Lou Pickney's Online Commentary
December 18, 2000
4:12 PM EST
Music plays in the front room, the light above my bed glows, and here I sit, an afternoon
insomniac at my computer. The feeling of slight exhaustion I feel no longer translates into
sleep, which will undoubtedly come back to bite me tonight at work.
My body aches today, still very sore from my all-day skiing adventure on Saturday. Backing up,
on Friday I met up with Dave Kinder at WSAZ's Charleston newsroom and followed him back to
Beckley, which is about an hour's drive on the West Virginia turnpike. If nothing else, this
weekend gave me an appreciation for living five blocks from work; poor Dave has to make a two
hour round trip commute going from Beckley to Charleston and back. He and his wife Amy and their
daughter Shelbie live in a beautiful home in Beckley -- they have a really nice place. Friday
night consisted of catching up on old times and a few drinks and the entertainment of DirecTV.
Later that night, Dave and I played some Super Nintendo, including the oft-requested clash
between the 1985 Tennessee Vols and the 1994 Tennessee Vols. The Super Nintendo was never
known for good sports games (that was the domain of the Sega Genesis), but nonetheless playing
both Bill Walsh College Football 94 and NHL 96 on there was fun. A little old-school 16 bit
fun melded with video game competition. Unfortunately, Bill Walsh locked up on us after I
took an interception back 98 yards for the touchdown, so we switched to NHL 96. Now, on the
Sega Genesis, no one could touch me on the NHL titles on that system (in particular on NHL 94).
However, Dave knew what he was doing on the Super Nintendo version, and he managed to beat
me 3 out of 3 times on it, which is no easy task.
Saturday morning brought skiing at Winterplace, a ski resort that has been open for about 10
years. It was my first experience snow skiing, and I didn't know quite what to expect. On
Friday, I had decided to make an investment, so I went out and bought some ski bibs. For those
of you unfamiliar with what that is, it's like a shiny black pair of pants with suspenders. I
felt like an old man wearing them, as they ride high like you wouldn't believe (by design, to
keep the snow out). Anyway, after running some errands on Saturday, Dave and I ended up over
at Winterplace. I was decked out in my ski attire, including a hat, goggles, ski mask, etc.
I probably looked like an idiot going in with all the equipment on (I noticed inside that no
one else was all decked out with it, as it wasn't exactly a bitter cold day). But hey, I was
prepared. I purchased my lift ticket, then paid for my ski rental (the girl at the register
was extremely attractive). In fact, I was taken aback with how many gorgeous women were out
there. I quipped to Dave that I should become the news director at WVVA-TV and spend my time
out with the hot women on the ski slopes. Actually, that wouldn't be bad at all...
Anyway, learning to ski was quite a challenge. In lieu of getting actual ski lessons, Dave
wanted to see how he could do teaching me. And, well, the learning curve was pretty steep.
I had been warned to be prepared to be frustrated, but I didn't comprehend the level of
frustration involved. I was falling down like an idiot just trying to get over to the ski
lift. Concerned passers-by asked if I was ok, and I told them yes, albiet with my pride
slightly hit. The art of the snowplow came slowly to me.
The first time down the slopes... well let's just say that I fell quite a bit. And I reached a
level of frustration usually reserved for only my most angry moments at work. I kept falling
down, and I had a very difficult time standing back up. Dave was very patient with me, but
my level of patience was waning.
But slowly, I learned what to do. The snowplow is the main trick to learn, being able to move
slowly and deliberately, not flying out of control down the hill (which I did on several
occasions, not by choice). I was quite fortunate that predictions of rain kept many people
away for the day, as that left most of the slopes wide open.
Amy came out in the early afternoon after leaving Shelbie with a babysitter, and she helped
teach me some other skiing tricks. She and Dave and I went to the easiest slope out there,
and after several tries I managed to make it through all the way without falling. Slowly but
surely my skills were improving, and I was managing to actually keep my balance.
The worst fall of the day came in the evening. We hit a "blue" slope called Last Run -- the
blue is an indication that it is an intermediate course (their color system is green: easy,
blue: medium, and black: hard). I had handled it alright on the run before, so we tried it
again. It features a hard right turn, but I handled it alright, managing to keep my
balance through the sharp angle. But coming out of it I somehow lost my balance and fell.
