I guess you could call me the Jay Leno of The Buffalo News.
I voluntarily gave up the equivalent of my time slot almost three years ago, without even exclaiming a la Arnold Schwarzenegger that “I’ll be back.”
I didn’t say it because I never thought I would be returning. But here I am back at The News to write a weekly column about local TV and frequently blog about the local and national media scene. (My first blog should appear this morning.)
My return has surprised some of my colleagues, sources and friends in the media. (Yes, amazingly I have some friends in the media.)
The funniest response came from writer-producer Tom Fontana, the Buffalo State College graduate best known for his work on “St. Elsewhere,” “Homicide: Life on the Street” and “Oz.”
After I told him I was returning to the news outlet where I had documented his award-winning career and all things TV for 28 years, Fontana sent the following email. “Really? Where’s your delivery route? No, seriously that’s great news.”
I’m pretty sure a few people in local TV land wish I were delivering the paper rather than delivering my critical take on their work. I believe my youngest son, a college sophomore, may be the happiest about my return. When I told Max I was taking a buyout three years ago, his sad response was, “Then you won’t be ‘Alan Pergament’ anymore.”
I’m looking at my return as part of my second life, which has been pretty amazing on professional and personal levels since I survived a real-life episode of “ER” almost a year ago. My health scare has made me look at life and work differently. Some people have even told me that I’ve become a little soft (though most of them don’t work at Channel 4).
I recently told a colleague that I now think everyone should take three years off from their job and they might appreciate it more.
In a way, saying “I am back” isn’t exactly accurate. I never stopped writing about the media. As some readers may know, I’ve kept pretty busy since I took a buyout from The News in 2010.
It took me about three weeks before former Channel 4 anchor Lisa Flynn made me realize how much I was going to miss writing about TV. She posted a Facebook message praising the 2010 season finale of “Grey’s Anatomy.” I hated the episode and told her so. Then Flynn advised me to keep writing about TV.
A blog was born. As some of you may know, it was called stilltalkintv. I just added the word still to the name of my old (and new News) blog – TalkinTV. I began blogging about local and national TV on the site, reporting on local news changes and having some fun by nicknaming a local anchor the Orange Robot. (You can guess which one.) I made a little money but learned something even more valuable than the almighty dollar. I learned that there should be an amendment to former Buffalo Bills Coach Marv Levy’s oft-quoted remark that “if you’re thinking about retirement, you are already retired.”
The amendment is: “If you’re thinking you were too young to retire, you probably should unretire.” I also learned from writing the blog that I was so passionate about writing and reporting on TV news that I might be willing to do it for practically nothing. At least for a while.
Besides blogging almost daily, I have been kept busy by writing a monthly media column for Buffalo Spree and teaching media courses at SUNY Buffalo State and Medaille College. I was proud to see two of my smartest students eventually make it on-air on local TV stations, only to leave for public relations jobs in a few years. (Hey, I said they were two of my smartest students, which is why they left after learning that TV news is a tough business with really bad hours.)
As a self-employed blogger, I also was able to pick and choose what I watched rather than trying to watch everything I could because it was my full-time job.
The phony headline on the story about me written by Buffalo News columnist Jeff Simon for the retirement party for nine staffers in June 2010 had the appropriate headline: “He watched crap so we didn’t have to.”
For the past three years I didn’t watch crap because I didn’t have to. In other words, until a couple of Western New York newlyweds appeared on the current edition of “Amazing Race,” I hadn’t seen more than 15 minutes of any reality show. That’s a job that someone should have to be paid handsomely to do. It also was the format that led me to consider retirement.
As I did in 1982 when I first became the daily TV critic of the Buffalo News, I am going to provide a quick, short list of what I’ve been watching for the past three years besides Syracuse University basketball, Buffalo Bills football, Buffalo Sabres hockey and ESPN. Here’s what I watch most often On Demand or on my DVR, the two ways the TV game has dramatically changed: “The Good Wife,” “Homeland,” “Modern Family,” “Parenthood,” “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart,” Aaron Sorkin’s “The Newsroom,” “Reliable Sources,” “CBS Sunday Morning,” “Meet the Press,” “Downton Abbey,” “Mad Men,” “The NBC Nightly News,” and several cable news programs during the presidential election season.
The inclusion of “Downton” may surprise some readers who might not think it is my cup of tea. But I have an explanation. I gave a DVD of the first two seasons of the British soap to my girlfriend for Christmas a few months ago. It was a fortuitous mistake. It meant I had to watch all the 15 or 16 episodes over the holidays with her and I got hooked on a series that I refer to as “Dallas” with better dialogue and better accents.
I also watch all the local newscasts because the anchors and reporters are the area’s celebrities, I believe someone should keep influential TV news departments as accountable as they claim they keep government officials accountable – and I remain a glutton for punishment.
Surprisingly, some readers never thought I left The News. I can’t tell you how many times over the last few years some kind salesperson told me they enjoy reading me in The News before I had to gently tell them that I left the newspaper almost three years ago.
Now I can tell them I’m back – and I can be “Alan Pergament” again.
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