind.
Sheinelle Jones and Alex Holley were almost paired for their seamless transition and spirited individual contribution to Channel 29’s “Good Day Philadelphia.”
Ground was almost broken as an executive, Channel 6’s general manager Bernie Prazenica, was considered for finally having the guts to allow a key member of his on-air team to come out as gay. Weathercaster Adam Joseph, was also on the short list, as were Channel 3 medical reporter, Stephanie Stahl, Channel 3 general assignment reporter, Diana Rocco, Channel 10 video maven, Vince Lattanzio, and another Channel 6 meteorologist, Cecily Tynan.
Washington earned the award for being an all-around talent. Ukee may have never prepared a weather report, but you know he could, meteorological credentials or not. His move from the sports desk to the anchor desk at Channel 3 was accomplished without any fuss. Not one beat was missed and Ukee continues to be an apt sports commentator when the occasion arises.
Speaking of arising, Ukee Washington is my alarm clock.
One of my few modern nods to somewhat recent technology is to use by television as my alarm, something I learned from staying in numerous hotel rooms during days on the road. After some experimenting, I determined that Ukee is like journalistic comfort food.
While I like Matt O’Donnell, Tracy Davidson and Kerry Barrett, I find Ukee has a knack for simultaneously easing me into my day while jolting me into consciousness with a headline that makes me remember why I set an alarm in the first place. Also, that versatility I mentioned at the beginning shows itself on a daily basis, as Ukee can move quickly from a breaking news story of consequence to holding a bright conversation with a visiting actor, writer, or sports figure. He also brings this talent to Channel 3’s noon show where he is paired with the Queen of Versatility, Pat Ciarrocchi.
Ukee’s byplay with Pat triggers another accolade. He is giving castmate to the people with whom he works. Though he is the dominant person on the morning news seen from 4:30-7 on Channel 3, and from 7-9 a.m. on Channel 57, he is generous in sharing the spotlight with co-anchor Erika von Tiehl and weather scout Katie Fehlinger.
Twice in two years, Ukee has joined the panel on CBS’s “The Talk” for general chat. He appears in movies, sometimes at the behest of his cousin, Denzel, and he is a great ambassador for the Philadelphia Boys Choir, of which he is an alumnus, and other musical and charitable causes.
You want someone who can do everything and do it well without undue fanfare? That’s Ukee Washington, and that’s why he is the 2014 MVP.
Making meat balls
Andrew Zappley likes to blend Italian and Southern cooking to create “palate explosions.”
The 12-year-old’s signature dish is Chicken Milanese and he makes mean meat balls. To illustrate his Italian-Southern fusion he talks about macaroni and cheese with bacon and a crumb topping. He also enjoys what he calls Italian comfort food.
Andrew started cooking when he was 3 and by 5, was redoing his mother, Karen’s, recipes to make them more moist and savory. His goal is to be accepted in the culinary arts program at Johnson and Wales University, but Andrew is already competing for a reputation as a whiz in the kitchen.
Beginning with tomorrow night’s season opener, the West Deptford, N.J. youth will vie for the $100,000 prize as “Master Chef Junior,” which airs at 8 p.m. Tuesday on Fox (Channel 29).
Andrew is articulate when it comes to food and cooking. He is also adventurous. After speaking about a charitable event at his school, one that involves everyone bringing a canned good for the local food bank, Andrew says what he would like to put in a can is pepper jelly, something he tasted at a friend’s house just last week. He also says canned crab is actually pretty fresh and pretty tasty.
Karen reports Andrew was never one to settle for a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Whether for lunch or dinner, all meals had to be cooked and cooked from scratch. Andrew talks about deciding what his family should eat for dinner and heading to the market to buy the ingredients. He plays basketball and enjoys “retro” games on Nintendos he refashions when he’s away from the kitchen.
“I began cooking when I made a pound cake with my grandmother,” Andrew says by telephone from his home. “I liked mixing the ingredients and seeing the results, but as I became more interested in food, I wanted to make more hearty and savory dishes. Part of that has to do with impatience. I can make a wonderful meal in less than an hour. Baking takes longer, and when something is in the oven, I don’t get to play at the stove the way I like. Tasting and adding and making a dish the way I want it.
“I enjoy making entire meals and working with the basics. From as long as I can remember, I could taste all of the spices and ingredients in a dish, and I use that sense of taste while cooking. That’s why I like working at the stove where everything is in front of you, and you can work at it the whole time.
“My Mom and Dad cook, and they help me or make dinner when I have basketball practice, but I took over in the kitchen when I thought I could improve my Mom’s chicken nuggets. She made them in the oven, and they were dry. I began experimenting and I escalated beyond chicken nuggets to all sorts of food. Desserts are great, but I prefer to work with main courses.”
While auditioning for “Master Chef Junior,” Andrew prepared his Chicken Milanese. The entire season has been recorded, and no one will reveal the outcome.
Talking some sports
Sports talk has become a bit of an obsession, which is odd, because while I like sports, the only team I follow with any passion is the Phillies, and while I enjoy it when the Phils are competitive, I realize a championship is not an annual likelihood and accept that more often than not, my love for baseball and regard for individuals must carry the day.
Which brings us back to sports talk. Its premise is the only objective is a championship. Games that are played but don’t affect post-season possibilities are considered “meaningless,” a truism that has more to do with one’s attitude towards a game than a game itself.
Is “meaningless” bad? A movie like “Night at the Museum 3” has no chance for award contention. Does that render it meaningless or negate its entertainment value?
It doesn’t. I like baseball and can be entertained by the plays that happen and individual efforts no matter how my teams — the Phillies and the Orioles — do.
The insistence that only championships matter turns sports talk into a gripefest that doesn’t allow for different kinds of appreciations.
Chip Kelly, for instance, turns from hero to goat, from Eagles coach for ages to come to a guy who “has one foot out of here” if the Eagles don’t make the playoffs next year.
That isn’t commentary. That’s bellyaching and juvenile, because it has no perspective.
Talk radio’s job is to attract callers for the entertainment of the listener. The listener, and the not caller, is the key figure in the equation. The listener counts for ratings, and ratings are a truly democratic indication of success.
The problem for sports talk hosts today is they have little to discuss. The Sixers are taking a gamble that can be shrewd or disastrous, but is too MBA-oriented for my blood. The Flyers are a .500 team that doesn’t spark a lot of conversation. The Eagles are moribund until September. The Phillies are in a state of paralysis and seem to be concentrating on everything but what they must do – dump the entire outfield to enlist players who can hit predictably and, more to the point, catch a ball without causing drama.
So, Ruben Amaro, Jr., Chip Kelly, and Jeffrey Lurie become goats because the hosts have nothing on which to pin a real discussion. They have to grouse about the Eagles and Phillies, decent topics that wear out their welcome when hour after hour on show after show travels the same territory with only Josh Innes on WIP (94.1 FM) to present a possibly different point of view.
One more question. Am I the only person in the Delaware Valley who could not care less about the Wing Bowl?