With most of my falls, I managed to take them with either my knees or my hip, but not this
time. No, this time I landed face-first into the ice/snow, leaving a huge dent where I landed.
Ouch. I have a nice cut/bruise near my left eye as a reminder of that harsh landing.
Overall it was a wonderful weekend, and Dave and Amy were very generous hosts. Their two year
old daughter Shelbie is adorable, and she was constantly doing things that made me laugh. She
has her father's energy, which of course keeps Dave and Amy rather busy.
Sunday I drove back, which was a 2 hour or so drive. I swung by the station to pick up my
paycheck and talked with Anna and Vince, who were in the newsroom. In my mailbox I found the
November 2000 sweeps ratings, which I hadn't expected until today. The results... once again
a strong book for Sunrise/Today. Comparing November 1999 to November 2000 shows some interesting
results (Nov. 99 was the last book before I became the producer). At 5 AM we went up 1/11,
which is very significant, though in November of 1999 the morning show was only 90 minutes
long and NBC's Early Today ran in that timeslot. At 5:30 we were up 1/7, and at 6 (which
for some reason isn't split by half-hour, so we're talking 6-7 AM) we were up 2/2. Consider
this: WSAZ has more people watching at 6 AM than either WOWK or WCHS has at 6 PM (or 11 PM
for that matter).
These results thrilled my news director, Ken Selvaggi, and rightfully so. I was brought in
to help do my part to boost the ratings, and I feel that the numbers prove that the changes
made have been a success. The three big books since I've been here, February 2000, May 2000
and November 2000, all have shown marked increases across the board. Assuming that I'm still
here this February, it will be me battling against myself in a way, comparing February of 2000's
numbers with February of 2001. The real challenge will come in May 2001, if I'm still here,
as I try to play top this in trying to beat the 10/48 we had from 6-7 AM in May 2000. I mean,
come on, trying to top that is extremely tough (that number blew away both the May 1999
rating for the slot and the goal that we set going into the book).
Actually, the November book had been a bit of a concern for me, as we were testing a new team
for the first time (with Rob, Melanie and Scott as a trio). But their hard work and solid
skills have paid off in producing major viewership. Not to be overlooked is our production
department, which continues to impress me on a week-in, week-out basis.
Speaking of Scott Sabol, congratulations to him on getting engaged over the weekend. Scott tells me that the tentative wedding date is set for June of 2002.
Only four days remain between now and my week and a half of vacation. Ahh yeah.
December 14, 2000
1:06 PM EST
I just received word that my great uncle, Mac Dawson, died last night. He lived in Harriman
for many years, working as a successful farmer and raising a family. In all the years I knew
Uncle Mac, I can never remember him saying a cross thing or making any unkind statements.
He was a good-hearted, hard-working man. I will miss him.
December 14, 2000
9:23 AM EST
Here's a link for fans of the show
Seinfeld who are gearing up to celebrate Festivus. It made me laugh reading about it, and
perhaps you'll enjoy it, too.
Yesterday morning we had several school cancellations in eastern Kentucky in our viewing area
due to fear of snow. As it turned out we had no snow, only rain, so essentially the Martin
and Menifee Counties of the Commonwealth had their kids out of school for no reason. Last
year it became a running joke after awhile about Menifee County, which technically isn't in
our ADI (our official viewing area) but which does pick us up in some parts (they are
considered part of the Lexington market). However, evidentally enough of them watch us for the
officials there to request that we run their school closings on our air. Anyway, as I recall
the kids there had class for all of a week last January before missing the next three weeks.
There was a point when literally every other school in our viewing area was open... except for
Skiing is set for this weekend at Winterplace, which should be really fun. The main challenge,
aside from learning how to snow ski, will be shifting my sleep. See, I have to meet Dave in
Charleston to follow him back to his place in Beckley, so I have to wake up (if I choose to
sleep) in time to get ready and go in time to get there on time. I've said it before, but
the toughest part of my shift isn't when I'm working, it's trying to plan my life during the
December 12, 2000
8:40 PM EST
There are some days that are great... and others which are terrible, grinding by slowly and
painfully with unpleasant surprises at every turn. The latter of the two scenarios more closely
matched my day at work early this morning.
