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Tale of tape: Ch. 2's skating charade doesn't fly

Channel 2 took the prize for gold-plated, embarrassing idiocy Thursday night in trying to build phony suspense for Kimmie Meissner's taped performance at the Turin Olympics.

At around 10:15 p.m., anchor Maryalice Demler was "live" in East Amherst from the home of some of Meissner's Western New York relatives. Among the relatives there was Leo Roth, a Rochester sportswriter who covers the Buffalo Bills.

"What are Kimmie's chances tonight?" Demler asked Roth.

It was a loaded question and you had to feel for Roth. A journalist's response might have been: "Well, Maryalice, she actually skated six hours ago and since it was carried live on CBC I imagine most viewers know she didn't medal but your audience will enjoy her performance."

But Roth understandably was playing relative first, journalist second. "I think she's got a real good shot," he said.

With that, Demler moved over to interview two of Meissner's young cousins. "She's going to win," offered one optimist.

Maybe members of Meissner's family didn't want to know how she performed and were happy to take part in a charade that might enhance the audience for their relative.

But Demler is a journalist and should have known better. The 10:15 p.m. report was even more startling because earlier in the evening Channel 2 had dealt with the situation smartly. Demler introduced one of the two graphics during the 6 p.m. news that showed where Meissner had finished after telling viewers to look away if they didn't want to know. The results were also shown the same way during NBC's "Nightly News" and the 7:30 p.m. "Olympic Zone" program.

Of course, the best way for those wishing to remain in the dark about who won Olympic events before taped coverage begins is to avoid local news altogether.

At 10:15 p.m., Demler was behaving like an actress, not a journalist. She probably could have gotten away with saying something like this: "Kimmie skated hours ago and you may know how she did. But some relatives have intentionally avoided the results and remain hopeful."

That also would have been helpful to Roth, who was put in the awkward position of predicting something that had already happened. It was the equivalent of asking him on Monday during the Bills season how he thought the Bills would do the previous day.

As idiotic as that live report was before the competition, Demler's report at the top of the midnight Channel 2 newscast was almost as laughable. Incredibly, Demler never said where Meissner finished. Perhaps the anchor assumed that anyone watching the news had already witnessed Meissner's sixth-place performance and didn't need that information. But undoubtedly, some people were watching who avoided the Olympics coverage.

I suppose we should thank Channel 2 for its frequent comedy relief. We needed some laughs because of all the disappointing performances from American performers.

Figure skating silver medalist Sasha Cohen didn't quite pull a Bode Miller, but her two early spills Thursday cost her the gold medal and she realized how fortunate she was to medal at all. Her performance was carried live on CBC at around 4:15 p.m. Thursday, with the Canadian analysts noting her reputation for falling and speculating that she was skating injured after a camera focused on a wrap around her thigh.

NBC's team of Tom Hammond, Sandra Bezic, Scott Hamilton and Dick Button was all over the groin injury issue before Cohen skated. After her falls, Bezic quickly noted "this will be a fight to be on the podium now." Button praised Cohen's "exquisite" choreography and lines, before Hammond perfectly summarized Cohen's unspoken post-skating thoughts. "But those sad eyes tell the story."

Cohen's afternoon performance may have given hope to Meissner fans, but it wasn't to be.

"She doesn't have the maturity of the other women," Bezic said. "She's only 16. She's still growing into her body."

"She knows she made a couple of uncharacteristic mistakes," Hamilton added. "She'll learn from this. I'm sure she'll be back."

The analysts appeared to be on the same wavelength as the judges in assessing Meissner and the other performers. The one thing they surprisingly didn't do before the scores were revealed was assess what place the skaters deserved to finish or say immediately afterward whether Cohen deserved the silver medal.

Cohen was surprised, saying before NBC signed off that she thought she might not get a medal. She also told a fawning Katie Couric on the "Today" show Friday morning that she felt getting a silver was "generous."

Cohen gets points for honesty. Unfortunately, Channel 2 News damaged its reputation because it never seemed to fully learn that honesty would have been the best policy during the Olympics.

>By the numbers

Numbers don't lie. The final hour of the ladies' skating final Thursday, which included the performances of the top six skaters, averaged a strong 19.7 rating on Channel 2. The NBC affiliate averaged a 17.5 rating for its four hours of prime time coverage.

But the "American Idol" results show (16.8) on Channel 29 won the 8 p.m. hour over the Olympic coverage (12.2), "Survivor" (12.0) on Channel 4 and the first bloated hour of "Dancing with the Stars" (11.5) on Channel 7.

"Dancing with the Stars" was the 9 p.m. hour local winner over the Olympics by a slim margin, 17.5 to 16.9. Of course, the victorious reality shows had one advantage over the Olympics -- they were carried live.


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