It's been a bit more than a year since WKBW-TV began its extreme makeover, dumping Eyewitness News and its memorable musical theme in favor of the generic "7 News." So far, there has been no perceptible ratings benefit.
That's no surprise. Western New York is legendary for its resistance to change, which worked to Channel 7's advantage when it was No. 1 in the news.
The station still has a strong veteran anchor team in Keith Radford and Susan Banks, who deliver the best happy talk in town. That hasn't kept viewers, and 7 News now appears ready to try anything to get viewers back, including a report on sex toys and a November sweeps series, "Hooker Alley," that premiered at about 1 a.m. Tuesday because of Monday Night Football. It would be shocking, if sweeps series about prostitutes hadn't been done so often before.
7 News also is playing the patriotic card with a new feature, "Hometown Heroes," asking viewers to recommend active military personnel to highlight. Hopefully, its efforts to honor the military will be done much better than they were on Veteran's Day when the faces of about a dozen soldiers who have lost their lives were shown without being identified by name.
7 News has some new faces in its lineup over the past year and the additions are good ones. It also has significantly improved the diversity of its staff.
John Borsa, who is doing the "Hooker Alley" report, arrived from local radio with one of the best voices in the area. Ken Houston, the 5:30 p.m. anchor, also has a great voice that commands a viewer's attention. Aaron Baskerville, a recent hire, has a sharp on-air presence. Derrick Ward has a decent voice and presentation style. Ginger Geoffery, the former Empire Sports Network reporter who was given a hairstyle makeover, is soft-spoken and competent.
Despite those hires, 7 News remains understaffed compared to its competitors. That may explain why all of its anchors do double duty on voiceover reports on national stories rather than cover local ones.
Last week, Melanie Pritchard, who is anchoring weekends, did a voiceover on a video game story that noted that people can play against each other even if they live in different cities.
"The only way I can tell where (opponents) are from is by their accents," said a young player named Alex Rich. He didn't have a Western New York accent and his hometown wasn't identified.
That's often the case with health reports voiced over by morning co-anchor Joanna Pasceri and "Connect with Kids" reports voiced over by Helen Tederous, the co-anchor of the low-rated and pointless "PM Magazine."
Clearly, at Channel 7 the accent is on voicing over other news organization's stories and making them appear to be your own. I'd much prefer stories that actually have some local relevance, like reporter Julie Fine's story about the impact of Erie County's budget woes on the Buffalo Zoo. One thing is clear: When you hear Fine's accent, there's no doubt where she is from.
7 News is doing its best to help the local economy, trying to attract viewers with various giveaways for gas money, Niagara Falls vacations and shopping sprees.
It also is going to extremes to get an audience during the sweeps with a local version of ABC's popular reality show, "Extreme Makeover," reported by Stephanie Hoey.
Viewers meet three locals who underwent cosmetic surgery. One woman got a nose job and chin implants, with her husband concerned about the affect of the surgery on the couple's children. He was able to rationalize it: "We always tell the kids, 'Have a goal, have a dream and always reach for it,'" he said. "Mom never gave up and hopefully the kids will see that."
Somehow, I doubt that most parents hope their kids dream about getting nose jobs.
The same day, the ubiquitous Hoey was there with another "hard-hitting" report about what goes on behind-the-scenes at the game show "Jeopardy." It really was just a dumb promo for the series carried by Channel 7. Host Alex Trebek proudly illustrated his ignorance of Buffalo in an interview. And after Hoey said you don't necessarily have to be brilliant to win "Jeopardy," a contestant said "I think it is more luck than it is actual skill."
Yeah, Ken Jennings, the $2 million plus man of "Jeopardy," is just plain lucky. The comment was dumb, putting it in the story even dumber.
But it wasn't Channel 7's dumbest sweeps moment. That came during the 11 p.m. newscast last Friday, when Tederous did a report on "Sex Toy Parties" that seemed to be a parody of local news and ended with Banks and Radford in hysterics.
"If I brought home the Love Shack snack pack," said Radford during happy talk, "I don't know what my wife would do."
Banks, unsuccessfully trying to hold back laughter, replied: "Why don't you try it?"
Then it was off to the weather and Kristin Wedemeyer, who was suppressing laughter before asking: "How do we recover from this?"
Somehow, I doubt the voters who thought moral values was a key election issue are laughing along with stories about makeovers, sex toys and hookers. Despite its good hires, it is hard to see how 7 News can recover with stories and giveaways that laughably prove how desperate it has become.