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Local Nielsen ratings snapshot (Wed.-Sun., Nov. 23-27) -- Cowboys run up score in one-point win

The Dallas Cowboys barely averted laying an egg on turkey day with a last-second, one-point win over another relative NFL weakling.

D-FW viewers savored the drama, with 1,354,820 watching the 20-19 trimming of the Dolphins on CBS. The final minutes also provided the game's ratings high of 1,510,624 viewers.

The overall Thanksgiving Day numbers are the highest for a Cowboys game since the narrow Oct. 16th loss to New England, which averaged 1,422,561 viewers. This season's record-holder is still Game 1 against the Jets, which drew 1,634,465 viewers for NBC's Sunday Night Football.

Earlier Thursday, the super-terrific Green Bay Packers (Uncle Barky's a Wisconsin native) remained unbeaten by vanquishing the Lions. The game averaged a very nice-sized 751,925 viewers on Fox. That night's battle of the Harbaugh brothers -- Baltimore vs. San Francisco on NFL Network -- attracted 162,578 viewers.

ABC's 90-minute Lady Gaga special on Thanksgiving night was strictly ratings goo with 88,063 viewers. That's just a small fraction of the 379,350 viewers who watched NBC's more traditional coverage of the Macy's holiday parade. CBS' competing parade play-by-play chipped in an additional 142,256 viewers.

On Sunday, ABC's latest adaptation of a Mitch Albom bestseller -- Have A Little Faith -- had small-fry returns with just 128,708 viewers from 8 to 10 p.m. Sunday Night Football reigned as usual, with 474,187 viewers for the Steelers-Chiefs matchup. Fox4's local 9 p.m. news and CBS' football-delayed lineup also outdrew Have A Little Faith.

Sunday's biggest overall attraction, the Patriots-Eagles game on CBS, averaged 589,347 viewers.

All four major local TV news providers took holidays knees on Wednesday through Friday, which means none of the numbers officially counted.

CBS11 SPORTS NOTE -- That new guy popping up on CBS11's sportscasts is Christian Steckel, who will be freelancing for the station until Gina Miller returns from maternity leave early next year. He previously worked for WAPT-TV, the ABC affiliate station in Jackson, Mississippi.

Ragland arrest is responsibly (but very differently) covered by both Belo entities


Both WFAA8 and The Dallas Morning News commendably haven't tried to hide the arrest Sunday of a prominent Metro columnist for the newspaper.

James Ragland is free on bail after being arrested on a misdemeanor charge of domestic assault against his wife.

Before looking at their strikingly different approaches to the story, let's note that although they're supposedly separate entities now, WFAA8 and the DMN both operate under the Belo corporate umbrella. And as relatives who share a downtown Dallas parking lot, they regularly cross-promote each other and cooperate on breaking stories. So the bond remains intact, even if both now are traded separately on the New York Stock Exchange. In that context, the Ragland arrest hits close to home for the DMN and WFAA8.

WFAA8 reported on the matter during its Sunday early evening and late night newscasts. A virtually identical account is on wfaa.com in a brief story headlined "Dallas Morning News columnist arrested on family violence charge."

The brief WFAA8 story, read by anchor Casey Norton, aired in the middle of Sunday's newscasts and was fairly general in details. "Police told News 8 that James Ragland got into an argument with his wife on Saturday night, and she felt threatened," the station reported. "The dispute continued at church on Sunday, where members of the congregation called 911."

WFAA8 also included a statement from DMN editor Bob Mong, who said, "We will not be commenting until we learn more about the specifics. In the meantime, we care deeply about James and his wife and hope for the best possible outcome."

Official statements such as these generally are pro forma in any DMN story involving an employee or a sensitive corporate issue. But the newspaper's Monday print account (on 2B of the Metro section under "Regional Roundup,") had nothing at all from Mong and was far more detailed in terms of what Ragland allegedly did to his wife.

The newspaper's story, headlined "Columnist arrested in domestic assault case," said that she "told police Ragland became upset Saturday evening because she was texting someone. He told her he wanted to hit her and threw her cellphone at her, according to a police report. She said Ragland pushed her to the floor and pulled her hair while she was getting ready for church Sunday morning."

The DMN account also says that when Ragland arrived at church about 9 a.m., two Dallas police officers were present. "He told them he had 'placed his hand on the top' of his wife's head, according to the report."

Ragland was arrested and booked into a Dallas County jail before being released on bail Sunday evening, "but could not be reached for comment," the DMN story concluded.

It remains to be seen what if anything rival D-FW newscasts will do with the Ragland story. Fox4, NBC5 and CBS11 had no coverage on Sunday's editions.

Personal note: James and I played softball together for several years on a DMN team. We didn't socialize otherwise, but liked each other and had some good conversations about sports and otherwise. So as Mong says, I hope for the "best possible outcome" to this for all concerned.

Fox4 paces November "sweeps" in wins and year-to-year increases

Fox4 logged three of the four November "sweeps" ratings wins in the key 25-to-54 demographic while also showing some significant year-to-year-audience increases in the tri-annual battle to charge more money for commercial spots on D-FW newscasts.

The station won at 6 a.m. and at 5 and 6 p.m. among viewers representing the prime target for most advertisers. Fox4 added a 6 a.m. win in total viewers and tied NBC5 for first place at 5 p.m., according to measurements from Nielsen Media Research.

WFAA8 nipped CBS11 for first place at 10 p.m. in total viewers and won by a comfortable margin in the 25-to-54 demographic. CBS11 had the most total viewers at 6 p.m., but plummeted to fourth with 25-to-54-year-olds.

The four-week period, from Oct. 27th through Thanksgiving eve, also was marked by sharp audience declines at 5 p.m. for WFAA8, which ran fourth in total viewers and third with 25-to-54-year-olds after respectively placing first and second last November. It was the station's first sweeps period in a quarter-century without The Oprah Winfrey Show as a 5 p.m. lead-in. The replacement, Dr. Oz, ran fourth across the board.

WFAA8 on the other hand benefited from improved 9:45 to 10 p.m. lead-ins from the ABC network after years of trailing CBS. The average gap in total viewers was just four-tenths of a rating point this time after CBS11 profited from appreciably bigger advantages in previous sweeps periods. And WFAA8 enjoyed a lead-in advantage over CBS11 in the 25-to-54 demographic.

NBC5 overall endured the worst late news lead-ins from its network, with the final 15 minutes of Fox4's 9 p.m. local newscast outdrawing whatever NBC offered at that hour.

In the increasingly competitive early morning news race, Fox4, NBC5 and WFAA8 all made solid year-to-year gains among 25-to-54-year-olds, while CBS11 fell further off the map.

Although its best showing was a 5 p.m. first-place tie (with Fox4) in total viewers, NBC5 managed to log mostly year-to-year gains at 6 a.m. and 5 and 6 p.m.

The November sweeps also saw a rare decline in the average value of rating points after years of annual upward swings. Nielsen's new estimates, which went into effect in September, say that each rating point now is worth 67,741 total viewers, down from 69,257. And in the 25-to-54 demographic, the value has decreased from 31,067 to 30,093 viewers per rating point.

