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This just in: A night in the lives of D-FW's late night newscasts (Tues., April 29)

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Steve Stoler, Becky Oliver, Jack Fink and Ken Kalthoff

Sometimes it's best to cleanse the palate and accentuate only the positive, particularly in light of CBS11's horrendously sophomoric mistake regarding the Rev. Jeremiah Wright.

The station officially apologized on its Tuesday 10 p.m. newscast after the wrongness of Jay Gormley's Wright report was detailed in these spaces that same afternoon.

Frankly, it was depressing to see a generally solid reporter put his name to such a travesty while his peers and newsroom superior officers either intimidated him, looked the other way or cowered in fear.

The completely irresponsible airing of that story also had me questioning whether the time and effort put into watching all of this stuff is really worth it during the May, November and February ratings "sweeps" months. After all, why try to either discourage or encourage them? They're going to do whatever they want anyway. Trying to police local newscasts in the country's fifth-largest television market is akin to telling Steve Nash to comb his hair. Fruitless.

So this particular dispatch will highlight only the genuinely praiseworthy aspects of Tuesday's late nighters. Thankfully there was enough of this to generate a little renewed enthusiasm, though not all that much. Sorry if this sounds melodramatic -- and it probably does. But I can't remember being as disappointed in a local TV news station as I was with CBS11 on Monday night.

OK, on to the meritorious stuff.

***NBC5's Ken Kalthoff had a breezy but informative story on Flamingo Lane, which lately attracts the most complaints of any Dallas street on a Web site called rottenneighbor.com. He interviewed two cat-trappers who have been targeted by many of their neighbors. The story didn't move the earth, but it definitely shed a light on this particular neighborhood's prickly dynamics.

***NBC5 Night Ranger Scott Gordon followed up on a story the station broke the previous night about a battered Chihuahua left in a box on the front porch of Irving's mayor. Its sender, who unapologetically fessed up on-camera, said he was trying to send a message about the city's allegedly lax animal control policies. WFAA8's Chris Hawes reported roughly the same story Tuesday night. But NBC clearly had the lead on it, and Gordon has proven himself to be very good at digging deeper.

***WFAA8's Steve Stoler reported from Plano on five small businesses, including a popular restaurant and barber shop, that will have to make way for a new apartment/retail development backed by city leaders. In some ways it's the same old story -- little guys in the way of "progress." But it's always good to bring these stories home.

***Brett Shipp, WFAA8's multi-award-winning investigator, had another report on questionable test grading by the DISD. It seemed to be balanced and noteworthy, although an emailer to unclebarky.com said that "grade scaling" -- by school administrators rather than teachers -- is a common and justifiable practice. But complaining teachers contend that the practice is "blindly inflating grades for everyone" while turning flunking students into passing ones. Here's a Web site link sent by the reader to explain the "rationale" for grade scaling. Have to admit it's Greek to me, but I stunk at foreign languages in both high school and college.

***Fox4 investigator Becky Oliver presented Part 2 of her series on the apparently very crooked AG Total Care agency, whose offices were raided Tuesday afternoon by law enforcement officials. The station had video of numerous boxes of potentially incriminating evidence being removed. Oliver also revealed that agency's since jailed owner, Irene Anderson, had been operating under an alias. She nailed this one throughly, with no small amount of legwork required.

***CBS11's Jack Fink had a dogged and telling report on staged car accidents that can cost consumers hundreds of dollars a year in jacked-up insurance bills. His story also included video of scammers at work and the angry retort of a convicted sub-human who will be going to jail for two-and-half-years.

"What do you want me to say? The federal system is corrupt," he whined. Throw away the key.

***Gormley quickly returned to the living by leading off Tuesday's CBS11 late nighter with video of Dallas County Commissioners John Wiley Price and Kenneth Mayfield having a heated argument over the amount of overtime being paid to sheriff deputies and staffers. Unlike the Wright "expose," this county-officials-gone-wild video both seemed genuine and spoke volumes.

***Finally, all praise, even if it's tongue-in-cheek, goes to WFAA8 news anchor Gloria Campos for revving up Dallas Stars fans outside the station's Victory Park studios. Campos brandished a four-game "sweep" broom and trotted to and fro while the crowd roared its approval.

Weatherman Pete Delkus again was the instigator. "Hey Dale, we've got some video to show you here," he told nightly arch-foil Dale Hansen. "Ed Bark's gonna love this. Gloria had 'em all wound up tonight, didn't she, John?"

News anchor John McCaa wondered if she'd get her broom back and Campos laughed agreeably before sports anchor Hansen chimed, "You wouldn't see John and me doing that. We're journalists."

Aw hell, might as well roll with it. Thanks for the memories -- and the mention.

Sixteen nights to go.

Local Nielsen ratings snapshot (Tues., April 29)

Last gasping in New Orleans, the Dallas Mavericks ended their season Tuesday night with less than stellar ratings on a combo of TXA21 and TNT.

The local telecast drew 121,780 D-FW homes while 65,031 watched on cable. A not-so-grand total of 186,811 homes was the second smallest crowd for the Mavs' five NBA playoff games. The Game 2 blowout loss to New Orleans drew 165,621 homes. Another Dallas loss, in Game 4, drew the most homes (309,321) during another short but sour run for the NBA title.

With the Mavs on ice, attention turns to the Dallas Stars, who iced San Jose in overtime while playing mostly opposite the Mavs on MY27. The game averaged 72,865 homes, peaking at a nice-sized 129,087 from 9 to 9:15 p.m. That was good enough to outdraw the first 15 minutes of Law & Order: SVU on NBC.

In the prime-time entertainment Nielsens, Fox's American Idol performance show (270,352 homes) ranked No. 1 for the night by a few smidges over ABC's Dancing with the Stars results show (255,738 homes), which evicted former American Pie eyeful Shannon Elizabeth. Meanwhile, contestant Cristian de la Fuente said he'll dance on for his fans despite rupturing a tendon in his biceps earlier this week. Boy, are they gonna milk that.

At 9 p.m., ABC had nice returns for the return of Women's Murder Club, which won the time period in total homes and tied Fox4's 9 p.m. local newscast for first among advertiser-coveted 18-to-49-year-olds.

The major four-way news competitions saw NBC5 come down off its early morning ratings high -- for a day at least. WFAA8 won decisively at 6 a.m. in total homes and nipped Fox4 among 25-to-54-year-olds, the main advertiser target audience for news programming.

The Peacock slipped to a distant third in both measurements. WFAA8 now has a slim lead over its two main early morning rivals after the first four weekdays of the May "sweeps."

WFAA8 also cruised to comfortable wins at 10 p.m. in total homes and in the 25-to-54 demo. It added a pair of 6 p.m. victories and ran first in total homes at 5 p.m. WFAA8 and Fox4 shared the lead in that earlier hour among 25-to-54-year-olds.

This just in: A night in the lives of D-FW's late night newscasts (Mon., April 28)

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CBS11 and Jay Gormley clearly have made an egregious error in reporting that the Rev. Jeremiah Wright branded Texas Christian University a "Godless Christian college" during his Sunday guest sermon at Friendship West Baptist Church in Dallas.

Instead, the videotape that the station used as evidence during Monday's 10 p.m. newscast shows that Wright actually said "Jarvis Christian College," which is a predominantly black institution located in Hawkins, TX.

In his prominently played story, though, which since has been removed from CBS11's Web site, Gormley told viewers that the already controversial Wright "appeared to take a potshot at TCU."

He then went on to interview supposedly "outraged" TCU students, one of whom said, "How can you call people Godless if you don't know them? You know what I mean, like blanketing TCU as a Godless Christian University is just absolutely ridiculous."

Another student said in part, "We'll take the higher ground."

Shortly before 6 p.m. Tuesday, CBS11 responded to a mid-afternoon phone call and email inquiring about the story. The station plans to air a correction on Tuesday's 10 p.m. newscast. News director Scott Diener also issued this statement: "Upon further review of the tape of the speech, we were mistaken. We regret the error and offer our sincere apologies to Reverend Wright, Friendship West Baptist Church, TCU and our viewers."

(Update: CBS11 in fact issued what anchor Doug Dunbar called a "clarification" on Tuesday's 10 p.m. news. He made no mention of the station's specific allegation against Wright. Nor did CBS11 tell viewers what Wright actually had said. Dunbar read the official station statement bold-faced in the above paragraph while also noting that video of Wright's sermon had been provided to CBS11 by Friendship West Baptist Church.)

Gormley's 10 p.m. Monday piece included videotape of Wright saying, "Rape takes place not just on dates . . . not just in college -- Texas Christian University, Jarvis Christian College. Rape also takes place in marriage."

There can be no doubt after repeatedly watching and listening to the tape that Wright in fact said "Jarvis," not "Godless." So it's hard to believe that CBS11 aired such a potentially inflammatory story without giving it a better listen.

Compounding the problem, Gormley told viewers Monday night, "If you weren't listening closely Sunday morning, you just might have missed it."

No, he's the one who misunderstood what Wright said and then went with an erroneous story that clearly should have been red-flagged before doing its damage.

