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It sounds as if the 'big change' is return of Eyewitness News

A little theme music, please. Dahm, dahm, dahm, da da dahm, da da da dahm . . .

It sure looks like the Eyewitness News theme and format is coming back to Channel 7 on Monday.

On the 11 p. m. Wednesday newscast, Channel 7 co-anchors Joanna Pasceri and Keith Radford were part of a Big Tease in which they said a "big change" is coming Monday that "everyone will be talking about."

Newscasts usually tease things that are coming up in five minutes, not five days.

"We're pretty sure Western New York is going to like it," said Pasceri. "The thing is it is a surprise, so top secret that they won't even tell us all about it. I don't know. Do you know?"

The question was directed at Radford, who added: "We don't even know, folks. Things are going to be very different here. Hopefully we'll still be here."

He was kidding about that. Radford concluded the exchange by predicting "everyone is going to be talking about" the change that is revealed Monday.

Perhaps coincidentally, the anchor exchange came the same day a note ran in this column about the recent return of the Eyewitness News theme on the 11 p. m. news, along with the memorable line, "Do you know where your children are?"

It was unclear if the theme will stay past the station's celebration of its 50th anniversary or if speculation that staffers have heard about the possible return of the Eyewitness News format has any foundation. Staffers now believe the speculation has foundation.

Before going with the item, I called Channel 7 News Director Glen Horn, who declined to comment and said he would pass off the question to General Manager Bill Ransom. Ransom, who hasn't returned calls for months, didn't return this one.

The dropping of the Eyewitness News theme and format in 2003 is considered to have been one of the biggest mistakes made by Channel 7 management as its news ratings have deteriorated over the years.

In a story in The Buffalo News in June about the rise and fall of Channel 7 News, former Channel 7 General Manager Phil Beuth said of the dropping of the theme: "It was stupid. It was the franchise."

Irv Weinstein, the legendary former anchor, added the theme was "almost Pavlovian," drawing people to their set.

The best thing to happen to Channel 7 in years was the carriage dispute between LIN TV and Time Warner Cable that has resulted in Channel 4 news being available in only about 50 percent of the market. As a result, more viewers have sampled Channel 7 and it has been in second place behind Channel 2 since Channel 4 went off cable.

Now would be a good time for Channel 7 to take even more advantage of Channel 4's plight by making a musical move. Additionally, Monday is only three days before the beginning of the November, which set advertising rates.

One local television executive noted a theme change wouldn't cost Channel 7 anything, which is a good thing. However, the executive didn't see a theme change as big or substantive news.

"If the lead anchors don't know, how much substantive change can there be?" the executive added. Good question.

If the Big Tease isn't about a return to Eyewitness News, it is hard to imagine anything else that could get the community talking as much. But for amusement purposes, let's consider some alternatives.

*Weinstein is coming back to anchor. Hey, he's in John McCain's demographic and he sure could give the station a big bounce in November. Maybe his stock portfolio is even down to the point he needs to leave retirement. However, I can't see it happening. By all reports, Irv is very happy in retirement in California.

*Channel 7 is going to hire more reporters. Now that would certainly be a big change that Radford and Pasceri could cheer. The station's news department is understaffed, compared to rivals Channel 2 and Channel 4. But the chances of that happening are about equal to the chances you'll hear something positive said about a Democrat on a WBEN-AM daytime talk show.

*"AM Buffalo" is being canceled. That's asking way too much. After all, this fall the station already ash-canned "PM Buffalo," the program that was a drag on the early afternoon newscasts. But it would get people talking.

*A new set is coming: If that is what this is about, people will be talking all right. They'll be talking about how incredibly silly the Big Tease was.

*It made a news deal with Time Warner Cable: After all, Channel 7 and TWC have a common enemy now - Channel 4. Perhaps they will team up to produce a 24-hour news channel. Nah. Then they'd have to hire some people.

*A new owner is coming: I imagine that would be music to the ears of everyone who works at Channel 7 since a new owner might be willing to spend money and really help it produce a better newscast at a time that Channel 4 is vulnerable.

apergament@buffnews.com

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