Here are the final November 2011 results for the principal four-way local newscast competitions, with yearly increases or decreases in parentheses:

10 P.M.

Total Viewers
WFAA8 -- 206,110 (down from 222,523)
CBS11 -- 201,300 (down from 221,969)
NBC5 -- 115,160 (down from 145,370)
Fox4 -- 108,386 (down from 117,737)

WFAA8 -- 87,270 (down from 95,780)
CBS11 -- 69,214 (down from 91,306)
Fox4 -- 66,205 (up from 63,967)
NBC5 -- 60,186 (down from 70,677)

6 A.M.

Total Viewers
Fox4 -- 108,386 (up from 98,137)
NBC5 -- 94,837 (up from 93,289)
WFAA8 -- 74,515 (down from 76,806)
CBS11 -- 33,871 (down from 47,303)

Fox4 -- 66,205 (up from 55,175)
NBC5 -- 51,158 (up from 39,393)
WFAA8 -- 45,140 (up from 35,913)
CBS11 -- 18,056 (down from 22,275)

6 P.M.

Total Viewers
CBS11 -- 149,030 (down from 169,472)
Fox4 -- 128,708 (up from 122,516)
WFAA8 -- 121,934 (down from 159,430)
NBC5 -- 115,160 (down from 118,637)

Fox4 -- 57,177 (down from 58,126)
WFAA8 -- 45,140 (down from 53,777)
NBC5 -- 39,121 (up from 37,964)
CBS11 -- 33,102 (down from 53,404)

5 P.M.

Total Viewers
Fox4/NBC5 -- 121,934 each (up respectively from 100,492 and 94,744)
CBS11 -- 115,160 (up from 111,642)
WFAA8 -- 88,063 (down from 145,786)

Fox4 -- 54,167 (up from 47,657)
NBC5 -- 39,121 (up from 30,601)
WFAA8 -- 33,102 (down from 46,383)
CBS11 -- 30,093 (down from 34,484)

The November sweeps numbers also showed that newscast viewing increasingly tends to be an older pursuit, except in the early mornings.

At 10 p.m. among viewers 65 years and older, front-running CBS11 and runner-up WFAA8 both had twice as many viewers as either Fox4 or NBC5. But all four stations had higher overall ratings averages than they did in either total viewers or 25-to-54-year-olds.

Here's the late night news breakdown in the 65+ Nielsens:

CBS11 -- 72,760 out of 201,300 total viewers
WFAA8 -- 68,044 out of 206,100 total viewers
NBC5 -- 31,664 out of 115,160 total viewers
Fox4 -- 21,584 out of 108,386 total viewers

In the cruel, cruel world of advertiser-driven TV, this particular demographic is basically considered worthless, even though many seniors still get out and eat at Luby's on occasion.

Now let's look at the youngest audience group for which November sweeps ratings are available. That would be 18-to-34-year-olds. And no, they aren't exactly avid news watchers. Here's the 10 p.m. breakdown in this demographic, which is greatly valued by advertisers whatever the category of programming:

WFAA8 -- 21,934 out of 206,100 total viewers
Fox4 -- 13,498 out of 108,386 total viewers
CBS11 -- 10,123 out of 201,300 total viewers
NBC5 -- 8,436 out of 115,160 total viewers

Or to put it another way, far more viewers 65+ watch CBS11's 10 p.m. news than the combined audience of 18-to-34-year-olds for all four local late nighters.

Local Nielsen ratings snapshot (Tues., Nov. 22) -- X Factor vs. Dancing before WFAA8 cashes in

The penultimate night of the November "sweeps" featured a clash between a "special" two-hour Tuesday edition of Fox's The X Factor and the latest season finale of ABC's Dancing with the Stars.

They overlapped from 8 to 9 p.m., with X Factor's closing hour drawing 352,253 D-FW viewers to the 345,479 for Dancing's warmup hour. X Factor won by a much wider margin among advertiser-coveted 18-to-49-year-olds, giving Fox the night's resident cash cow.

CBS' NCIS as usual won from 7 to 8 p.m. with a commanding 419,994 total viewers. But it was no match for X Factor among 18-to-49-year-olds, sliding to a far back second place.

Dancing mustered a strong finishing kick, easily winning from 9 to 10 p.m. in total viewers with 453,865 while CBS' Unforgettable ran a distant second in that hour with 223,545 viewers. Dancing also prevailed among 18-to-49-year-olds, with Fox4's 9 p.m. local newscast taking the runner-up spot.

The final 15 minutes of Dancing, in which inspirational Iraq war veteran J.R. Martinez outlasted pretty boy Rob Kardashian, drew a king-sized 521,606 total viewers. WFAA8 then sprung into action, quick-starting its 10 p.m. newscast at 9:59 p.m. and rolling up 345,479 viewers to crunch second-place CBS11 (176,127).

The two stations were locked in another tight battle for the 10 p.m. win in total viewers, with CBS11 staging a late rally and winning the four previous weeknights. But the Dancing-fueled ratings windfall likely will be the difference-maker for WFAA8's 10 p.m. news, which on Wednesday's closing night of the sweeps will be preceded by a new 9 p.m. episode of ABC's popular Revenge while CBS feeds its stations Thanksgiving eve gruel in the form of a CSI: Crime Scene Investigation repeat.

WFAA8 also easily topped Tuesday's 10 p.m. race among 25-to-54-year-olds, the main advertiser target audience for news programming. But it already had a win locked up in this key demographic.

NBC5's newscasts otherwise stood tall Tuesday, running the table at 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. while adding a 5 p.m. win in the 25-to-54 demographic. Fox4 took the other gold with a 5 p.m. first in total viewers.

We'll have the complete November sweeps local news ratings results on Monday. For a look at where they stood at the 15-day mark, go here.

Local Nielsen ratings snapshot (Fri.-Sun., Nov. 18-20) -- Cowboys inch higher in numbers, standings

The Dallas Cowboys' overtime escape from a loss to the woeful Redskins again produced a slight uptick in the D-FW Nielsen ratings. But the Boys still aren't all the way back in terms of local audience interest.

Fox carried the elongated 27-24 win, which stretched to 3:39 p.m. and averaged 1,171,919 viewers with a peak crowd of 1,429,335 for the game's closing minutes.

The overall audience crept up from the 1,151,597 who watched the Cowboys rout the Bills on the previous Sunday. And that game did a bit better than the Nov. 6th Dallas win over Seattle, which averaged 1,131,275 viewers.

Still, the Cowboys drew a bigger crowd on Oct. 23rd, when 1,273,531 watched an easy win over the hapless St. Louis Rams. But with Dallas now tied with the Giants for the NFC East lead, interest should be building back up again toward the 1.5 million mark and possibly beyond for the two remaining games with New York.

The Giants' surprisingly inept loss to the depleted Philadelphia Eagles on NBC's Sunday Night Football was the day's second most-watched attraction with 589,347 viewers. The game thumped ABC's competing American Music Awards, which still had a respectable 304,835 viewers.

