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Fielding a new D-FW All-Star team

It's time to put the neck in a noose and name another D-FW all-star team of anchors and reporters.

The first one is now a year old and in need of some updates. Choices are drawn from what unclebarky.com witnessed during 20 weeknights of watching the 10 p.m. newscasts on NBC5, Belo8 and CBS11, and the featured 9 p.m. program on Fox4.

Some reporters that might have made the team simply didn't show up enough on the late night newscasts. These choices are drawn from those who made at least three appearances during the November "sweeps." That allows the generally less frequently seen investigators to be a part of this.

You'll also notice a paucity of women in the reporting ranks. It's not sexism. It's just recognizing the best work. And men tend to get the lion's share of exposure on the four stations' marquee newscasts.

We'll also throw in a best-dressed anchor team, and a few other odds and ends. Your comments of course are welcome.

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ANCHORS -- John McCaa (Belo8) and Karen Borta (CBS11)

McCaa is the steady, stabilizing force of his station's 10 p.m. newscasts. When the happy talk goes overboard, it's good to have a strong hand at the rudder. He's not without a sense of humor, but would rather be old-school than Animal House. He's also the guiding force behind the station's feel-good Gospel Jubilee competitions. An unpretentious, standup guy in a profession that doesn't prize these attributes as much as before.

Borta has matured into an assured, steady anchor with both presence and style. Her killer looks are part of the package, but this is no bimbo. She's come a long way in her 12 years at CBS11, surviving myriad format changes and news directors. It hasn't slowed her progress or dimmed her glow. Borta is better than she's ever been. And she was HD-ready from the start.

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WEATHER AND SPORTS -- Dan Henry (Fox4) and Dale Hansen (Belo8)

Henry no doubt will be a surprise choice to many. But it's time he received some recognition as a thorough, personable prognosticator who never seems to stumble or call attention to himself. He knows his craft and translates it into the weather basics that viewers want. Watch him. He'll grow on you. And he's gone unheralded long enough.

Hansen is Hansen, and that can be a problem sometimes. But he's still the go-to guy for strong, straight-from-the-shoulder opinions. The almost nightly intercourse, um, discourse, with playmate weathercaster Pete Delkus is usually instigated by the latter. Hansen basically just plays along, and sometimes he shouldn't. His delivery is still without peer, though, and his viewpoints take no prisoners.

RUNNERSUP -- Steve Eagar (Fox4), Gloria Campos (Belo8), Pete Delkus (Belo8), Mike Doocy (Fox4)

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Paul Adrian (Fox4) -- Outstanding fact-digger who excelled with lengthy, revealing reports on red light camera districts and disparate property valuations. Making that material come alive isn't easy. But Adrian is up to the task.

Jeff Crilley (Fox4) -- His soft-spoken narratives could double as lullabies. But he's almost always more thorough than his competitors when they share the same assignments. Antithesis of the projectile reporter.

Scott Gordon (NBC5) -- The veteran Night Ranger keeps his head down, prowls the pavement and makes the best of what he's given. He'll sometimes throw in a scoop, too, but seldom is given much time to really shine. Solid as a rock, though.

Randy McIlwain (NBC5) -- Largely new to the late night scene, McIlwain capably brings a bit of flair to his storytelling without shoving it in viewers' faces. His bird poop dispatch was a classic. He actually pulled off the line, "You don't know crap."

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J.D. Miles (CBS11) -- Didn't get quite enough to do in November, but is always flawless in the field. Needs to get meatier in February, though.

Jason Overstreet (Fox4) -- An inventive and consistently interesting neighborhood reporter who generally manages to steer his way clear of crime and tragedy stories.

Brett Shipp (Belo8) -- Had a very eventful sweeps, with eye-opening, make-a-difference investigations of faulty natural gas pipe connections and alleged grade-fixing at South Oak Cliff High School. Has an outsized ego, but guts to match.

Janet St. James (Belo8) -- It wasn't her best sweeps, but St. James still ranks well above rival medical and health reporters. "Tree yoga's" not her style, though. Let's do better in February.

Honorable mentions -- Derek Castillo (NBC5); Jack Fink (CBS11); Saul Garza (Fox4); Jay Gormley (CBS11); George Riba (Belo8); Robert Riggs (CBS11).


Best newscast -- Belo8

Most valuable reporter -- Brett Shipp (Belo8)

Best dressed anchors -- News: John McCaa (Belo8), Karen Borta (CBS11). Weather: Pete Delkus (Belo8). Sports: Babe Laufenberg (CBS11).

Most promising newcomers -- Ellen Goldberg (NBC5), Nerissa Knight (CBS11)

Dumbest gimmick -- The "CBS11 City Cam"

Best gimmick -- Belo8's "Hansen Unplugged"

Most mentions of Wal-Mart -- Hands down, NBC5

Most overplayed story -- Duncanville's Cherry Pit "Swingers' Club"

Most brain cells destroyed in the line of duty -- unclebarky.com

Local Nielsen ratings snapshot (Final Nov. sweeps results)

Belo8 can toast itself; NBC5 can drown its sorrows.

CBS11 can point to significant signs of progress; Fox4 can still crow about the early mornings.

The final November sweeps newscast ratings are in, and Belo8 is a Colossus in the marquee 10 p.m. race.

Juiced by a big Tuesday night lead-in from ABC's Dancing with the Stars finale, Belo8 closed with a flourish to average a double-digit Nielsen rating (10.2) in routing No. 2 CBS11. A year ago, Belo8 finished a close second to NBC5 with an 8.5 rating.

Now the Peacock is de-feathered while Belo8 has accomplished something that wasn't thought possible anymore. Hitting for a double-figure average at 10 p.m. is a major achievement in these fragmented times. And we didn't even have any bonafide "arctic blasts" to boost those numbers.

CBS11 knocked previously dominant NBC5 into a distant third place in the 10 p.m. total homes race. It also came within a hair of taking second place among 25-to-54-year-olds, the main advertiser target audience for news programming.

In year-to-year performance, the Peacock also fell from first to third at 6 a.m.

Fox4, the early morning runnerup a year ago, reclaimed both top spots while Belo8 climbed from third to second. NBC5's major audience losses helped to put CBS11 within shouting distance of third place in the early mornings.

Belo8 had comfortable twin wins at 5 and 6 p.m., replicating its performance from a year ago. It was the only station to increase its audience year-to-year in all four newscast battle zones. NBC5, in contrast, took frightening plunges at 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. Or as the station's newscasts say almost every night: "Very scary."

Here are the November sweeps results in the four major local newscast time slots, with year-to-year plusses or minuses in parentheses. (Note: there's been some ratings inflation since November, 2006. Each rating point now is worth 24,356 total homes, compared to 23,800 last year. And in the key 25-to-54 demo, a rating point now equals 29,445 viewers, up from 28,700.)

10 P.M.

Belo8 -- 248,431 (+41,371)
CBS11 -- 177,799 (+27,859)
NBC5 -- 138,829 (-68,231)
Fox4 -- 97,424 (-156)

Belo8 -- 173,726 (+40,857)
NBC5 -- 103,058 (-63,735)
CBS11 -- 100,113 (+18,130)
Fox4 -- 61,835 (-3,186)

6 A.M.

Fox4 -- 107,166 (+4,826)
Belo8 -- 97,424 (+14,124)
NBC5 -- 68,197 (-46,043)
CBS11 -- 41,405 (-1,435)

Fox4 -- 73,613 (+11,419)
Belo8 -- 58,890 (+8,004)
NBC5 -- 38,279 (-29,569)
CBS11 -- 23,556 (-1,887)

6 P.M.

Belo8 -- 172,928 (+25,368)
CBS11 -- 107,166 (-30,874)
NBC5 -- 99,860 (-14,380)
Fox4 -- 90,117 (-16,983)

Belo8 -- 85,391 (+20,370)
NBC5 -- 58,890 (-477)
Fox4 -- 53,001 (-26,155)
CBS11 -- 35,334 (-15,552)

5 P.M.

Belo8 -- 155,878 (+8,318)
Fox4 -- 99,860 (+4,660)
NBC5 -- 87,682 (-24,178)
CBS11 -- 73,068 (-3,092)

Belo8 -- 76,557 (+8,709)
NBC5 -- 50,057 (-6,483)
Fox4 -- 44,168 (-3,891)
CBS11 -- 29,445 (+3,265)

This just in: a night in the lives of D-FW's late night newscasts (Tues., Nov. 27)

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"Denture Danger" -- Belo8

"You're hunting for good bargains, but you'll also be hunted at the same time." -- NBC5

"Shopping Center Shoot-out -- Images you'll see only on Fox4."

"You should be on high alert when you exit or enter your home." -- CBS11

And that was the good news.

There's seldom a shortage of crime, tragedy or dire consequences on any day's batch of late night D-FW newscasts. Still, Tuesday proved especially dispiriting, particularly to your faithful, obviously masochistic chronicler of all four stations' November "sweeps" offerings.

NBC5 anchor Mike Snyder did say it was OK, though, to eat "one or two Christmas cookies" without contracting the ugly wrinkles that sugar can cause. Thanks for that at least.

Some crime news obviously has to be reported. Some warnings should be issued. Some cautions should be taken. But Tuesday's late nighters collectively beat this viewer into mushy pulp, which by the way is known to cause baldness in laboratory rats.

NBC5 and CBS11 both led with hospital bed interviews of a 45-year-old woman who was attacked by two sub-humans while she bicycled along Katy Trail.

"They were actually beating me up, and enjoying it," the woman told both stations.

The Peacock next offered a "Golfers Attacked" brief while CBS11 segued to an elderly Fort Worth couple's tale about being mugged in their driveway. That's where the aforementioned "high alert" police safety tip came in.

Before teasing its exclusive "Shopping Center Shoot-out" surveillance video, Fox4 bragged about being "the only ones there" when a serial burglar named Corey Lee Caldwell was brought to jail. He fittingly was apprehended at an adult book store. Class act.

Belo8 medical reporter Janet St. James gave false teeth-wearers pause with a "Denture Paste Poison?" piece on how some stickums can cause nerve damage via their zinc toxicity. A poor old guy now getting around with a walker was submitted as evidence.

Earlier, Belo8's Shelly Slater made "some frightening finds" in the words of co-anchor Gloria Campos. Made-in-China children's jewelry available at several prominent retailers contains super-high concentrations of lead, Slater reported. A Sam Moon Santa pin had 730 times the allowed amount, according to a tester deployed by Belo8.

"Oh my gosh. So what does that mean?" a mom asked. It supposedly means that your kid could get really sick.

NBC5 offered a "Health Alert" on Tamiflu, which in very rare cases can be linked to "psychotic behavior" in children. Then came the sugar consumption scare followed by Scott Friedman's report on the perils of Christmas shopping at area malls. A security expert advised "hunted" consumers to drive to different parts of parking lots if they intend to resume shopping after putting their purchases in car trunks. Has it really come to that?

All four stations ganged up on the tragic death of a construction worker who was run down and killed by a conscience-less SUV driver. His grieving family rightfully demanded justice while cameras caught them in closeup.

NBC5 offered a charming update on the "Scarecrow Bandits," so dubbed because they wear floppy hats and flannel shirts during robberies.

Fox4 and Belo8 had briefs on a new Web site called bandittracker.com. CBS11's Bennett Cunningham had another followup on the potential dangers of the anti-smoking drug Chantix, being marketed as Champix in the United Kingdom. The station also reported on the alleged molestation of a four-year-old child by a teacher. And so on.

Watching all four newscasts, one after the other, obviously isn't the way most people experience the nightly goings-on at Fox4, NBC5, Belo8 and CBS11. Still, it's instructive. Crime, tragedy and consumer scares can't entirely be dealt out of any newscast. But they shouldn't be virtually the only games in town. On Tuesday night, though, that's pretty much the way it was.


***Belo8 investigator Brett Shipp advanced his earlier exclusive on cheating allegations at South Oak Cliff High School. Those who reflexively doubted his story's validity should be persuaded otherwise by an open letter to DISD officials from the former English teacher of basketball star Kendrake Johnigan.

The teacher, John Yourse, said he was coerced by then school principal Donald Moten into fixing Johnigan's failing grade "for the sake of the school." The upgrade, from a 50 to a 73, enabled Johnigan to compete in the 2006 basketball playoffs and help lead South Oak Cliff to its second straight state championship.

This was very gutty reporting on Shipp's part, and he's taken plenty of heat for it. But his story seems ironclad at this point.

***Another ace investigator, Fox4's Paul Adrian, concluded his lengthy and very informative two-part report on wide variations in property valuations. The stakes are high if you're a homeowner experiencing inexplicable major hikes in your taxes.

Adrian was bracingly fair to all sides. And his thorough job on an important issue shows what can be accomplished when stations are willing to invest in time-consuming, meritorious, non-showy storytelling.

***CBS11 newcomer Nerissa Knight is the latest reporter to draw the short straw in the station's newly aggressive efforts to pander to women viewers. Her Tuesday night report on "hand beautification" at least played better than recent stories on cellulite-fighting soap and vaginal makeovers.

Still, who can afford this crap? A typical hand job costs $1,800 and isn't covered by insurance. In return you lose a few wrinkles. Let's get real.

This just in: a night in the lives of D-FW's late night newscasts (Mon., Nov. 26)

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Picking up where NBC5 left off: Rebecca Lopez and Janet St. James.

Belo8 continues to thump once-dominant NBC5 in the 10 p.m. Nielsen ratings. So it shouldn't have to recycle some of the Peacock's earlier stories. Perhaps they thought no one was watching? Alas, that's what they don't pay unclebarky.com to do.

The ABC station led Monday's late nighter with claims of exclusivity that simply weren't accurate. Later in the broadcast, Belo8 glommed onto a health story that NBC5 likewise had done much earlier in the November "sweeps." Here's a regress report.

Belo8 anchor Gloria Campos began the newscast by teasing a followup to the brutal purse snatching and beating earlier this month of elementary school teacher Sheryl Walsh. She was accosted in the Tom Thumb grocery store parking lot at Preston and Beltline, and remains hospitalized.

"Police say the purse snatchers have struck before, and only News 8 knows where," Campos told viewers.

Co-anchor John McCaa added, "You'll only hear this information on News 8."

Reporter Rebecca Lopez then said that surveillance pictures taken at the Mockingbird and Abrams Tom Thumb show what seems to be the same black SUV leaving the scene of a purse snatching that occurred five days before Walsh was assaulted. Police think the two crimes might be connected. No other D-FW station supposedly had this alleged scoop.

