An era will end at KSL Friday evening when Prime Time Access (6:30 p.m., Ch. 5) takes its final bow.
"We're all going through mourning over here," said producer Louise Degn, who has been with the show for its last 18 months. "The show found a place in the hearts of the news staff, so there's a genuine sadness at the station. The big joke going around the newsroom these days is that we need to hire a new `specialist' - a grief counselor.""PTA's" small-but-loyal audience probably feels similarly, which is why they may want to video tape Friday's swan song. According to Degn, the finale will feature plenty of longing looks back at the show's six-year history, with host Bruce Lindsay reminiscing with regular contributors like movie critic Chris Hicks (who also appeared on the first show in September of 1982), science specialist Ed Yeates and reporter Keith McCord, who was able to document the discovery of previously unknown Anasazi ruins while on assignment for "PTA."
As usual, Degn promises that "we're not going to take ourselves too seriously even though we are in the midst of mourning." That means the last show will also feature bloopers (like the time a very drunk Harry Nilsson came on the show for a live interview), an on-camera tearing-down of the "PTA" set and the formal presentation of CandyDish 5 to Ruth Hawkins, the viewer who first complained that the table ornament looked too much like an ash tray.
After the final installment airs Friday, "PTA" reruns will continue to air in the time period until the daily syndicated news magazine "USA Today" makes its debut Sept. 12.
"We would never have replaced `Prime Time Access' with a game show," said KSL vice president William R. Murdoch. "`USA Today' is a similar kind of a magazine program, and will continue in the fine tradition `PTA' has established."
Still, even Murdoch admitted to a feeling of sadness at the show's demise. "We've always been very proud of the program," he said. "It represented the kind of values-driven programming we want to be known for. It was a great team effort by the entire staff, resulting in what I believe to have been the finest locally produced program of its type in the country."
Which is precisely what KSL was trying to develop when the show was born six years ago. A literal descendant of KSL's award-winning "Dimension 5" documentary series, "PTA" was the station's attempt to comply with the spirit of the FCC's Prime Time Access ruling, which set aside the half-hour just prior to prime time for local station programming. Many stations around the country chose to go with game shows and other syndicated series. But KSL took the harder route, opting for a daily half-hour of locally produced reports on local issues and people.
"You have no idea how hard that is to do day after day in a market of this size," Murdoch said. "But we believed in the prime time access rule, and we were able to produce a quality program in the time period. To tell you the truth, it's something of a miracle that we were able to keep it up this long. Bruce and everyone else associated with `PTA' deserve a lot of credit."
But now, he says, "we feel we've gone as far as we can go in this particular format. All good things have to come to an end." So Lindsay, Degn and most of the rest of the "PTA" staff are being transferred to "Midday," KSL's hour-long news series that will air weekdays from noon to 1 p.m. beginning Sept. 12. The new show will have a lot of the same elements as "PTA," Degn said, but it will be geared more to homemakers and others who are home during the day, with more live interviews and how-to features than "PTA" ever did.
"Things will be different now," Degn said. "The new show looks promising, but we're all going to miss `PTA.' "
In fact, she said, "I'll be very surprised if you ever see a local show like `PTA' in a market of this size again. Our industry has changed. Viewers have more choices than ever before, and our ratings seem to indicate that this isn't the kind of thing they want to see.
"It's the end of an era," Degn continued. "Other industries have had to change with the times. It looks like it's our turn now."
* And that's not the only change at KSL lately. KSL Radio News Director Doug Miller is shifting over to the television side, taking on the job of sports director and "Outdoors Specialist" for KSL-TV.
"We have hoped for a long time to get Doug to join the TV team," said KSL News Director Spence Kinard. "With television sports at an increased level this fall due to our added coverage of BYU and Air Force football and basketball games . . . everyone agreed this was the best time to make the transition."
In addition to his management responsibilities, Miller will be the "Outdoors Specialist" for both KSL TV and radio, providing regular reports on camping, hunting and fishing for both broadcast entities.
Also at KSL-TV, reporter Dave Thompson is gone, having moved recently to Spokane where he is working as a weekend anchor. Good luck, Dave.