Gormley also said during his report that Wright's "jab at TCU may have been in response to the university's decision to move an event by Brite Divinity School off campus."

Wright eventually decided not to attend the March 29th Brite event, which honored him as part of the organization's fourth annual Black Church Summit. TCU moved the event off-campus because of security issues, the university said.

Gormley told viewers that TCU had "declined comment" on Wright's "Godless" reference, which in fact hadn't been made. Wright indeed has made other controversial comments that continue to dog the campaign of Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, who in turn has been distancing himself this week from his former pastor.

CBS11 fueled that fire when it had no real basis to do so. The station did win Monday's 10 p.m. ratings competition in the total homes Nielsens, though.


BLOOPER REEL -- NBC5 anchors Mike Snyder and Jane McGarry returned together to duty Monday night after she took time off during the first two weeknights of the May "sweeps" while he stayed away on Friday. They presided over a newscast that was replete with technical problems and painful pauses when the expected video didn't materialize.

McGarry also told viewers that an estimated five percent of girls are diagnosed with "precocious puberty" . . . and "often hereditary plays a role." She meant to say "heredity."

Meanwhile, CBS11 threw up a "Too Much Mylie?" graphic in connection with the 15-year-old pop idol's provocative photo shoot for Vanity Fair magazine. The correct spelling is "Miley."

GOOD WORK -- Fox4 had an interesting story by Jason Overstreet on a steady increase in gas thievery, with high-capacity tanks most vulnerable. He interviewed a funeral home operator whose van had a hole punched in its tank.

***The station's Saul Garza also had another worthwhile "What's Buggin' You?" segment, this one on waterlogged gravesites at a veterans' cemetery.

***And veteran Fox4 investigator Becky Oliver appeared to have the goods on a Dallas in-home care agency with clients who look to be quite capable of getting out on their own to see the doctor. Fox4 had the surveillance footage to prove it, although the patients' faces were blurred to otherwise provide anonymity. Meanwhile, she said, taxpayer-funded Medicare payments totaled more than $8 million to AG Total Care in the past two years.

Oliver plans to finger the company's owner on Tuesday's 9 p.m. Fox4 newscast. Viewers also will learn "why she's now behind bars."

The veteran gumshoe still has a brawling style that can be hard to take. Oliver's rubbed-raw, sandpaper voice can be grating, too. But this particular investigation looks solid, even if Oliver had to apologize at the end of it for an opening station graphic that pictured the wrong woman as the story's featured wrongdoer.

***CBS11 reporter Brooke Richie had an informative piece on increased dry-cleaning costs fueled by major hikes in the price of wire hangers. Customers might be able to get a small discount if they return those hangers on their next visit, she said.

Pete 'n' Dale's Playhouse -- Weatherman Pete Delkus began Monday's festivities by reading an email from a viewer who said, "I really like the way you and Dale go at each other. Pete, I think you win most of the time. (Dale) Hansen is a good sports anchor, but he likes himself way too much."

Anchor Gloria Campos praised the viewer's "very insightful comment" before Hansen of course returned serve.

"I don't actually like myself that much," he said. "I love myself."

Anchor John McCaa, again speechless, understandably looked as though he yearned to have a trap door beneath him and the means to use it.

Seventeen nights to go.

This just in: A night in the lives of D-FW's late night newscasts (Fri., April 25)

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CBS11 reporters Jay Gormley, Chris Salcedo and Marianne Martinez

Comedy of errors? That's usually right out of the Texas Rangers' playbook, but CBS11 stole a page on Friday's 10 p.m. newscast.

Technical difficulties happen, but usually not to this extent. Add a mangled story introduction by reporter/anchor Chris Salcedo and this ain't no train to Happytown.

Problems began after the station sailed smoothly through reporter J.D. Miles' lead story on a cocaine-crazed mother whose five-year-old-son also ingested some of her stash. NBC5 and WFAA8 didn't report this at all on their late nighters while Fox4 relegated it to a news brief on its 9 p.m. edition. Whether the story deserved the marquee treatment CBS11 gave it is debatable.

The meltdown then began after anchor Karen Borta touted Jay Gormley as "the only television reporter allowed inside the reception" for the controversial Rev. Jeremiah Wright, who made a "surprise appearance" Friday night at the Friendship West Baptist Church before his scheduled sermon on Sunday.

But Gormley immediately got rubbed out by a transmission problem, with the scene then shifting to new reporter Marianne Martinez, who was on CBS11's runway awaiting clearance for her story on the transfer of some children from a West Texas polygamist sect to Catholic Charities of Fort Worth.

Reboot to Borta, who threw it to anchor Doug Dunbar, who re-introduced Martinez's story.

"Doug, the children . . ." she began before tape rolled for about 20 seconds on Gormley's interview with Friendship senior pastor Dr. Fredrick Haynes, Sr. Next came an abrupt transition to Martinez's story, already in progress.

After her sign-off, CBS11 started all over again with Gormley, who this time made it through the night. The station didn't have any interview with Wright, just brief video of him greeting parishioners. So this wasn't much of a story in the first place, although Gormley did have an interesting nugget on Wright's less than cost-efficient travel plans. He went back to Chicago on Friday in order to attend another event in that city on Saturday before returning to Dallas for his previously announced Sunday sermon.

Reporters can't be blamed for technical disasters, but they can be faulted for clumsily-worded standups. Enter Chris Salcedo, who still needs a lot of work out in the field. This time he was stationed live outside American Airlines Center, where the Dallas Mavericks had just defeated the New Orleans Hornets in Game 3 of their playoff series.

Salcedo's assignment was the controversy over Mavs' forward Josh Howard, who earlier Friday told ESPN radio that he smoked pot in the off-season, as did many NBA players. Howard also had disclosed his off-court drug of choice as part of a recent profile in The Dallas Morning News. Verbatim, here's how Salcedo tried to communicate this to viewers:

"In his five seasons in the NBA, Josh Howard has been pretty candid about his marijuana use. But today, on national radio, as he said, he actually all came out and admitted that he had used marijuana in the off-season." Maybe that makes some sense -- if you're high.

Dunbar then teased a story on how "you can literally melt belly flab from your body." Oh mercy.

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CBS11's Mark Johnson, Fox4's Heather Hays, NBC5's Brett Johnson


PREGNANT PAUSE -- An extended "Viewers' Voice" segment on Fox4 included this out-of-the-box exchange between bluntly inquiring "Keith from Fort Worth" and anchor Heather Hays:

"When's Heather gonna drop that baby?" he wanted to know. "Boy, that baby sho gettin' big."

Hays, on tape, responded while eating a fruit salad with her feet up.

"I do wanna tell ya," she said, "the belly, it's gonna get a whole lot bigger. We've got eight weeks to go before Lilly gets here. Between now and then, baby and mama have a lot of eatin' to do." She then waved goodbye before anchor Steve Eagar chimed, "Well, that's somethin' you don't see every day."

GOOD WORK -- CBS11 vet Mark Johnson had a tongue-wagger on "Green Burial" advocate George Russell of Huntsville, who spares caskets and embalming in favor of deep-sixing the dead in the wild so that their bodies can become part of the eco-system.

Why not make death "a fun experience?" he asked before providing video of his mother being interred in a white quilt the day after she died.

"You've gotta know that some people feel a little creepy about that," Johnson told him.

But Russell noted that nearly everyone's "great, great grandaddy" was buried the same way. He's got a point.

WFAA8 investigator Byron Harris had a revealing probe into how the Texas Medical Board goes about citing doctors.

"Critics say they don't discriminate between real bad guys and petty offenders," Harris said. Board members, all unpaid, couldn't talk to WFAA8 because they're currently being sued, he added.

Also on WFAA8, reporter Craig Civale may end up saving lives or preventing serious injuries with his piece on what looks to be a very poorly marked Loop 12 at I-30 lane that has led to repeated close scrapes and run-ins with a concrete barrier. A TXDOT engineer told him they'd now take another look at it.

On Fox4, consumer reporter Steve Noviello looked closely at the often high prices of "bereavement fares" on American Airlines. It was a solid and informative piece with AA's side included.

KEY INGREDIENT MISSING -- NBC5 reporter Brett Johnson stood live in the dark to tell viewers that "a lot of the folks that we talked to" said they'd be spending their federal income tax rebate checks "on something fun" such as electronics at Best Buy.

But his story came and went without any evidence of those interviews. So just take his word for it while chalking up another NBC5 infomercial disguised as a news story.

ADVERTISEMENT FOR ITSELF -- NBC5 Night Ranger Scott Gordon stood in a Walgreen's drug store to hawk weather radios being sold at a discounted $29.95 each as part of a partnership between the merchant and the Peacock.

Anchor Meredith Land, again subbing for Jane McGarry, primed the pump by telling viewers, "Tonight we begin a bold initiative to help you get the most important storm warnings as quickly as possible."

The radios are being sold from a display affixed with a picture of NBC5 meteorologist David Finfrock and an "Are You Ready?" chill-inducer.

WHEN IN DOUBT, JUST ADD PORN -- New WFAA8 reporter Jason Whitely had a story on how police property rooms are becoming repositories for pornography, drugs, prescription drugs and weapons being confiscated from a growing number of foreclosed-on homes.