In fact, NBC5 newcomer Ellen Goldberg reported this information a week earlier on the station's 10 p.m. newscast. At the end of her Walsh followup, she said police were investigating a similar crime -- by perhaps the same assailant -- at the Mockingbird and Abrams Tom Thumb. Goldberg said police also believed that a purse snatching at a Mesquite Albertson's store likewise may have had the same perpetrator. As evidence, she showed viewers surveillance cam pictures of the black SUV.

Any and all efforts to catch the pig who's committing these crimes should be applauded. But Belo8 erred in claiming that it alone had advanced the story.

Later in the newscast, medical reporter Janet St. James tested a calorie-counting contraption called the Body Bugg. It costs more than $300 and you strap it to your arm as an aid to losing weight.

St. James said she didn't like wearing the Body Bugg. Or as she put it, "Like excess weight, I couldn't wait to lose it."

Another woman loved the thing, though, leaving viewers to decide for themselves at the end of St. James' report.

She didn't claim any exclusivity. But let the record show that another NBC5 newcomer, Lindsay Wilcox, had a less critical Body Bugg story way back on Nov. 8th.

James usually is much better than that, but she's had a notably sub-par November. An earlier piece on tree yoga made her look like a sap. And a story about a pricey, low-fat catering service played more like a spoon-fed infomercial.

James hasn't yet resorted, though, to a story on "vaginal rejuvenation." But CBS11's Monday night piece did have an indirect Belo8 connection.

Reporter Kimberly Ball interviewed one of D-FW's most prominent practitioners, Dr. Wesley Anne Brady. Her vaginal tuneups, she said, make women feel "just sexier, more feminine and just more attractive and confident in themselves."

Dr. Brady is the wife of Belo8 anchor Jeff Brady, which Ball of course didn't mention. His salary just might be peanuts compared to the reported $5,000 to $8,000 his wife charges for each vaginal makeover.

It also should be noted that new CBS11 assistant news director Sarah Garza, formerly of both Belo8 and Fox4, is a big believer in stories aimed directly at female viewers. They just happen to watch newscasts in appreciably greater numbers than men, according to Nielsen Media Research statistics.

In the end Ball's report wasn't nearly as salacious as her station's promotions. Co-anchor Doug Dunbar steered clear of any verbalizing Monday night, teasing a pair of upcoming stories before adding, "Plus." Viewers then were treated to video of a young woman whispering to another while a narrator cautioned, "Shhh, don't talk about it out loud. But many North Texas women have found a new way to change their sex lives for the better."

Accompanying horn music sounded like the mood-setter at Vinny VaVoom's Triple X Chalet. But hey, that's sweeps.


***Fox4 investigator Paul Adrian, one of D-FW's very best, had a thorough and revealing look at a wide range of puzzling home appraisals. Such reporting obviously isn't very "visual," but Adrian again made his painstaking efforts come alive. He also talked to the Dallas Central Appraisal District's head man, Ken Nolan, who made a game effort to explain the discrepancies.

Adrian's reporting isn't flashy but it's definitely on the mark. Viewers invariably are well-served by his sleuthing. He gets at big issues of genuine import, as he did earlier this November with a lengthy piece on the questionable signal timing at red light camera intersections. Is he an endangered species, though? Probably.

***Veteran D-FW street reporters Jeff Crilley (Fox4) and Scott Gordon (NBC5) reported live from a heavily attended candlelight vigil for two high school students from The Colony who died in a weekend car wreck. Each invariably can be counted on to handle such stories with grace and sensitivity. And that they did. Belo8 and CBS11 offered only brief, anchor-narrated video.

***CBS11 had the night's big blooper, courtesy of reporter Katherine Blake. She led the newscast with a piece on the alleged attempted kidnapping of a Fort Worth child.

It didn't merit such prominent play, but Blake made her dispatch memorable after anchor Dunbar said, "CBS11's Katherine Blake (is) live there tonight with the rest of this story."

Blake then asked, "Are we still in the program before us?"

Um, no. CSI: Miami already was over and out.

This just in: nights in the lives of D-FW's late night newscasts (Wed.-Fri., Nov. 21-23)

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You are so Butt-u-Tiful. CBS11 gets the skinny on cellulite goop.

CBS11's 10 p.m. newscasts are significantly improved in these post-Regent Ducas times.

One thing he didn't do, though, is pander to women viewers, who watch news programming in significantly larger numbers than men. Ducas, who lasted five months as CBS11's news director, instead was too intent on stocking his shelves with "urgent" crime and tragedy reports.

"You're not going to see a lot of diet-oriented stories in the second quarter-hour. Absolutely not," Ducas told unclebarky.com early in a regime that ended with his abrupt firing in early September. "If that's the magic to success, then I'm not going to try to beat 'em at their game. I'm a big believer that solid, topical news is going to drive viewership. I'm just not into tailoring news."

His successors, news director Scott Diener and newly hired assistant news director Sarah Garza, clearly have gone to the tailor shop. Earlier in the November "sweeps," anchor/reporter Tracy Kornet narrated a canned story titled "The Sex Diet."

Pre-Thanksgiving Wednesday brought anchor/reporter Maria Arita's less than skin deep, 10 p.m. piece on Butt-u-Tiful, a cellulite-fighting, coffee grounds-based concoction being marketed out of Flower Mound.

Two women tested the pricey product -- $42.95 for a month's supply -- by lathering their legs in a shower for four consecutive days. One user's thighs supposedly went from a 26-inch to a 25-inch circumference. She jumped up and down with unbridled glee while Arita watched approvingly.

This is all mere foreplay, though. On Monday's 10 p.m. CBS11 newscast, look for -- or not -- an already heavily promoted piece on how women can make their va-jay-jays a better fit for Mr. Excitement. Now that's "Coverage You Can Count On," ladies.

Belo8 and NBC5 already are old hands at sugaring the second halves of their newscasts with news women supposedly can use. This generally falls into the categories of miracle diets or miracle cosmetic cures. Cellulite long has ruled this particular roost, with unsightly wrinkles also a popular passtime. Only Fox4 pretty much stays off this playing field. But they're not even in HD yet, so whadda they know?

What you won't see on your 10 p.m. newscasts are stories about D-FW's best sports bars, or tips on how to pick your nose discreetly. Men don't count for much in the grand newscast scheme of things, and here's why. In the key newscast target audience -- 25-to-54-year-olds -- look at the combined average audiences for the 10 p.m. news through 17 weeknights of the November "sweeps," which end on Wednesday:

Women 25-to-54 -- 256,573 (each Nielsen rating point equals 14,578 women in this age group)
Men 25-to-54 -- 173,944 (each rating point equals 14,867 men in this age group)

All four major news providers draw more women than men at 10 p.m., with Belo8 flexing the biggest gender gap. Its late night newscasts average 102,046 women and 63,928 men.

The Wednesday-Friday newscasts otherwise were relatively tame, with many of the first-team anchors taking time off. It all revs up again on Monday, even though the orders of finish are pretty much determined in the four major newscast battle zones. For the particulars, scroll down on this page to our latest ratings report.

This just in: a night in the lives of D-FW's late night newscasts (Tues., Nov. 20)

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Belo8's Brett Shipp calls foul on South Oak Cliff's 2006 state title.

Contrary to what some people might think, aggressive investigative reporting often is a gut-churning experience -- and not for just those under fire.

Bulldogs such as Belo8's Brett Shipp must confront the targets of their stories, often with unpleasant results. They're called names, denied access, and branded as ambushers or grandstanders. And if your investigation targets people of color, return charges of racism invariably come your way.

Shipp no doubt is taking ample heat today for his Tuesday night investigation of South Oak Cliff's 2006 state basketball championship team. School records obtained by Belo8 indicate that one of the team's star players, Kendrake Johnigan, should have been bounced from the team for failing an English class, Shipp asserted. And if that's the case, then the basketball powerhouse's 2006 title also is in danger of being forfeited under the state's "No Pass, No Play" edict, he said.

Johnigan, who received his high school diploma, now is a member of Eastfield Junior College's basketball team. "I had the class, but I didn't know I had the class," he told Shipp of the English course that he was dropped from but later somehow passed.

Shipp also talked to Johnigan's coach, James Mays II, at the South Oak Cliff gym. Mays said he had signed the document transferring Johnigan from English III to a physical education course. Shortly before the state championship game, Johnigan also was assigned to bring up his grade -- from 50 -- in an after-school "reconnect class."

Mays balked at further questions, asking Shipp, "Have you guys got permission?"

The reporter then fired a parting shot while being escorted from the school. "Sir, did you cheat to win a state championship?" Shipp asked.

"I don't never cheat," Mays replied. "No sir, I never cheat . . . Talk to our principal, OK?"

Regina Jones is the current principal. But her predecessor, Donald Moten, is the one who signed off on Johnigan's rather magical passing grade of 73. Belo8 investigated Moten in May 2006 for alleged grade-changing, with footage showing him refusing to talk to the station. Shipp told viewers that Moten "has yet to respond" to Belo8's requests for a followup interview on the Johnigan situation.

Shipp's investigations have won a number of major awards over the years. He generally has his facts straight before sticking his neck out. And this latest expose is one of the more volatile he's ever undertaken.

Part 2 of his report will air on Wednesday's 10 p.m. newscast, Shipp told viewers. Sports anchor Dale Hansen also said he'll go "Unplugged" on the matter -- and in support of Shipp's reporting.

Meanwhile, DISD superintendent Michael Hinojosa, in attendance when South Oak Cliff won the 2006 state title, is promising a full investigation based on Belo8's findings.

One could argue that Shipp and Belo8 should simply let bygones be bygones rather than open what could be a gaping wound to South Oak Cliff's basketball program. That would have been a far easier path than the one they're taking. And it's hoped that Shipp and Belo8 would show the same zeal in investigating a predominantly white high school.

Still, facts are facts, wrong is wrong, and the case against South Oak Cliff seems to be pretty damning. None of this is pretty, though. And whatever the school, all of it is a shame.

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In contrast, another school story, by Fox4's Lynn Kawano, may have been the most nonsensical of the ongoing November sweeps.

Her "Haircut Hassle" piece focused on a five-year-old kid who's showing his support for the Dallas Cowboys by having a star cut on the top of his otherwise shaved head. His Richland school says that violates policy. So the pint-sized fan, still two years shy of the age of reason, can't return to class until his hair conforms to code. That's perfectly sensible, right?

Enter the kid's ridiculous father, who told Kawano, "I don't particularly care for the look of the haircut myself, but he has the right of individuality and to present himself just like anybody else does. And I'm not gonna let the school dictate that."

This guy apparently hasn't read "Parenting for Dummies" yet. By his rational, the kid could attended classes naked in the further interest of expressing his "individuality." Or maybe he'd like to punch ol' Dad in the gut whenever he pleases. After all, you don't want to inhibit a five-year-old kid's freedom of choice. How the hell did this "story" ever make the air?

Fox4 investigator Becky Oliver had a firmer grip on reality with her "Veterans Care Crisis" probe into alleged abuses at North Texas VA hospitals. She buttered it a bit thick for starters, though, telling viewers, "They risked their lives for our country. Making sacrifices. Defending freedom -- all over the world. But their enemy is no longer on the battlefield. To these vets and their families, it's at North Texas VA hospitals."

It is truly sad the way some aging veterans are treated. Unfortunately, these VA hospital malpractice stories are getting to be a dime a dozen. Or as vet Sam Dillard told Oliver, "The care I got at the VA is 'Don't care'."

As a veteran myself (1967-'70, U.S. Marines), let me say this. I wouldn't go to a VA hospital if my life depended on it. Oliver's investigation, scheduled to continue Wednesday night, only underscores the glaringly and tragically obvious. And the lawsuits filed by some of these aggrieved veterans aren't going to change that.


***These spaces are usually critical of NBC5's bottom-scraping brand of news coverage. But Tuesday's 10 p.m. show actually hit a few high notes.

Reporter Scott Friedman followed up on last week's piece on GM pickups and SUVs with faulty speedometers. Other motorists have contacted the station with their complaints, and they seem legitimate. The problem is with some 2003 and 2004 models, and the maker has offered free repairs for vehicles with mileage of less than 70,000. But there's been no recall, Friedman reported, because GM doesn't consider broken speedometers to be a "safety concern." Say what?

***NBC5's reliable Randy McIlwain had the night's best report on the dump truck nail spill that shut down a stretch of I-75 near Anna during rush hour Tuesday. McIlwain reported live from the scene, telling viewers that the road only recently had re-opened. In contrast, Fox4's Jason Overstreet reported live via telephone. Belo8 offered a brief, reporter-less blip and CBS11 had no coverage at all on its 10 p.m. newscast.

***Grant Stinchfield, also of NBC5, had an interesting story on the Dallas police department's disinterest in investigating roughly 70 percnt of property theft crimes. "There's no use in wasting time and resources on a case that we know we can't solve," said Dallas police Lt. Vernon Hale.

***All four stations led their newscasts with weather briefs on Wednesday's incoming cold front. CBS11's Kristine Kahanek had the best way of putting it: "Get your winter woolies ready."

This just in: a night in the lives of D-FW's late night newscasts (Mon., Nov. 19)

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Live at the Improv, weatherman Pete Delkus and sports anchor Dale Hansen had a pseudo-gay old time again Monday night.

And earlier from Austin, correspondent Debbie Denmon got all girly with The Bachelor finale at a raucous Sixth Street bar.

Belo8's dominant 10 p.m. newscast already is the slap-happiest in town, but this one spiked the punch and wore lampshades. Co-anchor Gloria Campos even flashed a little cleavage while old school headmaster John McCaa loosened his belt a notch.

Not that there isn't plenty to celebrate. Belo8's late night newscasts are like chainsaws cutting through plywood, reducing the competition to sawdust on most nights. So send in the clowning, which invariably escalates whenever Hansen's in the house.

Delkus had mourned the absence of an ill Hansen on Friday night's newscast, professing his "man-love" for the ol' hefty bag.

"It was a bad cold," Hansen told him upon Monday's return to action. "And then I see that nonsense that you miss me and you love me. One night at our swimming party does not count. And then I got sick all over again."

Yo ho ho and a bottle of Dale's favorite rum. Pete then retorted at newscast's end.

"Hey, you said you weren't going to tell anybody about the pool thing," he jabbed Hansen before a gamely grinning McCaa urged Belo8's Crassus and Antoninus to "Leave it alone."

McCaa earlier seemed a bit perplexed by Denmon's live dispatch on The Bachelor's end-game. Austin-based bar owner Brad Womack decided to give neither of his final suitors a rose despite professing his love for them throughout the episode. The cad.