First of all, my fantasy football team, the West Virginia Snipers, lost in the first round of
the playoffs. We were down 18 with Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison on Monday night with
my opponent, the ATL Boom, having only Edgerrin James facing a tough Bills rushing defense.
On the surface, it looked like a Snipers advantage. And given that the Colts scored 44 points,
you might think that it would mean big stats for Manning and Harrison... but no. Instead, it
was Edgerrin James scoring three rushing touchdowns, and my Snipers find themselves out of the
playoffs. To put this in perspective, this is the first time since my rookie year in 1994
that I have not been in the final four of the playoffs. This is most disheartening for me,
but if there's any consolation, it's that my slew of injured players (Tim Couch, Terrell
Davis, Michael Westbrook and Kevin Dyson) join current Ole Miss senior Deuce McAllister in
coming in ready to go in 2001, along with my active healthy players and whomever I pick up in
the summer draft.
So anyway, my loss lead to me being in rather unhappy spirits at work to start with. My sleep
had been turned upside down lately (what's new with that?), but I slept for more than 10 hours
during the day on Monday, so I figured I'd be well-rested. Unfortunately, this left me in a
really bad mood, the type of mood I'm usually in when I first wake up in the morning. Normally
I can shake that after I get a bite to eat for breakfast, but this morning it was like a
lingering bad mood that I couldn't shake.
And then the phone calls started to pour in. I have expressed before my amazement at how
people treat television stations as if they are some sort of all-purpose general information
line, to be called for the most trivial and obscure requests. I could write a book about all
the crazy calls I've taken in my time in the TV biz. But last night a major wind storm moved
through the region, so the phones were ringing like mad.
We have a few regular callers, mostly people who have some sort of mental disorder of one type
or another. Among the most grating to me is a character known to me only as Maynard, who at
least is not mean-spirited, but who incessantly called with the most superficial and meaningless
things to discuss, particularly relating to weather. I'll answer the phone, and it won't be
the normal greeting process that you might expect in American society. Instead, Maynard
immediately roars into a loud monologue about a squirrel or a thunderstorm or some other
nonsense like that. And I do mean that he roars -- the first time he called last night I
about went deaf. Luckily my phone has a volume control so I was able to at least bring him
down to a more tolerable level. Now Maynard has been trying my patience for many, many
months, but normally I can deal with him (nevermind that while I deal with his babbling,
precious time ticks off the clock while the work of 2-3 people waits for me and only me to do
by deadline time). Last night though, when he called for the third time, he sent me over the
edge and I hung up on him.
So you get the idea of how it was last night, chaotic and crazy and time slipping away like
you wouldn't believe. All in a day's work, I suppose.
Let's talk positive -- one week from Friday I fly back to Nashville. I've done quite a bit of
Christmas shopping, though the process of getting it all back home via the airline will be
tricky (as I have to pack very wisely). I might have to do some last-minute shopping in
Nashville just to ensure that I have enough room to pack everything for the trip.
The presidential election nonsense continues to stretch along. I hope that Al Gore finally
taps out and concedes, but I think at this point he's shown that he's willing to wreck his
own presidential career to undermine the presidency of George W. Bush.
Looking back at this past weekend, the WSAZ Christmas Party was very fun, as was the
post-party at Angie and Christi's place. It was nice to see some of the Charleston people
who I normally don't get to hang out with...
December 9, 2000
6:35 AM EST
The last weekend I'll have in town in 2000 is going pretty well so far. Last night and this
early morning have been pretty relaxed, which has been nice. I saw the excellent move The Usual Suspects with Velvet, who had never
seen it before. She liked it, as have the vast majority of people who have had the opportunity
to see that fine film. Also, Velvet wowed me with her immense knowledge of the movie
Fight Club, which is another great film.
Earlier last night, I caught some of the movie Go on one of my many movie channels. Go
had been strongly recommended to me by Jere and Amber at work, and from what I saw
(the middle portion), it was quite entertaining.
Tonight is the big annual WSAZ Christmas party. Matt Sheppard has been working hard putting
together the blooper tape for the party, which should be hilarious. I hadn't started at WSAZ
this time last year, but I saw the tape he made for that party, which has some of his priceless
dead-on impressions. There are few people who can make me laugh like Matt can -- he has a
real gift with his sense of humor.
