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Nightcap springs itself on CW33

Nightcap hosts Spencer Harlan, Danielle Vollmar and Amanda Salinas Photos: Ed Bark

OK, just what was that exactly?

Thursday's launch of CW33's Nightcap oftentimes made the Texas State Fair midway seem like the Dallas Aboretum's Chihuly exhibit.

The scrapping of the station's more or less "traditional" 9 p.m. newscast -- and the terminations of most staffers -- has yielded a 9 p.m. presentation that on opening night was wildly inconsistent but also had some plusses. One got the feeling this would be an entirely different animal when an opening rundown of the show's activities made an "Oh Lancie Poo" reference to embattled biker Lance Armstrong.

Modeled after the Dallas-based, Tribune-owned station's early morning, hijinks-spiked Eye Opener program, Nightcap dawned with three co-hosts.

One of them, Amanda Salinas, is familiar to CW33 news watchers. She was co-anchor of the previous 9 p.m. newscast and is under contract with the station until January. After that, who knows?

Nightcap also is deploying Eye Opener's very willing Danielle Vollmar, who does the weather segment as well in place of
the departed Rebecca Miller. Vollmar actually is a meteorologist, and has done forecasts at previous stations. So she pretty much knows her way around a chroma-key map but perhaps could use a little more fashion moxie. Her mega-baggy blue dress on Thursday's Nightcap made Vollmar's upper attributes look saggier than Paul Ryan's smile. But what do I know? I'm no licensed Mr. Blackwell, just a wise ass.

Host No. 3 is cute, tiny-ish actor/comedian Spencer Harlan, who perhaps is in the Witness Protection program. He was never identified at all during the show. He just popped in to join Salinas and Vollmar after a cold open in which Harlan took fake offense at "Opera Shots," a Fort Worth Opera gambit in which patrons can get sloshed to the sounds of tenors and sopranos.

"This is a circus!" he shouted. "What the hell are they thinking?!"

That goes double for Nightcap during its numerous messier moments. Such as when Mark Cuban's even more hyperkinetic younger brother, Brian Cuban, showed up to yell and gesticulate about "The Cuban Revolution."

"I love to rant," he revealed. "But I love to rant with a purpose . . . I think the Cuban Revolution is gonna be a great show!"

Really? When? Where? Brian has a blog that he calls The Cuban Revolution. And his "Legal Briefs" segments air periodically on Eye Opener. But no mention was made of either while co-host Harlan stood next to Brian, trying (and failing) to insert jokes. Overall impression: Those Cuban boys must have over-dosed on an earlier form of Honey Boo Boo juice during their formative years.

Nightcap's non-stop zippy graphics were impressively mounted for the most part. Except that they regularly lacked one essential -- identification.

An elongated piece on political advertising -- which actually was well-shot and edited -- never identified the reporter quizzing veteran Dallas-based political consultant Brian Mayes.

A ludicrous piece on celebrities posing naked with fish (in an effort to curb over-fishing) went without any ID of the constantly on-camera reporter. She ended by telling viewers "I'll be doing sexy shoots with fish sticks to raise awareness." (See below collection of pictures.)

An AT&T U-verse segment on Halloween-themed technology likewise never bothered to name its telegenic young reporter. It cut off prematurely, taking viewers directly to a commercial for the new animated movie Wreck-It Ralph. Just as well.

Let's also observe a moment of silence for poor holdover reporter Barry Carpenter, who's possibly twice as old as some of his new colleagues. He amazingly was identified on-screen, but otherwise literally semi-hid himself in the shadows while talking about the ins and outs of "consumer confidence." Hang in there, Jedediah. It can only get . . .

Viewers of the first Nightcap also were afflicted with "Ask Tammy Manners," during which a dude in drag lounged in bed and said that his/her blog "quickly became a viral sensation -- not like Syphilis or anything." Just to be safe, I moved a bit farther away from the TV screen.

OK, on to the reasonably good stuff.

A "Fat Guy Fitness" segment, by "Lorenzo," had him traipsing off to a Southlake trampoline gym for some bouncing around. Pretty funny. Beats another miracle diet story.

Holdover reporter Daniel Novick's report on Love Field's newly enlarged passenger check-in area was inventively put together. And newcomer Charlie Berens showed some promise with his comedic take on Republican Senate candidate Ted Cruz. His closer: "I ask you, who needs the future when we have Ted Cruz?"

Nightcap went without any goodbyes from its hosts. Instead it tacked on a five-minute Small Time talk show parody that seemed longer because much of it played dead. Save for the "Bachelor Cooking" segment in which a guest made toast from scratch and then spread peanut butter on it while one of the show's two co-hosts marveled. Bombing was fake music "legend" Ian Stevens, whose bit never got untracked.

Nightcap averaged 17,211 viewers on opening night, with the audience dropping in each quarter hour. It had a lead-in of 26,848 viewers from the closing 15-minute segment of The CW's Beauty and the Beast, according to Nielsen Media Research.

In CW33's target demographic --18-to-34-year-olds, -- Nightcap registered "hashmarks" (no measurable audience) for its closing 45 minutes after luring 4,692 in the opening 15 minutes. So that's a turn-off from those viewers that the station cares about most.

Still, Nightcap gets a grudging overall grade of C-minus from this grizzled, out-of-the-demo reviewer. It wasn't all bad but it's going to take a lot of work and imagination to make it really any good. The old CW33 prime-time newscast had been in a death rattle for years, thanks in major part to escalating mismanagement during news director David Duitch's disastrous four-year tenure.

Nightcap in reality is a last gasp on the part of a station whose "newsroom" now is led by "director of content" Larissa Hall. She used to run Eye Opener, which in fact has made some headway among younger viewers. Nightcap faces a tougher task in the last hour of prime-time. And dozens of former CW33 staffers are now out on the streets while Salinas last night touted a "different kind of news" in which "Lancie Poo" is very much smiled upon.

Here are some other sights from opening night of Nightcap.

One of Nightcap's several unidentified reporters kinda sucks.

Veteran Barry Carpenter went for a Phantom of the Opera look.

"Ask Tammy Manners." Better yet, don't.

Kinda liked this kid. He's comedian Charlie Berens.

The hosts of the Nightcap-capping Small Time.