One female bar patron told Denmon, "We were completely shocked and disappointed." Meanwhile, a male customer made variations of the peace sign behind her.

"You thought he was a gentleman, right?" Denmon probed.

"Well, I think he still is," the woman replied.

"What!" Denmon protested. "He left the girl hangin'."

"I can't help it. He's so good lookin'," said the woman before Denmon pivoted over to two more happy campers who likewise said they still have the hots for Womack.

"Don't know quite what to make of any of that," McCaa then mused while Delkus laughed uproariously. His forecast of plunging Thanksgiving Day temperatures is "not as exciting as what we just saw in Austin," Playful Pete added.

He's got that right. But ratings are boffo for Belo8's 10 p.m. newscasts, and the almost nightly hijinks apparently aren't hurting. Still, Monday's show did seem to go more than a little bit bonkers.

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CBS11's Bennett Cunningham and NBC5 newcomer Ellen Goldberg

CBS11 led its Monday, 10 p.m. newscast with a big, showy "Gotcha" investigation from Bennett Cunningham.

His extended "Overseas Adventure" piece tracked five executives from the North Texas Tollway Authority to a business conference in Vienna, Austria, where the total tab built to $42,500 just a week after tolls were raised for commoners. Hidden cameras tracked some execs playing hooky in times when they were supposed to be attending seminars. One even bought a walking stick. But they all found time to attend the conference's prototypically "lavish" parties and dinners, viewers were told.

Cunningham would do well to pull back a bit rather than baste his narratives with an overcoat of sarcasm. But this was pretty juicy stuff, and Cunningham had the added advantage of a camera-friendly NTTA bossman. The agency's new executive director, Jose Figueredo, sat down with the CBS11 reporter and tried to absorb his best shots.

"I'm disappointed that we didn't hold as true to the line as I had wanted us to," Figueredo said after Cunningham showed him some embarrassing undercover camera video. "But again, I just got here."

Figueredo also sought to defend the executives and said that the toll increases had nothing to do with "our travel policy." But in the end he conceded, "It's not acceptable what I saw there."

Cunningham's own expense reports on his trip to Vienna weren't a part of this story. For his sake, he'd best have taken his meals at Wienerschnitzel-On-a-Stick or some equivalent.

Over on NBC5, new reporter Ellen Goldberg further advanced a story she's been ahead on. Last week's brutal assault of elementary school teacher Sheryl Walsh in a North Dallas Tom Thumb parking lot may have been preceded by the same assailant's purse-snatching at a Mesquite Albertson's, authorities believe. In each case, apparently the same black SUV was caught on surveillance cameras.

Both crimes were committed on the same day, said Goldberg, who also reported that Walsh's condition had been upgraded to serious at Parkland hospital. None of NBC5's rivals had any of this new information on their Monday late night newscasts.


***Fox4 consumer reporter Steve Noviello, cast as an avenging cartoon character in station promotions, splashed in with his "Point and Shoot Showdown."

Combatants were three digital cameras with escalating "mega pixels" and prices. Would the most expensive camera also take the best pictures? A veteran photographer basically couldn't tell the difference after Noviello snapped the same shot with each camera and had it developed at the same place. Not a bad little story.

***As posted earlier Monday, NBC5 reporter Nigel Wheeler, a k a Kali Green, is the budding "Rock Star" teased in promotions for that night's 10 p.m. newscast.

Wheeler, lead singer for the Dallas-based band Egress, is quitting the station after three years to devote all of his energies to a music career.

"It seems like most of the world thinks I'm totally nuts for what I'm about to do," Wheeler said on the newscast. His father, for instance, "described the decision as catastrophic."

But Wheeler's going to take his shot, and more power to him.

"Hopefully next time you'll come and you'll see us at the American Airlines Center," he said.

***Ace Belo8 medical reporter Janet St. James unaccountably gushed over a chef who makes pricey dishes that are low on fat, sodium and cholesterol. Consumers trying to lose weight can have them delivered to their homes. Mmm mmm good. Otherwise it all smelled too much like an infomercial, and St. James is usually above that.

***Fox4 anchor Steve Eagar used his tongue as a machete during a "News Edge" reader on the suicide of a 13-year-old girl who became despondent after an Internet-met boyfriend suddenly began insulting her. It turns out that the boyfriend and the on-line insult campaign were concocted by a mother who had it in for the teenage girl.

"Straight out of the 'Texas Cheerleader Mom' sicko handbook," said Eagar, who added, "There's a special place for her waiting." Hard to argue with that.

***NBC5 had another technical foulup, briefly re-displaying a "Staph Infection" graphic at the start of a brief story on a new list of safest and most dangerous cities. And anchor Mike Snyder lobbed another punch line that played dead after an end-of-newscast brief on Plano scuba divers posing underwater in Christmas costumes.

"I think that's pretty cool," said Snyder. "But some people'd say they're all wet."

"Well, maybe," riposted anchor Jane McGarry while Snyder chortled at his wit. "I think Scuba Claus needs a bikini myself."

Sports anchor Newy Scruggs as always sat mute with a frozen smile until NBC's Tonight Show kicked in. Who can blame him?

Local Nielsen ratings snapshot (Mon., Nov. 19)

These are very high times for Belo8, which scored a rare double grand slam Monday in the four major local newscast faceoffs.

The ABC station swept the 6 a.m. and 5, 6 and 10 p.m. Nielsens in both total homes and among 25-to-54-year-olds, the main advertiser target audience for news programming. That hadn't happened since March 6 of this year, when Belo8 also touched all the bases.

Barring a mega-implosion, Belo8 already has locked up November "sweeps" wins at 5, 6 and 10 p.m. Now it's starting to look like a horse race in total homes at 6 a.m., where Belo8 lately has been closing in on frontrunning Fox4. That station's Good Day still holds the upper hand, but a big closing rush by Belo8's Daybreak could make it interesting. Fox4 is still the likely victor, though, with just seven weekdays remaining before the sweeps wrap up on Nov. 28th.

The 7 to 9 a.m. portion of Good Day regrouped to outdraw the three competing network morning shows in both ratings measurements.

Meanwhile, CBS11's long dormant waker-upper continues its push to eventually reach parity with NBC5's slumping 6 a.m. show. In Monday's ratings, the third-place Peacock beat CBS11 by just 3,410 total homes and 883 viewers in the 25-to-54 demo.

In prime-time, Austin-based bar owner Brad Womack rejected both DeAnna and Jenni in The Bachelor's alleged final rose ceremony. The thing finished second at 9 p.m., running well behind CBS' CSI: Miami in both total homes and with 18-to-49-year-olds, the key advertiser audience for entertainment programming. A post mortem Bachelor is scheduled for tonight.

ABC's penultimate Dancing with the Stars performance show again drew prime-time's biggest crowd, amassing 362,904 total homes. The network's new Samantha Who? continued to run strong in the post-Dancing slot, with 275,223 homes.

This just in: a night in the lives of D-FW's late night newscasts (Fri., Nov. 16)

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When's an "exclusive" in fact nothing of the sort? When it's on NBC5.

On the station's Friday 10 p.m. newscast, anchor Mike Snyder told viewers that reporter Meredith Land's interview with the widow of a deceased tanker truck driver had scooped the competition.

It's a "story you will see only on NBC5," he crowed.

Land supposedly had exclusive comments on the tragedy from grieving Sarah Webb, whose pain was palpable as she talked about her husband, Matt. He was the driver of a tanker that burst into flames on I-35E Friday afternoon after hitting a concrete divider. The entire freeway was shut down, creating a huge traffic jam that dominated that day's news coverage.

Belo8 didn't claim any bogus exclusives. But it also led Friday's late night newscast with Sarah Webb's tearful memories of her late husband. In this case she talked to reporter Chris Hawes one-on-one. Rival stations Fox4 and CBS11 missed out on the Sarah Webb interview, but NBC5 misled its viewers in touting an exclusive that simply wasn't.

The Peacock further cheapened its newscast with a top-of-the-marquee tease from anchor Jane McGarry, who warned, "Don't deck those halls just yet. The important health alert about Christmas trees."

The "important health alert" turned out to be a 16-second throwaway from anchor Snyder.

"If you're not feeling well during the holidays, your Christmas tree may be to blame," he said before citing a study that said mold thrives on tree branches and could have an impact on allergy and asthma sufferers.

NBC5 also had its annual holiday season informercial for a merchant that sells discounted Christmas trappings every year.

"Brian, look!" a hyperactive shopper told reporter Brian Curtis. Furthermore, "It's not cheesy. It's the good stuff."

She couldn't say as much for most NBC5 newscasts, particularly this one.

Over on Belo8, investigator Byron Harris again poked around some nefarious electronic poker parlors, announcing his presence in one case with a jaunty, "Byron Harris from Channel 8. How are ya?"

These fly-by-night operations all look pretty sleazy, if not cheesy. But Harris and fellow investigator Brett Shipp seem almost obsessed with bringing them down. Too much so, frankly. Know when to fold 'em.

Later, reporter Steve Stoler had a "Blinded by the Light" story from Little Elm, where some residents don't like the heavy wattage coming from a nearby football field.

"It disturbs my quality of living," said one neighbor. Another said he couldn't enjoy the stars because he can't see them.

Other residents welcome the brighter lighting, which makes them feel safer when taking nighttime walks. It basically seemed like lotsa ado about nothing, with cameras unable to effectively illustrate the alleged problem.

Fox4 had another largely nondescript Friday night newscast, which was cut in half by a companion sports Hilites program anchored by veteran Max Morgan. Its network's prime-time ratings invariably are dismal on Fridays. Fox4 in turn seems to be pretty much throwing in the towel rather than investing much energy and resources into that night's 9 p.m. news show.

Largely uneventful as well, CBS11 did have a heartfelt human interest story from Nerissa Knight, a newcomer who clearly has the common touch. She spotlighted a 70-year-old Goodwill employee who had her well-dented 1995 Oldsmobile Sierra stolen from the store's parking lot while she worked inside. The car clearly is important to her, and Knight's story communicated that. Maybe a Good Samaritan can help out.


***As anticipated, Fox4 picked Roger Staubach as its "Greatest Cowboy" on Sunday night's sports special, with Troy Aikman ranking No. 2. It was a good "sweeps" gimmick while it lasted, and sports anchor Mike Doocy did a nice job with the segments.

***Meanwhile, Doocy's counterpart at Belo8, Dale Hansen, was out sick on Thursday and Friday. Weatherman Pete Delkus, who regularly makes fun of Hansen's ample weight or disappearing hair, play-acted like a forlorn Cisco without his Pancho.

"I have a heavy heart tonight," he told anchors John McCaa and Gloria Campos. "I haven't seen Dale in two days. And Dale, I know you're watching tonight. I just want you to know I miss you. I love you."

Substitute sports anchor Joe Trahan, left to feel like burnt toast at a Ritz Carlton brunch, said he'd "never seen two men love each other so much."

"We man-love," Delkus said, laughing.

Only eight more weeknights to go.

NBC5's Nigel Wheeler is musically inclined, too

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The NBC5 reporter is also known as vocalist Kali Green of Egress.

NBC5 is promoting a 10 p.m. story Monday on one of its news personality's aspirations to become a "Rock Star."

The station laughably has floated anchors Mike Snyder and Jane McGarry as possibilities, but look for the picture of reporter Nigel Wheeler. He's the one. Also known as Kali Green on his band's Web site, Wheeler has been the lead vocalist of Dallas-based Egress since 2005. They have a new CD, Freshly Squeezed, and will start a nine-city tour Friday in Norman, OK.

Check out their music. And good luck to Wheeler and Egress.

Local Nielsen ratings snapshot (Fri.-Sun., Nov. 16-18)

The Cowboys-Redskins game is in the ratings books, and it surprisingly doesn't rank among the most-watched of the season.

Maybe a picture-perfect day and a wealth of holiday shopping sales held down the in-home crowd. But the narrow Dallas win still averaged an imposing 801,312 homes on Fox, putting it eighth on the list of 10 regular season games. It outdrew Cowboys-Dolphins on Sept. 16th (625,949 homes on Fox) and Cowboys-Rams on Sept. 30th (650,305 homes on Fox).

Sunday's game peaked at 932,835 homes in its final 15 minutes. The next closest competing attraction, ABC's telecast of NASCAR's Nextel Cup finale, sputtered in with an average of 75,504 homes.

NBC's Sunday Night Football later collided with ABC's American Music Awards, with the Patriots rout of the Bills drawing the biggest crowd from 7:15 to 9 p.m. The AMAs then took over, with Sunday Night Football barely beating CBS' third-place Shark in total homes from 9 to 10 p.m.

On Saturday night, Texas Tech's upset win over Oklahoma on ABC came close to tripling the overall audience for the Mavericks game against the Memphis Grizzlies on TXA21. The Mavs managed 73,068 homes while Tech-OU pulled in 203,830. Peak numbers for Tech-OU -- 253,302 homes -- were between 10:45 and 11 p.m.

Friday's local news wars again were dominated by Belo8. The ABC station won at 5, 6 and 10 p.m. in both total homes and with 25-to-54-year-olds, the main advertiser target audience for news programming.

Belo8 also tied Fox4 for the total homes lead at 6 a.m.. But Fox4 was comfortably on top in the 25-to-54 demo.

This just in: a night in the lives of D-FW's late night newscasts (Thurs., Nov. 15)

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A tragic, traffic-clogging oil tanker explosion and a lengthy investigation into lead-footed toy trucks figured prominently in Thursday's late night local news

All four stations led with the big rig blowup that shut down both sides of Interstate 35E near Lake Dallas Thursday afternoon. Three relied on viewer video and still pictures for backup, with only CBS11 a holdout -- at least on its 10 p.m. news.

Such images increasingly are commonplace and also perfect for Web site promotion. NBC5 was the most active solicitor.

"Anytime you see news happen, you can email images to us from your cell phone," anchor Jane McGarry urged viewers.

The still-image above, from eyewitness Gregory Martin, is from Fox4's Internet arm. But Belo8 had the best overall coverage, thanks primarily to reporter Bob Greene's companion story on continued failed efforts to get funding for another exit off the oft-crowded Lake Dallas portion of I-35E. It was the only station to go this extra mile in a situation that put thousands of motorists on hold for several hours.

Fox4's Lynn Kawano also had a good sidebar on a day care center's extra efforts to keep kids fed and amused while their parents were powerless to pick them up.

