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Alan Pergament: Benigni shows he is ready for the move to news

This is what I'm thinking:

If Channel 2 sports director Adam Benigni was trying out for Scott Levin's news anchor job over the past weeks and really wants it, he certainly has been impressive enough to get it.

Benigni illustrated he is a good reader with a strong voice and pleasant personality during his stint alongside co-anchor Kelly Dudzik. He also has name recognition, which would make the transition to him seamless after Levin leaves at the end of the May sweeps to work in management at West Herr Automotive Group.

There is strong enough interest by Channel 2 management to have Benigni co-anchor the 5:30 p.m. newscast alongside Maryalice Demler during the May sweeps that start Thursday. That also is the first night of the three-day National Football League draft, which means Benigni will be a very busy man shuttling between the 5:30 p.m. newscast and the sportscasts he is able to do that night.

A Benigni move from sports would be following a recent trend. Channel 7's Jeff Russo left sports to anchor news more than a year ago. And former Channel 4 sports director Steve Vesey is now a news anchor in Youngstown, Ohio.

Household ratings suggest viewers didn't seem to be as impressed with the Benigni-Dudzik team as I was last week but that is misleading. WIVB-TV won all evening time periods in household ratings, which is unusual. However, there can be multiple reasons for a week to week ratings fluctuation in March and April, including weather and vacations. Additionally, demographic ratings are more important than household ratings.

Benigni softened his stance about moving from sports to news after Levin announced he is leaving. He said in March that moving from sports to news wasn't something he thought about doing long range. Benigni, who has spent almost 20 years at Channel 2 covering sports, added he wanted "to mix it up a little" and added "it is fun to get out of your comfort zone."

Benigni reassessed that position after anchoring for a full week as planned before Levin's announcement.

"If they were interested in it, I would be interested in it," Benigni said. "This is an important decision for us. I would respect that."

A week earlier he said it was "too early to speculate on future."

As a sports guy, Benigni knows that it is never too early to speculate on the future.

Benigni certainly looked to be more in his comfort zone as each day went be. He just might be the comfortable answer for Channel 2 General Manager Jim Toellner to replace Levin.

There also shouldn't be much concern about chemistry issues with Demler since Benigni already exchanges happy talk with her as the station's primary sports anchor.

"We go back so far," said Benigni. "She introduced me to my wife. We would have a head start. There is a good foundation of chemistry."

The Channel 2 sports department already has a ready replacement as sports director and lead anchor in Jonah Javad, who probably wouldn't want to wait as long to get the job as Benigni had to do when Ed Kilgore was the sports director.

* Speaking of thinking about change, I initially thought it was some kind of joke when word came that Democrats were trying to persuade the Channel 2 meteorologist Kevin O'Connell to run for county clerk.

After all, O'Connell is approaching 70 years old and he recently signed to continue in his cushy job for another 14 months. Why would he want to work so hard to run for office? I understand a party reaching out to a man with great name recognition, which is the primary reason so many media members are romanced to run.

Additionally, O'Connell comes from a political family so being approached had to be flattering. But predicting he would pass is much easier than predicting if winter is over in Western New York.

Almost two years ago, O'Connell told me he planned to retire because he and his wife Carolyn didn't want to end up like many people in their "Golden Years" with health issues that disrupt their plans. “We like to travel and we thought reducing the schedule a little and realizing when the actual contract is over would give us the opportunity to enjoy more things together ... more family kind of things,” he said. He added that his father, former Buffalo City Comptroller George O’Connell, died at 61, and two siblings also died relatively young with heart issues. That didn't sound like a man who wanted to pursue a difficult new career at his age.

In addition, going into politics would have been a bad financial move. O'Connell would have been off the air without a salary for months while running. And if he won, he would have been paid about $79,000 as county clerk. Although TV salaries have declined in recent years, they haven't gone down that much for a primary meteorologist. O'Connell would have had to take a significant pay cut if he had won. And he would have had to work harder.

* I was slightly surprised that CBS signed Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo to replace Phil Simms as the network's No. 1 NFL analyst. The reason I say "slightly" surprised was because there were rumors after Peyton Manning retired that he was going to be Simms' replacement alongside Jim Nantz. Of course, Twitterverse was thrilled with Simms' demotion. But I thought he often got an unfair rap about his language issues and that he saw the big picture of games very well. I'm in the camp of wondering if Romo is ready to be a No. 1 with little broadcast experience outside of being interviewed. This week, CBS announced that Simms will be moving to its studio show, which must have led to many CBS analysts down the pecking order to breathe a sigh of relief. He also will be insurance in case Romo isn’t very good or decides to go back and play quarterback.

* A reminder: Get your popcorn ready. And your Lipitor and Crestor. The Travel Channel repeats the Buffalo episode of "Bizarre Foods: Delicious Destinations" at 2:30 p.m. Sunday.

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