I worry about Victoria Hong. But then, I always have.
Her rep inside Ch. 4 has usually included the fact that she's not the most naturally proficient news reader on the staff. Everything else a TV news personality needs, though, she's got in such superabundance that she may well be the most popular current TV news figure in Buffalo. At the very least, she's probably the one who inspires the fewest negative feelings.
Hong, who wakes Ch. 4 up in the mornings ahead of CBS' lag-behind "Early Show," has a new gig, as most Buffalo TV scholars know by now: hosting "Winging It Buffalo Style" at 8 a.m. on Ch. 23, Ch. 4's "sister station."
She wasn't there on Monday. Still on vacation, even though no one said so. I watched it anyway.
A good thing. I had a great time. It's utter garbage -- especially compared with the well-oiled network morning machinery opposite it: "Today," "Good Morning America" and "The Early Show." And that's what I loved about it. It was, so help me, a 21st century version of the kind of transparent local programming put together out of spit, Band-Aids and advertiser pandering that we used to see in the early 1950s, when everyone was making TV up as they went along.
The difference is that now, with bad consultants yelling at gullible managements on the right way to do it and very little money to do it with, it all flies by at the tempo of an overcaffeinated sugar rush. It's as if you're watching a show by those who just got back from a quick stop at Tim Hortons for lots of coffee and doughnuts.
Watching it was a bit like having your living room invaded by chipmunks. I suspect, in fact, that Hong's greatest utility on "Winging It" is to give the show much-needed natural sweetness and dignity at the center.
Without her, it was a riot to watch. The hosts, besides Hong, are Joe Arena and Ch. 23's Allie Hartwick, an attractive young woman who was obviously taught to "put a smile in her voice" at some point and is now so relentless with it that she flirts with sounding a wee bit disturbed. Imagine a Buffalo version of a valley girl and you've got Hartwick.
The good news is that underneath all that relentless artificial good cheer she's ready for some good, old-fashioned Punch and Judy back and forth with Joe Arena. While reporting on Oprah Winfrey's YouTube statement that she had no intention of saving ABC's canceled soaps, Arena opined with pleasant gratuitousness that those shows haven't exactly aged well. Whereupon Hartwick said with pure venom coursing through all that sugar "maybe you won't age too well. And maybe we'll get rid of you."
At that second, I sat up on my couch and decided, "By God, this is getting interesting."
It reminded me of those moments on primordial Buffalo daytime television in the early '50s when Ch. 4's daytime institution Mildred Miller would treat her husband, Bill, as if he were the hired help -- and she was sick to death of being overcharged for his services.
In my view, Arena is one of those very gifted all-purpose male broadcasters who can carry off being the host of a female-directed daytime show without losing a drop of testosterone. Once upon a time, back in Paleozoic TV times, Van Miller -- yes, Van Miller -- could do the same thing.
Well, so what if Hartwick's Monday live chat with TMZ guy Gary Trock seemed to have been cut short after we got a whole segment of unwarmed-over Friday news (Lindsay Lohan; Charlie Sheen losing one of his goddesses). One can guess that the TMZ people figured they'd had enough of "Winging It Buffalo Style" on Monday and moved on to the next morning show they needed to report live to.
What was the absolute making of "Winging It" on Monday was the cooking segment. The usual guests are enfranchised area chefs. Monday's was WIVB and WNLO photographer Mike Sobieraj from down the hall.
Mike, you see, was coming to make pierogis for Dyngus Day, and he proceeded to make sure we all knew to pronounce "pee-are-AHH-gees" (hard G).
Mike (he was the sort of fellow everyone instantly calls by his first name) came on wearing a baseball cap turned backward, a white T-shirt with "Poland" written on it, a scraggly beard and the well-rounded shoulders of a happy Buffalo boy who hasn't stood up straight in 15 years.
I love the guy.
So here's Joe, paying attention to the show's demographic imperatives as they're both slapping pierogi filling together in the "Winging It" kitchen: "This is great to do with kids, right?"
Here's Mike, in reply to Joe: "Yeah, but they're going to mess it up."
To paraphrase what they say in Las Vegas, "Winner, winner, pierogi dinner."
I'm deeply sorry that Hong was missing on Monday. But, Mike, the "chef" with the classic, up-from-slacker personality of young TV news shooters everywhere, is a local star in the making.
Get that boy a seat on the couch.
Hey, Mike, what do YOU have to say about the upcoming royal wedding?
Great local TV.