CBS11 had surprisingly brief coverage, with only Carol Cavazos on the scene during the station's 10 p.m. program. That should be a topic of discussion during Friday's post mortems. Even though it happened in daylight hours, this was still a huge story.

Belo8 immediately followed its extended tanker explosion coverage with David Schechter's likewise lengthy report on what he called "a shadowy chain of toy suppliers" funneling dangerous miniature trucks and other playthings to mostly mom-and-pop bargain stores.

Schechter, a neat-nik with a Clark Kent-ish look, led a small task force into some area merchants and also journeyed to Los Angeles in hopes of investigating three L.A. importers. In all cases, he traveled with the Rev. Peter Johnson, who heads the Texas chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Rev. Johnson believes that the lead-laced toys present a particular danger to underprivileged kids, whose parents can't afford to shop at more expensive stores.

"These toys are poisoning or children," he asserted.

Two of the merchants implored Schechter to call off his camera crew. And in L.A., one importer called the police, Schechter said.

Frankly, that's understandable. Try walking unannounced into any TV news lobby with a video camera rolling and see how long it takes security to respond to your efforts to speak to a news director.

Schechter's efforts had value, but also seemed a bit much. He wound things up live at the anchor desk, holding a still-packaged, lead-comtaminated race car that he had just bought. He more or less treated it like a hand grenade, telling anchor Gloria Campos, "That's about as close as you're gonna want to be" after handing the toy to her.

Over on NBC5, consumer advocate Grant Stinchfield also jumped on the contaminated toy bandwagon by telling viewers that some of these things are still being sold on ebay.

"All posing a threat to children," he told viewers before a seemingly coaxed mother agreed. "I definitely think it's -- worrisome."

Both of these reports came almost a week after CBS11 newcomer Nerissa Knight's Friday (Nov. 9) piece on recalled toys still being dumped off at Goodwill stores while its employees try to separate the good from the bad. Frankly, that was the most telling and unsettling look at this whole sorry mess.

In other news, CBS11 investigator Robert Riggs laid into the UT Southwestern Medical Center for the second time in a week. Again obtaining documents under the Public Information Act, he reported that more than $125,000 in high-end wine purchases had been made by president Dr. Kern Wildenthal and his assistant for distribution as gifts to hospital donors. Most of the wine was bought through a very pricey New York purveyor.

Last Friday, Riggs questioned the propriety of UT Southwestern's VIP list of more than 6,000 prominent North Texans earmarked for preferential treatment at the facility. The Dallas Morning News, which has several executives and reporters on the VIP list, beat him to the punch with a same-day story that essentially said it was no big deal.

In his latest report, Riggs sought comment from Dr. Wildenthal after camping out near his home. As Wildenthal drove off to work, his windows closed, Riggs shouted, "Dr. Wildenthal, Dr. Wildenthal! We'd like to talk to you about your wine purchases!"

Again, imagine trying this at the offices of one of your friendly local TV news providers.

The CBS11 web site edition of Riggs' story includes lengthy statements from UT Southwestern in defense of its wine rewards to well-heeled donors. They seem to provide reasonable justification, even if all of this is way too rich for most of us.

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Fox4's under-recognized Jason Overstreet and you-know-who.


***Fox4's Jason Overstreet is one of the market's best and most thorough reporters. Neither flashy nor trashy, he reports on matters of both import and human interest. On Thursday's 9 p.m. news, he got double-dipped.

Overstreet first reported on charges that Plano police officers repeatedly stopped a man for bogus traffic violations, in one case charging him with driving under the influence. The hitch: Musician Tray Boswell is involved in a bitter custody battle with his wife, who has strong connections within the Plano police department. His lawyer contends that officers were trying to hurt him in court, and for a while succeeded. The police wouldn't talk to Overstreet, but the matter now is under investigation.

Later in the newscast, Overstreet bounced back with a feel-good story on the city of Fort Worth's weight loss incentive program for government workers. They can receive up to $250 a year or two extra vacation days for slimming down. The city says it increases productivity. Interesting.

***Belo8 sports reporter Erin Hawksworth had a story on Cowboys wide receiver Patrick Crayton, dubbed the team's new, lippy bad boy after Terrell Owens' decision to holster his mouth. CBS11's Steve Dennis got there first, though. His like-minded story on Crayton aired the previous night.

***No. 3 on Fox4's addictive "Greatest Cowboy" list is running back Emmitt Smith. I would have put him No. 1, but sports anchor Mike Doocy said the remaining candidates for the top spot are quarterbacks Roger Staubach and Troy Aikman. The final order of finish will be announced Sunday night, with Staubach the likely topper.

***Fox4 and Belo8 messed with Australia's efforts to re-program their department store Santas. It's being suggested that his trademark "ho ho ho" be changed to "ha ha ha" because "ho" could be offensive to some women.

Belo8's Campos and co-anchor John McCaa double-smacked this dumb idea.

"It's a little lame, lame, lame," she said.

"That's just a bunch of garbage," he said.

In a startling development, weatherman Pete Delkus had nothing to say. And sports anchor Dale Hansen had the night off.

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

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We'll get to "Montana Mania" in a moment. But first, bird poop.

NBC5's Randy McIlwain contributed a contemporary classic Wednesday night with his pithy piece on grackle waste.

"The annual migration of misery is back," he proclaimed from a Frisco parking lot. But here's his money line: "Experts say if you think those droppings are just a nuisance, you really don't know crap."

Now that's freedom of expression! But McIlwain, natty in a light grey suit, had another one up his sleeve. Grackles are well known for "bombing us with their own brand of shock and yuck," he noted before turning it over to giddy Heather Bohuslav of Frisco.

"I actually got crapped on once," she revealed. "So, it doesn't really like, I don't freak out about it."

Well said. But seriously, folks, grackle poop is "especially acidic" and can do a number on your car's paint job unless you quickly rub a dub dub. Back to you, Heather.

"I'd pay to get it clean," she vowed. "I'm not touchin' it."

Is there a Lone Star Emmy award category for "Best Load of Crap?" If so, McIlwain's got a hammer lock on it unless an intrepid rival reporter fights back by letting a flock of grackles "shock and yuck" him on live TV. Time's a wasting, though.

All four stations sent choppers and reporters into the teeth of Wednesday night's Hannah Montana concert at the Fort Worth Convention Center.

Conspicuous consumption ran amuck, with way too many parents blowing dough on makeovers and limos for their kids before coughing up lots more cash for concert souvenirs.

A mother who had just spent $20 for parking told Fox4's Lari Barager, "Once you get here and you've gone this far, what's money?"

TV cameras weren't allowed to capture any of "Hannah's" (Miley Cyrus) performance. So reporters instead surrounded themselves with as many high voltage concert-goers as possible. NBC5's Scott Gordon seemed to be having the best time. And why not? The veteran Night Ranger usually finds himself in the clutches of human tragedy. This time he happily reported, "For young girls, life just doesn't get any better than this."

CBS11's Carol Cavazos tried a little too hard to goose her gaggle of tweens.

"A lot of screaming tonight, and they still have their lungs. Right, girls?" she prodded.

"Yea-h-h-h!" they responded, less than resoundingly. Cavazos also had used the "Right, girls?" gambit earlier in her report, so maybe the Montanans were a little pooped, as McIlwain might say.

Over on Belo8, reporter Chris Hawes seemed to be wearing a negligee under her black sweater, but it didn't get her into the concert either. She did have the best featurette, though, on a special needs boy from Bowie whose community surprised him with hard-to-get tickets and the requisite limo ride.

Hawes also noted that three private jets were waiting on runways to take some of the concert-goers home. Meanwhile, a nation turns its hungry eyes to you.

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Fox4's Jeff Crilley and CBS11's Ginger Allen

CBS11 investigator Ginger Allen had a story that went heavily against the grain of all those Montana Mania spending sprees.

Her report on the growing "Freegan" movement spotlighted TCU criminology professor Jeff Ferrell, a dedicated "dumpster diver" who gets more than his money for nothing and his chicks for free. The Empire of Scrounge author took Allen on one of his jaunts through other people's trash. It netted him two pizzas, some barbecued chicken wings and a pair of still-wrapped "franks in a bun" among other alleged edibles.

"I look forward to retirement so that I can dumpster-dive full time," said Ferrell, who's not alone in helping himself to food, clothes and household furnishings discarded by others. The Freegan movement may not be "sweeping the nation," as anchor Doug Dunbar told viewers. But it does seem to be building momentum even if it made Dunbar's desk partner, Karen Borta, a bit queasy.

"OK, let's talk about something else," she said at report's end. "How about the weather, Kristine?"

"I'm with you on that one," rejoined temperature taker Kristine Kahanek.

Fox4's ever-capable Jeff Crilley had a talker, too. He reported on Lowe's quick adjustment to an online holiday catalogue featuring ready-to-decorate "Family Trees."

The home improvement chain hastily amended that to "Christmas trees" after the American Family Association mounted a heavy-duty email campaign, Crilley reported. But the "Family Tree" designation is still in Lowe's printed catalogues.

"I think that anybody who wants to call a Christmas tree something other than a Christmas tree is an idiot," huffed Hiram Sasser of the Liberty Legal Institute.

Fox4 is looking for viewer feedback on whether Lowe's terminology was an "honest mistake or PC malarky."

The station also scored Wednesday night with two other stories that rival stations missed.

Reporter Brandon Todd had a piece on a car that remained parked for two weeks in a Tom Thumb lot. By the way, it had a badly decomposing dead man in the front seat throughout that time. A nearby restaurant worker finally noticed the smell.

Fox4's Jason Overstreet, who specializes in neighborhood and human interest pieces, had another good one on the discovery of a letter written by Lee Harvey Oswald to former Texas senator John Tower. Oswald was asking for help in returning from the Soviet Union to the United States. Found in Tower's attic, the letter now is being auctioned on ebay. Its seller thinks it's worth "north of a couple million dollars." Get real. How about south of $100 grand?


***The Peacock's Nigel Wheeler offered a nighttime parking lot report about a man who supposedly is flashing women near a Linens 'n Things store.

"It is the kind of act that can best be described in a single word -- disgusting," Wheeler contended. But interviewees successively went with "dirty, perverted, gross, disturbing" and "creepy." The story itself was -- in a single word -- excessive.

***Belo8 medical reporter Janet St. James had an intriguing story on the hazardous mercury content in those long-lasting, curly fries-shaped lights. They're supposed to save loads of energy, but can be dangerous if broken. Only three sites in North Texas collect the lights for safe disposal, St. James said. But most people just throw them away, and that could be a problem down the road.

***CBS11's Jay Gormley led the station's newscast with an exclusive story on the alleged sexual assault of a 12-year-old girl by a same-aged boy while they were enroute to classes on a school bus. The boy since has been transfered from Robert T. Hill Middle school while authorities investigate.

***NBC5's Scott Friedman likewise had an eye-opening piece on faulty speedometers for some 2003 and 2004 model GM trucks. They tend to get stuck in place, and the automaker is offering free repairs if the mileage is under 70,000.

***There's just something about anchor Mike Snyder's manner of speaking. After a closing short on "Texas-sized sweet potatoes," the NBC5 anchor looked at colleague Jane McGarry while musing, "Wonder if he used Miracle-Gro?" Coming from him it sounded unsavory, but McGarry still laughed on cue. She's otherwise just gotta be dying on the inside.

***Fox4's No. 4 "Greatest Cowboy" is defensive tackle Bob Lilly. No. 1 will be announced on Sunday night's newscast. And if only players are eligible, it obviously boils down to who will be tops among remaining eligibles Emmitt Smith, Roger Staubach and Troy Aikman. I'd pick 'em in that order, but predict that Fox4 will put Staubach on top. Whatever, it's been a good sweeps gambit in times when interest in the Cowboys has returned to peak levels.

This just in: a night in the lives of D-FW's late night newscasts (Tues., Nov. 13)

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Belo8's Shelly Slater and CBS11's Jack Fink had prominent roles.

Flush with runaway No.1 ratings for its 10 p.m. newscasts, Belo8 contentedly served some leftovers Tuesday.

The ABC station's Shelly Slater weighed in on airport luggage scales in a heavily promoted report. Are they accurate? Do they err for or against passengers who face fines if their baggage exceeds the 50-pound limit?

Good questions, but NBC5's Ken Kalthoff already had asked them last Wednesday during his identically-themed 10 p.m. report. In fact, stations in other TV markets -- Cleveland for instance -- likewise are doing the same basic story. Smells like "sweeps" spirit, scented with consultant recommendations.

Kalthoff and Slater reached the same conclusions. Scales often can be several pounds off, but oftentimes in favor of passengers not airlines. Slater's story was longer, though, even if it also was several pounds shy of a scoop.

Belo8 sports anchor Dale Hansen later went "Unplugged" again to denounce reports that linked unnamed Dallas Cowboys players to Plano trainer David Jacobs, who pleaded guilty Tuesday to possessing and distributing anabolic steroids and human growth hormone.

"This is the problem with this business anymore," Hansen said, tangling his words a bit out of the starting gate. "We don't have time to wait for the facts to come out . . . Your desire to know, our desire to be the one to tell you (are) all part of the problem."

Hansen conceded that the "good old days" often weren't really that good. But they were better in at least one respect because "we didn't always rush to be first because we always wanted to be right. But not so much anymore."

Hansen has a point. But in this case Belo8 also was regrouping from a beating the previous night, courtesy of CBS11 reporter Jack Fink. He led that station's Monday, 10 p.m. newscast with the market's first exposure to the oily Jacobs. In an exclusive interview on CBS11, Jacobs said he had provided training "guidance" to a number of pro athletes, including players for the Cowboys and Atlanta Falcons. But he wouldn't name names, and Cowboys officials said that Jacobs had never worked for the team.

Belo8 then led Tuesday's late night newscast with basically the same story from reporter Craig Civale. Meanwhile, Fink was advancing the ball, uncovering former Cowboys lineman Matt Lehr (2001-'03) as one of Jacobs' clients. CBS11 showed a picture of the two of them together, and also noted that Lehr was suspended last season by the NFL for violating the league's substance abuse policies. He was with the Falcons at the time, and now plays for the Tampa Bay Bucaneers.

It's another one of those unsightly, messy sports stories, but Fink so far has done a responsible job of reporting it. Hansen, meanwhile, didn't make a whole lot of sense by saying the media should avoid rushing to judgment except in the case of O.J. Simpson. He should be locked up because, "well, because he's O.J. Simpson," said Hansen. Rim shot, please.

