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September 24, 2005

Hoffman: Attack of the TV people

I threw a hurricane party Friday night, but the guest of honor stood me up.

Anybody want to buy 10 packs of D-cell batteries and 32 bottles of water?

Hurricane Rita barely brushed Galveston and pretty much missed Houston. A little of me was disappointed, I wanted to see what a hurricane felt like, but a lot of me was relieved.

This morning I woke up to leaves and branches in the street, but nothing that an ordinary heavy rainstorm wouldn't cause. It was windy, but nothing scary. Marvin Zindler's toupee was safe.

I played tennis outdoors at 8 p.m. Friday. Later that night, I saw two neighbors ballroom dancing on the sidewalk.

I have weird neighbors.

So ... why were there power outages in cities like Bellaire, where the wind hit maybe 35-40 mph? Reliant needs to name stadiums less, and fix its equipment more.

I knew the hurricane was a no-show when my satellite TV signal never went out. Usually, I can tell it's drizzling in Conroe when my television goes blank in Houston.

And how come fuel trucks couldn't make it to Houston, but Tom DeLay and Sheila Jackson Lee had no problem getting here? The wrong bags of gas got through.

When this is over, and everybody's home, two things need to be investigated and corrected: Houston's evacuation plans -- and television news' role in making us all crazy this past week.

Did four different TV stations need to be doing 24-hour hurricane coverage without even a commercial break? After a while, I couldn't tell the difference between Dave Ward and Tom Koch and those two idiots in the drive-through at Sonic.

Did I really need to watch KRIV's news on Channels 20, 26 and 55?

Let's take a poll: Do you think that local TV news went overboard covering Hurricane Rita? E-mail me.

Channel 11's Lisa Foronda: "Hello, (weatherman) David Paul, the last time we saw you, you weren't wearing a rain poncho and now you are. So I can assume you're getting soaked?"

David Paul: "Uh, not really."

Jeff McShan was reporting live from Galveston when his baseball cap flew off. The Channel 11 anchors used that as an indication the hurricane was whipping up.

My baseball hat flies off when I run from second to third in the West U Coed Softball League. It's not a big deal. It's certainly not a meteorological event.

I give credit to Paul. He was the first weatherman I heard flat out say, "Harris County will not experience hurricane force winds tonight."

Instead, he said, Houston faced "minimal tropical storm conditions."

Great, so let's switch over to regular programming and the Late Show with David Letterman.

No chance.

Reporter Amy Tortolani said "the rain hasn't started yet, but the wind is blowing debris around." The camera showed, I swear, an empty plastic Ozarka water bottle rolling gently to the curb.

Another reporter described "a sea of people" rushing into a Wal-Mart for last-minute supplies. I saw -- maybe -- five people casually walking through the parking lot.

CNN interviewed a pop culture professor from Syracuse University and asked him to comment on TV news going berserk with Hurricane Rita coverage. He said, after Katrina, it was to be expected.

That's why Channels 2, 11, 13 and 26 stayed on around the clock, even though nothing was really happening. Nobody wanted to be the first to blink. It was a contest, who cares more about Houston?

If one of the stations had gone back to regular programming, it would have been the first 100 percent rating in the history of Houston television.

How many times did you hear an anchor say, "Prepare for the worst, hope for the best?"

"Hunker down" and "dodged a bullet" were very big, too. I wondered, did somebody type those cliches into the TelePrompter, or were they ad libbed cliches?

TV weathermen -- two in particular -- looked they needed to be sent to Vienna for clinical depression when Rita sidestepped Houston.

For Channel 13's Tim Heller, this would have been his first Big Story, the chance to make a name for himself in Houston. For Channel 11's Dr. Neil Frank, this could have been his last rodeo.

Funny, when he was director of the National Hurricane Center from 1974 to 1987, Frank advised local TV weather forecasters against making their own predictions when hurricanes threatened. Just stick with what the National Hurricane Center gives you, he said.

Now that he's a local guy, Frank was among the last to cry uncle and admit the hurricane would likely miss us.

-- Ken Hoffman

Posted by Dwight at 04:26 PM | Comments (16) | TrackBack

As seen on TV: Random notes

HOSPITALS

Employees at Texas Medical Center are encouraged to call respective institutions to see when they should report to work.

Christus St. Joseph in Houston and Christus St. John in Clear Lake are asking all physicians and associates to report to work.

Harris County Hospital District urges those with medical problems to skip emergency rooms and instead call 713-633-2255 to speak with a nurse instead.

RETURNING

No Galveston or Tiki Island residents will be allowed back today.

Traffic is backing up on Galveston causeway even though only hospital workers and emergency personnel are being allowed back on the island; people in cars are saying they want to beat the traffic.

Traffic is beginning to build on I-45 north inbound as well as I-10 inbound on the west side.

People are not being allowed onto Tiki Island because power lines are down; but a gas station at the entrance to the subdivision is now open.

Ninety percent of Brazoria County is open to the public; exceptions are Surfside, Quintana Beach - not inhabitable yet. There are no services available however, no gas, stores or emergency services.

POWER, WATER

CenterPoint does not want reports of individual power outages, but it does want reports of downed power lines.

Residents of Baytown are being asked to conserve water power because of low water pressure.

STORES

All Fiesta supermarkets will open at 8 a.m. Sunday.

Randall's stores will reopen at 9 a.m. Sunday.

Posted by Dwight at 02:31 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

September 23, 2005

As seen on TV: Sports programming changes

Today's Astros-Cubs game has been switched from KNWS (Channel 51) to FSN Houston because of concerns that Hurricane Rita might knock 51 and other over-the-air stations off the air.

A FSN spokesman said Sunday's game is still scheduled to air on Channel 51.

