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Every morning, there's clear evidence of dumbed-down, depleted TV news

You had to see Savannah Guthrie's Thursday morning interview with Aaron Sorkin on "The Today Show" to understand. Now that Ann Curry's ascendancy to the all-important Katie/Meredith co-anchor chair next to Matt Lauer has revealed "The Today Show" to be vulnerable enough in Nielsen world to lose occasionally to "Good Morning, America," the beautiful Guthrie is sometimes talked about as a high-glam replacement for Curry's conspicuous lack of cuteness and folksiness.

Guthrie was talking to Sorkin about his HBO show, "The Newsroom," which premieres at 10 p.m. Sunday. (See my preview of the summer series on Page 3 of Sunday's Spotlight section.) What is obvious from the first 10 seconds of "The Newsroom's" debut episode is that Sorkin knows as much about the dumbing down of TV news as anyone alive.

Under those circumstances, Guthrie could think only of auditioning for the predicted vacancy in "Today's" Perk and Cute and Just Folks Chair by asking the Oscar-winning screenwriter ("The Social Network") if he ever eliminated any dialogue he'd written for being too "Sorkin-y."

Sorkin – a well-bred fellow every bit as gentlemanly as he is brilliant – helpfully replied that wasn't quite the word he used. He preferred the word "bad" to describe such dialogue.

It was Sorkin's indulgent and generous smile, full of "My God, I'm talking to an idiot" courtliness that confirmed for me why I never watch morning TV.

I've usually thought it barbaric – with exceptions. It's only getting worse.

What local morning TV-watchers are now getting used to is the upcoming departure of one of local morning TV's authentic stars, Victoria Hong, from WIVB.

The piece-by-piece demolition of the WIVB-TV news team that was once so proud of inheriting the supremacy and the mantle of superiority that came from its previous ownership by this newspaper has now become almost funny.

I have no doubt that it doesn't seem that way to those who are still trapped there, trying to uphold standards now clearly considered corporately pointless by current owner LIN Media. But, with the announcements in the last few months that John Murphy, Paul Peck and now Hong would depart, and join that station's all-but-vanished middle-class, vestigial believers in local news might think it almost cries out for a couple pages of transcendent Sorkinesque dialogue. (I have another idea, as you'll see.)

It isn't that there aren't decent new recruits to WIVB's ranks – the husband-wife team of Lou Raguse and Emily Guggenmos and the tall, generic sports anchor Steve Vesey replacing Murphy – but there's ?been only one unquestioned good one, Diana Fairbanks, a woman whose brisk, on-air efficiency would have made her a worthy hire even in WIVB's greatest ?post-News era, when its co-anchors were Carol Jasen and Bob Koop (who, as one ?of his colleagues once mordantly put it, actually understood the news he was reading).

Fairbanks is that good. But as the merry conga line of WIVB employees dances out of WIVB's Elmwood Avenue door (early ship jumper Mylous Hairston just materialized to put WBBZ into the local news business with a political show that premiered last night), you do have to wonder if anyone at LIN Media has any interest at all in Buffalo community perception of one of its properties.

WIVB's investment in new weather equipment merely confirmed what ?declining sports airtime indicated about LIN's ideas about Buffalo and its broadcast news "product:" that weather – even in summer – matters more than sports in Buffalo.

Undoubtedly, it felt confirmed in that by what are no doubt research numbers for recognizability and community affection for Don Paul, but no matter how you slice it, there's something profoundly stupid about LIN's absentee ownership of Channel 4 conceiving of Buffalo as only a town of the weather-afflicted.

What could be more typical of dumb cliché-mongers living elsewhere than the WNY=Weather equation?

The idea that your sports staff only delivers scores and highlights – all of them old news after Internet postings and radio and cable reports – is a monumental insult to Buffalo's sports audience and every knowledgeable member of every ?Buffalo TV sports staff who has commented on Buffalo sports wittily and knowledgeably.

All due respect to Don Paul, I'd like to hear a lot more from smart sports news anchors about, say, the deficiencies of the Regier/Ruff management of the Sabres than his bunch on the higher meaning ?of barometric pressure.

Hong's disengagement from her godforsaken, crack-of-dawn gig at Channel 4 may, in fact, have been visible during the coverage of the recent grisly murder at ECMC. The story was breaking in the morning when Hong was on the air, a slight oddity for such a story at that particular time of day.

Hong – whose reputation with colleagues as a Teleprompter reader has never been particularly high – was suddenly put in the most difficult and most demanding job in all of TV news: being an anchor when major news was breaking.

Judging from my phone calls that day (let's say her viewers were harsh, to put it mildly), she did not distinguish herself. But then, any visible TV news indication of exactly how the sausage is made would be bound to sour viewers' appetites. (News-gathering isn't pretty. Nor is it easy – a subject, among many, about which "The Newsroom" gives you some definitive TV fiction.)

What Hong had, though, was a smile and personality that put her lovableness through the roof. She is, in her way, a major figure in Buffalo TV news history and one that can't help but carry a lot of audience affection out the studio door when she leaves.

I have no doubt that some corporate genius at LIN will notice the long parade of community favorites racing out Channel 4's door and propose, through congressional lobbyists, some kind of Talent Depletion Allowance for ruthless cost-cutting TV news owners who are demolishing their own properties.
After all, you can't just improve the bottom line by sinking expenditures to the bottom. You need buoying income from somewhere.

In the meantime, someone in the rich and roistering community of Buffalonians in Hollywood ought to take full note of what's happening now at WIVB and wonder if there isn't a hilarious one-shot fictional movie in it all - if not an ongoing half-hour sitcom, a la "Buffalo Bill," complete with insiders using press contacts for their own purposes and grabbing the first driftwood that floats by while the ship sinks faster than anyone could possibly have imagined.

There may not even be enough time these days for a brisk on-deck chorus of "Nearer, My God, to Thee."

:email: jsimon@buffnews.com