Fox4, Belo8 and CBS11 all played catchup Tuesday night on the brutal, broad daylight beating of elementary school teacher Sheryl Walsh, who was left for dead in a North Dallas Tom Thumb parking lot Friday by a thief who also apparently stole her purse.

NBC5's Ellen Goldberg had the only full story on the crime near the top of Monday's 10 p.m. newscast. She also told viewers about the family's anger at not being quickly notified that Walsh had been hospitalized at Parkland Memorial. Instead, her whereabouts remained a mystery over the weekend after Walsh was admitted as a "Jane Doe." Police concede it was an unfortunate foul-up.

Belo8 short-shrifted the story in a middle-of-the-newscast brief Monday while Fox4 and CBS11 missed it entirely during their respective 9 and 10 p.m. newscasts. But by Tuesday night, all three stations gave the Walsh story their full attention while NBC5's Goldberg did a followup.


***NBC5's Randy McIlwain, lately a featured reporter on the station's late nighter, led Tuesday's edition with an interesting piece on spoiled meat that looks red and fresh when preserved with carbon monoxide. One local chain, Target, is making efforts to add consumer warning labels to its meat products, McIlwain said.

***Fox4 turned over a big hunk of its 9 p.m. news to an Atlanta affiliate's undercover investigation of hotel cleanliness -- or lack thereof. Reporter Dana Fowle got grossed out by bathroom drinking glasses being cursorily washed by hotel maids and then returned to sink tops.

A health expert dutifully registered his disgust and said patrons were being exposed to all sorts of diseases. But wait, there's more. Fox4 will present the second part of Fowle's "Room Service Please!" expose on Wednesday's 9 p.m. newscast. Guess they're a bit short on local reporters these days, although Fox4 does have a full hour to fill.

***CBS11's Maria Arita had Tuesday night's throwaway story. It basically was an infomercial for something called "The Millionaire Maker" game. Pretty penny ante for a big-time TV market.

***Fox4 anointed former running back Tony Dorsett as its fifth greatest Cowboy, meaning that Drew Pearson likely will get the shaft again. Nos. 10 through 6 are Don Meredith, Mel Renfro, Rayfield Wright, Randy White and Michael Irvin. The four remaining slots almost assuredly will be filled, in no particular order, by Emmitt Smith, Roger Staubach, Troy Aikman and Bob Lilly. Right?

This just in: a night in the lives of D-FW's late night newscasts (Mon., Nov. 12)

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Fox4 reporter Paul Adrian shed some light on traffic signals.

Lights, cameras, ratings "sweeps" investigations.

Paul Adrian's was a very good one, though. The intrepid Fox4 investigator took a lengthy look Monday at intersections both with and without those ticket-inducing "red light" cameras.

Some motorists are convinced that shorter caution lights at such intersections are more by design than happenstance. Less time in the yellow zone would cause more motorists to either brake suddenly or proceed against the red and be ticketed. A second or even a half-second can make a big difference.

Adrian's springboard was Dallas driver Dan Seago, a proponent of the cameras who nonetheless believes that the caution lights are getting shorter and more dangerous at intersections where a picture is worth a considerable fine. Through Oct. 31st of this year, the 60 red light camera intersections in Dallas have generated just over $8 million in traffic tickets, Adrian said on Fox4's 9 p.m. newscast.

He timed a few of the lights but mostly dug further into statistics and questioned at-odds experts. It can be a tough story to tell on television, and even harder to communicate in print. But Adrian spelled it all out in relatively painless fashion without any showboating.

City of Dallas traffic engineer Elizabeth Ramirez assured him that "we have not changed or shortened the yellow time at intersections with red light cameras."

But the Texas Department of Transportation follows an Institute of Transportation Engineers recommendation that yellow lights should last for at least 3.5 seconds at all intersections. Less than that increases the possibility of accidents, Adrian was told.

Dallas isn't required to follow those guidelines, and indeed doesn't. Yellow signal lights at 21 of the city's red light camera locations are shorter than TxDOT's recommendations, Adrian found.

This takes plenty of painstaking work, and Adrian should be commended for both compiling this information and then giving all sides their say. And In the view of city engineer Ramirez, "the formula we're using (for yellow light timing) is already conservative."

Adrian lately has emerged as Fox4's fairest and most effective investigative reporter. His stories actually amount to something of worth and value to viewers.

At roughly the same time on CBS11, investigator Bennett Cunningham presided over an appreciably less effective look at airport security checkpoints. Rules in effect since August of last year, limit carry-on bottles and tubes to no more than 3 ounces of liquid apiece. But Cunningham's small bag of intentionally over-the-limit items (most containing roughly 4 ounces of various liquids) made it through various D-FW checkpoints 20 out of 20 times, he reported.

Airport security obviously is a serious matter. Still, most travelers seem to think these new restrictions are an over-reaction. So the reporter might be gaining points with with the two Texas legislators he interviewed, but not with the upcoming rush of holiday travelers.

"My guess is after this airs, you'll have more effective screening at D-FW," said UT Dallas professor Jennifer Holmes, who's written some books on terrorism.

She didn't seem to think it was really that big a deal, though. Cunningham may have played a successful game of "Gotcha," but in this case it didn't seem worth the effort.

Over on NBC5, the laughs kept coming. Someone loudly cleared their throat off-camera while the station put up a graphic informing viewers that "NBC5 weather is sponsored by Rooms to Go."

Reporter Brian Curtis later wore an Old Navy shirt (product placement rules!) and a ballcap during his "Big Fat Savings" segment on the virtues of on-line shopping for electronic products.

For some reason Curtis decided to deploy a hidden camera for a shopping trip to an unnamed discount store, where he wrote down prices. He then surfed for better bargains on a laptop computer he brought to a coffee shop. Maybe this is supposed to make him a man of the people? Hell, it's hard to figure out what they're trying to accomplish over there lately.


All four stations happily pounced on the picture story of the month -- a full-sized garbage truck that crashed through a fence and wound up in the backyard pool of a Richland Hills couple.

The situation was ripe for word plays and light approaches, but Belo8 did seem to go a bit overboard, so to speak.

"A lot of trash talking out there, huh, Jim?" said anchor John McCaa, throwing it to capable reporter Jim Douglas.

"It did make for one weird neighborhood pool party," Douglas riffed before noting how the truck had "cannonballed" into the pool.

A sizable neighborhood contingent watched as the truck was lifted from the water. Or as Douglas put it, "It's believed to be the largest crowd to ever witness a garbage truck pulled out of a swimming pool."

Douglas is usually the soul of sobriety in his on-air dispatches, but went a little ape this time. He concluded by noting that workmen undeniably "took out the trash, 55,000 pounds of it."


***CBS11 seemed to revisit the Regent Ducas approach to 10 p.m. news content (he was fired as news director in early September) with wacky footage of an upset, pedestrian-pushing dentist in White Plans, NY; a "luminous blue vision" caught by gasoline station security cameras; and a runaway kangaroo. Anchor Doug Dunbar narrated the segment before urging viewers to visit the CBS11 web site for more "Great Video."

***Segueing from last Friday's "Tree Yoga" story, Belo8 medical reporter Janet St. James looked at how some humanoids are "Eating Bugs" to avert illness. Actually, the bacteria is condensed within capsules, so it's not that hard to swallow. And the story was surprisingly informative, too.

***Underrated Fox4 reporter Saul Garza got another wrong righted in his "What's Buggin' You?" segment. This time he helped expunge a ticket received ay a couple whose poodle was mauled to death by a pit bull while in the family garage. They later were charged with a "leash violation."

***CBS11's Jack Fink had the only interview with a personal trainer who then pleaded guilty on Tuesday to manufacturing and distributing anabolic steroids. The man, David Jacobs, claimed to have several Dallas Cowboys players as clients, but would not divulge any names. A Cowboys spokesman said that Jacobs "never worked" for the Cowboys. No players have been charged or arrested.

***Finally, Fox4's "Greatest Cowboy" feature continued, with receiver Michael Irvin getting the No. 6 spot. Nos. 10 through 7 are Don Meredith, Mel Renfro, Rayfield Wright and Randy White. Unclebarky.com's final 5 would be Emmitt Smith (No. 1), followed by Roger Staubach, Troy Aikman, Bob Lilly and Drew Pearson.

This just in: a night in the lives of D-FW's late night newscasts (Fri., Nov. 9)

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CBS11's Robert Riggs and Dallas Morning News publisher Jim Moroney

Members of Belo Corp's ruling kingdom traditionally move at Warp speed when it's ass-covering time.

That's clearly what happened when The Dallas Morning News hastily deployed a task force of six bylined reporters to diminish an investigation it knew was coming Friday from CBS11's Robert Riggs.

And indeed The News got there first that same morning with a top-of-the-front page story headlined "UT Southwestern's A-List?"

Riggs previously had done the legwork while the taxpayer-funded UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas dragged its feet and fought the public release of a 2003 list of more than 6,000 influential "special assistance patients." All are earmarked for special VIP treatment not afforded the general public. That includes an unlisted telephone number -- which Riggs almost gleefully made public -- that gives them access to preferred care on weekends or after-hours.

VIPs also are entitled to free parking and personal escorts to medical appointments. Among them are the three men who call the shots at the Belo-owned newspaper. Namely, boss of all bosses Robert Decherd, publisher Jim Moroney and editor Bob Mong, whose families also are included.

Riggs, who had a long career at Belo-owned WFAA-TV (Channel 8) before joining CBS11 in 2002, said on Friday's 6 p.m. newscast that the The News began working on the story after its executives were asked by CBS11 about the effect that such preferential treatment might have on news coverage of UT Southwestern. Two of them, Moroney and Mong, were quoted in the newspaper's story as saying they knew nothing of the list and had not benefited from it in any way.

That's called knocking down a competitor's story by any means necessary. And The News underscored that intent with boxed front page quotes from former Dallas mayor Ron Kirk ("The what list? I wish somebody had told me. I haven't been over there") and Dallas County Republican Party chairman Kenn George ("How come nobody told me about it? I want my limo").

CBS11 took a different tack in a story that named and pictured Decherd and Moroney among other notables such as Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and billionaire Ross Perot. A lengthier version of the story aired on the station's 6 p.m. newscast before being condensed a bit for the 10 p.m. program.

In both cases, Riggs interviewed a camouflaged former UT Southwestern employee who told him that those on the list "got quicker access to the physicians when they came for their appointments. They frequently were taken directly into the exam room ahead of the patients that were waiting."

Both CBS11 and The News included a defense of the program by Dr. John McConnell, executive vice president for health system affairs at UT Southwestern. But the newspaper made no mention of the unlisted phone number given to the medical center's VIPs. Nor did it tell readers about the letter of gratitude (which included the special hotline) sent to "special assistance patients" by UT Southwestern president Dr. Kern Wildenthal.

This much is certain. The News got easy access to the list only after Riggs did the grunt work. It's also obvious that the inclusion of Belo executives on the list is what spurred The News to lash together what basically amounted to a rebuttal. Headlines on the two inside "jump pages" further illustrated the latter point.

Page 16A said, "UT Southwestern defends keeping list." And on Page 17A: "Many prominent people unaware of their inclusion."

It should be noted that there's no love lost between Riggs and his former employer. And vice-versa. Maybe next time, though, Riggs would be better off not alerting the newspaper's ruling class. It's amazing how fast they can order up a preemptive strike when their names are in play.

Elsewhere Friday, Belo8's 10 p.m. newscast dutifully promoted its corporate cousin's Sunday front page story on how Dallas County leads the state of Texas in putting convicted murderers on probation. One of the station's investigative aces, Brett Shipp, acted as the go-between after doing his own dogged reporting earlier in the week on the latest televangelist scandal and faulty natural gas couplings that have caused several deaths from explosions.

Belo8 street reporter Craig Civale had a piece on the newest list of Dallas' top 10 tollway offenders, who collectively owe $587,000 including penalty fees for non-payment.

Fox4 did this same basic story in an earlier sweeps period, but its reporter actually tracked down some of the offenders. Civale coasted by laying three $1 dollar bills side by side on the Dallas tollway. Then he told viewers that if the top 10 offenders all paid up, their singles would cover the entire stretch of tollway a total of 18 times.

Janet St. James, Belo8's usually solid medical reporter, had a loopy story on "tree yoga." Its practitioners hang upside down from branches and say things like, "It's childlike. It's joyous."

St. James tried it herself and asked rhetorically, "What part of this is supposed to be relaxing? . . . It's not working for me."

Unfortunately, her piece led directly into Pete Delkus' weathercast after anchor John McCaa first observed, "I don't know if I could get the tree to hold up if I did it."

Delkus of course saw this as yet another opportunity to lob a fat joke at sports anchor Dale Hansen.

"I can guarantee ya Hansen couldn't get it to hold up," he cracked.

"Well," said McCaa, "some redwoods I'm sure would."

The newscast ended with a story on the world's first toilet-shaped house. It's in South Korea, where perhaps the loud off-camera laughter could be heard.

NBC5 had a largely uneventful 10 p.m. show, save for anchor Mike Snyder tripping over various words from start to finish. But the station's weekly "Big Game Friday Night" segment during high school football season is still the market's best. Reporter Derek Castillo this time stood live amid cheerleaders for the victorious Lake Dallas team. He's effectively enthusiastic and the kids clearly enjoy being on TV. Works for me.

Fox4 had its most forgettable 9 p.m. newscast of the week. No story stood out. Let's leave it at that.

Local Nielsen ratings snapshot (Fri.-Sun., Nov. 9-11)

Peaking at nearly a million D-FW homes in its final 15 minutes, the Cowboys' big victory over New York otherwise settled for an overall average of 819,376 homes Sunday on Fox.

That's a bit more than the Sept. 9th season opener against the Giants on NBC's Sunday Night Football (803,748). But Sunday's game otherwise pulled in sixth among the nine games to date. Still on top is the Oct. 14th faceoff against New England, which averaged 884,123 homes on CBS.

Fox's preceding Packers-Vikings game drew 287,401 homes, but had to give way to the Redskins-Eagles after the Pack rolled up a big lead. Sunday night's NBC attraction, in which the Chargers upset the Colts, hauled in 345,855 homes while the early afternoon Jaguars-Titans tilt on CBS played in the Pee Wee league with just 116,909 homes.

In other prime-time results Sunday, Fox's The Simpsons stayed strong by beating all competing programming from 7 to 7:30 p.m. in the advertiser-craved 18-to-49-year-old demographic. ABC's Desperate Housewives did likewise from 8 to 9 p.m. DH also tied Sunday Night Football as the top draw at that hour in total homes.