For my fantasy sports teams, they're doing quite well. My ultra-competitive Fantasy Football League has reached playoff
time this weekend, where my West Virginia Snipers play host to
the ATL Boom in a first round showdown.
The last time I met the Boom in the post-season... 1997, when I won the Fantasy Bowl and
captured the championship. Also, my Yahoo NBA team, the
Keg Hat Express, is in first place.
Early this morning I caught the first two episodes of The Sopranos on HBO.
I missed out on the first season (as I didn't have HBO at the time), but wow what an excellent
production. As I've written in this space before, I feel that The Sopranos is the best
program on television today. Granted, they have a certain competitive edge in being able to
have much more of a free range on content than over-the-air American broadcast programs, but
instead of relying too much on cliches or cursing or nudity to get by, they use solid
character development, compelling and captivating storylines, and dialogue that at times
comes across as absolutely brilliant. The Sopranos is top notch.
December 7, 2000
7:19 PM EST
These past few days have been quite hectic, a busy tornado of meetings and training sessions
and work. Yesterday was in particular a bear for me, as I was on the clock from 7 PM until 7
AM thanks to having to train for the new GroupWise software at work. While overtime pay is
nice, it let scant little free time for me yesterday.
After much effort, I finally managed to land the Martin Luther King holiday off from work for
next month, so that means I'll be able to go visit New York that month. I found an incredible
deal on ticket prices out of Columbus, OH -- $116 round trip (tax included). Not bad, eh?
It almost makes the run-around I had to deal with worth the headache.
Looking back at 2000, it has been an interesting year in many respects, but there's no question
in my mind that I made the right career choice in coming to Huntington. Not to play the
"What if" game, but sometimes I do wonder how things would have gone if I had opted for
Kalamazoo instead. Just because a decision like that, made in a very short span on time,
impacts the rest of my life. And similarly, any future decisions I make from a career
standpoint will have comparable consequences, good or bad.
Here's hoping the Colts rough up the Bills on Monday night... and that Tennessee manhandles the
Bengals on Sunday...
December 5, 2000
8:01 AM EST
I was most pleased to survive this morning's newscast, all things considered. Between cameras
not functioning properly (looking very weird in their shading) and the server that handles
commercials being down, it was less than a fun newscast to be working on. Plus poor Daryl
had to direct today, and the switcher board was having major problems. Ugh. But overall
we managed to make things work well, by and large.
My sleep schedule continues to be catch-as-catch can: 9 AM-1 PM Saturday (I got up to watch
the Marshall game), 4 AM-12:30 PM Sunday, 1-8:30 PM Monday. I was in almost total zombie
mode yesterday at the post office, as by that point I hadn't slept in 24 hours. Things like
this are the disadvantage to my shift. Today I'm going to aim for the more normal 9 AM-5 PM
sleeping timeslot. Wish me luck.
Sometimes it can be interesting, or thrilling, or otherwise daring to challenge the status
quo, to challenge the way people think. In my business, producing TV news, it's a highwire
act to pull off at times, actually compelling people into processing rational thought instead
of mindlessly following like sheep, while at the same time not rocking the status quo so hard
as to get feedback from your news anchors in strong disagreement. We had a situation like that
this morning, where I stated a valid fact concerning the potential for an economic boost for
the Kentucky/West Virginia region and my anchors did not agree at all, saying that they felt
that it was "inappropriate". I wholeheartedly disagreed, but with the chaos going on this
morning I felt it better to cave and pull the tag that they didn't care for -- besides, they'd
have just ad-libbed around it next time anyway. I'm encouraged to write new and edgy stories
that interest me, but then I sometimes feel the wrath from that very creativity which my
higher-ups encourage. The training I had through the Poytner Institute told me to look at
stories not from just one angle, not as if there was one solitary "truth" that is to be
sought out, but to solicit feedback from multiple angles. And if in so doing I dare to challenge
the premise of arguments made by law enforcement officials, or even find myself diametrically
opposed from my anchors in opinion over a story, then so be it. Good journalism isn't easy.
Planning in advance these days has become a bit trickier in some respects. While this is not
the appropriate forum for me to speculate on my future opportunities... just know that TV news
producers are in high demand, especially good ones like myself. So while planning a trip to
New York for next month might be fine, planning say for the summertime can be a bit trickier,
particularly if it involves airline travel.
