- The Washington Times - Friday, January 24, 2003

Cable news channels are going for the quirky factor to generate buzz, distinguish their programming and, perhaps, snag some ratings points in the process.
Fox News Channel, for example, announced Wednesday that it has hired "Wheel of Fortune" host Pat Sajak to host a new Sunday talk show in the spring. There will be no wheel, no Vanna White, no vowels.
"I'm a great admirer of what Fox News has accomplished," Mr. Sajak said in a statement. "I enjoy exercising my interviewing muscles."
The incongruous match between game-show host and the nation's most-watched cable news channel is a shrewd one, however. The Fox audience may instinctively warm to Mr. Sajak.
The benign, Emmy Award-winning Mr. Sajak also is an Army veteran who has hosted his own talk show from 1989 to 1990. His interests, however, are not in game shows alone.
He has publicly scolded talk-show host Rosie O'Donnell for sharing her sexual preferences with the public ("Who cares?"), rebuked actor Alec Baldwin for criticizing President Bush and chided celebrities for nervy intrusions on politics.
"The larger point is the disconnect between the realities of this nation and its people, and the perceived realities of many in the entertainment community," Mr. Sajak noted at a college graduation ceremony last year.
"It's the phenomenon that allows the media to 'rediscover' patriotism after September 11," he later added, "when millions of others in St. Louis, Cleveland, Salem, Phoenix, Cheyenne and a thousand other cities and small towns know that those traits never went away."
MSNBC, meanwhile, sealed a deal Tuesday with former Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura to host a talk show, most likely to be broadcast from the Mall of America the nation's largest shopping mall located in suburban Minneapolis.
The cable channel ranks third in the ratings; critics and the viewing public agreed that the network's effort to define its identity with aging talk-show host Phil Donahue had failed.
A brusque, 6-foot-5-inch former wrestler/politician/talk radio host with showbiz sensibilities may prove the right panacea for MSNBC. After all, the locals are still talking about Mr. Ventura's exit from office earlier this month: in a brand new Hummer with Led Zeppelin blasting through the sound system.
The buzz is already afoot: "Can Ventura save MSNBC?" the Minneapolis Star Tribune asked in the aftermath, speculating that the freewheeling Mr. Ventura complemented MSNBC's motto "the fiercely independent network" and could give Fox host Bill O'Reilly some he-man competition.
CNN, meanwhile, has some old-fashioned girl power to offer.
It quietly debuted "On the Story" Saturday, featuring an all-female cast of CNN anchors and correspondents discussing news of the day. It "breaks new ground," the network says.
"It is not about women who are journalists, but journalists who happen to be women covering the most important news stories of the week," said Lucy Spiegel, a CNN vice president and senior public affairs producer.
"What makes the show interesting is that the reporters bring anecdotes and observations of the week's events that don't normally find their way into daily two-minute reports," she added. "That gives viewers something they've never seen before."
Contact Jennifer Harper at [email protected] or 202/636-3085.

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