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A good run: Lise Bang-Jensen and David Hepp are wrapping up their long-running news show.

PHOTO: Chris Shield

That’s All, Folks

After 32 years, public-affairs show Inside Albany is calling it quits


On the empty 12th floor of Agency One at the Empire State Plaza in Albany, David Hepp, Lise Bang-Jensen and Gary Glinski gathered together around a small TV monitor, watching as the first 16 years of Inside Albany raced past them in a tightly edited montage. The small production staff laughed at how time can be delineated along beards, bad hairdos and politicians. They traded quips about the decades of chasing stories and newsmakers, of covering protests and controversies, and the challenge of reporting—in a fresh way every year—on all of those late state budgets.

“We are proud of what we have done,” Hepp said. “And we are happy with our decision.” On Dec. 31, after 32 years in business, the popular public-affairs show will go dark.

Hepp, a graduate of Siena College and Syracuse University, started his career in broadcast journalism at WHMT-TV in Schenectady. At the time, the public-television station was doing a Meet the Press-style public-affairs show, he said, but decided that they wanted to have a greater presence in the Capital Region. So Hepp and his then-partner, Peg Breen, started Inside Albany, a weekly show offering insight and analysis into the happenings of state government, cutting through the noise, as Hepp said, “and separating the wheat from the chaff. We would offer a summary at the end of the week that said, ‘This is important. This is what you should be paying attention to that is coming out of Albany.’ ”

When the show first aired, it was on nine public-television stations at a single time statewide, eventually settling into the time slot it would hold onto for years: Saturday at 7 PM. At the time, Hepp pointed out with obvious pride, it was the only program of its kind.

In the beginning, the show was subsidized by public television; they essentially worked for WMHT. It had a staff of eight, and WMHT handled the administrative and post-production duties. A luxurious situation, Bang-Jensen chided, asking Hepp, “What did you do with all your time?”

“We figured out how to do the show,” he replied, laughing. “We were an hour long back then.”

In 1987, after working for Albany’s former afternoon paper, the Knickerbocker News, Bang-Jensen joined the staff. “When I came in,” she said, “Inside Albany had no answering machine, no computers, and tripods made out of wood.”

“And hamsters in the cameras,” Hepp added.

She and Hepp worked as co-hosts, growing their audience, gaining attention and winning awards, but there were already signs of trouble. WMHT had begun shuffling the program into different time slots, an unpleasant experience for any show, Bang-Jensen said. Viewers are creatures of habit.

And whenever the public-television stations would go into fund-raising mode, the show would get bumped. “Public affairs is not something you fund-raise around,” Hepp explained.

In 1995, Inside Albany had lost a couple of its underwriters and public television had determined that it wanted to go in a different direction. The president and general manager of WMHT at the time, Donn Rogosin, wanted to start New York Week in Review, a show in which a few journalists sit around talking about the week’s events—a much cheaper endeavour.

“This was in the summer. So they ended the program,” Hepp said. “Fired us. We decided after a little while . . .”

“It was like a week,” Bang-Jensen clarified.

“We decided,” Hepp continued, “that there was an audience for this. So we went back to the people who fired us, and said, ‘If we can find the money, will you put us on the air again?’ ”

Rogosin told Hepp that WMHT would continue carrying Inside Albany if it could raise the money to be independently produced.

“But he was the only person who thought we couldn’t do it,” Bang-Jensen added. “He couldn’t raise the money, or he chose not to raise the money, so he thought we couldn’t either.”

Hepp and Bang-Jensen hired a fund-raiser, and in the space of four months, raised $400,000. They brought Glinski along with them, as a cameraman and director, and the show was back on the air by the winter, just in time for the legislative session.

“We have been operating a little business ever since,” Bang-Jensen said.

“It’s worked out,” Hepp said. But it is very difficult, he added. After leaving WMHT, the show’s staff was cut in half, and without the station handling the administrative duties, the workload increased significantly. Plus, they were now solely responsible for raising the show’s yearly budget. And television is expensive, and getting more so every year.

