By Tim Cuprisin Media Columnist Published Oct 16, 2009 at 11:00 AM

It is the ultimate merger of "reality" TV and TV's version of "news."

The saga of the balloon boy took an even more ridiculous turn as 6-year-old boy Falcon Heene got sick not once, but twice on live TV this morning during airings of ABC's "Good Morning America" and NBC's "Today." The icky footage didn't make it into the Central Time Zone feed of "Today" (the network morning shows don't air live here).

On "GMA," you could hear him retching off camera.

"This is just another day in the life of what we do," said fake-weepy dad, Richard Heene, who put his family on every TV show that would take them this morning. He'd already put his family on ABC' "Wife Swap," demonstrating an exhibitionism that apparently knows no bounds.

Earlier, the elder Heene had become testy at questions about Falcon's comment on the previous night's "Larry King Live, that "we did this for a show."

Video of that interesting TV moment follows at the end of the column.

Even before the slip, or whatever it was, from the balloon boy, there had been plenty of doubts about this story. There were glimmers of skepticism during cable's wall-to-wall coverage.

Said Fox News Channel's Shepard Smith, hours before the boy was found: "And where would I go? I would go directly under the bed. My suggestion would be that we look under the bed. Because, the little boy, if he didn't get in there, he knows he messed up."

But because news organizations take things seriously until they're shown to be otherwise, CNN spent substantial airtime analyzing a still photo that appeared to show something falling off the odd, silver mushroom-shaped balloon.

Or was it muffin-shaped?

The big question today will be how could TV had covered this story differently.

The answer is simple: They really couldn't.

Since there was a chance that the boy was in the balloon, none of the three all-news channels wanted to be the one not airing live coverage when he was rescued -- or when the story ended tragically.

Technology makes such coverage possible -- although the balloon looked far bigger in the air than when it finally landed in Colorado, perhaps giving a false impression about its ability to carry a 6-year-old.

And countless Americans -- I haven't seen any Nielsen estimates just yet on the audience -- were glued to their TVs Thursday afternoon to watch the show.

The next time a story like this breaks, expect similar coverage. Unless, of course, there's early word that the family involved is named Heene.

ON TV: ABC's "Ugly Betty" finally returns with a two-hour premiere tonight at 7 on Channel 12, with Betty starting her new job as an assistant editor.

  • Taylor Swift will perform double duty on NBC's "Saturday Night Live" on Nov. 7, hosting and singing. And there's already talk about the opportunity for her having on-camera fun at the expense of rude Kanye West.
  • Speaking of "SNL," this weekend's host is Scotsman Gerard Butler (his movie, "Law Abiding Citizen" opens this weekend.) Shakira is musical guest at 10:30 p.m. Saturday on Channel 4.
  • Channel 6 says it will offer live coverage of the Nov. 21 Milwaukee Holiday Parade. It will air from 9:30 to 11 a.m.
  • The first of my weekly OnMedia television reports has been posted at Time Warner Cable's "Wisconsin on Demand" Channel 411, for digital cable subscribers.

TWO GREAT PUMPKINS: ABC says it's going to air the animated Peanuts classic, "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown" twice this Halloween season. The airings on Tuesday, Oct. 27, and Wednesday, Oct. 28, is good news for fans of the gang.

But it's bad news for fans of Kelsey Grammer's new sitcom, "Hank," which is being pulled for the second airing.

The key November ratings "sweeps" begin the following night, Oct. 29, and there's no word yet whether "Hank" -- the weakest show in ABC Wednesday comedy lot -- will be pulled during that four-week period. That's normal practice with low-rated shows, to avoid lowering the ratings for the night.

Ultimately, "Hank" looks doomed.

Tim Cuprisin Media Columnist

Tim Cuprisin is the media columnist for He's been a journalist for 30 years, starting in 1979 as a police reporter at the old City News Bureau of Chicago, a legendary wire service that's the reputed source of the journalistic maxim "if your mother says she loves you, check it out." He spent a couple years in the mean streets of his native Chicago, and then moved on to the Green Bay Press-Gazette and USA Today, before coming to the Milwaukee Journal in 1986.

A general assignment reporter, Cuprisin traveled Eastern Europe on several projects, starting with a look at Poland after five years of martial law, and a tour of six countries in the region after the Berlin Wall opened and Communism fell. He spent six weeks traversing the lands of the former Yugoslavia in 1994, linking Milwaukee Serbs, Croats and Bosnians with their war-torn homeland.

In the fall of 1994, a lifetime of serious television viewing earned him a daily column in the Milwaukee Journal (and, later the Journal Sentinel) focusing on TV and radio. For 15 years, he has chronicled the changes rocking broadcasting, both nationally and in Milwaukee, an effort he continues at

When he's not watching TV, Cuprisin enjoys tending to his vegetable garden in the backyard of his home in Whitefish Bay, cooking and traveling.