Friday's local newscast derby found Belo8 in its accustomed top spot at 10 p.m. in both total homes and with 25-to-54-year-olds, the main advertiser target audience for news programming. CBS11 ran second in homes, with NBC5 the runnerup among 25-to-54-year-olds.

Fox4 again held serve at 6 a.m. with comfortable twin wins. Belo8 won at 5 and 6 p.m. in total homes but had a tougher time in the 25-to-54 demo. It tied Fox4 for the top spot at 5 p.m. while the Peacock took first at 6 p.m.

In Friday's prime-time numbers, Fox's The Next Great American Band remained a big clinker. The American Idol-ish competition performed especially poorly among 18-to-49-year-olds, where even MY27's Rocky 2 edged it from 7 to 8 p.m.

NBC's Friday Night Lights, in this view the best drama on broadcast television, also continued to struggle. It placed fifth with 18-to-49-year-olds, and its post-writers' strike chances look very dim.

This just in: a night in the lives of D-FW's late night newscasts (Thurs., Nov. 8)

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CBS11's Tracy Kornet shouldn't have been put in this position.

TV news operations sometimes just can't help themselves -- especially during the sweeps.

CBS11 mostly had been taking a high road toward recently rejuvenated ratings for its 10 p.m. newscasts. But then it fell off the wagon on a night when big ratings -- and a bountiful lead-in -- were assured for Thursday's CSI/Without A Trace crossover stunt.

The station repeatedly teased "The Sex Diet" during commercial breaks because, well, sex sells. And sure enough, CBS11 finished first Thursday night in the total homes Nielsen ratings after inheriting almost three times the audience of any of its three rivals.

The elongated "story" by sister station TXA21 anchor Tracy Kornet, finally arrived after CBS11 anchor Doug Dunbar applied a little lubricant.

"What if we told you tonight that you could lose weight and spice up your sex life at the same time?" he asked viewers.

An unseen Kornet then narrated a story that she obviously didn't report. Basically it was a canned piece plugging The Ultimate Sex Diet, a 2004 book by the above-pictured Kerry McCloskey. She was on Oprah back in 2005, but hey, it's never too late to get it on -- CBS11.

The author says you can burn 200 calories having a half-hour's worth of sex. Furthermore, "if you spend more time in bed, you'll spend less time at the table," Kornet said at her story's climactic end. That's food for thought only if you're a complete moron.

CBS11 should be above this. But since it opened the door, here's a little like-minded news about Dunbar. A reader who knew him in his formative years says that Dunbar enthusiastically posed for Playgirl sometime in the 1980s during his radio deejay days in Miami.

Sure enough, it's true. Google research didn't yield the picture -- Dunbar reportedly deployed a towel in strategic places. But it did uncover the May, 1988 issue, which had former Family Ties heartthrob Scott Valentine on the cover. On top it says, "See What America's Sexiest DJs Look Like!" Dunbar is listed along with 13 other posers.

Hey, we all have interesting back stories, and Dunbar is 19 years removed from this particular one. But stations that succumb to heavily hyped "Sex Diet" stories have to be willing to wear that shoe if it also fits them. And Dunbar's youthful exploits are a much better story anyway.

Later in the CBS11 newscast, investigator Ginger Allen looked at the dangers posed by wrong prescriptions. In her principal case, an elderly man received someone else's medication at a Wal-Mart pharmacy.

Allen touched on mistakes at other pharmacies as well, but her report will be better remembered in these spaces for picking up the Wal-Mart baton after NBC5 finally dropped it. Yes, after six consecutive weeknight newscasts, the Peacock shockingly made no mention of the retail giant on Thursday's show.

CBS11 also had the only sit-down interview with First Lady Laura Bush, who visited Dallas Thursday to speak at a "Helping America's Youth" rally. Anchor Karen Borta, who looked awed in her presence, learned that the Bushes plan to move back to Dallas after his presidency is over.

"We expect probably to come back to Dallas," Mrs. Bush said. "This is where we lived when George was elected governor."

That's a pretty good little nugget, actually.

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Belo8 reporter Gary Reaves and you-know-who.

Over on Belo8, two veterans double-teamed controversial Cowboys defensive lineman Tank Johnson, who was dropped in the off-season by the Chicago Bears after numerous run-ins with the law. He'll suit up for the first time with Dallas in Sunday's big game against the New York Giants.

Reaves went to Chicago to paint a less harsh picture of Johnson. The player's jailing for having guns without a permit in Chicago wouldn't have been a crime at all in Texas, Reaves noted.

"I didn't think he was a bad person," said state attorney Michael Waller, who put Johnson behind bars. "He just used bad judgment, and he did it several times."

Reaves also went to the player's Gary, Indiana birthplace, where his Aunt Crissandra displayed a picture of Johnson being bathed in the kitchen sink. He looked pretty cute back then.

Even Waller wouldn't mind welcoming Johnson back in the Windy City. "I would rather see him on the Bears than with the Cowboys," he said.

Hansen took the hard line in a later "Unplugged" segment. Star athletes are coddled too much, he said, while America's Joe Blows have a hard time getting second chances after committing crimes.

"When you can play, the rules don't apply," said Hansen, who owned up to agreeing with at least one aspect of Reaves' story.

"I wish Tank Johnson played in Chicago, too," he concluded.

Anchor Gloria Campos choked off any trademark cackles for that one, but later helped stir the drink after a closing thumbsucker on British recommendations that Santa Claus be given veggies and fruit instead of milk and cookies.

"Insert Pete Delkus-makes-fun-of-Hansen-joke right here," Dale said in reference to the fun-poking weatherman.

Campos then wondered what the problem was, noting that a sweets-eating Santa can still "squeeze himself" down the world's chimneys.

"Can you get down a chimney?" Delkus asked Hansen. Then he asked him again.

"Can I get down a chimney?" Hansen responded with more than a little edge this time. "I know I'm gonna jump down somebody's throat . . ."

He voice then downshifted to a mumble, but no blows were exchanged.

Let's see, what else?

NBC5's Scott Gordon found a young mother whose 17-month-old son had ingested the China-made Aqua Dots beads a few days before they were recalled for inducing behavior associated with the "date rape" drug. Doctors couldn't figure out why the child was acting so "goofy," and wrote it off as a stomach ailment.

"I'm not crazy. And it's such a great feeling that I'm not crazy!" the mother told Gordon. The intrepid Night Ranger regularly gets interviews that others don't, and sometimes they're worth it. This was one of those times.

NBC5 lately seems to be shucking its heavy emphasis on crime in favor of more human interest stories and health alerts. That's what happens when you're sinking like a rock in the Nielsen ratings.

But the station still needs a far more substantial makeover coupled with much sounder news judgment. What it didn't need Thursday night was Brian Curtis' very labored treatise on the dangers of household cleaners or newcomer Lindsay Wilcox's look at a so-called "Gotta Have It" weight loss stimulant called the Body Bugg.

The strap-on-your-arm calorie counter costs $399, Wilcox noted. Then anchor Jane McGarry again gummed things up, telling viewers, "And as Lindsay said, the Body Bugg is typically priced at just over $300 dollars." No, that's not what she said.

NBC5 closed the 'cast with viewer-sent still pictures of a lone cat watching Jane, Mike and weathercaster David Finfrock. So that's what it's come to. Our two cats, Cookie and Snickers Bark, are afraid of Delkus' sometimes projectile weathercasts, but hypnotically watch him anyway.

Fox4 topped its 9 p.m. newscast with a good get from Brandon Todd. He was the only reporter to interview a Palestine man whose wife's fugitive past supposedly had been hidden from him. Debra Ann Gavin, who became Debra Ann Murphey, was convicted of armed robbery in 1972 and incarcerated in a Georgia prison. She was 17 at the time, and escaped two years later. Authorities finally caught up with her this week.

The station later had an overlong story by Natalie Solis on the Hannah Montana craze, but an interesting piece from Lynn Kawano on Highland Park's intent to ban cell phone use by motorists driving through school zones.

Good Day co-anchor Tim Ryan, making a rare nighttime appearance, looked at the fine line between bribing kids and rewarding them for good behavior. No great revelations, but good enough for government work.

Finally, Fox4 sports anchor Mike Doocy unveiled Randy White as No. 7 on the station's irresistible Greatest Cowboy feature. It also had a nice selection of vintage footage that showed White crunching various quarterbacks during his Hall of Fame career. No. 6 won't be unveiled until Monday on a list that so far also has Don Meredith, Mel Renfro and Rayfield Wright in the No. 10 through 8 spots.

They need to lose that overlong intro, though, or at least cut it way back. It's the same every night, and cuts into the time available for footage showing why these Cowboys made the cut.

This just in: a night in the lives of D-FW's late night newscasts (Wed., Nov. 7)

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Belo8 investigator Brett Shipp and the lavish-living Copelands.

The scent of fresh televangelist meat is in the air, and few savor the smell more than Belo8 gumshoe Brett Shipp.

News this week of the Senate Finance Committee's probe into the fundraising practices of six media preachers prompted Shipp to set sail again against Newark, TX-based Kenneth Copeland Ministries. He's been on Copeland's case in the past, as evidenced by replayed confrontations on Belo8's Tuesday and Wednesday 10 p.m. newscasts.

But Tuesday's segment was just a finger lickin' good appetizer for Wednesday's lead story on whether Kenneth and Gloria Copeland ever even see the "prayer requests" they solicit from the faithful. Shipp told viewers that the "lifeblood" of Copeland Ministries is "tens of thousands of tax-free dollars that roll in on a mail truck everyday."

In return for a contribution, the Copelands pledge to personally ask God's help, forgiveness or whatever else is called for. Not so said a collection of former employees, one of whom declared, "We were treated like galley slaves."

Underlings in fact prayed over thousands of unopened prayer requests while the Copelands were seldom seen or heard, Shipp was told. One of the ministry's former employees, Nathan Boutwell, said that's understandable given the volume of mail. But he said that the Copelands sin in pretending otherwise.

Shipp's efforts to reach Kenneth Copeland paid off in an earlier report after he and a cameraman were able to "slip past his backstage security." The clips are still delicious, with an initially amiable Copeland frosting over after Shipp asked him whether he actually personally prays over his ministry's flood of requests.

"Oh yes, absolutely," he told Shipp, who incredulously asked again. Copeland eventually began pointing an accusatory finger at Shipp, telling him, "You don't want to talk about the productive side of the ministry. You just want to run me down . . . And I don't understand that."

Shipp closed his report by acknowledging that Belo8 has heard from upset followers of Copeland who likewise charge him with ignoring the ministry's positives.

Televangelists as a whole, though, have provided ample reason for skepticism. The litany goes on and on.

Shipp, on the other hand, is not big on sharing credit. When the Finance Committee probe was first announced, Fox4 reporter Jason Overstreet focused on longtime televangelist scourge Ole Anthony and his Trinity Foundation. Anthony's longtime efforts in this arena also helped spur the congressional investigation, but Shipp never mentioned him in his reports. That would be the sporting thing to do, even if Shipp understandably is spotlighting his own efforts to bring Copeland to his knees.

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Extra credit: Fox4's Scott Sayres and Belo8's Craig Civale

All four stations reported Wednesday on a new hybrid SUV being manufactured only in General Motors' Arlington plant and a police-sanctioned graduation ceremony for a group of voluntary Oak Cliff crime watchdogs. But only two 10 p.m. newscasts respectively fleshed out those stories beyond brief video and anchor narration.

Fox4's Scott Sayres went to the Arlington plant in light of a record $39 billion loss for GM in this year's third quarter. The new gas-efficent hybrid GM is viewed as a possible lifesaver, not only for the corporation but for its Arlington plant. Sayres covered these bases without turning his report into an infomercial. A lot of livelihoods are in the balance, too, and this was a good, solid look at the stakes involved.

Belo8's Craig Civale was the only reporter to give viewers an up-close look at what the Oak Cliff crimefighters are trying to do for their neighborhood. They have no police powers, but provide information on suspicious activities while driving in vehicles topped by yellow flashing lights. Residents say it gives them an extra layer of security, and Civale brought that home.

CBS11 countered with two interesting reports by newcomer Nerissa Knight and veteran Ginger Allen.

Knight led the newscast with a story on credit card thieves who were testing their stolen property by making $5 online donations to the campaign of Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul. The candidate's camp since has refunded more than $3,000 in contributions after being apprised that they were made by crooks, Knight said.

She's still prone to an excess of hand-talking and overly urgent voice inflections, but Knight otherwise seems like a worthy addition to CBS11 news. For tips on toning down she might consult Allen, who mostly seems to have kicked those same histrionic habits.

Allen reported on faultily made patio tables whose tempered glass tops are prone to "exploding" into thousands of pieces. The company making them, JRA Furniture, is now defunct. But some of the tables are still being sold at area Home Depots and K Marts. Fair warning: barbecue doesn't go well with glass shards.

On the sports front, CBS11's Steve Dennis had an inventively packaged piece on Cowboy receiver Terrell Owens' latter day "cuddly, positive" demeanor while Fox4's addictive "Greatest Cowboy" feature named Hall of Fame offensive lineman Rayfield Wright as No. 8 on the list.

NBC5 led Wednesday's late nighter with a reprise of an earlier car chase that Chopper 5's Ken Arnold termed "exciting."

Fox4 began its 9 p.m. newscast with reporter Jason Overstreet's piece on a woman who's now on life support after nearly drowning in an Iron Man charity event. Perhaps the station didn't notice that CBS11's Brooke Richie had the same tragic story the night before on her station's 10 p.m. program.

And oh yeah, NBC5 kept its Wal-Mart streak intact, mentioning the giant-sized retailer for the sixth consecutive weeknight newscast.

This time it was a stretch. The Peacock's Kristi Nelson stood in a Target parking lot for a change of pace while reporting on China-made Aqua Dots toy beads that can "act like a date rape drug" if ingested. (Rival stations also reported the recall of this latest dangerous kids' toy.)

"We did find Aqua Dots on the shelves here at Target," Nelson told anchor Mike Snyder. "But the store would not sell them. We bought these at a Wal-Mart across the street."

Way to go, Wal-Mart. NBC5's equivalent of Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting feat is still alive.

This just in: a night in the lives of D-FW's late night newscasts (Tues., Nov. 6)

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Wal-Mart and NBC5: What would one do without the other?

The Peacock stretched its Wal-Mart streak to five consecutive 10 p.m. newscasts Tuesday. That includes mentions of the big-time chain retailer on all four of its November "sweeps" shows.

