Face the State Flashback: Mohegan Tribe Federally Recognized
January 3, 2014

The Hartfordite has moved: http://www.dennishouse.tv

New Faces at WFSB
January 2, 2014

This blog has moved to http://www.dennishouse.tv Lots more stuff including an enhanced version of this post there.

Way, Way, Too Early in the Morning
November 13, 2013

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Viewers were surprised to see yours truly on the morning news this past Sunday yet no one was more surprised than me.

At 4:23AM I got a call from Tina Martin asking me very nicely if I could come in and anchor the news for her because she was suddenly very sick. Bleary eyed and in a way before pre-dawn fog, I of course said “yes.” I turned on the coffee that Kara had scheduled to start brewing at 7:30AM, scarfed down some toast and hit the shower. By 5 AM I was on the road, in the newsroom 15 minutes later and on television at 6AM, bags under my eyes and all.

The weekends are when I catch up on sleep. During the week I don’t usually get into bed until 12:30 AM at the earliest, Kara’s alarm goes off at 6:15, and the kids are up around 7. I’m usually out of bed shortly thereafter to see them during breakfast before school.

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I wasn’t always a night owl, and longtime viewers will recall my WFSB roots are in morning news. I anchored Eyewitness News Daybreak for two years with Virginia Cha and then Mika Brzezinski before moving to nights. Working the AM shift is something you can get used to if you train your body clock with a regimented schedule. Just ask Irene O’Connor, Eric Parker, Scot Haney Tina, Olessa Stepanova, and Mike Cameron. But working nights and then getting an occasional call to come in during the middle of the night is brutal.

Even so, if there is another early morning call, I’ll come in. That’s what newspeople do. By the way, Kara told me later after she had a full 8 hours of sleep and enjoyed a leisurely Sunday morning breakfast that she would have come in to cover for Tina. Yeah right. Could she honestly have had breakfast and gotten ready in a half hour?

Before “Killing Kennedy,” Bill O’Reilly Investigated “Umbrella Man”
October 30, 2013

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As we approach the 50 year mark since the assassination of President John Kennedy, expect a barrage of television specials, movies and books dedicated to one of the worst days in American history. One of the films on the subject is “Killing Kennedy,” set to air on the National Geographic Channel and based on the book of the same name by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard.

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Host of the “O’Reilly Factor” on the Fox News Channel, O’Reilly was once one of us here at WFSB, some 34 years ago. One of his key assignments at Broadcast House was a four part investigative series into the assassination, that has sat in our archives since it aired in November of 1979. We aired it this morning at 11 on Face the State, and the link is toward the end of this post. Look for our Carter-era disco inspired logo, the size of the tape cassette recorder Bill carried with him, his powder blue bell bottom pants, and the copious chest hair he showed off to the viewers. Hey, It was the ’70s.

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The premise of O’Reilly’s reporting was a fascinating yet somewhat bizarre theory: that JFK was killed by an assassin using an umbrella gun, a man who was dubbed the “umbrella man.” Judging by his line of questioning, I got the sense even O’Reilly seemed a little incredulous at the prospect of the leader of the free world being snuffed out by a gadget-laden umbrella. There was some merit to the theory: why would a person standing mere feet from the limousine as the shots were fired, be using an umbrella on a cloudless day in Dallas?

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In the reports, O’Reilly traveled to Dealey Plaza and Maryland, but also tracked down two people here in Connecticut with ties to the assassination and the subsequent investigation and conspiracy theories. One was a man with knowledge the CIA was well aware of the existence of an umbrella capable of firing a dart, called a flechette, and Bill also snagged an exclusive interview with a retired FBI agent who was present during Kennedy’s controversial autopsy, and handled the remnants of one of the bullets that hit the president. Bill’s questioning of this agent is worth watching and foreshadowed a style seen decades later on the “O’Reilly Factor.”

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We also want to mention the photographer who shot Bill’s JFK reports was Rick Huntington, who is retiring this month after more than four decades at WFSB. It was originally a four part series that ran about 16 minutes long. We have have chopped it down to a 7 minute piece. Watch the segment right here: http://www.wfsb.com/video?autoStart=true&topVideoCatNo=default&clipId=9506832

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Read more about Bill’s tenure at WFSB right there and watch some really old video: http://dennishouse.wordpress.com/2011/02/24/bill-oreilly-the-lost-wfsb-tapes/

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Face the State Flashback: Cable TV Comes to Connecticut
October 17, 2013

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As I look around the WFSB newsroom it’s clear most of the people were born in the age of cable television and have no concept as to what life was like before cable. There are a few of us who remember the days of three television stations, but 20-somethings are used to 500 channels and on demand for everything. In this week’s Face the State flashback, we’ll take you back to when cable television first came to Connecticut.

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Our old story from the archives has a date of October 27, 1977. It’s a report by Pam Cross, who is now with WCVB in Boston. Pam tells an interesting story of the battle to bring cable to homes here (it took years,) and the long process it took to wire homes. There is even a glimpse of one of the early cable television remote control devices.