“A lot more expensive than that,” Bang-Jensen said, pointing to a reporter’s digital voice recorder.

The costs continue to balloon. The cost to uplink the program to the satelite steadily rises, and those unexpected costs constantly stress the budget. This past January, the FCC ruled that all shows ought to be close-captioned. Not a bad thing, Bang-Jensen said, but the cost of $7,000 a year was an additional expense that just wasn’t in their budget.

“We have to run in place just to do the show every week,” Hepp said. “Anything extra extends the work week, and you can’t do the stories justice.”

Hepp said that the financial realities were becoming increasingly frustrating over the past few years. They couldn’t do the stories that they used to do. They couldn’t afford to travel as much as they could at one time. They really noticed their limitations during the past election cycle. So calling it quits, Bang-Jensen continued, while they are still producing high-quality programming, is the most responsible decision.

In the last few days of the program, Bang-Jensen, Glinski and Hepp will wrap up the loose ends. Bang-Jensen will close out the Paychex account and Hepp will respond to the dozens of e-mail that have flooded the show’s inbox.

“ ‘You can’t do this!!!!!,’ ” he read one e-mail aloud, noting the five exclamation points. “ ‘I have been a fan of this show since the early ’80s, and depend on this show to let me know what is going on with the crazy people in Albany. Please rethink this!’ ” Another e-mail, Hepp said, comes from a despondant New Jersey viewer. “ ‘Despite not being a New Yorker, I was fascinated with your show and about how New York state politics really works.’ ”

That made the trio feel good about their tenure in Albany, Hepp said, but for himself, he is ready to retire, “at least for the time being,” he said, adding the well-worn retiree joke: “Let’s see how long it takes till I drive my wife crazy.”

Bang-Jensen and Glinski, however, are looking for work.

—Chet Hardin

What a Week

Santa Not Welcome Here

He’s fat, he’s jolly, and he’s banned from Hazleton, Pa. As part of an effort to crack down on illegal immigrants, the town has banned Santa Claus because he is an undocumented worker. According to the citizen-led “No Santa for Hazleton” campaign’s Web site, Santa is neither an American nor legally recognized for residency. The site also blasts Santa for employing thousands of elves in “sweatshop or slave labor-type conditions.” This summer, Hazleton passed an ordinance making English the official language and punishing those who hire or rent to illegal immigrants. According to Mayor Lou Barletta, “We are waging a war of culture, and Santa is a dangerous idea whose reign must be put to an end.” Someone’s so on the naughty list.

Bruno: One Great Secret-Keeper

Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno (R-Brunswick) held a news conference Tuesday to announce that he is the subject of an FBI investigation into his business interests outside of the state Legislature. “My style is to be open and honest,” Bruno told reporters yesterday, months after the investigation began late this spring. “When it was brought to my attention that the inquiry had been leaked to the media, I wanted to be up front and assure that I have nothing to hide and avoid speculation, distortions or unfounded rumors.”

This Just In: Saratoga Nurses Are Hot

Nurses at Saratoga Hospital earned compliments from the nationally syndicated Close to Home cartoon Monday. The cartoon depicts an EMT loading a patient into an ambulance. The caption states, “You’ve got two options, bud. Mercy Hospital is 20 minutes closer, but the nurses at Saratoga Hospital are really hot.” The comic’s artist, Saratoga Springs resident John McPherson, reported that the cartoon was based on his personal experience.

All He Wants for Christmas Is a Few More Troops

In an interview with the Washington Post Tuesday, President George W. Bush acknowledged, for the first time, that the United States isn’t winning the war in Iraq. “We’re not winning, but we’re not losing,” Bush said. OK. The solution? More troops, according to Bush. The president said that he has asked new U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates to report back to him with a plan to increase ground forces.

Suddenly on the Fast Track

Did the efforts of a citizens group and a councilman lead to a sudden rush for public-access TV in Albany?