But the station's teases predictably went only skin deep, with anchor John McCaa informing the populace that the prop rooms are "filling up with porn." The story itself was titled "Property Room Porn."

CROWD CONTROL -- WFAA8 weatherman Pete Delkus stood live outside the station's Victory Park studios amid happy fans exiting American Airlines Center after the Mavericks' Friday night win over New Orleans.

Crowd noise seemed to rise and fall on cue, with the decibel level soaring as Delkus prepared to segue from weather to sports anchor Dale Hansen.

"Folks are just happy to see Dale walk in the studio," he said, "because after that scorched earth attack last night, I don't know if they were sure if he was gonna be back."

He referred to Hansen's "Unplugged" Thursday night assault on the Dallas Cowboys' signing of oft-arrested cornerback "Pacman" Jones.

"You got pretty favorable comments," anchor Gloria Campos told him before Hansen said that only three emailers officially "hate" him so far.

Eighteen nights to go.

Local Nielsen ratings snapshot (Fri.-Sun., April 25-27)

Sunday night's wake before Tuesday's scheduled burial drew the weekend's biggest TV audience.

You know what we're talking about. The Dallas Mavericks' lopsided home loss to New Orleans, which all but sealed their playoff crypt, amassed 207,026 D-FW homes on TXA21 and added another 102,295 for the TNT presentation.

That easily outpointed a new episode of ABC's Desperate Housewives, which had 253,302 homes to rank as the No.2 draw in the Fri.-Sun. Nielsens.

Meanwhile, the Dallas Stars' second consecutive Stanley Cup playoff win against San Jose managed 63,326 homes on MY27. Those numbers should enjoy a nice growth spurt in the coming weeks as the Stars make what now appears to be a very serious run for the Cup while the Mavs wilt like daffodils in the Mojave.

Also Sunday, the final round of the Byron Nelson golf tournament holed out with just 58,454 homes on CBS. ABC's competing Spurs-Suns NBA playoff game drew 158,314 homes.

Friday's Mavs-Stars doubleheader looked like this:

The Mavs' win over New Orleans had 136,394 D-FW homes on TXA21 and 85,246 on ESPN. The poor Stars, stuck in virtual Siberia on the VS cable network, drew 29,227 homes. But hey, the pucksters beat the Texas Rangers-Minnesota game on Fox Sports Southwest (24,356 homes).

Now on to the local news derby, where the early morning race remains an eye-opener thanks to NBC5's continued surprising performance.

The Peacock tied WFAA8 in total homes at 6 a.m. Friday and nipped the ABC station among 25-to-54-year-olds, the main advertiser target audience for news programming. Fox4 ran a close third in both measurements. And the 7 to 9 a.m. portion of its Good Day again swept the competing network morning shows.

The May "sweeps," which actually began on April 24th, have just two weekdays under their belt. But NBC5 is looking like a player in the early mornings, where it's tied for first with WFAA8 in total homes and has a paper-thin edge with 25-to-54-year-olds.

The Peacock also made some noise in the other local news competitions, winning among 25-to-54-year-olds at 10 p.m. and also taking first place in that key demo at 5 p.m.

WFAA8 had a comfortable win in total homes at 10 p.m. and ran the table at 6 p.m. It also had the gold in the 5 p.m. total homes competition.

This just in: A night in the lives of D-FW's late night newscasts (Thurs., April 24)

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"Sweeps" point people: Dale Hansen, Carol Cavazos, David Finfrock.

WFAA8's Dale Hansen went Donkey Kong on "Pacman" Jones and Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones.

CBS11 reporter Carol Cavazos and her station strove to portray a hidden camera story on cheating husbands as a civic-minded public service.

And NBC5 again went deep into the personal life of longtime meteorologist David Finfrock, this time in tandem with co-anchor Jane McGarry.

If all of this smells like "sweeps" spirit, it is. The highly competitive four-week May "book" opened for business Thursday. And we'll once again be chronicling the weeknight plusses and minuses of the 10 p.m. newscasts on NBC5, WFAA8 and CBS11, plus Fox4's featured 9 p.m. editions.

Hansen goes "Unplugged" whenever he gets really revved up about something. But he billed this one as a "scorched earth commentary," which it pretty much was.

"Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has reached a new low, even by his standards," Hansen began in reference to the team's signing of oft-arrested cornerback "Pacman" Jones after already tempting fate with Terrell Owens and Tank Johnson.

No TV sports anchor in this market has -- or likely ever will -- throw verbal grenades with such gleeful abandon. And Hansen will answer all your emails, too.

"I've always liked Jerry Jones," he continued, preparing viewers for more heavy weapons fire. "Even defended him when he broke up one of the NFL's best radio teams. He had me fired the day after I quit. But I was fine with it then, and still am because I couldn't do it anymore looking at the team they had become and the coach they had. I don't know how Brad Sham and (CBS11 sports anchor) Babe Laufenberg can do it now."

Furthermore, "if character really doesn't matter, why don't they sign Osama bin Laden to play wide receiver? They need one. He's 6 (feet) 4, and we know nobody can catch him." Pause to insert sonic laugh from co-anchor Gloria Campos.

Well-heeled season ticket-holders who live and die with the Cowboys wouldn't hire Jones at their companies, Hansen continued. And they'd "shoot him through the glass" if he showed up on their front porches to date their daughters.

His big finish was more than a bit of a stretch, but it still took some balls to throw it out there.

"I've always thought he (Jones) was a good man with a good heart trying to win the right way. But not anymore," Hansen said. "At long last have you no sense of decency, sir?"

That referred to Joseph Welch's famed Senate subcommittee denunciation of communist-hunting Sen. Joe McCarthy, who during the 1950s "was destroying the careers of many people," Hansen said. "Jones is destroying the legacy of a once-proud football franchise. At long last, have you no sense of decency, sir?"

Campos quickly distanced herself, urging viewers to "get busy with those emails."

"I'm looking forward to 'em," Hansen said. And in fact he is. Whatever you think of him, here's a guy who answers back and likely always will. He's a big-mouthed, straight-shootin' sonofagun who welcomes your return fire. And yes, there's still a lot to be said for that.

Over on CBS11, reporter Cavazos popped into view for the night's featured story, "Looking to Cheat," after a pitchman informed viewers, "What they told us about their affairs could save your marriage."

"They" were responders to an unidentified female CBS11 producer who signed on to the Web site ashleymadison.com to solicit married men.

"We spent about $50 dollars and set up a profile," said Cavazos. Clearly CBS11 spares no expense when it's doing the public's business.

Three would-be mail suitors were selected to meet for "coffee dates" at a venue where hidden cameras rolled. Their faces were blurred and their voices disguised. A 40-year-old married father from Plano said "he's not unhappy in his marriage, but he's not happy either," Cavazos told viewers.

Dallas marriage counselor and sex therapist James Robbins later was brought in to throw out a few deep thoughts. Such as, "If couples would just discuss their sexual desires, it might end the tension and lead to compromise."

Cavazos noted that CBS11 also deployed a male decoy, but got only one emailed response, from a woman in New York. So drat, that was a non-starter.

Co-anchor Doug Dunbar wondered why the report didn't identify those nasty would-be philanderers.

"Doug, we did not want to 'out' these men," said Cavazos, as if any of them would have been dumb enough to waive their rights to privacy under such circumstances. "We didn't want to ruin their lives. We just wanted to know why."

Anyone's eyes rolling yet?

The Finfrock story is a tough one to really criticize. On the first night of the February 2007 ratings sweeps, NBC5 took viewers behind the scenes of his persistent on-air coughing jags, following a heavy round of promotions. The Peacock had D-FW's most-watched 10 p.m. newscast that night.

Now, sad to say, Finfrock's 34-year-old daughter, Jennifer, has been undergoing chemotherapy and radiation treatments for breast cancer. So NBC5 kicked off the May "sweeps" with a look at how he's coping.

McGarry, who otherwise had the night off, did the piano-accompanied narration while Finfrock showed viewers kindergarten, wedding and other pictures of his daughter.

"But for our friend David Finfrock, there are now times that shake a dad's soul," McGarry then said gravely while he was shown solemnly nodding his head in a black-and-white closeup shot.

Obviously, everyone should wish his daughter a full recovery. Jennifer has much to live for, including her four- and six-year-old daughters.

But gosh, does this really belong in a newscast? Or does it smack way too much of ratings sweeps exploitation? Can't anything be private anymore when it comes to a prominent news personality's trials and tribulations?

"There's no way she's gonna give up," Finfrock said at story's end before he re-appeared at his NBC5 weather center in the company of substitute anchor Meredith Land.

"Of course, David, the entire NBC5 family is so proud of your strength," she told him before Finfrock promoted Saturday's annual Susan G. Komen "Race for the Cure," which he'll be attending. He also displayed some tissue provided by the newscast's producer. But "I wasn't sad," Finfrock said. "I was proud."

In the end, anchor Mike Snyder of course couldn't resist injecting himself.

"David, I'd be remiss without saying I'm proud of you and I'm proud of Jennifer," he said. "I'm glad I know you."

