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Live From the Ponderosa! : TV Station Cuts From 'Bonanza' to 'Drama' of Police Chase

March 25, 1992|GREG BRAXTON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

KTLA Channel 5 viewers expecting to watch a rerun of "Bonanza" Tuesday might have been startled to find station executives had decided to cut to the chase.

Actually, the "Bonanza" episode was probably more of a drama to viewers than the station's "live telecast"--a slow, meandering police pursuit of a narcotics suspect that stretched from West Los Angeles to the San Fernando Valley.

Thinking that the chase would provide drama and excitement for viewers, KTLA preempted the regularly scheduled program at 10 a.m. for live helicopter coverage of the event.

But when the pursuit turned out to be as exciting as a cookout at the Ponderosa, KTLA News Director Warren Cereghino had a dilemma.

How could he keep his commitment to the live event, no matter how boring, without losing "Bonanza" fans?

So, instead of the big picture, the station decided to give viewers the smaller picture.

KTLA rejoined "Bonanza" at 10:20 a.m. but continued to broadcast the chase in a box at the bottom of the screen.

"We had given our viewers the live coverage up to that point, and we just couldn't leave them," Cereghino said. "It would be like giving our audience half a loaf. But there were valid reasons for not staying with the chase on a full-screen basis. So, at least faithful 'Bonanza' fans could get back to their program."

By then, however, the chase had slowed down considerably.

The driver, identified by police as Steve Wiggins, 28, of Venice, had reached the West Valley and appeared to be driving well below the speed limit.

At this point, Cereghino said: "It could not be called a high-speed pursuit. It was a failure to yield. It was getting tedious. But if we interrupt our programming and put something like this on the air, we have to stay with it until the situation is clarified."

The big screen-small screen solution was an example of the latest fad sweeping local television newsrooms--the coverage of live police pursuits.

In the past two months, at least four police pursuits have interrupted entertainment programming.

Cereghino maintained that even though the chase Tuesday turned out to be a dud, the station's decision was correct.

"It's a gamble, sure, but that's part of the competitive TV news coverage," Cereghino said. "We knew it was an erratic driver on drugs or alcohol. This chase had all the earmarks of a potential problem."

Wiggins was taken to Granada Hills Community Hospital, where doctors said he was suffering from an overdose of cocaine.

Cereghino said KTLA cut away from the "Bonanza" episode to provide live coverage of the arrest.

"There was drama in the action that had to be taken, and we were there to record it. I still say it was a good decision," he said.

No matter what Ben Cartwright might think.

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