Earlier Sunday, the Bears' win over the Chargers on CBS had 386,124 viewers while the network's earlier Ravens victory over the Bengals had no chance against the Cowboys. It averaged just 67,741 viewers.

Saturday's Nielsens were paced by Baylor's last-second upset win over Oklahoma on ABC's featured prime-time game. An average of 291,286 viewers tuned in, with a high of 480,961 from 10:45 to 11 p.m. Over on TXA21, a competing Dallas Stars game against the San Jose Sharks averaged just 4,742 viewers with "hashmarks" (no measurable audience) for some of its 15-minute segments.

Friday brought the big farewell to Regis Philbin on Fox4's syndicated Live with Regis & Kelly. It easily won its 9 a.m. time slot with 142,256 viewers.

CBS' Blue Bloods dominated Friday's prime-time ratings with 325,157 viewers. As usual, though, it slipped dramatically with advertiser-craved 18-to-49-year-olds, running third at 9 p.m. and drawing fewer viewers in this key demographic than both of CBS' preceding dramas, A Gifted Man and CSI: NY.

CBS11's 10 p.m. newscasts reveled in BB's total viewer haul, though, rolling to an easy win over runner-up NBC5 in this measurement. But the Peacock ran a solid first with 25-to-54-year-olds, the main advertiser target audience for news programming.

Fox4 swept the 6 a.m. local news derbies, with WFAA8's lately resurgent Daybreak falling back hard to a distant third place finish in both measurements.

WFAA8 recorded a pair of rare early evening wins in the 25-to-54 demographic, however, topping its rivals at both 5 and 6 p.m.

CBS11 won in total viewers at 6 p.m. and tied NBC5 for first at 5 p.m.

Corning in a shower with a naked older guy? Not a good idea for this latest Daybreak comedy spot

The Ron Corning promo parade marches on -- and in this case hits the wall.

WFAA8, steadily gaining ground in the early morning ratings race, has been running a series of Corning-centric Daybreak comedy spots since early fall. They're all well-produced and in several cases quite funny.

But this latest one's pretty much a stinker, particularly in light of the ongoing Penn State scandal and its prime-target's televised contention that he was just "horsing around" with the young boys with whom he apparently regularly showered.

"I really want viewers to feel like I'm with them," Corning tells co-anchor Cynthia Izaguirre while cluing her to his latest self-promoting brainstorm, called "Ron-dezvous."

A fully clothed Corning then is shown standing behind an unclothed, pot-bellied older man in the shower. He yells in surprise, with Corning then mimicking him.

Back at the Daybreak anchor desk, Izaguirre reacts less than enthusiastically. "OK, that one might be illegal," she tells Corning.

"I have other ideas," an undeterred Corning replies. "I'm full of ideas."

"Yeah, you're full of it all right," she snipes. End of spot.

No. 1, this is supposed to be a playful retort on her part. But unlike an earlier "More Ron" spot, Izaguirre instead comes off as as wearily resigned, if not bitter.

No. 2, it's just not a good idea right now to put a boyish-looking anchor in the shower with an older guy. (Or at least he looks older.) The spot obviously was filmed before the ongoing shocking events at Penn State. But wiser heads should have known enough to pull it from the Corning promo sequence rather than air it as planned. Even under the best of circumstances, it doesn't measure up to the previous spots. And in these worst of circumstances, it's positively creepy.

You may feel otherwise, though. Here's the "Ron-dezvous" spot.

Arbitrator decides against WFAA8 anchor/reporter Debbie Denmon in discrimination suit against station

Debbie Denmon in wfaa.com photo

An arbitrator has ruled against WFAA8 anchor/reporter Debbie Denmon in her weight and race discrimination suit against the Dallas-based station.

"There was no money split. She got zero," said a source familiar with the case who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Denmon, who has a plus-sized figure, sued WFAA8 in September after a 5 p.m. weekday anchoring position she had applied for instead went to colleague Shelly Slater, who is white and thinner. There was "no merit" to Denmon's claims that she had been discriminated against, arbitrator Elizabeth Scott Wood ruled.

WFAA8 president and general manager Michael Devlin, who had ignored requests for comment while the case was in progress, said Wednesday that the station is "grateful that the arbitrator's decision was based on the clear facts of the case, and on the merits of the legal claims."

"We made legitimate business decisions based on performance," Devlin said. "And at the end of the day, the arbitrator confirmed that there was nothing wrong with our doing so. We have always stood by our decision, and we are glad we fought this to the end and obtained complete vindication of any wrongdoing."

Denmon, who was represented by Dallas attorney Michael Coles, has not returned an email request for comment. She will continue to work at WFAA8.

During hearings leading up to the ruling, roughly 20 station employees were called to testify. Most prominent among them was WFAA8's longtime 6 and 10 p.m. sports anchor Dale Hansen, who was Exhibit A in Denmon's case. Hansen, who has been with the station for 30 years, regularly jokes about being fat during byplay with other WFAA8 anchors.

A clause in WFAA8 contracts mandates that any claims of discrimination be resolved by binding arbitration rather than in a courtroom. The station is owned by Belo Corp., which also is the parent company of The Dallas Morning News.

Denmon currently anchors WFAA8's weekend newscasts and also reports three days a week. She joined the station in October 2000.

The arbitrator's unequivocal ruling against her contrasts with a January 2007 judgment in which former WFAA8 anchor Scott Sams (now with KRLD-AM radio) was awarded $683,771 in back wages, damages and attorneys' fees. Both sides claimed victory, though, with WFAA8 saying the sum represented just four percent of what Sams originally asked for.

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


NBC5 Night Ranger Scott Gordon felt some raindrops Tuesday night. Photo: Ed Bark

It's been pretty well established in these spaces that some silly things can happen during a ratings "sweeps" period.

None sillier of late than NBC5's "Team Coverage" of Tuesday night's brief rainstorm in Southlake. It led the station's 10 p.m. newscast.

Meteorologist David Finfrock first pitched in with a "Live Stormtrack Radar" update before veteran "Night Ranger" Scott Gordon stood live in Southlake's post-rain dark. It had been a clear night, he said, "but then out of almost nowhere, it came."

He was referring to brief, heavy rains that did no harm but enabled the intrepid reporter to earlier don a hood for the videotaped portion of his report. Gordon showcased his well-established chrome dome for the bookending live shots, noting that the rain had come and gone in a flash.

NBC5's rivals likewise are quick to flog the weather whenever it changes a bit. But the Peacock stood alone Tuesday night, with Fox4, WFAA8 and CBS11 deducing that a brief downpour in Southlake didn't quite qualify as the night's top story. Gordon's a solid staple of NBC5's 10 p.m. newscasts, but he must have drawn the short straw Tuesday. In recompense, the station owes him dinner for two at Arby's or somethin'.

WFAA8 in contrast clearly out-classed its rivals on this particular night.

The station led off with reporter Chris Hawes' trip to Long Island to take an informative look at "ShotSpotter" technology that's been considered for use in both Dallas and Fort Worth. Although there've been some glitches -- which Hawes pointed out -- ShotSpotter enables police to immediately determine where and when a gunshot has gone off -- and respond in far quicker fashion.