Again, here's hoping that Jennifer will have a full recovery. Enough said.


"DOOC" IS WILD -- Fox4's 9 p.m. newscast was a largely forgettable mix of national video and local stories that mostly were also covered in varying degrees by rival stations.

Still, sports anchor Mike Doocy, lately worried about the longterm future of his sports segment, put a little hop in his step with a closing riff on the terrible baseball being played by the Texas Rangers.

He earlier had speculated that manager Ron Washington might not last beyond Memorial Day, Doocy said. But now Cinco de Mayo could be the cut-off point.

"Man, this thing is just way off the tracks," he told anchors Steve Eagar and Heather Hays. "No signs of gettin' any better. See ya at the ballpark this weekend, everybody."

GOOD WORK -- WFAA8 veteran Jim Douglas turned in another interesting report, this one on a "DWI Loophole" that has given some offenders a basic slap on the wrist if they're passed out behind the wheel when discovered by police.

Also of note: CBS11 reporter Jay Gormley raised questions about whether American Airlines was behind the sudden removal of a prominent pilots' union billboard that encouraged passersby to tell their AA horror stories on a new Web site.

BLOOPER REEL -- WFAA8 anchor Campos blurted, "Well, my allergies are acting up tonight" without further explanation while the station mistakenly put up a "Housing slump" graphic over video of the latest developments from the polygamist sect compound in Eldorado.

During a break from Thursday's 10 p.m. show, NBC5 teased a scary tornado story (titled "When Second Count') that supposedly would be blowing in "Tonight at 10." The station meant to wait until Friday to flog that one.

PETE 'N" DALE'S PLAYHOUSE -- Following his weathercast, WFAA8's Pete Delkus turned to Campos and said, "Dale was telling me that you've got a new wig."

Actually, though, it's just a shorter hairstyle, he added.

"I like it," said Hansen. "I mean, seriously, I like women who go for the little boy look."

Boys will be boys, particularly on WFAA8's late nighters. Anchor John McCaa again sucked it up and shook his head silently.

AND NOW A WORD ABOUT GLORIA'S CLEAVAGE -- It was notably prominent Thursday night, particularly in recurring close-up shots at news desk level.

This used to be a strict taboo, but women anchors seem to be showing progressively more skin at all levels of TV news. WFAA8 reporter and weekend anchor Shelly Slater, seen live Thursday night from a Wylie spillway, also invariably shows more than a little skin whether she's in the field or at an anchor desk.

Meanwhile, the station's male reporters are supposed to wear ties during their dispatches. That includes the reasonably hunky Craig Civale. Perhaps the ladies would like to see a little more?

Nineteen nights to go.

Barkin' with NBC5's "Newdawg"


Newy Scruggs at ease: there are worse things, he says. Photos: Ed Bark

You can't teach an old dog new tricks, or so it's often said. But the NewDawg, nickname of NBC5 sports anchor Newy Scruggs since his college days, says he's learned to roll with less on-air time for him and more freedom for other pursuits.

"I used to take it personal. And for a while there I was mad," Scruggs says of a weeknight sports segment that's gradually been cut in half -- from four minutes to two -- since his April 2000 arrival in Dallas-Fort Worth.

Scruggs says he finally went toe-to-toe with NBC5 news director Susan Tully during a closed-door meeting in December 2006. He recalls her being angry and on the verge of suspending him for venting publicly in his weekly column for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

"There were tears involved on both sides," says Scruggs, who cleared this interview with Tully before agreeing to be profiled. "It was a really, really long, deep conversation. And since then I've been cool with it."

On a typical night, Scruggs gets roughly two-thirds or sometimes just half the time given to his competitors at Fox4, WFAA8 and CBS11. Scruggs also has to deal with having his sports segment split in two by a three-minute commercial break. And his downsized staff, being depleted further with the announced departure of Derek Castillo, could make Scruggs virtually a one-man band until a reinforcement arrives.

Still, Scruggs, 37, says life is very good, both personally and professionally.

"I'm thankful to her (Tully)," he says. "If my time's not cut, then I never get into real estate. I never start getting involved with other companies that I have now. I changed my mentality. It's not Channel 5's responsibility to make me rich. If this hadn't happened, then I'm still one of these people who thinks, 'I'm on TV. I'm OK.' This industry's changed, so I needed to do something to protect my family."

Since arriving in Dallas from Los Angeles -- "I'm in year nine of my four-year plan to get back there," he laughs -- Scruggs has gotten married and is the proud father of two daughters. Back in the day in L.A, he loved living next door to a male porn star -- Vince Voyeur -- who did much of his filming at home with a variety of well-appointed women. But being a family man changes a guy.

"You think differently," Scruggs says. "I've learned to shut up. My agent says I've learned to dance. . . Two minutes a night are easy for me. So I get to spend more time on my dinner break and at home with my kids. This is a good station, and I'm blessed enough to realize that.

"People get tired of us anchors saying, 'I want this. Me, me, me.' For the money they pay me, people will take my two minutes a night. Friends have told me, 'I'll do it. And I'll do it all damned day long.' "

Scruggs also has his own sports blog -- newdawg.com -- and an "Out of Bounds" Sunday night show during football season that gives him the extra space he doesn't get on weeknights.

"I'd like to have more time! But it is what it is," he says.

Earlier this month, veteran Fox4 sports anchor Mike Doocy blogged on his own station's Web site about what he sees as the possibly imperiled future of his regular 9 p.m. newscast sports segment.

Doocy, whom Scruggs considers a friend, "is almost where I was at a while back," he says. "He's not happy. And when you're not happy, you start to wonder, 'OK, are they gonna cut out my job?' But I think Mike's gonna be fine.

"They've got a damned good sportscaster over there," he adds, "and I think at the end of the day, Mike did what he had to do. The dog's gotta bark a little bit, and I think his station will understand. It'd be one thing if he was producing some bad stuff. but Mike's done good work. And you've gotta keep that in there."


Scruggs has another, deep-seated reason for backing NBC5 despite the station's downsizing of his nightly sports reports. Station management, and Tully in particular, had his back, he says, when racially motivated death threats were aimed at his family a couple of years ago.

His wife was pregnant with their now one-and-a-half-year-old daughter at the time. And Scruggs says he was getting calls on his cell phone from knuckledraggers who told him in so many words, "You wanna die? You want your daughter to die?"

"You get used to people saying stuff like 'You're a nigger and niggers can't do sports here.' You don't like it but you deal with it. You don't like me, fine. But don't take it out on my kid. That was frustrating and it really made me mad. You're scared, too, because they know where you are at 6:20 and at 10:20."

Scruggs says he "kept it in for a while. But I finally went to her (Tully), and she got the police involved. The station did everything it could. Those are the little things that people don't know about. But we got through it, and I'm thankful that when I told management, they immediately asked, 'What can we do?' That says a whole lot. They rallied around me. But part of me really just wanted out. I never had to deal with this in California. Never.

"I never will feel guilty about the money I make when you have to experience that kind of stuff. It was very tough, and the folks at Channel 5 were very good to me. And it stopped."


A good part of Scruggs still longs to make it back to L.A., where he left KCOP-TV (then a UPN station) after "I got into a contract battle, lost that and ended up here. I actually tried to kill the deal off after I agreed to it at Channel 5. I tried to back out."

Scruggs still had a radio show in L.A. at the time, and was dabbling in both TV acting and production. He played a sportscaster in the short-lived TV series version of Clueless and had hoped to host a reality show called Big House that he put together in partnership with the then unknown standup comic Dave Attell.

As Scruggs tells it, CBS instead went with Big Brother, an almost identically formatted import from Europe that remains on the network.

"I just liked living in L.A. so much," he says. "There's a lot to do, a lot of different people, a lot of different cultures. It's an international city, and I'd come to fall in love with that."

Instead he stuck to an agreed-on four-year deal with NBC5 that put him in D-FW just a few months before the Peacock's presentation of the 2000 Summer Olympics. The station quickly teamed him with veteran meteorologist David Finfrock in a series of odd couple promotional spots in which they played golf, baseball and basketball together.

During filming of the hoops segment, "I ran David over," Scruggs says. "Those were fun. They were cool to do."

The station made ample room for both Scruggs and his sports commentaries in the early years. But as time wore on, his time got shorter. Athletes in action supposedly are of little interest to most advertiser-courted 25-to-54-year-old women, who watch D-FW's late night newscasts in significantly larger numbers than men of the same age range. And with NBC5 dominating the 10 p.m. ratings race from February 2002 until early 2007, "What could I say?" Scruggs asks rhetorically.

His latest contract with NBC5 is up in January, and Scruggs already has stayed in D-FW for twice as long as anywhere else. As an "Army brat" born on a German military base, he got used to moving at least every four years.

"I loved it," he says, noting that a nomadic life as a kid also prepared him for the television business. Before L.A. and Dallas, he worked at TV stations in Myrtle Beach, S.C. (his first job), Austin and Cleveland, where two winters were enough for him.

