Getting a new channel up to speed TV: Jeff Weiss' WUTB, Channel 24, had to fill in the programming gaps left when UPN is not on the air.

On the Air

January 25, 1998|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,Sun Staff

Jeff Weiss may just be the busiest man in Baltimore right now.

Four weeks ago, he was named to head a television station that didn't even exist until last Monday, a station cobbled together to ensure the UPN network's continued presence in the Baltimore market.

The big problem Weiss and his staff faced wasn't getting the UPN shows on the air; they were ready to go. Problem was, UPN only airs programming three nights a week (Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday), and then only from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. What was his new station, WUTB, Channel 24, going to air the rest of the day?

Wednesday, back in California helping his family move East, Weiss acknowledged it's been a hectic four weeks for him, but not so much for the people putting his station together. They knew what they were getting into, he says.

"If I had to do it myself, I would think it would be hectic," says Weiss, who was named station manager of WUTB after 6 1/2 years as local sales manager for the UPN affiliate in Los Angeles. "But the people doing it, they knew what programming was available. I could see people being frazzled, but it just didn't go that way."

What his programmers came up with was a mix of sitcom and crime-show repeats to fill up the day and late-evening hours, plus movies to fill the prime-time slots when UPN isn't on the air. Which means Baltimore is welcoming back such programs as "Streets of San Francisco," "Hawaii Five-O," "The Rockford Files" and "Kojak," plus "Sanford and Son," "M*A*S*H," "The Jeffersons," "Good Times" and "All in the Family."

"They bought the shows that were available," Weiss says, "and they are committed to being a major player with syndicated programming. Beginning in the fall, we'll have Donny and Marie's new talk show, [reruns of] 'The Nanny,' we have the new 'Love Connection,' called 'Change of Heart,' which is coming out of Warner Bros., we have a relationship show called 'Forgive or Forget.' And we bought Pamela Lee's new show, called 'VIP,' which is being called the 'Charlie's Angels for the '90s.' "

Channel 24 used to carry the Home Shopping Channel. In November, it was sold to Chris-Craft United Television, which planned to use it as an outlet for UPN programming (which would find itself without a home come Jan. 18, when WNUV, Channel 54, switched to the WB network).

That didn't leave the station's new owners much time to prepare. Making matters worse, the sale wouldn't be final until the deal was OK'd by the Federal Communications Commission -- which meant it was impossible to say when the new station would be ready to start broadcasting, which meant it was impossible to do much in the way of advance promotion.

Fortunately for UPN lovers, the deal was approved late last week, and WUTB was able to go on the air Monday night, ensuring not a single night of UPN programming would be missed.

"We really have stepped up the promotion recently," Weiss says, "particularly in print and with our radio blitz. I think through the next couple weeks, going through the February sweeps, we're going to take every opportunity we can to say we're in town."

Weiss has spent the past four weeks making the rounds -- professionally, to meet with advertising executives, and personally, to find a house (near Reisterstown) and get things ready for his family's arrival. He and his wife, Sharon, have two children, Bobby, 7, and Jenny, 2 1/2 .

So far, Baltimore is working out just fine. "L.A. has a colder, big-city mentality. Baltimore really has a small-town feeling. Everybody here is very warm and open. I hope that continues."

Sweater drive

This week, in honor of the 30th season of "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood," MPT is participating in "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood Sweater Drive" (a reference to the trademark cardigan Mr. Rogers wears in nearly every show).

Viewers are asked to take their gently worn (or new) sweaters to the nearest McDonald's in Baltimore city and Baltimore, Anne Arundel, Howard, Carroll, Cecil and Harford counties. The sweaters will be picked up and distributed to those in need by the United Way of Central Maryland. The drive runs Jan. 30 through Feb. 1.

The Andy Griffith Show

As an alternative to the Super Bowl today, how's a day in Mayberry sound?

For the ninth year, TBS will be countering football's big day with "16 Super Hours of Andy." The fun starts at 10: 35 a.m. today with "Those Gossipin' Men," as Aunt Bee sets out to prove that men are just as big gossips as women, and ends at 2: 05 a.m. with "The Education of Ernest T. Bass," as Ernest T. goes back to school to impress the gal he loves.

Pub Date: 1/25/98

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