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It's not glamorous, it's not Hollywood, it's not a career's worth of police work condensed onto one highlight reel and neatly edited for prime time.

Rather, it's what really goes on behind the badge -- the legwork, the long hours of interviews and investigation.

It's called "Behind the Star," and it's educational, it's enlightening, and it's a finalist for a prestigious national television award.

A weekly series produced by the Niagara County Sheriff's Department as an informational public service, "Behind the Star" competed against 676 other submissions in the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors' annual competition for public safety programming.

The program is one of three finalists for the honor. Representatives of the Lockport Community Cable Commission will be in San Diego Sept. 11 when the winners are announced. Chairwoman Jane Haenle is keeping her fingers crossed.

"This is a really phenomenal honor for us," she said. "This award honors government programming, and we're competing against cities and communities where the (local) government runs professional cable operations."

"Behind the Star" was up against slick programs with operating budgets of up to $200,000, Lockport Community Television publicity and outreach coordinator Patt Fagan said.

But Sheriff's Deputy Nick Eberhard produces "Behind the Star" on a "shoestring" budget, Ms. Fagan said, a fact that makes the recognition all the more remarkable.

"This is a real small-time operation, so we're thrilled," Ms. Fagan said. "This is a very competitive (contest) and is getting more so all the time . . . this is sort of like our Emmy or Grammy."

A 17-year veteran of the Sheriff's Department, Eberhard became interested in video production after taking LCTV's public access training classes 10 years ago.

"I thought a regular show would enhance community awareness" of the services offered by the department, while detailing for residents where their tax dollars go, Eberhard said.

Sheriff Thomas Beilein liked the idea, and a local version of the popular, syndicated "Cops" show was born. The show celebrated its first anniversary last month.

Presented in magazine style and hosted by Sheriff's Sgt. Ross Annable, the show features interviews and features on different segments of the department.

An "on patrol" segment follows deputies in action -- everything from motorcycle fatalities to house fires to domestic incidents have appeared on the air -- while other features offer crime prevention tips and information on services such as crime victims' assistance and alternatives to incarceration.

"We have received positive feedback from each (episode)," Beilein said. "Deputy Eberhard has been the driving force behind making this happen."

"Behind the Star" airs in seven Western New York counties with a viewership of about 300,000, Ms. Fagan said. Locally, it is seen on Tuesdays at 10 p.m., Thursdays at 6 p.m., Fridays at 3:30 p.m. and Saturdays at 3 and 10 p.m. on LCTV's Channel 21.

Eberhard -- who balances road patrol and inmate transport duties in addition to his TV chores -- does all the filming and editing for the program, utilizing facilities at LCTV.

He said that he's encountered little resistance from the public while filming the live shots.

"Most people are very intimidated by the camera -- they're on their best behavior when I'm around," he said. "A couple of drunks didn't take too well to it," but the situations were handled without difficulty.

"Probably 90 percent (of those filmed) have no problem with signing a release" to use the footage on the air, Eberhard said. "The only ones who (resist) are the ones who've been caught red-handed breaking the law and don't want the exposure."

Eberhard credits the county district attorney's office for the legal research necessary to air such a program, LCTV for furnishing the facilities and Beilein "for his undying dedication to community awareness and service."

"As much feedback as we get, and as successful as the show has been, it's just one part of our community service division that Sheriff Beilein feels is important to Niagara County residents," Annable said.

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