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Wanted: Investors for local TV station WBBZ

WBBZ-TV owner Phil Arno had an ambitious plan four years ago after buying the independent station.

He wanted to do plenty of local programming to augment the classic TV programs the station is carrying from the Me-TV network.

People in the television business thought his heart was in the right place but felt he was acting like a character who pretended to be crazy in a classic show, “M*A*S*H,” carried by his station – Corporal Klinger.

Since then, WBBZ has carried several local programs, including a summer game show, “Bragging Rights,” “The Fred Jackson Show” and “The Bucky and Sully Show.”

Now Arno says he needs investors to fulfill his dream to produce more of them and go well beyond carrying classic television programs via Me-TV.

“I’m looking for an expansion of local programming,” said Arno. “Me-TV is great and does a good job for us. Couldn’t be happier with it, but I still want to do quality local programs. We are doing the most we can do on a budget right now. I need working capital. Local programming done right and being significant takes money. We’ve done most of our programs on a very tight budget.”

If he doesn’t get any investors, Arno said he will be looking at all his options, including a possible sale of the station. Arno hasn’t hired a broker to seek buyers, but he said he has had some inquiries from people interested in buying it.

“This is not from a position of desperation,” said Arno of looking for investors. “It is from a position of impatience. I could continue to grow the station slowly. But I’m very impatient. I’m about 180 years old since I started.”

Then the 64-year-old proceeded to do a little bragging of his own, saying WBBZ has the “best, most creative and enthusiastic staff” in town and claiming with some justification that the station on a full day basis gets better ratings than WNYO, WNLO and, in some time periods, even Fox affiliate WUTV.

Arno still has a little Corporal Klinger in him. He optimistically estimates the station is worth five to 10 times what he paid for it. He believes WBBZ has significantly grown in value because of its cable channel position (Channel 5) and market penetration. He said he has invested another $3 million to $4 million since buying the station for around $3 million with money from his share of a $13 million lawsuit award after he was injured in a helicopter accident in Southern California.

If he had the money to invest, Arno said he would start a local news department and would become No. 2 in the market.

That Donald Trump-like claim almost is funnier than anything on any of the old sitcoms his station carries. He should ask the owners of WNYO – which once upon a time tried to get into the news business before quickly dumping the news department – how easy that turned out to be.

Arno added that the station is now making money, a claim that would be easier to buy if Arno was finally taking a salary. He acknowledged the station isn’t making enough money for him to do that, but added that is irrelevant.

“That’s not what I am in it for,” said Arno. “If I was interested in making money, I would have stayed where I was five years ago. I wouldn’t have gone into the TV station. It wasn’t for the money.”

His plans now are to see if all his bragging about what the station has become will pay off.

In the meantime, he said he plans to bring back “Bragging Rights” by no later than January. “We got more comments and more positive feedback from it than just about anything we’ve done,” said Arno.

He has a lot to be proud of, remains optimistic and still dismisses the crazy talk of four years ago.

“Just the opposite,” said Arno. “We’ve proved that we can do a great job. I think we are tremendously successful.”

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One of the side takeaways from Channel 7’s decision to concentrate so much on weather on its new morning show even during a beautiful weather week is that it also unintentionally served to remind viewers how little news there can be to cover around here.

Channel 7 has three news reporters on the morning show who scarcely have had anything of importance to cover and are just filling time.

It is a reminder that while local news departments have expanded the hours they air because that’s where they get 35 to 40 percent of their revenue, that doesn’t mean there is any more news to cover.

Another prime example of how little news there is to cover around here arrives at 10 p.m. weeknights, where Channel 4 has expanded its newscast on WNLO from 30 minutes to an hour.

Local viewers apparently have caught on to how much fill there is in the second half-hour.

On Tuesday night, a syndicated “Seinfeld” rerun on WUTV at 10:30 p.m. had a higher rating than the 10:30 p.m. portion of Channel 4’s newscast.

On the second night of the return of “Seinfeld,” from obscurity (4 a.m.) last week, the show about nothing had something to talk about. Tuesday’s repeat episode at 10:30 p.m. after Channel 2’s 10 p.m. news on the Fox affiliate had a higher rating than all of the prime time Fox programming that night.

All right, Tuesday night isn’t exactly a powerhouse for Fox, which is competing with NBC’s popular “The Voice” on Channel 2 and CBS’ more popular “NCIS” and its new sequel “NCIS: New Orleans” on Channel 4.

The reality show “Utopia,” which led off prime time for Fox, is bombing. It and the low-rated comedies “New Girl” (1.6) and “The Mindy Project” that followed it didn’t hit a 1.5 rating.

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I am startled about the early success of the new Debra Messing drama “The Mysteries of Laura.” The NBC series continues to do very well locally on Wednesday nights – it almost hit double digits four nights ago – but I’ve yet to find anyone who likes it, which makes its popularity a mystery to me.

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Speaking of Laura, Channel 7 morning news anchor Laura Gray should be getting more air time to provide more context to the stories she reads. On Wednesday, she ended a brief story about Texas Gov. Rick Perry coming to a fundraiser here for Republican gubernatorial candidate Rob Astorino by saying Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo was ahead in the race. Ahead? It isn’t even close. That’s probably because half of Western New York doesn’t know who Astorino is and probably thinks he is a baseball player.

email: apergament@buffnews.com

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