But the technology at present has a formidable price tag of $40,000 to $60,000 per square mile. So whether it's another wave of the future, here or elsewhere, is yet to be determined.

WFAA8 also had an interesting story by Jason Whitely on Groesbeck, TX being on the verge of completely running out of water as a result of the long drought. And Shelly Slater offered a heart-tugging followup on 17-year-old Jason Gomez, who drew up a "Bucket List" after learning he has fatal bone cancer that will soon end his life. Several of Gomez's items since have been crossed off, including meeting Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo, attending an FC Dallas soccer practice and treating his mother and sister to a day at the spa.

"Every time we've asked Texans to respond, it's just amazing how people can do some wonderful things for people," said co-anchor John McCaa. This wasn't at all a gooey story; it was a feel-good one.

WFAA8's Craig Civale earlier had an interview with the new attorney for McKinney chiropractor David Allen Russell, whose alleged aggravated sexual assault of two teenage patients has received heavy play during these seven days of local newscast monitoring.

CBS11 reporter Jay Gormley talked to the attorney, Todd Shapiro, on Monday night. But Civale got more out of him, including an admission that his client used poor judgment in examining the two girls for groin injuries without another person in the room.

Still, Russell's "hands were placed in those areas solely for medical diagnosis and medical reasons," Shapiro emphasized. And he did not in any way "commit aggravated sexual assault on a child," said Shapiro, contending that the 13-year-old girl who allegedly was molested continued to receive treatments from Russell for several months afterward.

Russell's picture has been shown repeatedly on local newscasts and his clinic is now closed after police raided it in search of more evidence. "It's crushing. It's life-alerting," Shapiro said of the media scrutiny.

Among D-FW's four major TV news providers, only Fox4 has covered the story without interviewing anyone connected with the case on-camera. That includes Russell's accusers as well as his legal representatives. In one of its reports, the station blundered badly by making no mention at all of Russell's denials (which other stations had), or of any attempts to reach him or his attorney for comment.

Fox4's lengthiest story on Tuesday's 9 p.m. edition turned out to be a warmed-over one that WFAA8 first reported a near-eternity ago -- on Monday, Nov. 7th.

It detailed a lawsuit filed by owners of a runaway family dog who was mistakenly euthanized at an animal control facility before he could be picked up. The unique suit is for the "sentimental" rather than the market value of the mixed breed dog, who was named Avery. But the family says it doesn't want any money; it just wants to set a precedent.

Fox4 first ran reporter Brandon Todd's story before co-anchor Heather Hays did a live split-screen interview with one of the dog's owners and the family's attorney. WFAA8's Chris Hawes perhaps should feel flattered by all the time and attention Fox4 gave to a story she broke eight days earlier.

It all further points to a continued malaise afflicting Fox4's most prominent newscast. Strong enterprise stories have been few and far between during this monitoring period, with Hays and co-anchor Steve Eagar remaining vigorous in the face of a severe overall content drought.

For varying reasons, Fox4 has lost a number of prominent nightside reporters in recent years. And it's really starting to show, with a heavier emphasis on national stories and considerably less reporting from the field. On Tuesday night's one-hour edition, just six Fox4 reporters came into play on-camera. But two of them, Shaun Rabb and Fil Alvarado, were basically blips during the station's fast-paced "News Wrap" segment.

WFAA8 also used six reporters -- in just 35 minutes time. And they all had full-length stories, with both Hawes and Slater going considerably longer than the usual 2-minute allotment.

CBS11 didn't make much of an impression either Tuesday night. The station led its 10 p.m. news with Jason Allen's live report on Glenn Beck's decision not to buy an abandoned Southlake church to serve as headquarters for his planned Mercury Radio initiative. It was a better choice than NBC5's rainy night overkill. But it certainly wasn't exclusive information, with NBC5, WFAA8 and CBS11 all handling it in shorter form during the midsections of their newscasts.

CBS11's Jay Gormley also seemed to spend an undue amount of time on a report from two conservative think tanks that found public school teachers to be overpaid. He in turn found a former DISD teacher who branded the report ridiculous. Not exactly a bulletin.

The station also furnished a li'l blooper when co-anchor Karen Borta urged viewers to stay tuned for "the four tips to help you make sense of holiday deals."

Co-anchor Doug Dunbar didn't blink, even though he already had dispensed that information just a few minutes earlier.

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


CBS11 anchor Doug Dunbar touts his revelatory Emmitt Smith story. Photo: Ed Bark
God probably doesn't particularly care who wins the November ratings "sweeps" in this or any other TV market.

The sweeps do tend to work in mysterious ways, though. On Monday's 10 p.m. edition on CBS11, co-anchor Doug Dunbar touted "a powerful and a passionate side of Emmitt Smith that you probably don't know about. But you will -- in just minutes."

Verily, the former Dallas Cowboy and pro football's all-time leading rusher says he's been a man of strong religious faith ever since attending a conference by televangelist T.J. Jakes during the mid-1990s prime of his NFL career.

Smith, in the company of his wife of 11 years, Pat Smith, talked "exclusively" to Dunbar about finding his spiritual side after the station promoted the interview to the high heavens.

"If you're not settled spiritually, things can be a little more chaotic than normal," Emmitt said.

All well and good. But the link between Smith and Jakes, a multi-millionaire through the grace of his jam-packed sermons and seminars, isn't exactly a closely kept secret. The Washington Post wrote in 2001 about Jakes' associations with Smith and former Cowboys teammate Deion Sanders.

Smith and Jakes have appeared in public many times over the years, including as far back as the preacher's 1997 "photo op" baptism of Smith, Sanders and two other Cowboys teammates. And in early September of this year, Smith kicked off a local and national tour on behalf of his new book Game On, which Jakes heartily endorsed as an opportunity for readers to learn "just what it takes to be a champion in every aspect of life, including the all-important areas of faith and family."

So no, Dunbar didn't exactly have a scoop in hand here. He did, however, have some promotable "sweeps" merchandise on a station that's still locked in a pretty tight battle with WFAA8 for the 10 p.m. ratings win in total viewers.

In fact, the almighty Book of Nielsen even has a passage on this. It reads: "Blessed are they who suck viewers in by any means necessary. For they shall inherit the right to proclaim, 'We're No. 1.' "

OK, not really, But it's still more than enough to make any news director fall on his or her knees.

Over at WFAA8, viewers were taken on what co-anchor Gloria Campos billed as a "rare behind-the-scenes tour" of the new Dancing with the Stars set. Rare? Well done, Gloria, but likewise a li'l "sweeps" fib.

Daybreak's Ron "Taking Over the Morning" Corning journeyed to L.A. to take the tour a week after colleague Shelly Slater went West for a report on the DWTS diet. The show is an important part of ABC's and affiliate WFAA8's prime-time schedule. But are viewers really supposed to lap this stuff up?

