By David Zurawik, The Baltimore Sun
11:10 AM EDT, May 31, 2014
From Rep. Elijah E. Cummings playing a leading role in televised hearings on American deaths in Benghazi, to the Game Show Network visiting a Baltimore church to play matchmaker for a member of the congregation, there is going to be a distinct local flavor to summertime TV this year.
Here are 10 shows, stories and trends to look for in and on Baltimore television in coming weeks — for better or worse.
“It Takes a Church” debuts at 9 p.m. Thursday on GSN. The reality-TV series hosted by gospel singer Natalie Grant visits a different church each week and, with the help of the pastor and congregation members, plays the dating game.
The premiere episode features the pastor and congregation of the Rock Worship Center in Charlotte, N.C., helping a young professional woman find Mr. Right. The field includes one candidate who is nominated by his mother standing next to him in the pew joyously singing his praises. Really. Another candidate is a dentist who is shorter than the woman he’ll be dating, but he looks like he has a very successful practice.
The series visited Baltimore’s Set the Captives Free Outreach Center, led by pastor Karen Stanley Bethea, and the episode is scheduled to air June 26.
ChristianMingle, the online dating service, is a partner in the production, according to GSN press materials, and will be prominently featured in the series. It looks like the most intense relationship here might be between advertiser and program — a relationship that goes beyond mere product placement. I’ll be watching for that if nothing else.
“The New Black,” a PBS film that premieres at 10:30 p.m. June 15 on Maryland Public Television, revisits the battle over the Question 6 ballot initiative for marriage equality in Maryland. The Maryland story is part of a larger examination of how the African-American community and black faith-based organizations are dealing with the growing national push for and acceptance of same-sex marriage.
Directed by New York filmmaker Yoruba Richen, this documentary from the Independent Lens series explores the complicated political terrain where traditional values meet social change in American life, with Maryland as the focus.
“I came to realize that the issue of gay rights in the black community is in many ways a fight over the African-American family, which has been contested space since the time of slavery,” Richen says in PBS press materials. “The gay marriage question has forced a conversation in the black community, which is taking place in our churches, our houses, our neighborhoods, and at the ballot box.”
“Freedom Summer,” produced and directed by Stanley Nelson, will premiere June 24 on PBS as part of the American Experience series. The film looks at the summer of 1964 in Mississippi when “more than 700 student volunteers from around the country joined organizers and local African-American residents in a historic effort to shatter the foundations of white supremacy in what was one of the nation’s most viciously racist, segregated states,” according to PBS press materials.
Among the Marylanders in the film are Baltimore historian Taylor Branch; Larry Rubin, a Freedom Summer volunteer; and Jan Nave Barnes, Miss Mississippi in 1963, whose family was forced to leave the state after they invited some of the out-of-state civil rights workers into their home.
TV25, the channel run by the City of Baltimore Office of Cable and Communications, plans to rebrand itself as CharmTV as of June 25.
Channels like this were initially given to cities for public access and service by the cable companies that were awarded lucrative franchises. This is still the place to see government meetings and hearings in Baltimore.
But when I turn on the channel, I usually see Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake showcased in one form or another.
While CharmTV will continue to carry the hearings and meetings, it promises “fresh content” that includes shows focusing on dining, neighborhoods and Baltimore businesses.
We’ll be watching and asking questions about the money for this new programming.
Morning news in Baltimore will be changing as well this summer, with Don Scott leaving WJZ-TV on July 12 after four decades on-air.
Linh Bui, a University of Maryland graduate who has been with the station since July, will replace Scott, according to general manager Jay Newman. Bui has been has been anchoring weekends and co-anchoring the noon news three days a week. She will join a morning team that includes Marty Bass, Sharon Gibala, Ron Matz and Mike Schuh.
Look for some jockeying among the stations as they reach for more of this growing news market.
WBAL-TV announced last week that it was adding former WMAR morning anchor Megan Pringle to its morning news desk.
The Benghazi hearings offer a starring role for Baltimore’s Cummings. The dates have not been set, but these hearings promise to be the political TV event of the summer. They will explore what happened at the American diplomatic compound in Libya in 2012 that left four Americans dead.
At first, the Democrats looked as if they were going to boycott the sessions to underscore the claim that they are merely an effort by Republicans in Congress to attack President Barack Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for their handling of the attack. But the party has since decided to put some of its best and TV-brightest on the committee, and headlining that group is Cummings, whose passion and tenacity make him a highly effective partisan TV presence.
Tougher coverage of the Ravens is something viewers are going to be seeing this summer.
It’s long overdue here, and it took several videos posted by TMZ to show just how badly some of the Ravens have been behaving off the field — a reality at odds with the image the Ravens have tried to portray in recent years of a disciplined team firmly under the control of coach John Harbaugh.
The local TV sportscasters are the worst at genuflecting before Ravens brass, but that can’t last with tough, informed voices like that of Vinny Cerrato calling out the Ravens on radio at 105.7 The Fan as he did last week in questioning Joe Flacco’s offseason commitment.
I loved hearing it. And I can’t wait for camp to open to see which sportscasters are serving the fans and which are sucking up to the team.
Gubernatorial TV will intensify as we approach the June 24 primary election.
There’s a live debate among Democratic candidates at 7 p.m. Monday on MPT and WBAL-TV. Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown, who skipped last week’s debate on WBFF-TV, has decided he can make this one. At least he’s scheduled to be there.
There’s also a taped debate among GOP candidates airing at 7 p.m. Friday on MPT and WBAL-TV. (This debate is being taped at 2 p.m. Monday at MPT.)
All three Democratic candidates will be on local TV with their ads this month.
Change at WBFF in Baltimore is likely if and when Hunt Valley’s Sinclair Television Group closes on its purchase of Allbritton media properties. Sinclair’s target date is July 27 to have all details resolved to the satisfaction of the Federal Communications Commission in this major deal. If that happens, look for some movement at both WJLA in Washington and WBFF .
Last year, Sinclair hired 20-year WJZ veteran Kai Jackson as a national correspondent based out of Washington. Once his no-compete clause expires, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Jackson anchoring at WBFF. With its huge chain of stations, Sinclair already has the power to hire talent away from WBFF’s competitors in Baltimore. There will be more.
“House of Cards” is back to shoot Season 3. You won’t see Frank Underwood and Company on screen until February, but you will see Kevin Spacey and the rest of the cast and crew again this summer on the streets of Baltimore. That’s a happy enough thought for me.
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