KSTW

Fade to black

A blind peanut vendor sang "On a clear day. . . ." Bill Cosby did the weather. The sports announcer had a nosebleed. The outtakes featured cross-eyed correspondents and dancing news anchors.

Except for a brief opening segment, there was no news on THE Ten O'Clock News last Friday that wasn't up to 20 years old. It was funny, teary, and final, with John Belushi providing inspiration. "'Cause when the going gets tough . . ." he said from an Animal House clip, with Channel 11 anchor Don Porter finishing the thought: "Paramount drops the big one." An approving "oooooh" sounded from co-anchor Christine Chen.

The big one had come when KSTW's Los Angeles owner set off its unemployment bomb, announcing the termination of Channel 11's 24 years of news broadcasting and firing all 62 employees. Paramount Stations Group/UPN gave four days' notice, telling staffers not to comment under threat of a cut in severance pay. Paramount's own terse statement said it was replacing the news hour with overripe M*A*S*H and Cheers reruns because "we can better serve our viewing audience by airing entertainment programming at 10pm" (and pocket about $1.5 million in news budget savings).

On Black Friday, though, the gag was off. The kids had the camera! "Tonight," said anchor/reporter Meg O'Conor, "we decided we should have the last word."

The farewell was in part a delightfully clunky newsreel of flickering names and faces—Jack Eddy, Phil Wilson, Wendy Mann, Monica Gayle, and onetime sports director Bob Robertson (a bad week for him: Tuesday, the day his old newscast folded, Robertson was also fired as the voice of the Tacoma Rainiers). Nineteen-year veteran KSTW (n饠KTNT) reporter Steve Williams replayed his cub-reporter coverage of the 1980 Mount St. Helen's eruption, griped a little ("our photographers . . . never had the best equipment"), and defended the emphatic coverage of Seattle by a station whose studios were in Tacoma: "We were unfairly criticized," Williams said. "We did thousands of stories from Tacoma."

Including the staff's favorite: singing Cheney Stadium vendor Peanut Pistol Pete. Profiled by Kevin Reece, Pete charmed the ballpark crowd and showed off his invention, a 1,000-watt halogen lamp mounted on a helmet, which the legally blind peanut man uses to read bills and make change. Stories such as these made up for KSTW's chronic shortcomings. With a budget and staff leaner than the Seattle network affiliates, its coverage was merely dependable but mindful of stopping to smell the fragrant Northwest. "Human interest," after all, is the kind of story that viewers (and newspaper readers) like best, and an underlying reason why Seattle Weekly readers this year picked Don and Christine over Dan and Kathi, Dennis and Jean, and Steve and Susie as best local TV news team.

The final show wound down with feature reporter Shawna McLaughlin kissing a walrus and taking a header on skates; reporter Mark Miller on a hot night at Alki shedding his microphone and taking a dip in Elliott Bay; popular 12-year sports reporter/director Rod Simons along with reporter Matt Sampsell cracking up as M's manager Lou Piniella gets tongue-tied during a promo for Sampsell: "Watch Matsamp . . . Watch Maps . . . Join Mats . . . Watch Match. . . . I can't say the damn thing!" Then came Coz: "The high today in Spo-cane," said an improv Bill Cosby in a past clip, having wandered onto the weather set with a cup of perhaps coffee in hand, "is, uh, 73, and then Puyallupman, it was 76, in Bellinghousen and up in the Olympics the water was there and so was the frogs, and Katchacootie Mountains up here"—he slaps his hand on the map behind him—"we're gonna have a lot of foam!"

The final images: all 62 staffers in a wide shot. Dissolve to empty set. Fade to black. The nosebleeding sports announcer had gotten through his segment with a Kleenex. Now they all needed one.

 
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