Halloween night started the streak, with reporter Nigel Wheeler standing in a Wal-Mart parking lot to hear shoppers tell him how excited they were about the early holiday season discounts being offered. Hey, thanks for the infomercial! But wait, there's more. NBC5 also flogged Wal-Mart's bargains on its Thursday and Friday newscasts last week.

Monday was a bit of a downer, with the station's new apprentice Mistress of the Dark, Ellen Goldberg, interviewing a woman who'd been scammed by a "Mystery Shopper" come-on.

The patsy went to a Wal-Mart to supposedly evaluate the customer service at a wire-transfer business called MoneyGram. She was given a cashier's check from the con artists as payment, but had to wire part of the money back to them from her bank account to test the service. Guess what? The check was phony, and now the woman's own checks are bouncing, too.

Goldberg took pains to say that Wal-Mart was an innocent bystander and had nothing to do with the scam.

Sometimes, though, Wal-Mart has to take the bad with the good on NBC5, which recently had a Scott Gordon report on entranceway Halloween decorations that supposedly terrorized a young mother's little children. One of the kids nonetheless giggled and made faces throughout his top-of-the-newsast report. But the decorations were moved to another part of this particular Wal-Mart.

The store's parking lots also have been favorite NBC5 venues for crime stories. But hey, they always spell and pronounce the name right, and a remedial infomercial invariably seems to be right around the corner. On Tuesday night, Wal-Mart got the lead newscast tease from anchor Mike Snyder, who gushed, "Wal-Mart like you have never seen one. We're going to take you inside the store of the future."

Twin mid-newscast teases further primed the pump.

"It's the Wal-Mart that'll make you do a double-take," assured co-anchor Jane McGarry.

"What's inside may shock some shoppers -- in a good way," Snyder added. "We'll show you why."

It soon was time for reporter Brian Curtis' glowing show-and-tell. The new Highland Village Wal-Mart aims to be more esthetically pleasing. There's even a big pecan tree out in front of it. Within are "artisan breads from an old-style oven" and dishware that looks as though it could be sold in a department store, Curtis told viewers. A Wal-Mart representative agreed that this is one great, customer-pleasing store.

Curtis closed his "story" with a visual of happy workers making baked treats. "In return, Wal-Mart hopes customers will sweeten its bottom line," he said.

NBC5 is doing a great job of that already, even if its ratings -- and thereby Wal-Mart's exposure -- aren't nearly as strong as they used to be.

The retail chain's "latest supercenter" also got a brief mention on CBS11's Tuesday, 10 p.m. newscast, with anchor Karen Borta devoting about 15 seconds to a reader with visuals. Fox4 and Belo8 didn't mention the new showplace. None of these three stations have Wal-Mart streaks in play.

Belo8 instead had a fun, featured investigation of parking lot perks at D-FW airport, where about 150 state elected officials pay nothing. This enabled reporter David Schechter to go head-to-head with former Fox4 reporter Ken Capps, who's now vice president of public affairs for the airport.

"Basically it's good will," said Capps. Schechter then deployed a prop to help make his story go 'round. He plucked a vintage, well-worn piece of luggage with "Politicans" on it from a baggage carousel before noting that some of these lawmakers leave their cars at D-FW while taking vacations abroad and elsewhere. Several have run up bills in excess of $500, but paid nothing, Schechter told viewers. Their spouses can park gratis, too.

Of course none of the lawmakers would talk to him. As proof, viewers could see Schechter flailing away on the telephone in Belo8's newsroom. He should know by now that politicians usually behave just like most media companies. They roll up the sidewalks whenever an uncomfortable media spotlight is trained on them.

Capps was willing to keep sparring with Schechter, though. Letting lawmakers park for free actually saves the taxpayers money, the reporter was told.

In turn, "we hope they remember us when they're doing their business (in Austin), Capps said. "But we ask for absolutely nothing in return."

All four stations took note of the "patchy frost" waiting to bedevil thin-skinned North Texans Wednesday. Only CBS11 kept this alert on ice rather than put it at the top of the newscast.

Tuesday's Trinity River toll road vote, won by proponents, prompted reports from two well-seasoned warhorses who very seldom get seen these days on the 10 p.m. shows. Bud Gillett reported on the results for CBS11 and Ken Kalthoff did the same for NBC5. It was nice to see a little experience in play. See you next election night, guys.

Meanwhile, Fox4 has the best sweeps gimmick going for it. The station's "Greatest Cowboy Ever" countdown, helmed by sports anchor Mike Doocy, so far has yielded Don Meredith at No. 10 and Mel Renfro in the ninth spot. Both were reprised with some really nice vintage footage on the Monday and Tuesday 9 p.m. newscasts.

All rulings are final, with Fox4's sports staff making the calls while viewers are encouraged to weigh in. It's not going to be all that easy down the stretch, especially with these Cowboys still in play: Roger Staubach, Randy White, Tony Dorsett, Drew Pearson, Emmitt Smith, Michael Irvin, Troy Aikman, Bob Hayes, Ed "Too Tall" Jones, Charles Haley, Cliff Harris, Charlie Waters, Bob Lilly and Darren Woodson.

And should Tom Landry be included, or does "Greatest Cowboy" only mean players? Whatever they decide, this is a good idea that likely will have many viewers coming back for more.

Local Nielsen ratings snapshot (Tues., Nov. 6)

It could be, it might be, it's -- not quite -- a rare double grand slam for Belo8 in D-FW's four major local news wars.

The ABC station is broadly grinning anyway. Its usual strong performance at 10 p.m. was coupled with a second straight weekday atop the 6 a.m. ratings in both total homes and with 25-to-54-year-olds, the main advertiser target audience for news programming. Belo8's Daybreak again prevailed over Fox4's Good Day, which seemed invulnerable going into the November "sweeps."

Now it could be a race in the early mornings, with Belo8 taking advantage of both big numbers at 10 p.m. and late night's only first-run network attraction in ABC's Nightline. Those can be strong promotional platforms for an early morning show, and Belo8 is playing right along during this suddenly strike-torn season.

NBC5, benefiting from its network's only dependably strong lead-in (Law & Order: SVU), ran second at 10 p.m. in both ratings measurements to gain a bit of ground on CBS11 in the battle for November's runnerup spot. But the latter station has hammers on Wednesday and Thursday nights with 9 p.m. CBS hits CSI: NY and Without A Trace. Belo8 also will luxuriate on Wednesday with ABC's three-hour CMA Awards, always a big draw in these parts.

The 5 p.m. news competition also went to Belo8, as did the 6 p.m. in total homes. But the station stumbled in the latter hour with 25-to-54-year-olds, finishing third behind twin frontrunners Fox4 and NBC5.

In other ratings hot spots, Good Day recovered from 7 to 9 a.m., where it again outdrew the three competing morning shows in both ratings measurements. Fox4's 9 p.m. local news also ran well among both 25-to-54-year-olds and 18-to-49-year-olds, the key advertiser target audience for entertainment programming. It beat SVU in both of those audience demos to place second behind ABC's still very formidable Boston Legal.

Prime-time's biggest draw, ABC's Dancing with the Stars results show, amassed 326,370 homes. That's a quantum leap from the network's preceding and sputtering Carpoolers, which had only 107,166 total homes to run fourth from 7:30 to 8 p.m.

Fox's House remains a strong draw from 8 to 9 p.m., but still ran a distant second behind Dancing in total homes, etc. By the way, Jane Seymour got the boot.

This just in: a night in the lives of D-FW's late night newscasts (Mon., Nov. 5)

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Fox4 investigator Becky Oliver caught her prey Monday night.

Investigative reporter Becky Oliver is not known for decorum. Never has been. The hard-charging, gravely-voiced gumshoe has spent 16 years at Fox4 as a ratings "sweeps" specialist whose stories invariably hit their elusive targets.

On Monday night's 9 p.m. newscast, Oliver tracked down and confronted several registered sex offenders who now are working at jobs that take them into people's homes and sometimes in the vicinity of children. Clearly none of them wanted to be on camera, but Oliver gave them no choice. You probably know where we're going here, or at least what questions should be raised in light of the station's ongoing suspension of reporter Rebecca Aguilar. Fair is fair.

One man, Robert Alonzo, was fired from his job after a pest control company learned through Oliver that he pled guilty in 1993 to aggravated sexual assault of a five-year-old. He had been on probation until 2003 and hadn't committed another offense. But Oliver uncovered his past and went after him as he prepared to get into his work truck.

"You're a registered sex offender. Does your employer know you're going into homes, sir?" she asked as the man got into the truck and prepared to drive off? "Does Terminex know?"

No, Terminix said it didn't know, so Alonzo has been terminated after Oliver found he had marked "No" on his pest control license applications to the question of whether he'd ever been arrested.

He committed a heinous crime, obviously, and doesn't deserve any undue sympathy if any at all. But Alonzo was only the opening act of Oliver's story. Her closer was far more questionable. She hunted down carpet cleaner Anthony Moreno, convicted in 1995 of sexually assaulting a 14-year-old girl. He was on probation until 2005. Oliver also cornered him next to his work truck.

"We noticed you're a registered sex offender," she told him.

The man quietly and politely responded, "Ma'am, why don't you let me do my job? I mean, God, the probation's been over for the longest time."

Oliver acted as though she hadn't heard him.

"Do the residents know when you're going into their home that you're a registered sex offender?" she persisted. Moreno sighed. Clearly he hadn't paid enough.

Oliver's a digger and a provocateur whose work has been praised in these spaces. She's expected to "perform" in ratings sweeps periods, utilizing her trademark aggressive style in pursuit of hidden truths.

Still, one wonders if justice was really served here, particularly in the case of Moreno. If he's also fired, will society indeed be better off by having him back on the streets without a gainful job?

The companion question is a tough one, too. Reporters must be fair, but not shrinking violets. That goes for both Oliver and Aguilar, who was far more subdued in her parking lot questioning of 70-year-old property defender James Walton. Aguilar also had talked to Walton on the phone shortly before he led her to a Mesquite sporting goods store.

So did Aguilar really "ambush" him, as so many have charged? And in that case, did Oliver not ambush her three targets?

Walton hasn't been convicted of any crimes in the shooting deaths of two would-be burglars of his West Dallas salvage yard. That's obviously a big difference, and many will argue convincingly that anyone convicted of sexual assault is an animal deserving to be treated as such forevermore.

But Aguilar's suspension is now in its fourth week, and that punishment certainly doesn't seem to fit her alleged "crime" or misdemeanor. Meanwhile, Oliver continues on as Fox4's resident reporter/bounty hunter. It's a style that's worked well for her, and she's not about to change. As George Orwell's cautionary Animal Farm so famously put it, "All animals are equal. But some animals are more equal than others."

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CBS11's Jack Fink and NBC5's already identified street reporter

Rival stations had showy exposes, too.

NBC5's Grant Stinchfield reported the station's lead story about questionable fundraising on behalf of the Texas State Troopers Association. Almost all of the reported $3.7 million collected from Texans has gone to pay telemarketers and overhead costs, Stinchfield told viewers.

The Peacock of course reported it as a big scoop, even though investigative reporter Amy Davis of Houston's NBC station, KPRC-TV, had basically an identical story in August 2006. Other reports of this sort have been kicking around since the 1990s.

Over at CBS11, Jack Fink stood in the Duncanville dark outiside The Cherry Pit "swingers club," which the city council wants to make illegal. Fink gamely introduced his pretaped story, but alas, a still picture of a jogger or something came up on-screen for 10 seconds or so. He then vamped for a few seconds until the right video came up. The proprietors of the club, operated out of a private home, talked openly on camera to Fink and said they'd fight any sanctions against them.

Monday's worthiest investigation came from Belo8's Brett Shipp, who had another followup on his year-long, off-and on-look at faulty natural gas pipe connections that have led to explosions and several deaths.

The principal offender, Atmos, and other providers now will have to dig up older compression-style couplings and replace them by order of the Railroad Commission of Texas. Earlier, the Commission's director had issued a statement "villifying" his reports, Shipp said. But now there's been a "change of heart."

This just in: a night in the lives of D-FW's late night newscasts (Fri., Nov. 2)

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CBS11 anchors Karen Borta and Doug Dunbar gleam and glow at 10.

There's a glint in the eye of CBS11, most notably at 10 p.m.

Shorn of a tyrannical news director and his dirty-to-the-touch newscasts, the station clearly is re-energized as well as redefined in HD. Its recent and virtually seamless transition to sharper images particularly has done wonders for the appearances of co-anchors Karen Borta and Doug Dunbar.

An almost entirely new approach to makeup is required when making the transition to unforgiving HD. And whoever is making up Borta and Dunbar deserves their undying gratitude. They're positively aglow, with Borta a knee-buckler and Dunbar her jaunty mountie. Yeah, this all may sound silly, but appearances do count in the TV news game. And in that realm, CBS11 has taken giant steps forward with both a shimmering new set and newly glimmering anchors.

It also helps when you're proud of the product. Stuck in the muck just a few months ago, CBS11 has re-found solid ground. Its newscasts again are driven more by content than quick-hit trips to car wrecks and crime scenes. Friday wasn't exactly a dynamic news day in D-FW, but some stories were worth looking into.

CBS11's Clif Caldwell, a veteran who formerly worked the night shift on NBC5, did the best job of detailing the almost exclusively black Hamilton Park neighborhood's ongoing debate about selling most of its homes en masse to a developer. Caldwell has been around the block, in Hamilton Park and elsewhere. His experience was discounted by the previous regime. Now it may be back in vogue.

Newcomer Nerissa Knight had the only in-depth look at the sudden death of longtime Dallas Cowboys chaplain John Weber, who expired at age 59 of a heart attack. It's important to remember people of genuine worth, and Knight did so without being cloying about it. Better to give a decent man a fitting sendoff than spend yet another two or three minutes on crooks and murderers.

CBS11 also had the only story on Hollywood's impending writers' strike, which became a reality on Monday morning. It's odd that rival stations would ignore a situation that initially will knock late night talk shows into reruns and would have a huge impact on prime-time scripted series if it lasts into next year.

Belo8 offered a lengthy story by investigator Byron Harris on alleged abuses at the Cimarron Living Center. The report seemed well-documented, although one of its principal sources was a recently fired worker whose reasons for termination should have been specified by Harris. "I would never put anyone I know, or even my worst enemy there," she now says of Cimarron, whose representatives weren't talking.

NBC5 as usual offered a collection of heavily hyped stories that in reality didn't amount to much. The Peacock led Friday's newscast with reporter Scott Gordon's piece on an 82-year-old Farmer's Branch woman who's facing city fines for a string of dubious violations such as keeping her Christmas lights up past the holiday season.

