I learned a long time ago that if you wanted to get in on a scoop at the TCA press tour, stand next to Alan Pergament. The Buffalo News TV critic (above right, a few years ago at the now defunct L.A. Friar’s Club with long time TCAers Margie Barron, Dusty Saunders and Ed Bark) had a friendly but very direct way with a question and always cut to the chase. He also did his homework, and knew which stars or producers were born, raised, schooled or had a cup of coffee in Buffalo.
Pergament’s last TV column appears in today’s Buffalo News, you can and should read it here. The former sports reporter spent nearly 40 years at the News, moving to the TV beat in 1982. Back before they were big stars, guys like George Clooney, Jerry Seinfeld and Don Johnson huddled with Pergament first. He had a knack for sneaking off with a sweet exclusive right under the nose of other critics.
Pergament took a buyout last week. He’ll keep teaching courses and writing for others and leaves with a sweet pension deal but the News, like too many other newspapers throughout North America, will have cheated their readers out of a popular voice as critics continue to be the proverbial canary in the coal mine. Another popular TV columnist, Roger Catlin of the Hartford Courant, still blogs for the paper here but, as of a month or so ago, no longer covers the TV beat for his paper in print. Hey, somebody want to tell these publishers and editors that television viewership is up?
In his last print column, Pergament lists several of the big names in television who hail from the Buffalo area, writers and producers like David Milch (NYPD Blue, Deadwood), Tom Fontana (St: Elsewhere, Homicide), Diane English (Murphy Brown) and Mark Brazill (That ’70s Show). Buffalo-born actresses include Christine Baranski and Wendie Malick. CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer is a Buffalo son, as was Tim Russert.
Pergament provoked some laughs last summer when critics at press tour were shuttled over to the set of The Office. We sat on folding chairs set up in front of the entire cast in the drab Dunder Mifflin warehouse. The cast and producers were in a great mood as the series hit the 100 episode milestone. Alan, of course, had to rock the boat by asking the producers the burning Buffalo branch office question. From the transcript:
QUESTION: Greg, I have a parochial question. Why did you close the Buffalo office? (Laughter.) I’m from Buffalo. (Laughter.)
GREG DANIELS: I’m going to give that to Paul. Paul wrote that episode.
PAUL LIEBERSTEIN: Sales went down. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Seriously, is it because Buffalo is supposed to be funny? (Laughter.)
PAUL LIEBERSTEIN: Seriously, sales were way down. (Laughter.) No, we had to close somewhere, and new data.
CRAIG ROBINSON: Yeah. But Ken closed Utica.
CRAIG ROBINSON: Sales were way up.
PAUL LIEBERSTEIN: I’m from Utica. (Laughter.) No, I’m not. No, it was really a toss-up. A couple of places could have gone.
GREG DANIELS: That’s what he said to the branch, by the way.
PAUL LIEBERSTEIN: It was sad.
Pergament’s departure isn’t the only changing of the guard in TV critic land this week. Another Alan, Sepinwall, has left the New Jersey Star-Ledger (the paper Tony Soprano found at the end of his driveway on The Sopranos). Read his final NJSL column here.
The good news is that Sepinwall is taking his fun, insightful and very comprehensive “What’s Alan Watching?” blog with him to the all-entertainment web site HitFix.com. Follow him to his new post here, and click like crazy on all the ads.