In other sports television-related updates:

-- The Fox Sports Net technical center on Gulfton in southwest Houston was evacuated Friday and operations shifted to the Fox Network Center in Los Angeles.

FSN spokesman Ramon Alvarez said the network made the shift to ensure the safety of workers at the building, which has flooded frequently and is scheduled to be replaced by another building in the Houston area.

The tech operations center handles switching for 11 regional sports networks and Fox College Sports.

-- As local stations shift their emphasis to Rita updates, DirecTV has lifted the blackout on Sunday's NFL games, allowing them to be shown on NFL Sunday Ticket in the Houston area.

Games scheduled to air on Channels 11 and 26 also can be seen by DirecTV subscribers in Beaumont-Port Arthur, Tyler, Lufkin, Nacogdoches and Bryan-College Station.

NFL broadcast rules normally require DirecTV to black out a game on Sunday ticket if it is being carried by a local station.

Channel 26 said it did not know if it would carry the Sunday game between the Cowboys and 49ers. Channel 11 has been carrying CBS programming on its digital channel 310 on Time Warner Cable and on KNWS (Channel 51).

-- The Georgia-Mississippi State game has been moved to 6:45 p.m. Saturday and will be televised on ESPN. It was scheduled to air on ESPN2. Also, ESPN2 will carry the postponed Tennessee-LSU game on Monday.

-- David Barron

Posted by Dwight at 06:18 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

As seen on TV: Bus survivor talks to Channel 11

Channel 11 just had a very poignant interview with Ralph Wilson, a survivor of the bus fire. He was on his back, the view was from his side, and he had everyone laughing at his jokes -- "If I don't look good, I won't watch (the interview)" -- one minute, and moments later he was in tears as he described firemen risking their lives to carry him out like a newborn baby. He said he felt like the luckiest man alive.

-- Roberta MacInnis

Posted by Dwight at 06:13 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

As seen on TV: On patrol, Sam's thoughts, Ted's journey

Fox (CH26) reported on a mother with five children, three of her own, who was stranded in a rest stop near Brookshire without gas or water. Earlier reports from the station brought out local people who gave her everything she needed. She gave a huge "Thank You" and is on her way to Luling. A member of the sheriff's department asked that no one else come at this time, please. The sheriff's department is helping stranded motorists, he said. "We'll be on patrol until every motorist is safe," he said. He reported that three people had died last night in their cars.

--

Sam Donaldson on ABC, Channel 13, reported that President Bush was in San Antonio.

"He's kicked in since Katrina," the veteran reporter said. "This is exactly what the administration wants. In effect, the president is saying, 'I'm the guy you elected to be your commander in chief, not the guy that played banjo during Katrina."

When asked about the cost of hurricanes Katrina and Rita, Donaldson said the question was whether (Congress) could find spending offsets or go into another deficit.

"What are grandchildren for," he quipped, quickly adding, "I'm being facetious, of course." Then he told the story of Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, who, when asked about cutting $233 million from "the bridge to nowhere" replied, "They can kiss my ear."

--

Ted Oberg on 13 reported from the road to Anahuac from Port Arthur. The fire chief in Port Arthur said the city was completely emptied. About 10,000 people had been evacuated by air alone. The last cargo plane with evacuees was flying overhead as Oberg made his report. Oberg asked the chief about citizens who refused to evacuate. Oberg quoted the chief as saying, "It's a free coutnry. Everyone is free to make a bad decision."

-- Patricia Johnson

Posted by Dwight at 02:50 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

As seen on TV: Dan's back, Gina's gone, Dee's staying

CBS News' Dan Rather, who cut his teeth on Hurricane Carla, recalled that '61 storm in a brief appearance Friday on Channel 11, the station he once anchored. His advice: "Steady. Steady. These are the toughest hours as we wait for the hurricane to come in." His most vivid memories of that storm: "How quickly the snakes got to the high ground. As far as the eye could see, there were snakes. The second is how long it blew and how viciously it blew."

---

Gina Larson, who works for Channel 13, decided to flee the storm on Wednesday. She filed a log Friday on the station's Web site. Here are excerpts:

"After 12-13 hours of solid driving, we still hadn't made it out of Fort Bend County. We finally heard word of contraflow lanes opened on I-10, so we decided to try to make our way there. . . . Sealy felt like a free-for-all. People pulled in to (gas-less) gas stations any which way. Piles of trash overflowed everywhere. Dogs ran around and mothers fanned hot children dressed only in diapers. You started to feel this sense of desperation. . . . We pushed our way through some of the traffic and made it onto I-10. The contraflow lanes were in effect. We were on the regular westbound lanes, but traffic was moving. We were going speeds of 40 mph at some points, and it felt like Christmas!"

More freeway frustration, as blogged by KTRK reporter Elissa Rivers on Friday:

"This is 45 like I've never seen it. The shoulder is lined with hundreds of vehicles, some people sleeping, but so many are out of gas. In the early hours of this morning, the Home Depot lot was filled with cars. Many people who have just a little gas left stop here, hoping someone will come with fuel. They are afraid to keep going for fear of being truly stranded. There is also trash everywhere and the smell of urine is starting to float in the air."

--

Galveston resident Dee Evans decided to ride out the storm in her Ferry Road apartment. She told Channel 11 anchors Deborah Duncan and Jerome Gray on Friday afternoon that she runs a grass-roots foundation for children and she was afraid of being looted if she left.

The anchors questioned whether she had at least considered leaving.

"I've received 172 phone calls in the last two days from people as far away as Dallas, offering to pick me up," she said. "I'm staying."

-- Mike McDaniel

Posted by Dwight at 01:53 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack