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Channel 7's lean news staff learns to be flexible

This is what I'm thinking:

*WKBW-TV General Manager Bill Ransom said last week that he plans to replace reporter Julie Fine after she leaves for a job in Pittsburgh in April.

You certainly can see why it would be a good idea to do it quickly. When Fine leaves, there will only be four staffers at the ABC affiliate whose job is exclusively reporting: John Borsa, Kyla Igoe, Laura Gray and Kevin Jolly. That is the fewest number of reporters-only on the local channels. Gray and Borsa also have been substitute anchors on occasion.

The rest of Channel 7's 10-member, on-air news staff (not including sports or weather) listed on its Web site are the anchors, who also do reporting. Weekend weather anchor Jennifer Stanonis also is a reporter.

Channel 7 has dealt with the reporting shortage by recently expanding its use of veteran photographers as reporters. And they have proven to be decent in their new roles. One of the photogs turned reporters, Adam Francis, has one of the best voices on local television.

John DiSciullo, Channel 7's director of news, declined a request to interview the photographer-reporters about their transition to the new role.

*According to sources, the contract of Channel 7 co-anchor Joanna Pasceri is expiring sometime in April. It is not a good time for anyone in the media to have an expiring contract. Pasceri would be wise to look outside the field. Sources say that she is likely to re-sign even if she isn't pleased with the station's offer. In these difficult economic days, management holds all the cards.

*Inquiring minds want to know: Where did Amelia Segal, who has been working weekend weather on Channel 4 this month, come from? She arrived from two stations in Erie, Pa. She is a Penn State University graduate. Segal becomes the fourth member of Channel 4's weather team. The station still has only two sports reporters since Robin Adams left.

*Inquiring minds also want to know: Where did Channel 2's newest reporter, Sarah Hopkins, come from. She arrived from a station in Hagerstown, Md., where she was a reporter and weekend anchor.

*Buffalo native David Milch, whose extraordinary television credits include writing and producing "Hill Street Blues," "NYPD Blue" and "Deadwood," is back in the saddle again at HBO. He is about to film a new pilot, "Luck," which presumably is somewhat autobiographical. It is set in the horse racing and gambling "industries," two areas that Milch is very familiar with.

When he lived in Buffalo, Milch used to take family trips to Saratoga. After he struck it big in Hollywood, Milch also owned racehorses, one of which won a 2001 Breeder's Cup title.

Milch's last project, "John in Cincinnati," didn't pay off for HBO. It was canceled after one season. But his name still attracts top-line cast members. Film legend Dustin Hoffman, who rarely does television, and TV star Dennis Farina are in the cast of "Luck."

*Inquiring minds want to know: How has Jay Leno fared locally since his post-Olympics return to "The Tonight Show?"

In his opening week, Leno on Channel 2 beat David Letterman on Channel 4 by 4.8 to 3.8. In the second week, Letterman won, 4.2 to 4.0, and he was ahead on the three days they competed in the third week (Letterman was off Thursday and Friday for CBS' coverage of the NCAA tournament). Letterman generally beat Leno in this market before Conan O'Brien took over "Tonight." The good news for NBC is Leno's ratings here are much higher than Conan's. However, the demographics aren't in and they could be key long-term. O'Brien was presumed to be more popular than Leno with young viewers.

*Inquiring minds also are curious about evening news ratings locally since Diane Sawyer took over "World News Tonight" on ABC from Charles Gibson. After three weeks in March, it is an extremely tight race locally. NBC's "Nightly News" with Brian Williams averaged a first place 6.5 on Channel 2. Sawyer and ABC averaged a 6.1 rating on Channel 7, only 0.2 ahead of "The CBS Evening News" with Katie Couric. Sawyer and Couric were tied before Couric's newscast took a hit from the lead-in it got from CBS' NCAA basketball coverage Thursday and Friday. Of course, Couric normally gets a stronger lead-in from Channel 4 than Sawyer gets from Channel 7. But Gibson was a clear second here with the same handicap.

*CBS isn't making it easy for Buffalo viewers to watch both basketball teams that advanced to the Sweet 16 from HSBC Arena on Sunday. Syracuse's regional semifinal with Butler starts at 7:07 p.m. Thursday, with West Virginia's regional semifinal final against Washington schedule to start at 7:27 p.m. Since Buffalo is an area of natural interest for Syracuse, that means Channel 4 will stick with its game and West Virginia will be seen only at halftime of the Syracuse game and after the Syracuse game ends. Of course, West Virginia fans can go to their computers and watch that game on March Madness On Demand.

*Memo to fans of NBC's "Community" who were upset that the sitcom was pre-empted on Channel 2 Thursday for a paid program on prostate cancer treatment sponsored by Roswell Park. Channel 2 carried "Community" on Saturday afternoon. If you missed it, the original episode is available on the Time Warner Cable feature Prime Time on Demand.


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