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WBBZ to debut political roundtable in new mall studio

Former WIVB-TV anchorman Mylous Hairston will return to television at 7 p.m. Thursday as moderator of "Political Buzz," the first program to be taped in the newly built studio of WBBZ in Eastern Hills Mall.

The 30-minute political roundtable will feature discussion and debate by a revolving cast of four commentators.

"Each week, we'll have three to four local pundits, a real mixed bag of people," said Bob Koshinski, WBBZ general manager and vice president. "One of the first topics of discussion will be the upcoming GOP primary for the congressional seat held by Kathy Hochul."

Scheduled guests for the first show include Bob Davis, former Erie County Republican Party chairman, and Steve Pigeon, former Erie County Democratic chairman.

The $2 million studio, located in the mall next to Macy's, was unveiled Monday. Unique elements – including tiered audience seating for 100 and a glass wall abutting the mall concourse that allows shoppers to take in studio action – are intended to link the station with the community.

Completion of the studio represents a turning point for Phil Arno, station owner. Initially hampered by a lease disagreement between WBBZ and mall owner Mountain Development of Woodland Park, N.J., the project took months longer than expected.

"It's a milestone," said Arno. "This is what I've been shooting for four years. Even before we had the station, this is what it was all about."

Arno purchased the station – formerly WNGS-TV, which had a faith-based format – in 2010 for more than $2.75 million. He started with "classic television" programming and contracted with the network Me-TV (Memorable Entertainment Television), which provides TV "oldies," including "The Honeymooners," "Perry Mason" and "The Mary Tyler Moore Show."

Arno also made a bold move.

"I put [the studio] into a mall, and I put 100 seats in here because it's all about connecting with Western New York. That's the formula," said Arno. "This is a shopping mall. We hope it will be very easy for people to take part in a TV show taping. There's easy parking. They can have dinner, do a little shopping and take in a TV show. I'm counting on that element to give us energy."

WBBZ's 3,000-square-foot studio, with its glass wall, is similar in design to those used by some of the national morning shows. In this case, though, mallgoers will also have a window on other programs, including a planned nightly entertainment show – call it a local "Tonight Show" – that has become Arno's pet project.

"Spectators can stand outside and watch the action inside," said Koshinski. "It's about as close to a fishbowl television studio as you'll get."

Arno plans to invite mall shoppers to take a seat inside and watch the live tapings. He also want to make them part of the entertainment.

"We'll place a camera to capture the people looking into the studio," Arno said, "and I would have a monitor so the people could watch themselves, too."

Independently produced programming has also surfaced on WBBZ. "Buffalo Backstage," a homegrown music program that launched on Saturdays in October 2011, lasted only three episodes, but "Come Dine With Me – WNY!," a weekly half-hour restaurant promotion hosted by restaurateur Russell Salvatore, continues to hold the 6 p.m. Thursday slot.

Arno's primary goal remains to produce programs in-house, admitting that it hasn't been easy.
"It's been a real roller coaster ride, that's for sure," Arno said. "It's just like in any other small business startup, but television is an expensive business. It's pretty complicated to pull off, but for me the process is not over, not until we start producing the shows that I want produced."

To make room for "Political Buzz" at 7 p.m. Thursday, "Cash Cab," a game show out of New York City, will move to 6:30 p.m. "Political Buzz" will repeat at 9 a.m. Fridays and 10 a.m. Sundays.

WBBZ is seen on Time-Warner Cable channel 5, Verizon FiOS channel 5, Dish Network channel 5 and DirecTV channel 67.

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