Both WFAA8 and CBS11 had "new information" on allegations that McKinney chiropractor David Allen Russell had sexually molested two teenage students from the next door Taylor Dance Studio while he examined them for groin injuries at his clinic.

WFAA8 reporter Craig Civale interviewed three former dance studio workers on camera. One of them, Carla Mullendore, first talked last Wednesday to NBC5's Ellen Goldberg. But at that time she didn't want her face shown to viewers. All three contend that Russell had an undue "influence" over the studio because of his long-term romantic relationship with owner Susan Taylor. She in turn has charged them with harboring a "personal vendetta."

On CBS11, reporter Jay Gormley also interviewed Mullendore, plus Russell's newly hired attorney, Todd Shapiro. NBC5 had an interview last week with the defendant's initial attorney, Raf De La Garza. Russell has unequivocally denied all charges through both attorneys.

NBC5's Goldberg led that station's Monday late nighter with an interesting story on a possible theft ring operating at DFW International Airport. Among the recently stolen items are IPads. Various passengers readily agreed they'd be upset if this happened to them. News flash from the "Well, Duh" department: sound bites such as these really aren't needed to flesh out a story.

The Peacock also followed up on a previous Goldberg story that rival stations somehow have missed or deemed inconsequential. Reporter Scott Gordon journeyed to Eastland for more info. on the Siebert Elementary School second grader who was bitten multiple times by a rattlesnake when he reached into a supply cabinet inside the school.

The rattler since has been found, as Gordon showed on camera. But classes have been moved to a nearby church until after Thanksgiving so that officials can make sure the school is safe. The kid is fine at this point but initially had to be airlifted to Fort Worth's Cook Children's Medical Center for emergency treatment. So it wasn't just a trifling matter.

NBC5 co-anchor Meredith Land later proved to be the most vexed about a continuing NBA owners/players stalemate that now seriously threatens the entire season.

"It's like taking away Christmas," she lamented.

We've saved Fox4 for last because, well, there just isn't much to report. The station's featured one-hour 9 p.m. newscast again had little pop and even less enterprise, which is puzzling.

Monday's highlight -- just like the previous Monday -- was Saul Garza's weekly "What's Buggin' You?" segment. This time he helped an aggrieved consumer in her battle with Verizon Fios. Its wiring system literally ran across a roadway as part of a serpentine path to a connector box. Garza had the pictures to prove it, and Verizon quickly arrived to bury and re-route the wiring after the woman had strived to have it done since June of last year.

Fox4's Shaun Rabb had a worthy piece on a new Dallas County report that said 30 percent of the area's children live in poverty. But one got the impression that the station devoted time to this only because its anchor dean, Clarice Tinsley, moderated a panel on the report's findings. And of course she was shown on camera doing so.

Longtime D-FW sports commentator/radio host Mike Fisher earlier kept a discussion of the NBA lockout lively during his in-studio bat-around with Fox4's Steve Eagar and Max Morgan.

Otherwise that's all she wrote regarding a station whose principal anchors, Eager and Heather Hays, still gamely strive to sell a news show whose overall content lately has gone limp. Story-wise, there's just not a whole lot to excite the senses -- and that didn't used to be the case.

Local Nielsen ratings snapshot (Mon., Nov. 14) -- uplifting trumps sordid

ABC's long-promoted sit-down with inspirational congresswoman Garbrielle Giffords crushed NBC's competing and hastily arranged exclusive with accused child molester and former Penn State assistant coach Jerry Sandusky.

In fact, just about everything did, even though neither "big get" interview managed to outdraw CBS' Hawaii Five-0 in Monday's 9 p.m. hour.

Bob Costas' late-breaking phone interview with Sandusky, who denied all, drew just 60,967 D-FW viewers under the Rock Center with Brian Williams banner. Diane Sawyer's interview with the still recovering Giffords and her husband, Mark Kelly, had 325,157 viewers in running a bit behind Hawaii Five-0 (345,479 viewers). The 9 to 10 p.m. portion of ESPN's Monday Night Football, in which the Packers routed the Vikings, pulled in 304,835 viewers.

But MNF topped the 9 p.m. hour among advertiser-favored 18-to-49-year-olds, with Hawaii Five-0 and ABC's Giffords interview running second and third.

Earlier in prime-time, ABC drew a big crowd for its Dancing with the Stars performance show, which won from 7 to 9 p.m. in total viewers with 386,124. CBS crowed with 18-to-49-year-olds, though. Among the five major broadcast networks, its sitcom lineup of How I Met Your Mother, 2 Broke Girls, Two and a Half Men and Mike & Molly topped all four half-hours in the 18-to-49 demographic.

In Monday's local news derby results, CBS11 nipped WFAA8 at 10 p.m. in total viewers, with WFAA8 turning the tables by a slight margin among 25-to-54-year-olds, the main advertiser target audience for news programming.

NBC5 took the 6 a.m. competition in total viewers and tied Fox4 for first with 25-to-54-year-olds. WFAA8 tied Fox4 for second in total viewers and was a close third in the 25-to-54 age range.

Fox4 otherwise had the first place spoils to itself, winning at 5 and 6 p.m. in both ratings measurements.

This just in: A night in the lives of D-FW's late night newcasts (Fri., Nov. 11)


WFAA8's Byron Harris stacks up some evidence. Photo: Ed Bark

Still frisky after all these years, WFAA8 investigator Byron Harris began the week on the receiving end of a hard shove and ended it in safer surroundings behind two disparate piles of paperwork.

The guy's a marvel. And while some of his probes fall a little short, he stood out on a relatively quiet Veterans Day night.

Harris' lengthy story, positioned in the mid-section of his station's Friday 10 p.m. newscast, targeted some questionable practices by the mammoth Affiliated Computer Systems (ACS), which he termed "a virtual assembly line of claims processing."

He began with "angry parent" Ellis Beam, who's not happy about paying thousands of dollars for his son's braces while other kids with crooked teeth are getting taxpayer-paid rides via Medicaid payments authorized by ACS.

A former ACS employee, shown only in silhouette, said that the company's "activity-based compensation" program emphasizes quantity over quality in claims processing.

"The more work it can squeeze out of its employees, the more profits the company makes," said the ex-employee. So the impetus allegedly is to rush Medicaid claims through whether or not they're justified. Or as Harris' source put it, "Get it in, get it out the door so I can get paid."

The above picture illustrates the bigger piles of paper-pushing now required to earn $200. ACS does not allow any of its employees to do on-camera interviews, Harris said. The company instead issued a generic 48-word printed response in its defense, which in fairness is 48 more words than WFAA8 management will offer in regard to just about any questions related to its personnel.

That's not Harris' problem, though. He keeps on digging and delving, whether the subjects of his stories literally push back or simply stiff him. Station management commendably still makes room for his efforts, with Harris devising visual aids when necessary to help bring his stories home.

CBS11's Jay Gormley had more built-in pictures at his disposal during a story on soon-to-be completed street and sidewalk construction in the Lowest Greenville business district. Merchants for the most part welcome the improvements. But the readily visible mess has been slowing customer traffic to a crawl, they say. A bar owner told Gormley that monthly revenues have decreased from $90,000 to $20,000, making it next to impossible to make ends meet during the ongoing renovations. It was an interesting piece.

