‘Virginia Viewpoints’ gets the axe

Column by Chris Graham

I figured the news was coming.
“And I’m sorry that it’s bad news,” said Richard Parker, the interim general manager at WVPT-Virginia’s Public Television, who confirmed what I had been suspecting for the past couple of weeks, that my WVPT TV show, “Virginia Viewpoints,” had been canceled.

Our 10th and final show – a discussion of the immigration bill currently being debated in the United States Senate – aired for the final time on Thursday night.

The show debuted in September with aplomb – the panel and I took on the war in Iraq in that first one, then got down hot and heavy on the marriage amendment that was on the ballot in Virginia on our October show.

I never was made privy to any ratings numbers – but I did get a sense that people watched.

The guests on the last “Virginia Viewpoints” – which included local bloggers Phil Chroniger and Andrew Clem and Harrisonburg political activist Rick Castaneda – made that clear in their interactions with regular panelist Linda R. Jones.

Jones, a Waynesboro schoolteacher who appeared on several installments of the monthly show, was trying to help me calm our newcomers to TV down by repeating that there was no need for them to be nervous.

“Of course you’re not nervous,” one of the newbies said. “You’re a star.”

We didn’t set out to make stars of the guests – the list includes Erik Curren, editor of Conserve Magazine, Stephen Winslow, editor of Conservative Viewpoints, Chris Saxman, a state delegate and rising star in the Virginia Republican Party, Lowell Fulk, a respected Rockingham County Democrat, even my wife, Crystal, who joined the panel in May to discuss the Virginia Tech shootings from her perspective as a Tech alumna.

The goal, indeed, was to follow along the lines of something that I said on the air at the start of every telecast:

“Welcome to ‘Virginia Viewpoints,’ where people like get a chance to weigh in on the issues of the day.”

The reason for the cancellation is cold, hard business – Parker told me that the station is running a rather hefty budget deficit, has been for years, “and the first thing that had to go to cut costs was local programming.”

Parker’s own show, “Consider This,” an award-winning weekly news-affairs show, is being cut back to a schedule that will feature broadcasts only during the upcoming Virginia General Assembly session in January 2008.

I don’t know about the fate of any of the other local WVPT programming favorites, though I suspect that we’re going to be hearing more bad news in the days and weeks to come to that end.

The shame of it is that the people at WVPT are trying to do the right thing – launching another award-winning show, “Virginia Tonight,” which my wife co-hosted and which won a national broadcasting award, unfortunately posthumously, having itself been canceled in 2004 during another budget crunch.

“Virginia Tonight” was a nightly news-affairs show that brought the Shenandoah Valley and Central Virginia to life in your living room five nights a week. “Consider This” did the same thing on a weekly basis. “Virginia Viewpoints” did the same monthly.

So now where do people who want to know what’s going on in their communities turn to?

Not to offend my friends who work in local commercial TV news, but unless it’s pictures from a car wreck or murder scene, you don’t go there.

I guess my question is more rhetorical than an actual question that any of us can answer.

Which means it’s probably an appropriate time for me to cut the discussion off – as I had to do every month at about this point.

For everyone associated with “Virginia Viewpoints,” thanks for watching, thanks for chatting with us online, and thanks for engaging when you saw us out and about.

I’m Chris Graham – and let’s talk again soon.

Chris Graham is now the former host and executive producer of “Virginia Viewpoints.” He is also the executive editor of The Augusta Free Press.



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