Tune in this Sunday at 11AM for Face the State only on WFSB Channel 3.

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The Fatherhood Fifteen
October 16, 2013

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A viewer wrote to me the other day saying my suits looked tight lately. Another I met this weekend said “you look bigger in person.” A third was more direct via Facebook: “have you gained weight?”

Truth is, yes I have. For every viewer who wrote, there were likely many more who were thinking the same thing. I even got two e-mails from personal trainers offering their services. I guess I must look terrible on the news. Thanks, I think.

We’ve all heard of the “freshman fifteen,” that weight many people pack on when they go to college and eat dining hall food and learn about beer. There is also another fat phenomenon I’ll call the “fatherhood fifteen.”

I can’t help but finish my kids’s meals. If we go out to dinner and they leave a half plate of Mac and cheese, I eat it. An extra chicken finger? Yep, mine. Why throw it away? My mother used to say “there are people starving out there, clean your plate.” Now, that commitment to not wasting food has come back to haunt me.

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I’m changing my eating habits and getting back to the gym and weights, running, and a little racquetball. After finishing off both my kids’ French fries Sunday, I knew it was time for a turnaround. My wife Kara ordering some brownie thing “to share” certainly didn’t help. Monday, I had oatmeal for breakfast and sushi for lunch the next day! The above photo is from this week. The one below 25 pounds and 25 years ago.

I’ll keep you posted when I’ve lost that fifteen, or maybe ten. Five?

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Denise D’Ascenzo Honored with Silver Circle Award
October 15, 2013

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She doesn’t like to brag, in fact the whole notion of being recognized for her work makes her fidget, but Denise D’Ascenzo is receiving a big honor. My longtime co-anchor has been elected to the Silver Circle for the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.

Basically, Denise is being honored for more than a quarter century of excellence in broadcast journalism and contributions to the community. I’m extra proud, because I nominated her.

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Truth be told, I’ve wanted to nominate her for years, but she recoiled in horror at the prospect of being in the position where our mathematically gifted viewers might be able to take an educated guess at her age in a youth-oriented business. I’ll tell you a secret: Denise is over 35. Shhh.

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We are so beaming with pride and joy. Congratulations, my friend.

Watch the nomination video we put together for Denise: http://www.wfsb.com/global/category.asp?c=208507&autoStart=true&topVideoCatNo=default&clipId=9561877

Read more about Denise’s career from her 25th anniversary in 2011: http://dennishouse.wordpress.com/2011/03/18/denise-dascenzo-celebrates-25-years-at-wfsb/

Life After Television
September 27, 2013

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What becomes of television news anchors after they leave the airwaves? If you are a faithful watcher of Face the State, you know that some of your local tv newspeople have gone on to successful careers in politics, business, public relations, and the occasional Face the State guest.

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This Sunday on Face the State, we are joined by one such ex-newsman, who is now a power broker at the state capitol. Derek Slap, formerly of WVIT, is now the chief of staff to the senate Democrats, and will make his television debut this weekend as a Face the State pundit, commentator, and analyst. For information on Sunday’s show, click right here: http://dennishouse.wordpress.com/2013/09/20/obamacare-comes-to-connecticut-on-tuesday/

Just last week, one of our guests was Ann Baldwin, one of Slap’s former colleagues, and now a public relations guru. We had her on to lend some PR perspective on Tom Foley, and his comments that ignited a firestorm of controversy.

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We’ve had several Face the State guests on the show who have broadcast journalism on their resumes, including Diane Smith, former WTNH anchor and now a best selling author, and a host on CT-N.

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Another WTNH alumnus, Ted Koppy, has been on the program to offer insight into the economy. He now works as a financial planner. Ted’s Face the State debut was marred by a lighting issue, which made our set look a strange color. Good thing he had a television background and was well prepared for technical problems!

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Shelly Sindland, who once co-hosted a public affairs program on WTIC, has been on as well. She, too is in the public relations industry, and works in radio.

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Speaking of radio, one of the most listened to voices in Connecticut, was once one of our top reporters here at WFSB. Jim Vicevich comes on Face the State now and then to offer his take on all things politics.

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Two former local news people have been guests on Face the State, after becoming candidates for congress. Janet Peckinpaugh, was one of my co-anchors here at Channel 3 in the 1990s, ran for CT-2 in 2010, and appeared twice on Face the State. This appearance below took place in the news studio due to construction in the Face the State studio.

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Also making an appearance during a run for political office: Grant Stinchfield, formerly an investigative reporter with WVIT, who was running for congress in Texas. Grant made national news with what he said on Face the State, accusing NBC of bias when he was a reporter in both Hartford and Dallas, and told me that’s why he left the television news business.

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Three former moderators of Face the State have been guests over the years. Larrye deBear and Don Noel have been on to talk about historic events and past interviews, and of course Duby McDowell. Duby was the longtime FTS moderator and political reporter and now serves as the station’s political analyst alongside Brian Flaherty.

