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This just in: a night in the lives of D-FW's late night newscasts (Thurs., Feb. 14)

Late night newscasts were on cruise control Thursday. Photos: Ed Bark

We're right in the heart of the February "sweeps" ratings period, with nine weeknights left after Thursday's Valentine's Day extravaganza.

So your friendly content provider will muster as much stamina as possible for another continuous round of up-close looks at the 10 p.m. editions on NBC5, WFAA8 and CBS11, and the featured 9 p.m. news on Fox4. Why? Because it's instructive to stay in touch with what they're selling as news during these thrice-annual competitions.

Advertising rates ostensibly are re-adjusted after the smoke clears, although metered "overnight" markets like D-FW deliver daily report cards on programming successes and failures. Still, the news departments at the aforementioned stations shift into higher gears during the annual sweeps months of February, May and November. Some of them deny it, but everyone's keeping score and playing for keeps until the Feb. 27th closing bell sounds. Anchor vacations and comp time then kick back in -- until the next time.

Thursday turned out to be a relatively rare night of striking similarities, with all four stations ganging up on three main stories that chewed up big chunks of air time.

Triumph the insult Carnival cruise ship led the way, of course. Followed by the ongoing manhunt for escaped, dangerous prisoner Alberto Morales and the "mega-merger" between American Airlines and US Airways.

WFAA8 was the only D-FW station to send a staff reporter to Mobile, Alabama, where the ship finally floated to rest just in time for live shots on local newscasts throughout the land. "The journey is finally over," said Monika Diaz, who also interviewed family members awaiting their loved ones' arrivals.

Fox4, NBC5 and CBS11 respectively opted for live reports from network correspondents on the scene. All of the stations also had live or previously recorded telephone interviews with passengers from Texas. WFAA8 co-anchor Gloria Campos did the best job during her live discourse with Dr. Kay Trotter of Plano.

NBC5 reporter Amanda Guerra had the bluntest-edged question, asking "What does it smell like?" In a word, bad, she was told.

CBS11 co-anchor Doug Dunbar stepped in it a bit by telling viewers that "some people have described" the cruise ordeal as "Katrina on a ship."

That nonsensical comparison came most notably from CNN dockside reporter Martin Savidge, who was shot down on live TV in no uncertain terms by a passenger named Rob Kenny.

"Let's put that in perspective," Kenny retorted immediately in a clip that's now getting heavy Internet play. "I mean, Katrina was a major devastation. We're on a freakin' cruise ship . . . Two different things."

CBS11 also used a clip in which the Midlothian, TX parents of a 16-year-old female passenger said their daughter wanted McDonald's Chicken McNuggets, fries and an iced tea as her first post-cruise meal. They said this on CNN, but CBS11 used the material without crediting the originating network. That's just not right.

The four stations all had live reports on the status of fugitive Morales. On Fox4, Fil Alvarado's dispatch was marred by a technical glitch in which viewers initially heard an unidentified man saying, "I never dreamed about being naked at work." Fox4 anchors Steve Eagar and Heather Hays simply let this go without any explanation to viewers.

On WFAA8, co-anchor John McCaa introduced Jim Douglas' report by saying that Morales had a distinctive tattoo on his left arm and "you'll see it in just a second." Not quite. Instead a photo of the tattoo was shown about 20 minutes later during the newscast's closing segment.

For the American Airlines/US Air merger story, only NBC5 reporter Scott Gordon asked newly appointed CEO Doug Parker about the "controversial" $20 million severance package being awarded outgoing AA CEO Tom Horton.

"I had nothing to do with the $20 million dollar figure . . . That's not US Airways concern. Frankly, it's not our money," Parker contended. But Gordon noted that both airlines were involved in the severance negotiations.

WFAA8 reporter Jason Whitely mentioned the $20 million parting gift in his story, but had no on-air comments from either Parker or Horton. Fox4's Brandon Todd and CBS11's Jason Allen did not mention the lightning rod severance package in their late night live reports.

Byron Harris of WFAA8 had a contextual companion piece on the possible rocky road ahead for American and US airways. His launch point was a United Airlines-Continental merger that has been a financial bust since taking hold in 2010.


Fox4 has two reliably solid weekly features in Saul Garza's "What's Buggin' You?" and James Rose's "Street Squad." It was the latter's turn Thursday night, and he delivered with an interesting piece on a highly accident-prone stretch of road in Rockwall. Vehicles invariably skid into the vicinity of nearby businesses whenever it rains, Rose reported. Boulders are serving as makeshift last walls of defense while TXDot pledges to do something about it someday.

***CBS11's beefed-up "i-Team" trained its sights on an elderly victim who fell for a get-rich-quick "Secret Shopper" scam. The newly hired Brian New got some nice promotable sound bites out of Sarah Smalls, who vowed, "You do me dirty once, you don't do me dirty twice."

Stories such as these are less than a dime a dozen, though. So CBS11 spiced it with a companion "Top 10 Scams" list and an invitation to find it on dfw.cbslocal.com. Shortly after came the nightly sweeps trivia quiz tied to CBS' preceding 9 p.m. crime series, in this case Elementary. A $500 prize is possible, but again only by visiting the station's website.

***It doesn't take a ratings sweeps period for WFAA8 weathercaster Pete Delkus and sports anchor Dale Hansen to polish their comedy act. Still, this exchange was something of a classic on the "Family First" station.

Hansen noted that his long-suffering wife, Chris, had given him chocolate-covered strawberries and Viagra for Valentine's Day.

"What did you give her?" Delkus asked.

"I took the Viagra," said Hansen.

***Longtime Fox4 news personality Clarice Tinsley took a considerably tamer Valentine's Day tack after first framing her face with an inflatable heart (see picture below) for her second "Your Turn" Facebook segment of the night.

One respondent said a special day shouldn't be needed to rev up the love. Which prompted Tinsley to tell viewers, "My husband hates Valentine's Day. He is not a fan at all. Says he shows me love 365. And you know what? I'm cool with that."

Um, eat your heart out, Hansen.