Mitch English didn’t know just how prophetic his words were, explaining the six-month evolution of his WB a.m. (KUWB 30; weekdays, 5:30-8 a.m.) from a cheesy, low-budget morning goof to less-cheesy, still-low-budget morning sorta-talk show with enough of an audience to be considered a success by the suits.
“It’s a different show than it was in February,” he said after a broadcast last week, walking the show’s cartoon-colored set tucked away in WB 30’s Murray office. “It’s my hope that it’ll be a different show by next February.”
The way you view English is going to be very different in the coming months, guaranteed. More on that in a moment.
WB a.m. is part of a dying breed: the local entertainment-TV show. Yes, we have plenty of local news stations that attempt, with varying degrees of success, to spice up reporting and soundbytes with in-your-own-backyard remote bits, but it’s mostly treated as filler. Unlike other Salt Lake City stations that expanded local-centric programming during the 2002 Winter Olympics and then oddly abandoned it the second the last tourist left town, WB 30 has let English continue to fly his morning freak flag with measurable results: WB a.m. attracts more viewers than the infomercials that previously ran in the same timeslot. It’s not much, but it’s something.
“We’ll never be No. 1, I know that,” he said without a trace of envy. “But this has never really been done before, so we can do whatever we want. That’s what I love about the show. People want real people, someone fun in the morning. I’m not going to lie: We modeled this show on Dave Letterman’s kind of mentality. If I were sitting home flipping channels, I’d want something to entertain me as well as inform me—that’s what we do with the weather and traffic.”
As fans and detractors know from his gonzo WB 30 evening Weather Breaks (and his In Plain English paid column in this paper), seasoned meteorologist English handles the forecasts, with comely J.T. MacKenzie providing the traffic reports and a slightly more attractive presence than Mitch can muster. Due to job constraints, MacKenzie can usually only appear via TV screen from UDOT’s Traffic Operations Center (from whence those Big Brother-like CommuterLink freeway cameras are controlled), but it doesn’t really matter: Despite the visuals, WB a.m. is essentially a radio show.
“People don’t watch TV in the morning, they listen to it while they’re getting ready for work,” English said. “I’m fine with that … as long as they’re listening to us.” [Laughs]
What they’re hearing from the unscripted two-and-a-half-hour show can turn on a dime, as evidenced a few weeks ago when, frustrated by a malfunctioning phone during a call-in contest, English vacated the set and threw a comic offstage diva fit, leaving MacKenzie to vamp for a seeming eternity. It’s not high-concept comedy, just funny stuff that happens when you let it.
“You’re not going to see [KUTV’s] Mary Nickles get up and walk off the stage,” laughed English. “People like to know everything isn’t perfect. If the phone isn’t working, why lie about it? We don’t pretend this is a million-dollar show. It just is what it is.”
So why don’t more stations do it? “Local programming isn’t cost-efficient,” he said. “There’s a lot of sacrifice. I had to quit my morning radio job [with Rock 99] to do this show, but I believed in it. There’s a void, and I’d like to see more shows like this happen, more local. TV’s gotten away from that.”
Later the very same day, however, English was made an offer he couldn’t refuse: the weatherman/co-host gig on a new nationally syndicated morning show called The Daily Buzz. Since it’s based in Dayton, Ohio (headquarters of producer Acme Communications, owner of several TV stations across the country, including WB 30), he’s outta here following WB a.m.’s Aug. 16 broadcast.
Ironically, The Daily Buzz will supplant WB a.m. when it debuts Sept. 16. You’ll still get Mitch English, but he’ll be the national personality replacing his own local personality self. Screwy, ain’t it?