Reporter Tracy Kornet followed with what had been a heavily promoted "Manopause" story that focused on a beefy young guy whose energy and sex drive had gone south while he also found himself weeping while watching Seabiscuit. Not only that, his man-breasts were hurting on occasion.

It turned out that the poor guy's testosterone level was way too low -- a malady that turned out to be easily treated, Kornet said.

"As for the romance, it's back," she added as the man and his wife dutifully kissed on camera. Her story was fine. Still, imagine the subsequent banter on WFAA8 had weatherman Pete Delkus and sports anchor Dale Hansen been presented with comedy gold of this magnitude. But puckish CBS11 co-anchor Doug Dunbar rebuffed any impulse to riff while desk mate Karen Borta gave him a look, a laugh and a signal to move on.

NBC5 led its 10 p.m. edition with Ellen Goldberg's report on a little boy recovering from multiple rattlesnake bites he received at his school, Seibert Elementary in Eastland. The eight-year-old had to be airlifted to Fort Worth's Cook Children's Medical Center after he reached into a supply cabinet at his school and found a rattler lurking within. Maybe this isn't a lead story, but it's definitely a talker. And NBC5 was the only station that had it on Friday's late edition.

The station also had the best told Veterans Day tie-in, with new reporter Ben Russell spotlighting Pearl Harbor survivor James R. Kanaman, who was grand marshal in the annual city of Dallas parade. He's now 92, and nearly 70 years removed from the attack.

Fox4 halved its usual one-hour 9 p.m. newscast to make room for a 9:30 p.m. salute to veterans. None of its pre-special stories were anything out of the ordinary, with most of them also reported on one or more rival stations Friday night.

Local Nielsen ratings snapshot (Fri.-Sun., Nov. 11-13) -- another million seller for Cowboys' first appearance on CBS

The Dallas Cowboys' dismantling of the Buffalo Bills marked this season's first game on CBS, with A-team announcers Jim Nantz and Phil Simms hard-pressed to keep viewers interested in Sunday's 44-7 rout.

Ending earlier than most "early" games -- at 2:54 p.m. -- Cowboys-Bills averaged 1,151,597 D-FW viewers with a peak crowd of 1,307,401 between 2:15 and 2:30 p.m. Those numbers were slightly higher than the previous Sunday's noon-starting 23-13 win over Seattle, which had 1,131,275 viewers overall with a high of 1,273,531 on Fox.

In Sunday's other pigskin proceedings, Fox's mid-afternoon game between the 49ers and Giants averaged 609,669 viewers while NBC's Sunday Night Football matchup between the Patriots and Jets dominated prime-time with 480,961 viewers.

ABC's new Once Upon a Time held steady Sunday night, finishing second to football in the 7 p.m. hour (243,868 viewers) and ranking as its network's most-watched program.

Saturday's biggest crowd -- 237,094 strong -- watched Oregon rout previously unbeaten Stanford on ABC's featured prime-time game. NBC's competing Notre Dame-Maryland matchup barely registered with just 20,322 viewers while Fox's 8 to 9 p.m. Ultimate Fighting Championship bout -- its first ever in prime-time -- drew 196,449 viewers in beating everything but ABC's football.

TCU's stirring comeback win at Boise State had 67,741 viewers on Versus Saturday afternoon.

In Friday's local news derby results, CBS11 topped the 10 p.m. competition in total viewers while WFAA8 ran first with 25-to-54-year-olds, the main advertiser target audience for news programming.

Fox4 ran the table at 6 a.m. while also taking the top spots at 5 and 6 p.m. in the 25-to-54 demographic.

CBS11 notched a win at 5 p.m. in total viewers and tied Fox4 for first in that measurement at 6 p.m. (Fox4 had a 1.95 rating to CBS11's 1.94, which technically would give Fox4 the win if their respective numbers typically were "rounded" up to 2.0 and down to 1.9. But that's hardly fair in this case, so we're calling it a draw.)

This just in: A night in the lives of D-FW's late night newscasts (Thurs., Nov. 10)


Reporter Ellen Goldberg has helped NBC5 stay ahead of the pack. Photo: Ed Bark

For three nights running, D-FW's four major TV news providers have been swarming around the offices of Dr. David Allen Russell, the McKinney chiropractor charged with sexually molesting two teenage girls while examining them.

But just one station is ahead of the pack. That would be NBC5, whose reporters have landed two exclusive interviews while Fox4, WFAA8 and CBS11 have basically been bystanders.

Ellen Goldberg has been NBC5's point person during the station's 10 p.m. newscasts while colleague Randy McIlwain works the the dayside.

As previously posted, Goldberg had the only interview Wednesday night with a teacher at the next door Taylor Dance Studio. She notified police after one of her students claimed that Russell had improperly touched her during an examination for a groin injury.

On Thursday's late night newscasts, all four stations reported on a police raid of Russell's now vacated clinic. They supposedly were in search of evidence that might link him to other instances of sexual abuse. Only NBC5, however, landed an on-camera interview with the accused doctor's attorney, Raf De La Garza.

Goldberg fronted this exclusive during her live late shift standup outside Russell's offices. But it was McIlwain who got the interview earlier Thursday. "Handing off" to another reporter during shift changes is a common practice at all four stations. In high-profile instances like this, though, it would be a good idea to mention a colleague's contribution. An anchor easily could do that after the story had ended.

De La Garza took things in a decidedly different direction, contending that a 16-year-old patient who claimed she had been molested "does not have a reputation for being truthful" while a 13-year-old accuser may have been confused because Russell's treatment was near her genitals.

All of Russell's treatments were "totally professional," he emphasized. "The door to the exam room is left open. Parents are welcome to come in and sit down. There are staff (coming) in and out asking questions about every patient. It's just impossible that these acts that are alleged could have ever happened. Impossible."

Authorities and possibly a court of law will determine who's telling the truth. But this is a ratings "sweeps" period and the allegations against Russell at times almost seem like a local companion piece to the ongoing child molestation scandal at Penn State University.

In this particular feeding frenzy, only NBC5 has broken through to the other side, giving viewers a chance to hear De La Garza's defense of a client whose life might now be ruined whether he's guilty or innocent.

WFAA8 at least made phone contact with Russell and from the start has informed viewers of his unequivocal denial of the charges via on-screen printed statements. CBS11's Tuesday and Wednesday night reports said that knocks on Russell's private residence door weren't answered.

On Thursday night, CBS11 reporter Bud Gillett said he had contacted Russell by phone, but was referred to his attorney, who "would have a lot to say." But that's as far as it went that night.

Fox4's handling of the story was particularly atrocious on Wednesday night, when reporter James Rose made no mention at all of Russell's denials -- or even of any attempt to reach him. Rose had ample opportunity, both in his story and during a subsequent live Q&A with co-anchor Heather Hays.

On Thursday night, Fox4 reporter Natalie Solis took over for Rose, telling viewers that Russell's attorney "did not return our calls" after the accused referred her to him. Given the previous night's judge/jury/executioner approach, why would he?

