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Rough landings on arrival, memorable departures in local TV

It’s one of the more famous things one celebrity ever said about another. The actress Elsa Lanchester said of Maureen O’Hara “She looks as if butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth – or anywhere else.”

I wouldn’t go quite that far describing Ashley Rowe, Channel 7’s new co-anchor. But I’ve been watching her since she came to town and it seems to me she has a definite temperature problem.

Rowe is a blonde, attractive and proficient co-anchor in the somewhat generic modern style, who comes here with Canadian experience in Hamilton and Toronto. Her problem is that there is no escaping the fact that she is a direct replacement for Joanna Pasceri.

Pasceri had an insoluble dilemma. She was never going to be the kind of co-anchor who made big ratings inroads for the news broadcasts she was on. But, at the same time, she had become a lovable fixture on Buffalo’s airwaves. She had the exact kind of warmth in which her proficient new replacement seems a bit deficient.

There seemed to be a genuine sweetness and neighborly generosity about Pasceri. Sending her packing in favor of a young substitute yanked from across the border seems to be an ill-starred move at best and, at worst, so cynical and nasty that it should have happened in 1969 and been turned into a Broadway musical.

They don’t seem to make Broadway musicals out of such things now. They prefer rap versions of the life of Alexander Hamilton. Or musicals about Mormons. But a few decades ago, I could picture some middle-aged Broadway empress singing her heart out to audiences who sympathize with the difficulties of a no-longer-young female anchor when an invading blonde anchor across the border comes to take her place.

Pasceri’s problem is that she never registered so strongly for us in Buffalo on struggling WKBW that she was likely to take Channel 7 to the promised land. But Channel 7’s problem is that she was, nevertheless, so warm and human and likable that any replacement who lacked any of her virtues was going to be in trouble.

Enter Rowe, as I see it – a Canadian chill occupying a chair that WKBW had long given to a woman who seemed as neighborly a Buffalonian as you’ll find.

Once upon a time, a TV station here had a similar problem with a new female co-anchor who (in her case) came across as snotty, superior and prim. Her station then, as she always admitted, sent her to what she called “anchor charm school” and the change was night and day. From a nightly invitation to frostbite, she turned into as earthy and welcome and companionable a female presence as Buffalo TV news has ever seen.

It would be demeaning and invidious to Rowe to have to attend “anchor charm school,” but I have a feeling that if she did, she’d benefit. At the moment, hers seems to me an uphill battle – a sympathetic one but one where I don’t think the odds are with her.

Money and technology are wreaking havoc on the news business everywhere. The effect on Channel 4 will be the greatest of all as a couple of polarically different fixtures retire. When Don Paul finally retires in March as the station’s weatherman, we’ll lose one kind of Channel 4 fixture.

A different one came with the recent retirement of Rich Newberg, the “nice guy” to end all “nice guys” in local TV news. Newberg may have thought that his major strength for his station was his talent for long-form journalism, but out here in the community he was perceived to be the real thing among TV reporters.

One always needs to remember that the perpetrator of the City Grille multiple murders gave himself up to Newberg, a singular event in TV news history in this town and one that would have happened to no one else.

Paul was on the other side of the newsroom – bristling with pride over his meteorological credentials and overloaded with self-denigrating jokes that weren’t always funny. But he had an accurate sense of how viewers perceived weathermen.

Most importantly he did a reasonably good job doing something – forecasting – where perfection is impossible. And his on-air pride in that fact made him that much more believable. He hit us at home the way a weatherman should – like a doctor whose bedside manner may be slightly awkward and brusque but with the exact kind of arrogance you might want from a guy taking your gall bladder out.

Such likable prickliness in Buffalo has been singular. Accurate weather forecasts can be replaced. That compelling prickliness can’t.

Imagine this on some impossible TV station: a nightly news broadcast founded on Pasceri’s next-door warmth on one side and on the other Paul’s feisty, elbow-throwing search for the perfect weather forecast, every day.

You’d have a near-certain winner I’d bet.