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Look for all of these fine folks on future editions of Face the State.

We should also note that former WFSB anchor Mika Brzezinski, now of Morning Joe fame, also came on Face the State once, and brought along co-host Joe Scarborough for the fun.

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You never know where a Face the State guest will show up. CT Capitol Report’s Tom Dudchik, who did not have a television background, got his own show after a Face the State appearances in 2010 and 2011. I like to tease Tom “that I discovered him.”

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Also worth reading: http://dennishouse.wordpress.com/2013/07/23/the-jubilation-of-that-first-baby-picture/

Channel 3 Back to School Pictures
August 21, 2013

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It’s August, and that means back to school, although I’m pretty certain when I was a kid we went back to school after Labor Day. Perhaps it is revisionist history on my part, but I’m still in the summer mode.

To get people jazzed about leaving the beach and heading back to the bus stop, our WFSB promotions guys Greg Thomas and Brian Kowalenko have come up with a pretty cool idea. They asked members of the Eyewitness News team for our class pictures when we were in elementary school to be used in a promotional campaign.

Here are the pictures you will see, but you’ll have to watch Channel 3 over the next few weeks to see the clever captions Greg and Brian pulled out of their brains. They’re pretty funny. By the way, that’s me above in the snazzy turtleneck in either kindergarten or the first grade at the Cornelius Callahan School in Norwood, Massachusetts sporting a bad case of bed head. Check out another class picture and read about my trip to one of my elementary schools right here: http://dennishouse.wordpress.com/2012/04/24/its-all-about-norwood/

Here are my Channel 3 teammates in their grammar school glamour shots.

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Mike Cameron

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Denise D’Ascenzo

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Mark Dixon

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Kara Sundlun

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Eric Parker

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Irene O’Connor

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Hena Daniels

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Scot Haney

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Bruce DePrest

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The Day the Washington Post Sold Us
August 6, 2013

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In the spring of 1997, the Washington Post company appeared to be strengthening its presence in Hartford. The headquarters of its television division, Post-Newsweek stations, had been moved to Connecticut’s capital city to a vacant floor at WFSB-TV’s iconic Broadcast House in the shadow of the Travelers Tower. That floor was transformed from a huge storage area, into an upscale, wood-paneled, swank executive enclave befitting a media corporation. The Post was also investing in an empty adjacent building for studios for the syndicated Gayle King Show, set to debut that fall.

WFSB was one of the Washington Post’s top rated stations, and its call letters stood for the one-time chairman of the company, Frederick S. Beebe. It was a vital part of the company, which is one reason why the headquarters were coming here.

In May of ’97, WFSB was paid a visit by the legendary Katherine Graham, the trail blazing publisher of the Post who led the paper during the Watergate era. I had the great honor of being assigned to interview Mrs. Graham during her brief trip to Hartford.

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I studied up on Graham and I thought the interview went very well. I remember she was also very interested in MY career, and she beamed with pride when I told her how proud I was to be under contract with a Post-Newsweek station. I also shared with this publishing titan that I was inspired to become a journalist by two of her best known reporters, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. Their book “All the President’s Men” made an indelible impression on me and to this day I never tire of watching the movie.

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But the Graham visit on May 29th was not without controversy. One of our unions at WFSB was in the midst of a labor dispute with management, and picketed Graham’s stop at the historic Bushnell Theater, where she appeared with General Norman Schwartzkopf for a Connecticut Forum event on leadership. Inside WFSB, yes, the station Graham owned, another disgruntled employee replaced the cake in one of the men’s room urinals with a picture of the woman who had been so kind to me.

Three days later, WFSB employees got quite a shock. A station-wide meeting was called, that was touted as so important, my co-anchor Denise D’Ascenzo came in from maternity leave for it. We were stunned when it was announced the Washington Post company was selling us. It was a trade actually, involving cash and a station in Orlando. That Orlando station would later have its call letters changed to WKMG, in the honor of my interview subject.

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How could this be? No one in the assembly that included Gayle, Mika Brzezinski and 150 others could believe it. Was it the protest? The photo in the john? We visualized Mrs. Graham leaving Hartford in an embarrassed huff ordering an underling to “get rid of that place!” Who knows what the actual reasons for selling us were.

It was an uncertain time, and I can certainly empathize with the employees of the Washington Post who are wondering what is next with new owner Jeff Bezos of Amazon fame. I’m sure they are saddened by the end of an era, as I was.

However, change can be good and I can’t say enough good things about our new owners, the Meredith Corporation, who have run Channel 3 for 16 years now. By the way, Post-Newsweek stations is not part of the Post Bezos deal and I should point out, I still have a vested interest in PN stations because I will get a pension from them someday.

Post-Newsweek kept its headquarters in Hartford for a few years after the sale, before moving them to Detroit.

You can watch my interview with Katherine Graham this Sunday morning at 11AM on Face the State.

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