***On the plus side, Fox4 led Thursday night's 9 p.m. news with veteran investigator Becky Oliver's compelling story about justice delayed -- if rendered at all.

Stifling her oft-deployed on-camera histrionics, Oliver spotlighted two women who had despaired of ever having their days in court.

Stephanie Cook's husband died in a December 2008 car wreck, with a 19-year-old charged with intoxication manslaughter. For various and vexing reasons, it still hasn't come to trial. But a court date is is finally scheduled for January of next year -- for now at least.

"It's been hell," Cook said of the loss of her husband and the nearly three-year wait for some sort of closure. "We had plans. We had a future. And all of that's gone."

Darlene Roberts' frustrations date to 2007, when a would-be burglar broke into her home and tried to choke her. He's been free for the past four years after first pleading guilty and then changing his mind. Roberts said she lives with a gun near her side and all doors and windows locked whenever she's at home. She reluctantly agreed to a probation deal for the defendant in order to put the matter behind her as best she can.

Simply put, their stories hit home. And the oft-brawling Oliver told them well, and without calling attention to herself.

CBS11 started off with Jason Allen's look at what seems to be lavish spending on new Tarrant County "sub-courthouses" after co-anchor Doug Dunbar first promised fireworks from one of the story's targets.

Tarrant County Commissioner J.D. Johnson proved to be cantankerous, at one point telling Allen that "I'm not pleased with this interview." But he didn't throw anything at the relative kid investigator -- or throw him out of his office for that matter. That seems to happen only to WFAA8 gumshoes.

Allen made some good points along the way, noting that Dallas County officials had renovated an old grocery store into a sub-courthouse at a fraction of the money being spent by Tarrant County commissioners in times when local government finances remain pinched. Spending is approved by commissioners without any voter referendums, which is "wrong with a Capital W" in the view of former Tarrant County commissioner Bob Hampton.

Johnson was the only current Tarrant County commissioner who agreed to do an on-camera interview, Allen noted in fairness. He turned out to be "good television" to a point, although an attempted roundhouse right to Allen's jaw would have made it all the better. Some reporters have all the luck.

One of them is longtime WFAA8 digger Brett Shipp, who in recent times has dodged an ice bag and been pushed by Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price.

But he was never in harm's way on Thursday's 10 p.m. edition. Shipp looked into the city of Dallas's decision to transport all of its commercial trash to a landfill in South Dallas despite objections by some of its residents. The decision was made after a startup California company named Organic Energy Corporation said that its proposed state-of-the-art recycling plant could result in the re-use of 90 percent of the waste and $50 million in annual net revenue to the city.

But by the end of Shipp's report, it all seemed like a carefully concocted fantasy, with OEC yet to build any kind of recycling plant even though its website says it has a brand new one in Dallas -- which it doesn't.

It made for a pretty complicated story told with reasonable clarity and with Shipp's usual gusto. But whether it really resonated with viewers is another matter.

NBC5's other big-ticket story Thursday night was Part 4 of its "5 Nights That Could Save Your Life" series. They've actually gotten better and better throughout the week, with co-anchor Brian Curtis at the helm this time.

He showed how to use AED defibrillators -- which are present in many workplaces and entertainment venues -- to shock the heart of someone who has gone into cardiac arrest.

After the taped part of his piece, Curtis brought one of them to the anchor desk and dispensed some additional nuggets of information.

"Gosh. Wow. OK, we've learned so much this week, haven't we," anchor Meredith Land enthused.

Easy now. But a "sweeps" series that at first blush seemed laughable has turned out to be not so bad after all.

Daybreak gets "More Ron!" (ic?)

No. 1, they seem to be working, because WFAA8's Daybreak lately is coming on pretty fast in the early morning Nielsen ratings.

No. 2, I don't think they've quite jumped the shark yet, although the Dallas-based station might be tempting fate with a new "More Ron!" spot. It's the latest comedy caper in a concerted campaign for dawn patrol leading man Ron Corning.

The earlier "Taking Over the Morning" promos co-starred sports anchor Dale Hansen as Corning's wizened Yoda. Now the "kid" is taking matters into his own hands, brandishing a "More Ron!" t shirt in the company of his Daybreak co-anchor, Cynthia "Izzy" Izaguirre.

"More Ron. Yeah, that has a nice ring to it," she says with a nicely turned deadpan delivery from their Daybreak anchor desk.

"It's perfect!" Corning crows.

"Yeah, it's perfect all right," Izaguirre agrees.

WFAA8 arguably is walking a high wire here. Do you really want one of your key anchors to in effect be perceived as a borderline moron? But the spot also gives Izaguirre a chance to re-shine after taking a back seat to the newcomer since his campaign began earlier this fall. And WFAA8 management is now fully on board with the notion that a little song, a little dance, a little seltzer in your pants is the way to go in the early mornings.

It's definitely given rival stations something to think about. WFAA8 is closing in on second-place NBC5 and no longer runs all that far behind reigning champ Fox4 in the 6 to 7 a.m. ratings. Meanwhile, CBS11's waker upper continues to take a dirt nap, shackled by a following CBS network morning show that virtually no one watches either locally or nationally.

Should Daybreak break through and overtake Fox4 some day, this will be seen as the ad campaign that started it all. Not that Fox4 and NBC5 will sit idly by and do nothing new in response. That is, unless they're morons.

Here's the latest Daybreak mini-comedy:

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


"Lemme see now, that's C-A- and, uh, uh . . . oops." Photos: Ed Bark

Texas Gov. Rick Perry's debate malfunction hit the late night newscasts running Wednesday, with WFAA8 leading with it while Fox4, NBC5 and CBS11 all gave his gaffe nice showcases.

"Some are calling it political suicide," said WFAA8 co-anchor Gloria Campos after the station bull-rushed away from ABC's highly watched Country Music Association Awards and fired up two minutes before the appointed 10 p.m. hour.

She then tossed to political reporter Brad Watson, who said matter-of-factly, "Gov. Perry, who's admitted he's not a good debater, certainly confirmed that. Will this gaffe, though (unintelligible), cripple his already faltering campaign?"

The Republican presidential candidate's customized Stupid Human Trick came a few hours earlier during a CNBC debate in which he said that three federal agencies would be abolished under his administration. He ticked off the first two -- Commerce and Education -- before three times being unable to come up with the third.

More than 10 minutes later, when it was his turn again, Perry finally remembered that the U.S. Department of Energy would be his third target. Post-debate, as Watson noted, the guv told reporters he was "glad I had my boots on because I sure stepped in it."

Fox4 and CBS11 both deployed academics to opine that Perry has further damaged his chances to be the GOP nominee. Although you can never really be sure of anything in this wacky buildup to next year's presidential primaries. The next thing you know, Perry will be on Thursday's Late Show with David Letterman reading a Top 10 List. And in fact, he will be.

"I think it's a knockout blow," SMU political science professor Matthew Wilson told Fox4 reporter Natalie Solis during an in-studio interview segment.