ABC has been living a charmed life this year when it comes to having exciting Monday night
football games. Even with a less-than-exciting Patriots/Chiefs matchup last night, the game
went down to the last play with K.C. inside the Patriot 20 yard line down by 6. Dennis Miller
doesn't particularly make me care one way or another (though I flip the channel when he starts
babbling on politics). However, some people I know at work think he's great, so who knows...
December 4, 2000
10:26 PM EST
This morning was quite busy, as I tried to take care of many things in a short amount of time.
I've been needing a new printer for quite some time, so this morning I went by Office Depot
and checked out their selection. I ultimately decided on an Epson 777, which for less than a
hundred dollars is a great deal, at least from my initial impression. Additionally, I knocked
out some Christmas shopping (though I still have much more of that to do) and mailed some
things off at the post office.
I'd love to write more, but it's time for me to get ready for work now. Another work day
December 3, 2000
9:08 PM EST
How about that Marshall football team? They've managed to win all the big ones this year,
including their comeback victory over Western Michigan. Playing (and winning) on ESPN gained
Marshall some major exposure yesterday, which is nice.
Al Del Greco hit five field goals today, including the game winner as time expired, giving the
Titans a win in Philly over the upstart Eagles. Now will all the Del Greco critics please
give him a break?!?
Speaking of the NFL, my fantasy football team, the
West Virginia Snipers gained an
important victory over the West Lafayette Mafia today to finish the regular season at 7-7.
Considering all the injury problems I've had (Tim Couch, Terrell Davis, Fred Taylor before I
traded him, Michael Westbrook, Kevin Dyson, etc.), finishing at .500 is a good accomplishment
in my mind. Our apparently first round playoff opponents will be the ATL Boom, who have been
reeling as of late.
I saw a few movies this weekend (thanks to the myriad of movie channels that I now receive),
including Summer of Sam (which I thought was outstanding) and the first half of Cocktail (a
Tom Cruise movie from the 80's). Also I caught this lyrical showdown thing on HBO where MC's
take to the stage in a one-on-one diss session against each other. It's amazing to see how
strong some of their improvisational skills are.
Another week of work begins at 11 PM. Right now it'll be a waiting game for the November
sweeps numbers. I'm hopeful of strong results, as our product now is the best it's been since
I came here with Rob, Melanie and Scott now having worked together enough to build rapport and
familiarity, both with themselves and with the viewing audience. I've even had a reporter from
another station tell me that she watches our morning show over her station's, which I take as
a compliment. The news/weather wheel approach that we utilize is very methodical, but has
proven to be very effective in delivering what our audience wants in the morning.
My scheduled raise for later this month will be tempered by the 15% I'm going to start having
taken out of my paycheck for retirement investing. I talked with Tony Cavalier (our chief
meteorologist) at length about investment strategies, and ultimately I decided to go with an
aggressive strategy that Merrill Lynch has set up (diversified investments set up for the
long term). I can afford to take hits now in the market, as I'm looking at it for the long
haul. So we'll see how it goes...
December 2, 2000
3:56 AM EST
December is here, and another year is nearing completion. It will be interesting to see how
history remembers the year 2000 (besides just the presidential circus).
Happy birthday to my little sister Mary Beth, who turned 12 on December 1st. It's hard to
believe that she's really that old now, but time flies.
Later today Western Michigan plays Marshall on ABC (at 1 PM EST). This is the first time for
Marshall to play on national network TV, and it should be interesting (though it will be quite
a challenge to beat the Broncos of Western Michigan). The irony of the matchup does not
escape me (as I almost ended up in Kalamazoo, MI, where Western Michigan is located).
I'm hoping that I'll be able to get Martin Luther King day off (January 15, 2001), as I plan
on flying up to New York that weekend. My friend Brook Gardiner is in law school at NYU, and
it'd be an ideal weekend to chill out and party in the big city. The last time I went to
visit up there in the summer of 1998, neither of us was 21, so we couldn't hit the clubs.
Plus Andy Farnam (a friend of Brook's at Princeton) is up there, so there will be several of
us to go round up some trouble in the Big Apple. Plus Brook can directly give me the first
place check for our Fantasy Football League...
that is, if I end up winning the Fantasy Bowl.
Precious shopping time remains between now and Christmas. Hopefully I'll be hearing from home soon with the all-important Christmas lists...