The Scruggs family currently resides in Arlington, home base for dad's expanding side businesses. Scruggs says he's amassed $1.7 million in real estate holdings in recent years. It may be enough to make him stay put in North Texas unless NBC5 at some point gets out of the sports business all together.

"People often leave situations and don't realize how good they have it," says Scruggs, sounding more like a wizened old pro these days than the sometimes impulsive gypsy he used to be. "What it comes down to is 'Are you happy?' And I've got a good life, man. I make more money than I ever thought I could.

"Sometimes you've got to step back and appreciate it."

Aguilar vs. Barrs: That's the crux of reporter's "Charge of Discrimination" against Fox4

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Fox4 news director Maria Barrs and former reporter Rebecca Aguilar

Former Fox4 reporter Rebecca Aguilar's "Charge of Discrimination" against Dallas-based KDFW-TV (Channel 4) basically boils down to a battle between two strong-willed women with many years of experience in local television news.

Aguilar's two-page complaint to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, obtained Thursday by unclebarky.com, names veteran Fox4 news director Maria Barrs as her primary antagonist.

Under the "Summary of retaliatory conduct" segment, Aguilar says, "I have a documented history of complaining about the treatment of Hispanic and Latinos by Fox4 specifically, and Fox News, generally. Prior to the last incident (my termination) this has yielded little for me save frustration and generated considerable enmity from Maria Barrs, the Vice President of News for Fox4."

Barrs said Wednesday that it's station policy not to comment on personnel matters. "Fox4 looks forward to defending our decision in the appropriate forum," the station said in its official statement.

In her complaint, Aguilar says that in September 2007, "I proposed to Ms. Barrs that the station at least apply the Rooney Rule when it came to interviewing Latino and Hispanic candidates for management positions. My demands were ignored, and in a calculated rebuff to me personally, no Hispanics or Latinos were interviewed for an open management position. The next month the station, specifically Barrs, trumped up an incident that resulted in my termination."

(The Rooney Rule is named after Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney, chairman of the NFL's diversity committee. It requires teams to interview minority candidates for head coaching positions.)

Aguilar's much-debated, televised interview with 70-year-old salvage yard owner James Walton, who had shot and killed two property trespassers in three weeks' time, led to a paid suspension from Fox4 on Oct. 16th. She was officially terminated on March 6th.

In the complaint, Aguilar says that her lengthy suspension from Fox4 was based on "completely pretextual and fabricated criticism" of the Walton story . . . I was ultimately terminated for bogus and retaliatory reasons."

Including the time she spent on paid suspension, Aguilar, 49, had a 14-year career at Fox4.

Barrs, 51, joined KDFW in 1994 when it was still a CBS affiliate. She became news director of the newly christened Fox4 in 1998.

"I'm not a yeller, shouter and kicker," Barrs said in a September 2006 interview that became the first story posted on unclebarky.com. "I mean, I've been known to, but that's real unusual. I don't like to intimidate or scare people into doing their jobs.

"I really try to encourage a democratic -- small 'd' newsroom. I'm real proud of the people here. And I like them."

Picky Picky (Vol. 13)

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Jason Kidd, Josh Howard, Erick Dampier and coach Avery Johnson

Barring an immediate, season-ending injury to Chris Paul, the Mavericks' NBA championship window is pretty much slammed shut -- for this season and now for the foreseeable future, too.

Tuesday's embarrassing, nationally televised no-contest in New Orleans raises one big question -- who's most responsible for two double-digit losses to a team the Mavs supposedly wanted in the first round? Let's leave owner Mark Cuban out of it for now while we ask these further questions about three players and their coach.

Is it Jason Kidd, the mostly brick-shooting, lost-a-step defender who's become a walk in the park for the jet-quick Paul? At least Devin Harris could have stayed in his face. Old Man Rivers gets gassed too easily while Paul plays the entire second-half, save for garbage time.

Is it Josh "J. Ho" Howard, the often quick-starting penetrator who vanishes in second halves? It happened again Tuesday night, with Howard playing about as effectively as surname-sharing Juwan. And that's about as ineffective as it gets.

Is it Erick Dampier, the lumbering, foul-prone center who's let the Hornets' hip-hoppers sky over his block-of-cement frame? "Damp" can't run with the deer or pogo-stick with the kangaroos. And his only dependable shot is a point-blank dunk.

Is it the "Little General" himself, Avery Johnson, whom rival, savvier coaches have been busting down to private in the playoffs? Avery seems befuddled and unable to adjust to some very bad things happening on court. Should he be the first to go?

Jason Terry and Jerry Stackhouse haven't been gems either, but these are our four flies in the ointment. Your comments will get this ball rolling. To repeat:

A. Jason Kidd
B. Josh Howard
C. Erick Dampier
D. Avery Johnson

Local Nielsen ratings snapshot (Tues., April 22)

As the Mavs' midnight hour nears, their ratings slide accordingly.

Tuesday night's horror show in New Orleans drew 114,473 D-FW homes on TXA21 and added another 51,148 on TNT, with both telecasts in HD. That's a combined 165,621 homes, well short of the 215,219 tuned to Saturday night's opener on TXA21 and ESPN.

Both games had early 6 p.m. start times, but Tuesday's (which ended at 8:35 p.m.) had tougher competition from Fox's American Idol at 7 p.m. and then the first half-hour of ABC's Dancing with the Stars results show.

Idol drew 299,579 homes to again lead all Tuesday programming. Dancing, with Marlee Matlin sent home, had 258,174 homes overall.

Fox's juggernaut again ruled among advertiser-craved 18-to-49-year-olds, but Dancing ran second in that demographic against Fox's competing Hell's Kitchen. The 9 p.m. hour was dominated in both ratings measurements ABC's Boston Legal.

Over in the cable universe, CNN, Fox News Channel and MSNBC devoted their prime-time hours to Pennsylvania's Democratic presidential primary, handily won by Hillary Clinton.

CNN won all three hours, averaging 32,475 D-FW homes from 7 to 10 p.m. FNC drew 22,732 homes, barely holding off MSNBC (21,108 homes).

Feasting on an already nice-sized Boston Legal lead-in, WFAA8's 10 p.m. newscast improved on it by 46,276 homes to crush its three rivals. The ABC station added another win among 25-to-54-year-olds, the main advertiser target audience for news programming.

The early morning remains a battleground, though, with NBC5's 6 a.m. newscast again showing it could be a factor in the looming May "sweeps" competition, which starts on Thursday.

The Peacock nipped Fox4 in the total homes race by one-tenth of a rating point (2,436 homes) and lost by just two-tenths of a point to Fox4 among 25-to-54-year-olds. WFAA8, also certain to be a contender, was close behind in third place.

WFAA8 took the 5 p.m. competition in both ratings measurements and also prevailed at 6 p.m. in the 25-to-54 demo. Fox4 had the 5 p.m. gold among 25-to-54-year-olds.

Unclebarky.com goes to college, keeps students awake


Here's to bright futures for all in this picture. Photo: Ed Bark

Your friendly unclebarky.com proprietor met Monday with SMU graduate students of Belo Distinguished Chair in Journalism Tony Pederson.

No one appeared to doze off during their class on New Media and Society. Thanks for having me and for all the great questions and kind words!
Ed Bark

Local Nielsen ratings snapshot (Thurs., April 17)

Accustomed to ice cold ratings, the Dallas Stars heated up a bit Thursday with their big Stanley Cup playoff win over Anaheim.

The game, competing against mostly blanket weather coverage on D-FW's Big Four broadcast stations, averaged 73,068 homes on MY27. That's still not much, but it is a season high. And if the Stars get to the next round, look for them to crack the 100,000 home mark and perhaps even beat a network entertainment show or two.

Hail stones and angry-looking weather maps otherwise dominated Thursday's prime-time landscape. And whatever the frustrations over program preemptions, the Nielsens show that D-FW viewers seemingly couldn't get enough of it. Let's break it down in both total homes and 25-to-54-year-olds, the main advertiser target audience for news programming.

CBS11 ran first in total homes from 6:30 to 7 p.m., averaging 177,799 to runnerup WFAA8's 153,443. But WFAA8 took that time slot among 25-to-54-year-olds.

WFAA8 took the lead from 7 to 8 p.m., with its 218,595 total homes edging CBS11's 204,590. The ABC station also had the most 25-to-54-year-olds while NBC5 took second in that demo.

WFAA8 then drew the largest weather audiences of the night from 8 to 9 p.m., hauling in 319,064 homes to easily outdraw second place Fox4, which nonetheless jumped up to 231,382 homes after a slow start. Fox4 also ran second, behind WFAA8, among 25-to-54-year-olds.

Interestingly, NBC5 drew 211,897 homes with continuous weather coverage from 8 to 8:30 p.m. But when it gave way to NBC's Scrubs at 8:30 p.m., the total homes number dropped to 107,166.

The 9 p.m. numbers are another revelation. Fox4, with its regularly scheduled, but weather-dominated newscast firing up, led the way with 316,628 homes from 9 to 9:15 p.m., narrowly beating WFAA8 (304,450).

WFAA8 then joined ABC's Eli Stone in progress for the rest of the hour. And its audience dropped sharply to 202,155 homes from 9:15 to 9:30 p.m. despite the station's weather updates during commercial breaks.