"She might look like your grandmaw. Police say she's a wanted woman," co-anchor Jane McGarry trumpeted at the top of the newscast.

Not really. Police clearly have no interest in jailing the woman, and city officials seem amenable to erasing or greatly downsizing her fines. Gordon got around to saying that at story's end.

Meredith Land later contributed another of her ridiculous health alerts, this one on a middle-aged woman whose energy level slumped in mid-afternoon. Her problem turned out to be a clogged nasal passage. After an operation, "I can even walk my dog, and you know, enjoy activities in the evening," the woman told Land. What a nose for news she has.

For the third straight 10 p.m. newscast, NBC5 lauded the early Christmas season discounts available at Wal-Mart. Cynics might see these as "make-good" ads in atonement for the numerous times NBC5 has made Wal-Mart parking lots scenes of shootings, kidnappings and other mayhem. The station even had a recent top-of-the-newscast story on unduly scary Halloween decorations at a Wal-Mart entrance.

Fox4 seemed to have a hard time filling its 9 p.m. hour Friday night. Anchor Steve Eagar brought viewers news of a dead animal that turned out to be a coyote rather than a weird, mysterious creature. He later shared a prolonged, profanity-laced phone call during the weekly "Viewers' Voice" segment. The man, whose tirade was heavily bleeped, objected to pre-emptions of Judge Judy. But why give the idiot this kind of forum?

Fox4 viewers also learned that beer bubbles can quench your thirst and that Hillary Clinton's ninth cousin twice removed is Angelina Jolie.

Belo8 of course had another installment of Pete 'n' Dale's playhouse, with sports anchor Dale Hansen joking that he was almost overcome by the "fumes" from weatherman Pete Delkus' cologne.

Hansen unfortunately then took matters into his own hands with a sub-juvenile riff on one of the deeply troubled sons of Philadelphia Eagles coach Andy Reid. Twenty-four-year-old Garrett Reid had smuggled 89 pills into his jail cell, Hansen said before elaborating: "Stuck the pills inside him, giving a whole new meaning to 'Bottoms up.' Now I wouldn't ever do illegal drugs, at least I hope not. But I absolutely wouldn't ever do illegal drugs that had been there."

Belo8 then had the good taste to close the newscast with a story on how animal excrement is being converted into low-grade methane gas. Or as anchor Gloria Campos put it, "The Dallas Zoo wants to use poop for power!"

Hansen could be heard chortling off-camera while viewers were treated to zoo workers shoveling up elephant dung. He then told Campos, "I did that story earlier."

Sorry, but what a load of crap.

Gaffe Gulch -- Fox4's report on how Britney Spears wastes her money included a printed rundown of her "Montly" income. But maybe misspellings are fitting in a Britney story.

NBC5's "Big Game Friday Night" correspondent, Derek Castillo, told viewers that Arlington Bowie had defeated Duncanville 42-14. But his station immediately put up a graphic that reversed the score in favor of Duncanville. Castillo had the correct outcome.


Local Nielsen ratings snapshot (Fri.-Sun., Nov. 2-4)

Let's get right to Sunday's larger-than-life sports menu, with the Dallas Cowboys rout of the Philadelphia Eagles of course topping the field.

Dallas' third game this season on NBC's Sunday Night Football averaged 832,569 homes to rank fourth among the season's eight regular season games. It outdrew the Sept. 9th Giants game on NBC (803,748 homes) but ran behind the Peacock's Sept. 23rd Bears game (854,896 homes). Top draw is still the Cowboys' only loss -- to still unbeaten New England. It amassed 884,123 homes for the Oct. 14th CBS telecast.

D-FW football fans warmed up for Cowboys-Eagles by watching the Patriots edge the Indianapolis Colts on CBS. The mid-afternoon/early evening battle of previously unbeatens averaged an imposing 561,406 homes.

Opposite Pats-Colts, ABC's telecast of the Dickies 500 Nextel Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway ran fairly cold with an average of 114,473 homes. Over on Fox, the now 7-and-1 Green Bay Packers' win over Kansas City drew 226,511 total homes from noon to 3 p.m. Sunday. Green Bay will play Dallas on the Thursday after Thanksgiving, with MY27 obtaining the local broadcast rights for a game that otherwise will on cable's NFL Network.

Sunday's biggest non-sports draw, ABC's Desperate Housewives, drew a very respectable 270,352 homes from 8 to 9 p.m. Sunday.

Friday's local newscast derby, on day two of the November "sweeps," put Belo8 in charge at 5, 6 and 10 p.m. in both total homes and among 25-to-54-year-olds, the main advertiser target audience for news programming. NBC5 ran second in both measurements at 10 p.m.

Fox4 again controlled the 6 a.m. Nielsens, but by only a small margin in total homes against NBC5 and Belo8, which tied for second. The station's Good Day won far more comfortably among 25-to-54-year-olds, where it again also beat the three competing network morning shows from 7 to 9 a.m.

This just in: a night in the lives of D-FW's late night newscasts (Thurs., Nov. 1)

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Pepperoni pizzas and flaming mattresses respectively were hot stories on NBC5 and CBS11 on Night 1 of the November "sweeps."

When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie, that's a story.

Yes, but how big a one? NBC5 predictably overbaked the latest national food recall Thursday night, leading its 10 p.m. newscast with foreboding music and anchor Jane McGarry's dire, Nostradamus-esque intro.

"Peanut butter. Spinach. Even hamburger meat," she intoned. "Now you can add pizza to that growing list of recalls. Tonight, food frustration. And North Texans say enough is enough."

NBC5's Lindsay Wilcox reported live from -- where else? -- outside a Wal-Mart after McGarry said that 21 E. coli cases had been linked to Totino's and Jeno brand pepperoni pizzas. They're voluntarily being taken off shelves by the maker, which is sad news for a beefy man interviewed by Wilcox. His girlfriend loves those pies, he said, and will be "horribly disappointed."

Rival stations Fox4, Belo8 and CBS11 also had news of the recall -- but in brief anchor readers buried within their newscasts. Fox4 and CBS11 both noted that none of the reportedly ill pizza eaters resides in Texas, a fact that the Peacock somehow managed to omit.

NBC5 and reporter Scott Gordon deserve credit, however, for breaking a heartwarming story that its competitors piggybacked onto Thursday night. The veteran Night Ranger had told viewers Wednesday about "Miracle Girl" Kaitlyn Wade of Arlington, who returned home to a hero's welcome Thursday after recovering from horrific injuries caused by an alleged drunk driver. The 13-year-old spent five months in the hospital after previously surviving leukemia as a little kid.

Fox4, Belo8 and CBS11 all had detailed stories on Kaitlyn, who also managed to survive an onslaught of reporters' questions. Meanwhile, Gordon already had moved on to another interesting story on a man whose sinus cavity operation went terribly wrong when a doctor mistakenly removed part of his brain and left him permanently disabled.

"The hardest part is thinking of doing this another 40 years," his wife said of caring for her once vibrant husband. She successfully sued, but may receive only a small fraction of a multi-million dollar judgment, Gordon reported.

On CBS11, investigative reporter Bennett Cunningham put on a firefighter's outfit while real-life practitioners set a non-fireproofed mattress on fire. The live blaze, complete with an "Elapsed Time" clock, consumed the bed buddy while Cunningham went "undercover" on videotape to expose sellers of mattresses without state-required "fire barrier material."

The law took effect on July 1st, Cunningham noted. He also told viewers that manufacturers and retailers legally are allowed to sell old mattresses made before that date.

Still, it wasn't a bad show-and-tell story, with Cunningham telling co-anchor Doug ("Good to have ya") Dunbar that "the fumes are just absolutely horrendous." He also needlessly noted that viewers can't smell them through their TV sets.

Back to NBC5, which is a regular purveyor of stories about bad smells. This time it was new, eco-friendly frontloading washers prone to a mold buildup on the doors' rubber sealers. That can leave clothes smelling mildew-y. Grant Stinchfield reported live from a Dallas laundry room, and managed to sell the story a lot better than the Peacock's pizza topper.

Fox4's 9 p.m. newscast included a followup story on charges of racism leveled by two black University of North Texas football players against first-year coach Todd Dodge. Both have been suspended, and their allegations seem flimsy at best. Reporter Jason Overstreet interviewed the two players and UNT athletic director Rick Villarreal, who talked to him on-camera.

The university's willingness to talk publicly about the suspensions and an ongoing investigation contrasts sharply with Fox4 management's refusal to comment on the Oct. 16th suspension and ongoing investigation of reporter Rebecca Aguilar. Alas, most media companies are like that. They aggressively pursue stories "in the public interest" but invariably clam up when they're in the spotlight. The right to know only goes so far.

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Belo8 trio: Brett Shipp, Chris Hawes and David Schechter

Mentioned last, but hardly least, is Belo8, which pretty much had a model newscast on opening night of the sweeps.

Reporter Brett Shipp opened the program with a followup on Atmos Energy's allegedly lax approach to repairing dangerous gas leaks. Shipp, accompanied by an independent operator with a natural gas detecting device, uncovered more leaks in a neighborhood where an elderly couple died a year ago from a gas leak explosion.

The two found more evidence of leaks, and of seeming Atmos negligence despite the company's official statement that it had "responded in person to more than 1,500 concerned customers" after Shipp's first report on the matter.

This is serious stuff, and potentially a lot more dangerous than Totino's pepperoni pizzas. But it takes diligent enterprise and legwork to report such stories, and that's the basic difference on most nights between Belo8 and NBC5.

Belo8's Chris Hawes later had an interesting report on homeowners burying plastic St. Joseph statues in their yards in hopes that their properties will sell faster in a sluggish market. It's an old tradition that's lately been revived, she said. So much so that statues are hard to come by in some areas.

Later, the station's David Schechter had a "Your Frying Eyes" report (um, not a good title) on eyeglass lens makers whose finished products fell far short of doctor's prescriptions for strength and clarity. Belo8 again boldly named names, citing LensCrafters as the worst offender in independent tests of the eyeglasses. The company said it stands by its specs and encourages customers to report any errors.

Also a standout Thursday: CBS11 reporter J.D. Miles' report on the increasingly prevalent "redshirting" of kindergarten age kids being held back a year to have a competitive advantage over classmates.

"It could be seen as some form of elitism," said child care group expert Susan Hoff before Miles told viewers that redshirting is more common in affluent school districts.

On Fox4, consumer reporter Steve Noviello's latest "On Your Side" segment looked at questionable $1,000 gift certificates used as a come-on by an area Kia car dealership. The information seemed sound, but Noviello easily could take his presentation down a notch or two. Background music better suited to a game show doesn't help either, but hey, that's show biz.

We'll close with the latest hijinks from Pete 'n Dale's playhouse, otherwise known as the segue from weather to sports from Belo8's Pete Delkus to Dale Hansen

Big Pete this time twitted bigger Dale's "big melon" before showing it superimposed on a jack o' lantern. Hey, guys, Halloween was the night before, even if Dale had it off. Thanksgiving's coming, though. Who's gonna call who a turkey first?


Daybreak derby: it looks like a four-woman field

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Belo8ers Alexa Conomos, Debbie Denmon, Shelly Slater, Macie Jepson

Daybreak co-anchor Jackie Hyland began her last ratings "sweeps" month with the program Thursday before an announced departure at the end of November to be with her family in New York.

Readers already have shown considerable interest in who might replace her. It's assumed, but not assured, that Belo8 will pick an in-house candidate to succeed Hyland. If so, the likely choices would be from among Alexa Conomos, Debbie Denmon, Shelly Slater and Macie Jepson.

Your comments are welcome, but let's be tactful, OK? Here's a further thumbnail look at the field.

Alexa Conomos -- Joined Belo8 in 2002 from the corporation's failed TXCN cable channel. Recently returned to Daybreak as the show's incumbent traffic reporter after taking maternity leave as a first-time mom. Has experience anchoring the station's noon newscast and already is used to the early morning hours. Would be a solid choice.

Debbie Denmon -- Appears to have an outspoken fan base, judging from reader comments on an earlier post about Hyland's exit. The always upbeat Texas native and University of North Texas grad joined Belo8 in 2000, and had a previous tenure on Daybreak before Hyland and Justin Farmer took over in fall 2005. That's the problem. Belo8 wasn't satisfied with the show's ratings during Denmon's earlier stint. Would the station be game to give her a second chance?

Shelly Slater -- Frisky, hand-talking newcomer joined Belo8 a year ago and already is co-anchoring weekend newscasts. It seems as though the station has very big plans for her, but would Slater and Farmer be more than a little too pretty and perky together? Has subbed as an early morning anchor in what some see as a test drive.

Macie Jepson -- The relative Earth mother of this quartet has been with Belo8 since 2000. Also has filled in on Daybreak, and would add a more mature presence to the program. But would the two-time mom really want the job and its brutal hours after establishing herself as an early evening anchor? Seems like the dark horse possibility in this field. But might well be a steadier, savvier presence than the others.

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Belo8 has shuffled upper level management, elevating Mike Devlin to president and general manager of the ABC affiliate.

His predecessor, Kathy Clements, who held that position since 1999, has been kicked up to corporate as senior vice president of television operations.

Devlin joined Belo8 in 2005, as vice president and station manager, from Belo-owned KHOU-TV in Houston. He has a winning sense of humor, evidenced by his guest-starring appearance on the Belo-produced Gordon Keith Show as a semi-tyrranical bossman who chased the rascally host from his office.

The changes were announced Wednesday on Belo8's 10 p.m. newscast immediately after weatherman Pete Delkus passed out Halloween candy to anchors John McCaa and Gloria Campos. Nice transition.

Fox4 still mulling decision on Aguilar

Fox4 reporter Rebecca Aguilar remains suspended with pay while her station continues to deliberate what to do with her.

"The matter is being investigated," says a New York-based spokesperson for Fox4, who asked not to be identified. There will be no further comment for now, the spokesperson said.

Aguilar, a 13-year-veteran of the station, was ordered to leave the Fox4 newsroom on Oct. 16th after her controversial parking lot interview with 70-year-old James Walton, who was buying a new shotgun at a sporting good store after killing two would-be burglars in three weeks time at his West Dallas salvage business. The events have triggered a heated debate among detractors and defenders of Aguilar and Fox4.

A well-placed insider at Fox4, who also requested anonymity, confirmed and clarified the later disciplinary actions taken against three off-camera Fox4 staffers who also were involved with the story. One received a three-day suspension late last week, and another a two-day suspension. The third received a warning.

All of those staffers now are back at Fox4