This just in: A night in the lives of D-FW's late night newscasts (Mon., Feb. 14)
02/15/11 01:39 PM
By ED BARK
It's the heart of the four-week February "sweeps" ratings period, prompting what some might see as another masochistic full-immersion into the late night activities of D-FW's four major TV news providers.
In order to retain a semblance of sanity, your friendly content provider prefers to view this as a periodic opportunity to catch up with the latest approaches on Fox4's featured 9 p.m. edition and the 10 p.m. programs on NBC5, WFAA8 and CBS11. You can't fairly critique without taking some refresher courses. So for these next two weeks, the idea is to watch each newscast in its entirety with an eye toward pointing out highlights, lowlights and in-betweens.
Two things jumped out Monday night. NBC5, once the laughable purveyor of flash, trash and cotton candy filler, seems to be intent on reversing that course. Also, Fox4's ever-evolving 9 p.m. news has another new segment that at first glance looks like a much better use of time than the old "News Edge" compilation of videos from far and wide.
Fox4, NBC5 and CBS11 all led with details of a high speed chase through Kaufman County that ended with State Troopers riddling a motorist and his runaway car with bullets. Police later learned, or so they said, that a child in a car seat was also riding along. Reporting live from outside Parkland Hospital, NBC5's Omar Villafranca had the most detailed, up-to-date account.
He obtained a photo, from family members, of the three-year-old child's minor but still angry looking back wound. He also reported, as did WFAA8, that the injury in fact was not caused by a bullet or a bullet graze. Villafranca emphasized that family members weren't excusing the evasive actions of the motorist, who was shot twice in the stomach. But they did claim, he reported, that calls were made to police dispatchers notifying them that a child was in the vehicle. Police denied receiving any such information.
Both Fox4's Matt Grubs and CBS11's Andrea Lucia unequivocally said that the boy had been grazed by a bullet. Grubs, stationed live in the dark by a highway "near Terrell," also told Fox4 anchors that the name of the motorist had not been released by police. But the three rival stations all identified him as Stephen Capps.
NBC5's Scott Gordon later had the only report from Austin on rolling blackout hearings that will be continuing Tuesday. CBS11 said that its Jack Fink likewise would be in the state capital by that time.
Monday night's best story also came from NBC5, with the invariably solid Scott Friedman reporting in depth on the numerous problems authorities have had with blurry or grainy red light camera pictures.
"It turns out the cameras take a lot of bad pictures," he said, noting that from 2007 to 2010, more than 780,000 red light-violating motorists got a "free pass" because of problems in reading their license plates. That's appreciably more than the 554,000 tickets that actually were handed out, Friedman said.
The story also highlighted a wrongly ticketed motorist from California who received a bill in the mail after authorities mis-read his plate. All in all, said co-anchor Meredith Land, more than $58 million in "potential fines" had been waylaid by inconclusive license plate images.
NBC5 also had Ellen Goldberg reporting live from downtown Dallas on the closing of the West End Morton's steakhouse after 23 years at that location. A new one is opening in "trendier" uptown Dallas, she noted. WFAA8 briefly mentioned the closing. Fox4, whose downtown studios are within a block or so of the old Morton's, made no mention of its demise.
After all this heavy lifting, NBC5 co-anchor Brian Curtis could be excused for promoting an end-of-the-newscast kicker by saying tongue-in-cheek, "We have breaking Barbie and Ken news when we come back." It turns out that Mattel is getting the two back together again after a six-year estrangement. News of this sort might have been a lead story -- honest -- on NBC5's godawful, garbage 'casts of old. In contrast, Monday's edition was solidly built from start to stop. And that's a bonafide news bulletin.
Fox4 has a full prime-time hour to fill opposite 9 p.m. network entries on rival stations. It's been re-tooling a lot lately, with one of the newer wrinkles looking good Monday night.
Co-anchor Heather Hays led viewers through a four-pronged "News Wrap" that made good and concise use of a like number of reporters. Melissa Cutler and Richard Ray respectively reported on entrants in the Dallas and Fort Worth mayoral races before Emily Lopez joined Hays in the news room to recount how a Dallas police officer stopped a dangerous wrong-way motorist by ramming him. James Rose closed the whip-around festivities with a report on blood bank shortages.
All of the reporters were given just enough time to flesh out their segments. Curiously, though, the "News Wrap" menu pictured above on the right-hand border could only be seen on high-definition screens. On a conventional "box" set, it's completely out of the picture.
Fox4 had less success with a live in-studio segment in which substitute anchor Natalie Solis interviewed pediatric Dr. Daniel Moulton about the possible danger of ultra-high caffeine energy drinks.
Moulton wore a sweater vest with his shirt tail hanging out the back. Was he trying to look all cool and Fox-ian? He instead looked disheveled while being shot several times from the rear.
Solis, as too many interviewers do these days, was prone to making statements instead of asking questions. Rather than elaborate, the obviously nervous Moulton simply agreed with her on two occasions, causing Solis to quickly run out of ammunition. Hey, this isn't supposed to be Jeopardy. Ask in the form of questions and you might have a better chance of getting answers.
On CBS11, co-anchor Karen Borta had an informative story on a 41-year-old woman cancer patient who's been getting possibly breakthrough vaccine treatments.
Borta and fellow anchor Doug Dunbar appeared to be more playful than usual on Valentine's night. Dunbar remembered 8-track tapes during his introduction of a new Deep Ellum museum enshrining them.
"As old as I am, that is older," Borta told him. Dunbar then bridged a commercial break with the advisory, "When old and older come back . . ."
WFAA8 investigator Brett Shipp hammered away Monday night at Merritt Patterson, whose "whimsical" blogging for Park Cities People supposedly masks the latter day dark side of her Surrogate Parenting Center of Texas, which is going out of business.
Shipp interviewed egg donors and infertile couples who claimed to have been bilked by her in recent years.
"I don't know how she sleeps at night," one silhouetted woman said.
"She's basically wrecked people's dreams," said another of the aggrieved.
Patterson declined to do an on-camera interview but said by telephone that she's "sad" about the Parenting Center's demise and that those who are owed refunds will be paid by the end of March.
Shipp countered that Patterson began taking such steps only after WFAA8 began investigating.
He's deservedly won numerous major awards for his reporting. But this particular story seemed more than a little over-played and over-wrought.