In the end, CBS11's continuous weather coverage won the full 9 to 10 p.m. hour with an average of 272,787 homes. Fox4 placed second (236,253 homes overall) and NBC5 finished a distant fourth with ER (138,829 homes). But Fox4 took the hour with 25-to-54-year-olds while WFAA8 ran second with its blend of weather coverage and Eli Stone.

We pause now to let you digest all those numbers and clear your head.

OK, on to the four regularly scheduled local news derbies.

WFAA8 won at 10 p.m. in both ratings measurements, with CBS11 second in total homes and Fox4 the runnerup with 25-to-54-year-olds.

Fox4 ran the table at 6 a.m. while WFAA8 again swept the 5 and 6 p.m. news competitions.

Hail the size of ( . . . ) severely dents network prime-time lineups

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WFAA8 and Fox4 viewer photos from Thursday's severe weather.

Network entertainment programming took a beating in D-FW Thursday night, with only NBC5 offering viewers even half a loaf.

Hail-laced severe weather and a reported tornado touch-down in an open field in Aledo otherwise prompted virtual non-stop coverage of storm activity from 6:30 until 10 p.m.

These can be tough calls, and it's easy to sit here and criticize on the early morning after. Still, Fox4, NBC5, WFAA8 and CBS11 all should again be re-assessing their decision-making in times of rough weather. Sometimes you get in too deep to get out, and that seems to be what happened Thursday night. D-FW's band of earnest, well-meaning TV weathermen mostly just didn't know when to relent, retreat and return to regularly scheduled programming.

NBC5 in the end made the wisest decision, but only after first rubbing out new episodes of My Name Is Earl, 30 Rock and The Office. Head forecaster David Finfrock, in tandem with James Aydelott, then restricted their interruptions to commercial breaks during NBC's Scrubs and ER. The station's Web site now is urging viewers to watch the three preempted comedies on their computers.

CBS11 wiped out its network's entire prime-time lineup, save for tantalizing viewers with the opening minutes of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation before weatherman Larry Mowry (helped by Kristine Kahanek) abruptly pulled the plug. CSI at least was a repeat, as was Without A Trace at 9 p.m. A new episode of Survivor: Micronesia also went down for the count.

WFAA8, with forecaster Pete Delkus calling the shots, knocked out back-to-back repeats of ABC's Lost. The station then decided to join Eli Stone roughly one-third of the way through its season finale. But WFAA8's Web site says you can watch the entire episode at 3:10 a.m. Friday. Oops, already missed it.

Fox4 and weathercaster Dan Henry rubbed out new episodes of the network's Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader? and Don't Forget the Lyrics!.

The populace survived, some with dents and dings to their property as the storm front worked its way through North Texas with quick hellos and goodbyes. But how many viewers blew out blood vessels while screaming at their TV sets?

The biggest beneficiary may have been MY27, where plenty of ice was available during its HD telecast of the Dallas Stars' Stanley Cup playoff win over Anaheim. Hockey ratings have been dismal again this year, even for the postseason. But the Stars were the best entertainment value in town Thursday night, unless some viewers instead enjoyed the sight of a drenched, wind-buffeted Chris Hawes losing her umbrella on WFAA8 as the storm hit downtown Fort Worth shortly after 8 p.m.

It all got calm again in a hurry, though. Or as Hawes put it at 8:29 p.m., "We're seeing cars on the road again. They seem to have come out of their hiding places."

Viewers also could thrill to the sight of Fox4's nearly giddy Jeff Crilley, who discovered some teeny hail in his hand during a live report. That kind of giggling glee usually is reserved for baby's first Christmas.

At least Fox4 and WFAA8 had some reporters out in the elements, as did NBC5. CBS11 in contrast operated almost entirely from within the studio during its incessant prime-time coverage, with weatherman Mowry using more body language than a Cirque du Soleil contortionist. He had a little on-air help, though, from colleague Kahanek. WFAA8's Delkus flew solo, and kept talking and talking and talking. And talking.

Some of the live, panoramic weather shots were pretty awesome, particularly on WFAA8. Its Victory Park pictures, during a heavy downpour, rivaled the nightly Parade of Lights show at Disneyland.

Parts of North Texas received a heavy hail frosting. And there seemed to be no end to the circumferences being reported. Hail was said to be in the sizes of nickels, dimes, quarters and half-dollars. Ping-pong balls, tennis balls, baseballs and golf balls. Peas, marbles, grapefruits and teacups.

NBC5 anchor Mike Snyder capped it all off by closing the station's 10 p.m. newscast with another of his malaprops. He urged viewers to watch NBC5's early morning show Friday for "the best stuff . . . from all the damage."

That would have been funny coming from bumbling bossman Michael Scott on The Office. Which, to repeat, we didn't get to see Thursday night.

Fox4 sports anchor Mike Doocy fears the buzzer might be sounding on his 9 p.m. sports segments

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Veteran Fox4 sports anchor Mike Doocy is starting to feel like a dinosaur on his station's featured 9 p.m. newscast. So he's blogging about it -- on his own station's Web site, no less.

In a newly posted "Sports-Less At Nine" dispatch, Doocy begins, "Last night on Fox 4 News at 9, we tried something new. Actually, 'they' tried something new. A traditional sportscast wasn't part of the broadcast."

Doocy notes -- and this has been noted previously on unclebarky.com -- that "there are times when we're bumped out of the show for severe weather coverage, or other time concerns . . . But last night, our news anchors sprinkled in a Mavericks highlight and a Ranger highlight during the hour. That was the extent of our 9 p.m. sports coverage. I'm not sure if this is a one-night experiment, or the beginning of a trend."

He's asking viewers for "honest feedback," and as of this writing, "Sports-Less At Nine" has received five comments.

Here's another one. The second halves of D-FW's late night newscasts increasingly are aimed at women aged 25-to-54. Nielsen Media Research figures consistently show that upwards of 100,000 more women in that demographic watch the nightly newscasts on Fox4, NBC5, WFAA8 and CBS11.

Station management assumes that most women don't care much, if at all, about sports. So they instead get what they supposedly deserve -- an assembly line of stories on youthifying skin goops, miracle diets, shopping bargains, face-lifting, ass-hoisting, wrinkle-removing, blemish-dissolving, exercise contraptions and ways to make your sex life spring back into action.

In other words, pandering, particularly on NBC5 and CBS11. But some newscast consulting firms say this is the best way to keep women in play as bedtime beckons. Dallas Stars hockey highlights just don't do the trick.

NBC5 sports anchor Newy Scruggs has felt Doocy's pain for years. His nightly 10 p.m. sportscast amounts to a pair of wafers sandwiching a can of Spam. The wafers are his two, fast-talking sports blips. The Spam is the elongated commercial break bridging them.

WFAA8 and CBS11 still make sports count on their newscasts. The ABC station has an outsized, highly opinionated personality in Dale Hansen and a staff that contributes at least one enterprise feature a night, usually on an area high school or college. CBS11 and sports anchor Babe Laufenberg place more emphasis on pro sports, but get ample time to air their stories out.

Laufenberg, who doubles as Brad Sham's radio sidekick for Dallas Cowboys games, is still seen as a big cheese whom management aims to please. And Hansen is an institution unto himself, a proven drawing card whose sportscasts vibrate with life even when he's throwing out cringe-worthy one-liners.

Doocy and Scruggs are both fully capable of making their sports segments hum with compelling stories and pointed opinions. But their staffs have shrunk in recent years, as has management's commitment to what they've long done for a living.

We keep hearing that Dallas-Fort Worth has no equal as a sports town. And no market has more colorful, controversial owners than Mark Cuban and Jerry Jones.

Still, Doocy's public lament is evidence that his station isn't a believer. Phasing him out of Fox4's signature 9 p.m. newscasts might be an inevitable end-game. That would be a really dumb move in this view -- particularly when you have a full hour of playing time.

Then again, I'm a lifelong sports fan who happens to be of the wrong age and gender. Even worse perhaps, I've yet to meet a "vaginal rejuvenation" story I've liked.

Local Nielsen ratings snapshot (Tues., April 15)

D-FW viewers still haven't puckered up to the Stars, although the team's third Stanley Cup playoff encounter with Anaheim did almost beat a Mission: Impossible repeat on Ch. 52.

The Ducks beat Dallas on its home ice to the tune of 34,098 total homes on Fox Sports Southwest while a 9 to 10 p.m. episode of Mission had 36,534 homes. The Stars' front office and FSS will disavow any knowledge of these ratings.

(Actually, FSS later emailed a press release saying that Tuesday night's loss was the Stars' most-watched game of the season on the network. FSS says the previous "high" was a .8 Nielsen rating (19,485 homes) for an Oct. 12th matchup against Calgary. Go, Stars!)

In the broadcast TV arena, Fox's American Idol as usual set the Tuesday night pace, this time with 309,321 homes. ABC's Dancing with the Stars results show -- porcelain Priscilla Presley got the boot -- then took over at 8 p.m. with 243,560 homes. But the "skew old" show narrowly lost to Fox's competing Hell's Kitchen among advertiser-courted 18-to-49-year-olds.

