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Channel 7's 'The Now' hints at local appetite for softer news program

WKBW-TV (Channel 7) certainly needs more local programming since it is the only station among the Big Three that doesn't offer a 10 o'clock news or weekend morning newscasts.

So I applaud its effort in premiering a new, more informal 7 p.m. weeknight news program, "The Now, Buffalo."

I'm just not sure its well-done and informative blend of health and consumer features done locally and by other E.W. Scripps stations is likely to attract many viewers opposite the popular game show "Wheel of Fortune" on WIVB-TV (Channel 4) and the celebrity news on "Entertainment Tonight" on WGRZ-TV (Channel 2).

However, the ratings for the first two nights of "The Now" were encouraging.

Channel 7 was third in the time slot on opening night, but the 4.2 rating it received is higher than many of its regular newscasts. And the rating was still a solid 3.8 on Wednesday for second place in the time slot. Channel 2 was third with a 2.2 for the mayoral debate.

The relatively strong start for "The Now" suggests there may be an appetite for softer news after dinner.

Even if its ratings eventually fall, Channel 7 will receive the benefit of lifting the profiles of anchor Hannah Buehler and meteorologist Aaron Mentkowski.

On Tuesday and Wednesday nights, Buehler was energetic and enthusiastic in introducing many of the features. I like her voice – no small thing these days in local TV news. She stumbled over some words on opening night, but she cleared that up on Wednesday and hasn't changed my initial impression when she started anchoring weekends that she could be a local TV star.

She might have made some advertisers cringe from an ad-lib following story about teachers and parents buying school supplies online.

"I'm all for that, online for everything," said Buehler, seconds before commercials aired.

To illustrate the informal nature of the program, Mentkowski gives his frequent weather reports in casual shirts and without a tie. He also has to share more about himself and his family life. That's a good thing since Mentkowski needs to loosen up. He has the least personality of Channel 7's three male meteorologists – Andy Parker and Mike Randall being the other two.

The first two nights included softer news stories about an 11-year-old girl playing in a boys football league and aspiring to make the NFL someday, some cheerleading for the Buffalo Bills, the introduction of vegetables packaged like pasta, new treatments for headaches and preventing other diseases, the rising prices of groceries, some national news stories, and weather. Lots of weather. Mentkowski shows up three or four times in the 30 minutes.

Thankfully, none of the crime stories that give some viewers dinnertime headaches appeared.

Channel 7 could do a better job identifying when the stories come from other Scripps station and are localized. During the headache story, the narrator of the Scripps story sounded so much like Buehler that I wondered if the story was local. That was cleared up when Channel 7 reporter Ali Touhey localized the Scripps story with an interview with a prominent local neurologist, Dr. Laszlo Mechtler (whose name was misspelled).

The tipping story did surprise a little. I suspect most people feel a 20 percent tip at restaurants is a good one, but the etiquette expert said that was normal. I'm sure restaurants that do a lot of takeout business were happy to have viewers being told a 10 percent tip is expected since many takeout customers don't realize that.

Randall showed up doing an amusing story about a 48 Hour Film Festival "Best Of" screening happening Sept. 7. Filmmakers get two days to make a 5 to 7-minute film and must include an extension cord, a special character and the same line of dialogue: "Who said that?"

It's a question Channel 7's advertisers may be asking after Buehler's online shopping ad-lib.


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