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Jeff Simon

The creative new 'sisterhood' of Channel 2's 'Most Buffalo'

Jeff Simon

"I'm Kate. I'm a lunatic."

That's how Kate Welshofer of Channel 2 announces herself on her own YouTube channel of wild and crazy homemade videos.

Go from there to one of the wilder and woollier recent corporate moves in the ratings chess game continually played by local TV news broadcasts: Channel 2's bump of Ellen DeGeneres' 4 p.m. talk show to a 3 p.m. time slot to make 4 p.m. room for Welshofer anchoring a new news show called "Most Buffalo."

When it was first announced I leaned way back in my chair and said to no one in particular, "Whoa. Channel 2 General Manager Jim Toellner has so much regard for this Welshofer kid that he'll swipe Ellen DeGeneres to the (side) for a brand new news hour that will make room for her."

I hadn't yet caught Welshofer's act, you see. I don't watch morning news -- not ever, if I can possibly help it. I knew nothing of her delightful YouTube history until her accession to Channel 2's version of the Big Time. (She grew up in Perry, N.Y.)

That's when I discovered: 1) She's no kid (20 years of TV news experience in Rochester and Albany), and 2) Her five years on YouTube on a private channel she called "No Teleprompter, No Mercy" pointed to a possible future with a whole new playful way of being a news anchor in America.

"Frustration and anger and rage" she says were the motivations of "No Teleprompter, No Mercy." She's being humorous, of course, but that doesn't for a minute mean she's faking it.

So it would be nothing but natural to wonder, "What kind of station manager allows such a stick of dynamite into the tent?"

Jim Toellner, that's who.

At this moment, I have to admit no praise is too high. That's how much I'm marveling at the astuteness of putting Welshofer together with her 4 p.m. teammates -- in particular her two weather mates, Maria Genero and Heather Waldman.

We've been seeing Genero on Buffalo TV for decades -- consistently since that astonishing moment when two eminences of Buffalo TV news -- Genero and John Beard -- returned to Buffalo after making solid names for themselves in California.

Add Kevin O'Connell to that category of returnee and you have a cadre of Buffalo news people who revealed that Buffalo TV news had allures that might not be immediately visible elsewhere.

WGRZ's 'Most Buffalo' is light on news in more ways than one

I'd submit that with the advent of Welshofer's possibilities in "Most Buffalo," Genero might have sidekick roles that weren't there for her before.

Genero, too, is funny, as is Welshofer. Unlike Welshofer so far, she doesn't have to soft-pedal her wilder inclinations and function mostly in the "good humored" role that Buffalo TV audiences liked so much in anchors like Carol Jasen and Susan Banks.

That, so far, is mostly how Welshofer comes across in "Most Buffalo," which is just as well for now. The "lunatic" side of her humor is, to me, quite splendid, but the truth about news these days is that its contents are fraught with horrors and occupational self-doubts that weren't there when local TV news broadcasts first became cash cows for local stations.

What impresses me so much about Channel 2 news these days is its sudden and quietly brilliant presentation of an accidentally innovative and compelling TV news "sisterhood."

Family has been the secret to popular television since the beginning. The most popular TV shows, whether prime time sitcoms, comedies or morning and meal time news shows, are those that simulate a family at their core. The more familial they are, the more comfortable viewers will be with them in living rooms, kitchens and bedrooms.

The most successful local TV news broadcast in Buffalo history -- Channel 7's Eyewitness News -- was, for many years, an unshakable "brotherhood" of "Irv, Rick and Tom," which combined an authoritative older brother, a professional middle brother and a kindly, sympathetic children's show host who also delivered the weather.

I must confess it took me a while to "get" Irv, Rick and Tom. What I foolishly overlooked was Weinstein's lusty and virulently communicative enjoyment of every second of being Irv Weinstein. I had to become a kind of friend of his in his waning years in town to see that "up close and personal."

What I came to understand when we'd talk over occasional lunches and in mini-marathons at movie critic screenings is every bit of the history that made him what he was -- the would-be young actor who (no kidding) had delusions of being the next John Garfield, the consummate master of radio with a baritone voice that could cut through glass.

I once did a Lou Douglas radio show with Irv, and I was flabbergasted by how joyous and comfortable he seemed just to be in a radio studio. He never seemed that happy anywhere else in the world -- despite the good cheer he radiated everywhere.

I wrote about it. Ever afterward -- every year -- he would send me copies of some of his most precious private reading material: catalogs of vintage and antique radio microphones. It was his way of winking at me for noticing something about him no one else ever seemed to.

I have a feeling the laptops where Welshofer first assembled her homemade videos will one day cause the same private nostalgic ecstasy Weinstein felt talking into a radio microphone.

That Irv, Rick and Tom brotherhood was a pillar of Buffalo's TV news audience.

Circumstances are unimaginably different these days, but that unprecedented establishment of a kind of TV news sisterhood on a late afternoon TV news show is fascinating to watch.

Waldman doesn't react as much to them directly on the air, but she, too, is something radically different from what we're used to. We've certainly had enthusiastic "weather geeks" before (Don Paul anyone?), but Waldman is so eager to explain her vocation's arcana that she's devised whole segments titled "It's good to be a geek" (for which she always dons "I'm a smarty pants" eyeglasses to reinforce the point).

Consider the insight of Toellner and the rest of Channel 2 management.

Once upon a time in America, the word "geek" referred to the drunks at carnival freak shows who'd bite the heads off live chickens just to earn "payment" of a large bottle of booze (see the classic film "Nightmare Alley"). It has evolved over time to refer -- as a compliment -- to those members of social and intellectual minorities who cherish everything that separates them from the mass of their fellow humans (a lusty adoration, for instance, for vintage radio microphones).

I honestly don't know how popular Channel 2's completely fresh on-air sisterhood will become. Possible pitfalls are many and various (not least, of course, the tragic delusions of "stardom"), but we're talking about the enormous charms of longtime veterans here.

What, for the moment, I admire so much are: 1) Channel 2's insight in knowing it was possible on the air, and 2) its commitment to it, while not pushing it too far.

At, for instance, 4 p.m. with a new kind of newscast taking place in a time slot where juggernaut talk shows once aired.

Have we ever seen before a local TV news hour as loose as Channel 2's "Most Buffalo"?

I don't know how long it will all last, but I'm enjoying the heck out of such free-spirited corporate improv at the moment.

I just thought I'd let you know.

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