ABC also won at 9 p.m., with Boston Legal (182,670 homes) nipping NBC's Law & Order: SVU (175,363 homes). The two dramas tied among 18-to-49-year-olds, with Fox4's 9 p.m. local newscast just a hair behind.

WFAA8 took the 10 p.m. news wars, averaging 231,382 homes to runnerup NBC5's 204,590. The ABC station won more comfortably with 25-to-54-year-olds, the main advertiser target audience for news programming.

WFAA8 took first at 6 a.m. in total homes, but Fox4 claimed the gold in the 25-to-54 demo. The 5 and 6 p.m. competitions again were dominated by WFAA8, which won across the board in both ratings measurements.

Picky Picky (Vol. 11)

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So how much does it really matter to you?

If you have a high-definition television set -- most still don't -- do you find yourself gravitating toward D-FW newscasts with in-studio HD capabilities? That deals Fox4 out of the picture because it remains the only major local TV news provider without any high-def.

Or, are you sick of hearing about HD because you're perfectly happy with the picture you have? Affordability also comes into play. And in tough economic times, seeing a news personality's pores may not be a high priority.

Before throwing out a few options, let's again be clear that none of the locals is 100 percent true HD with its field reports. But WFAA8 and CBS11 look sharper because they're able to convert most of their out-of-studio coverage into a full widescreen picture. Meanwhile, NBC5's remain in a square box because the station's cameras currently are too old to adapt.

OK, here we go, with your comments doing the heavy lifting:

A. The only way to go with a high-definition set is to local newscasts that fill my wider screen with sharper images. Otherwise what's the point?

B. Content is key, and it doesn't matter to me if Fox4 ever goes to HD.

C. Stop writing about HD, because it's still irrelevant to most people's lives.

D. The news and some of the local anchors already are scary enough without any HD additives.

Weathering another storm of weather warnings

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Fox4 could have been in more of a giving mood on the night of its network's second annual mega-charity event.

Instead it was WFAA8 and CBS11 coughing up advertising revenues by scheduling their "Tornado Watch" updates during commercial breaks.

Let's look at Wednesday night through the prism of high-definition television to get a fuller picture of the weather's impact on prime-time programming.

Those without HD sets for the most part weren't inconvenienced during Fox's two hour, 39 minute Idol Gives Back. Seven different "Fox4 Weather Alert" crawls crept along the bottom of home screens, always ending with the annoying "Stay with Fox. We'll keep you 4 warned." The conventional box picture otherwise remained the same, though.

HDTV owners -- guilty, your honor -- had quite a different experience. Fox4 is the only major TV news provider in D-FW without HD capability yet. So its weather bulletins were always accompanied by a shrinkage of those crystal clear, widescreen HD pictures to a comparatively murky-looking box. Each time a crawl ended, the sound cut out for a split-second while the HD picture returned. It was hardly a severe hardship, but it did underscore the covered wagon approach that Fox4 is still taking compared to its competitors.

The station could, of course, have sacrificed some commercial revenue on a big charity night by bringing weatherman Dan Henry in during the breaks from Idol Gives Back. In turn the crawls could have been scrapped and HD viewers would have been much happier. But that didn't happen.

CBS11 forecaster Larry Mowry and his station did quite the opposite. So did WFAA8 and Pete Delkus. For the most part they both popped in during commercial intervals, sacrificing revenue in the interest of serving viewers better. What a concept that is.

Mowry made it a point to say on several occasions that "what you're seeing here now is not interrupting your show." He otherwise had two HD programs on his radar -- new episodes of Criminal Minds and CSI: NY. CBS11 let them air in all their full-screen HD glory, with nary a crawl or a fruit salad mini-map in view.

ABC had a non-HD lineup of two cheesy reality series -- Wife Swap and Supernanny -- and Diane Sawyer shot through cheesecloth for a Prime Time Live special. Even so, weatherman Delkus pretty much stayed out of the way until it was time for commercials to kick in. And the station's on-screen weather graphics were non-intrusive, particularly considering the programming at hand.

NBC5, which like WFAA8 and CBS11 has in-studio HD capability, made mostly successful efforts to keep the full wide-screen picture intact for the Peacock's high-definition presentations of Law & Order: Criminal Intent and Law & Order. Meanwhile, a weather crawl and accompanying smallish map kept viewers updated.

The HD picture occasionally shrunk, though, perhaps until NBC5 had gotten the hang of it. And weatherman David Finfrock got knocked out of the box during the one time I saw him try to make an appearance during a commercial break from Law & Order. He began updating the situation before an Arby's spot abruptly cut him off. That's the last I saw of him in prime-time, save for one of his own in-house commercials.

At least NBC5 was trying, though. And so, for that matter, was Fox4. But we're increasingly living in a high-def world while Fox4 continues to delay the inevitable. Sometimes that can bite you. And during Idol Gives Back, it did -- at least in HD homes.

Footnote: Fox had announced on Tuesday that the three remaining major party presidential candidates all would make (pre-taped) appearances on Idol Gives Back. But Barack Obama, John McCain and Hillary Clinton were nowhere to be seen on the actual telecast.

Obama and Clinton tapes reportedly were shown to the audience during taping of the special Sunday night. But McCain's spot supposedly fell short on production values and was supposed to be re-done. Whatever happened, all three ended up hitting the cutting room floor. As did Jim Carrey, Dr. Phil and a few other previously announced participants.

Picky Picky (Vol. 10)

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Nerissa Knight, Cynthia Izaguirre, Adrian Arambulo, Ellen Goldberg

Experienced veterans should be valued in D-FW's television newsrooms, but quality newcomers also are part of any station's equation.

These recent hires are standing out, at least from this perspective.

Adrian Arambulo joined Fox4 last June and mostly has been a street reporter on the station's No. 1-rated Good Day. The Chicago native arrived from KLAS-TV in Las Vegas.

Ellen Goldberg of NBC5 has been a featured reporter on the station's 10 p.m. weekday newscasts since March, 2007. Originally from Mobile, Ala., she joined D-FW's Peacock from KOAT-TV in Albuquerque, N.M.

Cynthia Izaguirre began co-anchoring WFAA8's Daybreak on Jan. 4th with lame duck colleague Justin Farmer, who will leave for Atlanta this summer. She also arrived from Albuquerque's KOAT-TV and is a native of Brooklyn who was raised in Dallas.

Nerissa Knight has been a weekend anchor and general assignment reporter at CBS11 since last September. Born in Dallas, she returned to North Texas from KBTV-TV in Beaumont and was 2007's reigning Mrs. Southeast Texas as part of the Mrs. Texas America pageant.

All four look like solid additions to their stations, but who has the brightest future? We're awaiting your comments on:

A. Adrian Arambulo
B. Ellen Goldberg
C. Cynthia Izaguirre
D. Nerissa Knight

Local Nielsen ratings snapshot (Mon., April 7)

Kansas' comeback overtime win against Memphis for the NCAA basketball championship overwhelmed competing programming Monday night in a market not known for being hoops crazy.

The CBS telecast drew an overall average of 341,648 D-FW homes during its actual running time from 8:24 to 10:49 p.m. Audiences peaked between 10:15 to 10:30 p.m., when 409,181 homes said, "Game's on."

Advertiser-craved 18-to-49-year-olds also watched in mega-droves, with peak viewership (362,641) between 10:45 and 11 p.m. (Nielsen Media Research tabulates ratings in 15-minute increments).

Only the closing 15 minutes of ABC's Dancing with the Stars (8:15 to 8:30 p.m.) topped Kansas-Memphis in total homes. Its last coupling won by a margin of 321,499 to 263,045 homes against CBS' mix of pre-game introductions and opening dribbles. Dancing drew 265,480 homes overall for its latest 90-minute performance outing.

The first new post-strike episode of ABC's critically acclaimed Samantha Who? had a respectable 204,590 homes to beat all competing programming except basketball in the 8:30 to 9 p.m. slot. The Bachelor then shot bricks as usual, pulling in just 107,166 homes on ABC to run fourth in prime-time's final hour.

In the local news derby, WFAA8 dominated a downsized three-horse field at 10 p.m. in both total homes and with 25-to-54-year-olds, the main advertiser target audience for news programming.

The ABC station also ran the table at 6 a.m. and 5 and 6 p.m.

NBC5 tied Fox4 for second place at 6 a.m. among 25-to-54-year-olds. The 7 to 9 a.m. portion of Fox4's Good Day then rebounded as usual to beat the three network morning shows in both ratings measurements.

Henderson back at Good Day after weekend jaunt with Fox & Friends

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Megan Henderson didn't miss a beat Monday, returning to Fox4's Good Day after a weekend in New York co-hosting Fox News Channel's Fox & Friends.

It reportedly was an "audition," although she characterized it as more of a fling in an email sent to unclebarky.com Saturday evening.

"I've read the trades, too," Henderson said. "However, I have not been told anything about an 'audition.' At some of the other network morning shows, they'll bring folks from their affiliates in every once in awhile, just for fun. I think this is a similar deal. I appreciate the opportunity."

