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Top-rated ABC-owned WLS-Channel 7 will air a Chicago mayoral candidate debate on Thursday, Feb. 17, at 7 p.m. It is unclear at this point how many of the candidates will participate in the event. The hour-long, commercial-free debate, hosted by Channel 7 anchor and reporter Ron Magers, will be broadcast live from the Ford Center for the Performing Arts/Oriental Theatre in the loop. It also will be streamed live on abc7chicago.com and broadcast at a time-to-be-announced on Univision Chicago.

To present the debate, Channel 7 is partnering with several organizations, including the Chicago Foundation for Women, Chicago Loop Alliance, Chicago Urban League, League of Chicago Theatres, League of Women Voters, Mikva Challenge, National Council of La Raza and Univision Chicago.

"We are proud of ABC 7's long-standing tradition of broadcasting candidate debates, and with the intense focus on Chicago's next mayor, we knew a timely mayoral debate was essential," said Emily Barr, president and general manager of WLS-Channel 7.

ABC-owned WLS-Channel 7 said late Friday it has inked deals with two producers who will play key roles in the development of a new live morning show tentatively titled "Morning Rush."

The hour-long show is expected to debut after "The Oprah Winfrey Show" ends its long run in the 9 a.m. time slot on Channel 7 in the fall of 2011. Marlaine Selip will serve as the new show's executive producer and Cindy Patrasso will be the show's supervising producer.

Selip has a varied career in the TV business, including stints as supervising producer of "The Montel Williams Show" and a role as executive producer of MSNBC's "Donahue." Among other things, she also was senior news producer for NBC Enterprises' "The John Walsh Show."

On her Facebook page, Patrasso describes herself as a 30-year veteran of the television industry, as well as the president and sole owner of CP and Co., a national television and events production company. She also was a former president of the Orbis Broadcast Group and a vice president and executive producer for Chicago-based Intersport Television.

Channel 7 general manager Emily Barr said both new executives come to the station "with deep Chicago roots and extensive experience in live, daytime television." Barr also praised their "strong leadership skills and good old-fashioned Midwestern values." One thing neither executive has, it appears, is a direct connection to "The Oprah Winfrey Show," which suggests Barr is not looking to replicate aspects of that syndicated show as she seeks to come up with a fresh and different Chicago-centric morning show.

Both Selip and Patrasso join the station on Nov. 1. No further decisions on talent, set or the content of the new WLS show will be made until after that date, Barr said.

The Live Well Network -- the ABC-owned television station group's broadcast, online and wireless service for emerging digital channels in local markets -- is expanding its reach. Five new television affiliates -- all part of the Belo Corp. group of TV stations -- have signed on to air Live Well programming. The Belo stations are located in Dallas-Ft. Worth, St. Louis, New Orleans, Hampton-Norfolk and Charlotte.

The development of the Live Well Network was spearheaded by ABC-owned WLS-Channel 7 general manager Emily Barr. Among the new programs slated to debut on the Live Well Network next month is "Here's How-Right Now!" a fix-it program developed by WLS and shot at the WLS studios in Chicago. Until the addition of the Belo stations, Live Well programming was seen only on ABC-affiliated stations. More TV stations outside the ABC family are expected to join the Live Well Network in upcoming months.

ABC-owned WLS-Channel 7 and its sister owned stations in New York, Los Angeles and seven other markets are today launching a new package of six original, advertiser-supported programs under the banner title "Live Well HD." The new programming will air on WLS's digital channel 7.2.

Emily Barr, president and general manager of WLS, and William Burton, executive vice-president, digital media, for the ABC-owned television stations group, jointly orchestrated the start up of the new HD program offerings. "We created 'Live Well HD' for a national audience hungry for high definition programming that will help them make sense of their busy lives," said Barr.

WLS's contribution to the "Live Well HD" programming package is "Let's Dish," hosted by Chris Koetke, dean of the School of Culinary Arts at Kendall College. It's described as a cooking show that proves healthy food never tasted so good. Other shows in the "Live Well HD" line-up include the home makeover program "Home with Lisa Quinn," a fashion and beauty offering called "Mirror, Mirror," a health and medical program titled "Say Ahhh," an outdoors-focused show called "Motion" and "Advice For Life" about solving difficult life problems.

Complementing "Live Well HD's" digital broadcast schedule is an Internet Web site featuring a video player for continuous series streaming. The new content was produced primarily by ABC-owned television stations.

Knowles ,Jason.jpgTo replace general assignment reporter Dan Ponce, who split last month to pursue a singing career, ABC-owned WLS-Channel 7 has reached into the reservoir of talent in its own news department to find Ponce's successor. Starting on Saturday, Jason Knowles joins the ranks of on-air reporters at the station with the city's top-rated newscasts. Knowles had been at WLS since 2004, working primarily behind the scenes as a special projects producer. Before coming to WLS, however, Knowles worked on air at several other television stations, including ABC-owned WTVG-TV in Toledo, Ohio, and WKAG-TV in Hopkinsville, Ky.

Per WLS President and General Manager Emily Barr, she and WLS News Director Jennifer Graves felt Knowles was ready to do more in front of the camera for the station. But just to be sure, they gave him an assignment one recent Saturday to cover a shooting incident. They liked the results, and Knowles now has the general assignment gig, having beat out some 200 other reporter talents from around the country who submitted tapes to Graves.

Barr said Knowles initially will do news stories for the station's early morning and mid-day news reports. He also will have the opportunity to fill in for reporters working the evening newscasts when they are on vacation or otherwise engaged.

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Lewis Lazare has written the Media Mix column for the Chicago Sun-Times for the past seven and a half years.

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