On Sunday, the Coalition to Save Albany stood in front of Albany City Hall with a request and a threat. They echoed their demand for public-access TV in Albany, and they threatened the city with a lawsuit. Anton Konev of the coalition claimed in a press release that the city had yet to comply with his Freedom of Information Act request for a copy of the city’s expired contract with Time Warner Cable.

By the Tuesday evening Common Council meeting, things had changed. Konev had a copy of the city’s expired contract in his hands, and the slow crawl toward getting a public-access station established in Albany had turned into a sprint.

On Dec. 13, the issue of public-access negotiations was taken out of the Common Council Law Committee and given to a new ad hoc committee formed by the council president pro tempore, Richard Conti (Ward 6).

Corey Ellis (Ward 3), who has recently spearheaded the public-access issue, was not pleased to find that he had not been invited to be part of the committee. “My exact words,” said Ellis, “were, ‘I’m offended!’ I believe this committee was put together after some citizens and I raised the issue. No one on the council had brought it up in seven or eight months, and I was not a part of it.”

However, Conti said that Ellis had not spoken to him about the issue of public access. Conti insisted that the law committee, where the Time Warner negotiations are overseen, was busy and, as a result, the contract negotiation “wasn’t getting the focus it should have gotten.”

Conti explained that the members appointed to the ad hoc committee were chosen based on their knowledge, and that he and Carolyn McLaughlin (Ward 2), who both have leadership positions on the council, were appointed to show that the issue was important. He claimed that the ad hoc committee was not appointed as a reaction to the efforts of Ellis and the Coalition to Save Albany. “The committee was not a new idea. It had been around for a while. Ad hoc committees are useful. I have appointed three this year to focus special attention, and that’s why I appointed it.”

According to council rules, any council member is allowed to take part in ad hoc committee sessions unless special measures are taken.

On Tuesday, Ellis introduced legislation that would have council members vote for their support of establishing a public-access studio in Albany. “I’m going to try to get it on the agenda to see where they stand,” said Ellis. “Do they want this or not? Most of the info is out there. Most of the council members aren’t new. This first came about years ago, and most of them have already formed an opinion. The first step is showing we want this done. An ad hoc committee does not do that. It just allows the executive to maneuver how they want it done, and not the council. We don’t need a committee to tell us if we support this.”

Meanwhile, Councilman John Rosenzweig (Ward 8), who was named chair of the ad hoc committee on public access, made it a priority during the council meeting to inform members that the committee was working swiftly. Rosenzweig announced that the first meeting would take place between the corporation counsel and the committee on Wednesday (yesterday), and that a public meeting had been scheduled for Dec. 27 at 5:30 PM, at which the committee will take input and gauge what the public wants to see in their public-access studio.

“I look forward to working with the groups who have put so much energy into this already, groups like CANA [the Council of Albany Neighborhood Associations] and the League of Women Voters,” said Rosenzweig.

Rosenzweig said that he is not a latecomer to the issue of public access and has had it on his mind since becoming a council member. Conti agreed, saying that he appointed Rosenzweig because he had made it clear the issue was a priority for him. Rosenzweig said he plans to move the committee’s work “expeditiously” with the hope of seeing the city’s plan for public access taking shape by January. He noted that the corporation counsel is still in negotiations with Time Warner, and he would like to see Albany get a deal similar to Bethlehem’s, a deal in which the town was given $10 per subscriber to fund public access.

Ellis insisted that the ad hoc committee could be used as a tool of the administration to mold public access to its liking, and that the issue of public access was left to sit for years until he and the Coalition to Save Albany began to call attention to it again this year. Said Ellis, “The public-access television issue is another sign of the council waiting for the executive to say how it feels before beginning the process of asking for something that will only benefit the residents of Albany.”

Ellis walked out of the council meeting with Konev by his side. Ellis noted that his motion to vote on the issue may have gotten under the skin of some other members but it also served notice that important issues need to be moved, not buried and forgotten. Ellis put his hand on Konev’s shoulder as they walked down the steps of City Hall and told him, “You did a good job.”

—David King

Loose Ends

-no loose ends this week-

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