Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Must-See TV, Memphis Style: Prime Time Gets Hit By A Tornado

Stations Go Wall-to-Wall When Wicked Weather Strikes When Towns Are In Danger of an Extreme Home Makeover
When you come from New York and travel the country, you realize how news that's a non-factor back home, is front and center once you stop dialing the 212 area code.
Case in point: The wife and I were in the Memphis area over the weekend for some R&R and copious amounts of barbecue. On the way to our hotel in West Memphis, Arkansas, the Emergency Broadcast System interrupts the gospel on WDIA to alert us to a tornado warning for the area.
We get to the hotel just in time to see the sky turn black, the wind pick up and quarter-sized hail pound our rental car. Thinking it wise to wait out the storm before heading out to dinner, we turned on the TV and quickly realized this was not a drill.
The Big Four affiliates were going wall-to-wall with storm coverage, putting their Doppler, VIPIR and all matter of digital weather gizmos into overdrive.
To hear that a tornado was traveling near the I-40 corridor and realizing you were about 20 yards from the interstate was a bit jarring to say the least.
West Memphis made it through OK, but others didn't. Funnel clouds tore through towns in western Tennessee, as well as eastern Arkanas and Missouri, which are in the Memphis viewing area. By morning, at least 20 were dead, along with the usual injuries and destroyed structures that come when gusts are over 100 mph come suddenly and with little or no warning.
The Memphis stations generally did a yeoman job of keeping viewers informed, with the CBS affiliate WREG-TV getting an ever-so-slight nod for having its weather team working as an especially well-oiled machine throughout the night.
The ABC affiliate, WPTY, stood out, but for breaking away at 9 p.m. to show Grey's Anatomy, the network's ratings king. You could argue that the worst was over by then, and ABC24 could jump back in as events warrant or simply wait for the news at 10. Or, you could be more cynical and say the station didn't want to sacrifice any more ad dollars and counter-program. A tough call either way, but the beginning of their 10 p.m. show, with stumbles, miscues and somewhat-dated tape was hardly worth the wait.
As for "Desperate Housewives " fans in the Mid-South, the station informed viewers, somewhat cryptically, they're out of luck because of "complex legal reasons."
The same fate may lie in store for other Sunday staples like "Cold Case," "The Simpsons" and "Extreme Home Makeover," which unfortunately has some new source material.

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