In a subsequent email, Henderson said she is not in contract negotiations and that her pact with Fox4 "isn't up until February 2009." It's never too early to begin talks when you're part of a very profitable, No. 1-rated early morning show. But an earlier post that said Henderson is "in contract negotiations" has been corrected.

Henderson worked the 6 to 9 a.m. shift on both Saturday and Sunday at Fox & Friends. She sat between resident males Clayton Morris and Greg Kelly on Saturday, with substitute Eric Shawn filling in for the latter on Sunday's show. All fall well short of Good Day's Tim Ryan, with whom Henderson has worked since August 2003. They made no mention of her weekend excursion during the first two hours of Monday's show.

Henderson repeatedly said she was "just visiting" Fox & Friends, which would be a wise strategy on her part. Morris, Kelly et. al. are semi-tolerable at best. But cleavage-flashing news anchor Courtney Friel can't even be characterized as a bimbo because that would be an upgrade.

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Journalism 101: anchor Courtney Friel in and out of uniform.

During one of Saturday's periodic news breaks, the former World Poker Tour host termed herself a "total ghetto princess" after breaking a few moves. On Sunday Friel fittingly went to the circus, where she gleefully wore a low-cut sequined circus outfit while feeding an elephant an apple through his trunk. This was accompanied by a series of orgasmic-esque hee hee hee's that can't be fully captured in print.

Friel closed out her last live segment from the circus by taking a shaving cream pie in the face. Warning to Henderson: any further close proximity to Friel can result in permanent brain impairment, let alone debasement.

Henderson did get a chance to interview environmentalist Robert F. Kennedy Jr. from Hawaii via satellite. More often, though, she teased upcoming segments or fought to get a word in opposite the show's gabby males.

On both days, Fox & Friends added an item to an ongoing "sweeptstakes" that includes a trip to New York, a Broadway show and as of Sunday, Mighty Putty.

"What is Mighty Putty?" Henderson asked before Shawn added, "This stuff works."

No, it doesn't, at least in the estimation of Fox4 consumer reporter and close Henderson friend Steve Noviello. He deemed Mighty Putty a rip-off during a heavily publicized Deal Or Dud segment shown on a 9 p.m. newscast during the February "sweeps."

If Henderson's smart she'll sign a new deal with Fox4. Sooner rather than later.

Picky Picky (Vol. 9)

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4, 5, 8, 11: Clarice Tinsley, David Finfrock, Dale Hansen, Karen Borta

A whole lotta downsizing's been going on again lately in the TV news biz. And some are reporting that the era of big-time personalities making out-sized salaries is drawing to a quick close.

Still, D-FW has a lot of those very same people on the air most days and nights. Who would you miss the most? And whose departure would hit hardest at Fox4, NBC5, WFAA8 or CBS11?

We've winnowed it down to four Big Tunas at these respective stations, but these are only talking points. You may well have other ideas about who's the most indispensable. Here are four conversation-starters that should be ripe for your comments:

A. Clarice Tinsley (Fox4)
B. David Finfrock (NBC5)
C. Dale Hansen (WFAA8)
D. Karen Borta (CBS11)

"We catch excitement in the air and share it all with you"

KDFW-TV (Channel 4), then a CBS affiliate, had a featured news team of Clarice Tinsley, Chip Moody, Dale Hansen and weatherman Wayne Shattuck in place during a 1981-'82 season in which the network had seven of prime-time's top 10 series, led by Dallas.

The network responded with a fit-all-sizes "Reach For the Stars" campaign in which affiliate stations also could showcase their anchors. KDFW is second on this clip after an image campaign for WJBK-TV in Detroit. But it's worth the relatively brief wait, particularly for a money shot in which Hansen has a box of popcorn knocked in his face while at a ballgame.

Also thrill to the sight of Tinsley and Moody sending a bouquet of balloons skyward. Is everybody happy?! Oh yeah they are.
Ed Bark

WFAA8 adds another Peabody to its already bulging trophy case

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Dallas-Fort Worth's most-honored television news operation made another big impression Wednesday, this time with the George Foster Peabody Awards.

WFAA8 won a combined Peabody for four separate investigative series. Their two reporters, Byron Harris and Brett Shipp, are both previous Peabody honorees.

Shipp won for "The Buried and the Dead" and "Kinder Prison," which respectively looked at "dubious practices" by the Texas Railroad Commission and questionable incarcerations at the Homeland Security-run T. Don Hutto Family Residential Facility in Taylor, TX.

Harris was cited for reports on the U.S. Export-Import Bank and a probe of Dateline NBC's "To Catch A Predator" sting operation in Murphy, TX.

Photographer Kraig Kirchem worked on all four reports, with Mark Smith the producer. It's WFAA's sixth Peabody. The first came in 1986 for an investigation of football recruiting practices at Southern Methodist University. WFAA8's series of reports led to an NCAA-imposed "death penalty" for the school.

"I'm very happy for these guys," WFAA8 president and general manager Mike Devlin said Wednesday. "To win a Peabody is a very significant event."

The Peabodys, in their 67th year, rank with the Alfred I. duPont-Columbia and Edward R. Murrow awards as broadcast TV's most prestigious.

Another Texas-generated program, Whole Lotta Shakin', also won a Peabody. The 10-part radio series on rockabilly music was produced by the Texas Heritage Music Foundation.

In the network entertainment category, NBC's 30 Rock, Showtime's Dexter, Comedy Central's The Colbert Report, AMC's Mad Men and Bravo's Project Runway were Peabody winners.

Bob Woodruff and Kimberly Dozier, both seriously injured during the Iraq war, were honored for their subsequent reports on ABC and CBS.

NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams will present the awards during a June 16th luncheon at New York's Waldorf-Astoria Hotel.

Izzard flails about, and the crowd roars


All wound up while winding it down at the Majestic. Photos: Ed Bark

Comedian/actor Eddie Izzard and his iPhone played the Majestic Theatre in Dallas Monday night.

The place was packed and the audience pumped. Good for them -- and for him, too. He seemed to be more than a bit off of his free association game at times. Still, he held the crowd -- and recurringly his iPhone -- in the palm of his hand.

"You had a program that was all about you -- that documentary that was on in the '80s," he said, quickly striking that fool-proof Ewing oil.

Izzard's discombobulated riffs didn't always work to perfection or anywhere near it. But few are better at working a fan base. People yelled, Izzard responded. He didn't take affront, he simply played along. And that helped him to get more than enough laughs en route to making it through the night.

His iPhone was used to dial up wikipedia on topics ranging from the city of Dallas to who invaded whom way back when.

"I know so much crap," he said near the end of a roughly two-hour show. "I've Hoovered wikipedia."

Izzard maneuvered on an unadorned stage barren of even a bottle of water or other liquid refreshment. He began by simply walking out unannounced, nonetheless getting an instant standing ovation before billing himself as "just your average transvestite comedian at work."


Izzard up-close backstage just before playing to a packed house.

Izzard, 46, also is lately known as a traveling gypsy con artist impersonating a wealthy dead man on FX cable's The Riches, which had its strike-shortened second season premiere on March 18th. Just seven of the planned 13 episodes will air this season, with Izzard playing opposite Minnie Driver on Tuesday nights at 9 (central).

He barely mentioned the series -- and only when prompted -- during his Majestic performance. Instead he ranged far, wide and back again on topics that included JFK (from whom he kept backing away), Noah's Ark, Spartan warriors and their sheep, Hooters, prehistoric creatures, caveman dialogue, Moses and an envisioned "Texas monkey drive."

Much of his humor seems to be grounded in his firm belief that there's no heaven or any form of life hereafter.

"I think the God and the devil is inside everyone," he said to applause.

Izzard is schedule to be back at the Majestic on June 5th as part of his "Eddie Izzard Stripped Tour." His comedy always will be far more stream of consciousness than planned attack. Still, it wouldn't hurt to be just a bit more focused -- and funny for that matter.

Most of the material from Monday's show would simply play dead in print. It's Izzard's showmanship and everyman qualities that still make the sale for him. A little more comedic discipline, though, would be to the benefit of one and all.

Uncle Barky trapped in refrigerator -- eats own foot

Fox4 fell hard Tuesday for an April Fool's joke about a $900 million retractable roof to be built over the Texas Motor Speedway.

Anchor Dan Godwin put the "story" out on the station's noon newscast before retracting it on the air later.

The fake news came in a press release and Web site posting from paddocktalk.com. But a subhead should have been enough to warn most people off. "Alluring Project Requires Incredible Logistics For Oval Of Landmark Significance," it read. Spell out the first letters of those words and it reads "April Fools."

Another tipoff was the phony name of the "project manager," Sidd Finch. That's the made-up moniker of a pitching phenom in a famous April Fool's hoax article written in 1985 for Sports Illustrated by George Plimpton. The phony New York Mets prospect supposedly could throw a 168 mph fastball.

Also, TMS president Eddie Gossage was referenced only as "Gossage" in the press release. In his closing "quote," he said, "It's only appropriate that we announced such an outlandish project like this on the first day of April. We'd be foolish to think it would be possible."

Fox4 bit anyway. It's not immediately known if anyone else did.