On CBS11, longtime political analyst John Weekley sat down with reporter Jack Fink. Perry was "probably a little too relaxed this time," in Weekley's view. "He can't seem to get it just exactly right" during his continually panned debate appearances.

NBC5's Omar Villafranca went comparatively easy on Perry, saying that the governor "froze up onstage . . . We'll have to see how bad this hurts his campaign with voters."

All four stations also took another crack at the McKinney chiropractor accused of child sexual assault of at least two patients and possibly more.

NBC5 touted reporter Ellen Goldberg's exclusive interview with a teacher at the next-door Taylor Dance studio. She contacted the police, Carla Mullendore said, after one of her students said that Dr. David Allen Russell had improperly touched her during an examination for a groin injury.

The teacher allowed NBC5 to use her name, but didn't want her face shown on camera because "she says she's been the target of backlash," Goldberg said.

As with her Tuesday night report, Goldberg contacted Russell by telephone and reported his unequivocal denial of all charges. WFAA8's Craig Civale did likewise while CBS11 co-anchor Karen Borta said the station again had knocked on Russell's door at his private residence but received no response.

That's a bit of a cop-out, but much better than Fox4's treatment on its featured 9 p.m. edition. Reporter James Rose, who led the newscast, made no mention of Russell's denials -- or of any effort to contact him -- during Wednesday's story and in a followup live Q&A with co-anchor Heather Hays. That's inexcusable, which Rose knows. As should the station's off-camera editors and producers. But everyone let it slide in this case.

WFAA8 had Wednesday's two best stories -- both of them enterprise efforts.

Chris Hawes reported on an autistic Arlington teenage girl who remains resilient and upbeat after contracting an exceedingly rare infection, termed by some as "swamp cancer." She lost her left leg after seven operations failed to cure her.

Later in the newscast, Monika Diaz reported from Austin on a private elementary school that bans classroom computers and TVs through the sixth grade. The old-school idea is to "prepare students for technology" by initially removing such barriers. A senior heading off to Princeton put it well. "You learn to interact with each other first," he said. "And then you learn to interact through media."

WFAA8's invariably resourceful David Schechter also had an interesting piece on a one-vote election in North Texas' Castle Hills "golf community." Developers were gifted with a tax-free $18 million bond windfall voted in by an assistant golf pro who took up residence in a golf course clubhouse to qualify as the only eligible voter. A disapproving judge told Schechter that people who buy new houses in the community eventually are hit with substantially higher property taxes that go toward paying off the bonds.

(The Margulies Communications Group, headed by former WFAA8 reporter David Margulies, sent an email Friday that termed Schechter's story "inaccurate and misleading." He said the station "made no attempt to contact Castle Hills owner or management before they ran the story."

Developers are "responsible for paying taxes to retire the bonds until the lots are developed and sold," Margulies said on behalf of Castle Hills. "This is the same financial mechanism that has been successfully utilized to turn a 2,500 acre farm into the Castle Hills community, which now has 2,600 homes and a tax base approaching $1.3 billion.")

Meanwhile, WFAA8 retains an odd if not bizarre interest in diet stories, though, even while in the midst of a weight discrimination suit filed by reporter/weekend anchor Debbie Denmon who still works for WFAA8. She contends that her plus-sized figure has been held against her by station management when it come to any promotion to a more visible anchor slot. Management has ignored all requests for comment.

On Monday night WFAA8 had a lengthy Dancing with the Stars diet story for which reporter Shelly Slater was sent to Los Angeles. Wednesday's edition included a "Weight Loss Breakthrough" reader by co-anchor John McCaa, who said that pounds now can be shed via a mere injection. So far this week, no other station has trotted out even one diet story on its late night newscasts.

NBC5's Kimberly King coughs in a smoke-choked building during Part 3 of the station's "5 Nights That Could Save Your Life" series.

NBC5 kept rolling with its ratings "sweeps" feature, "5 Nights That Could Save Your Life." Wednesday's point person was new consumer/investigative reporter Kimberly King, who tested the response differences between ionization and photoelectric smoke alarms with help from the Glen Rose fire department.

Utilizing a rural "burn house," firefighters set an old couch on fire after mounting alarms of each variety. During two testings, the photoelectric devices went off first. In one case, there was an almost 10-minute lapse time before a second ionization alarm went off. King stood inside the building, telling viewers that "it's getting very smoky in here" between coughs.

Conclusion: Photoelectric technology is better, according to an expert. "I had no idea," co-anchor Brian Curtis said. Overall the report had some interesting and possibly valuable information.

Over on CBS11, reporter Jay Gormley had a decent story on the Dallas Symphony Orchestra's financial woes. Musicians are accept another pay freeze and the orchestra will be doing more concerts outside the city in an effort to build a bigger fan base, Gormley said.

The station also seems to be getting slap-happier with its featured anchors, perhaps copy-catting the almost nightly comedy stylings of WFAA8 weatherman Pete Delkus, sports anchor Dale Hansen and company.

On Wednesday's edition, all four of CBS11's personalities got together to chortle over a Rains County Leader crossword puzzle that included the clue, "Babe Laufenberg is this for Cowboys games (2 wds.)."

"Underpaid?" cracked Laufenberg, who does the radio commentary in tandem with Brad Sham's play-by-play. Anchor Borta, as she had on Tuesday night, unleashed another booming Campo-esque laugh.

Laufenberg also seems to be trying his hand at what the "Unplugged" Hansen's been doing for years. Namely, commentaries. He decried the Penn State/Joe Paterno mess Wednesday night, with a "Commentary" slug at the bottom of home screens and his "Babe Laufenberg" signature behind him.

He's definitely no Hansen -- not yet anyway.

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


CBS11 made time for this on Tuesday's 10 p.m. news. Photos: Ed Bark

Care to come away with the throbbing headache you'd have after experiencing the above? Try watching all four of Tuesday's late night D-FW newscasts in their entirety.

Their same-old, same-old nature -- and lack of even one truly standout story -- is pretty depressing as well.

This was a night when Fox4, NBC5 and CBS11 all topped their late-nighters with news of a McKinney chiropractor being charged with sexually assaulting some of his child patients. And WFAA8 hardly downplayed the story, slotting it fourth within the first six minutes of its newscast.

Fox4's 9 p.m. man on the scene, reporter James Rose, said that calls to Dr. David Allen Russell's office "were not returned." CBS11's Jack Fink told viewers that "we went by Russell's house (which was shown on camera), but no one answered the door." The station included a loud door knock for emphasis.

NBC5's Ellen Goldberg did manage to reach the accused on the phone, during which he said (via print in a station graphic) that all of the allegations were "completely false and baseless." And on WFAA8, reporter Monika Diaz said that Russell likewise denied all charges after the station reached him.

All four stations used sound bites from the same McKinney woman, Maggie Kennedy, whose children have been treated by Dr. Russell. She stood by him and said that her kids always felt safe in his care, whether at the clinic or during the stretching exercises he taught at a next-door dance studio.

Coincidentally or not, Fox4, NBC5, WFAA8 and CBS11 also reported on Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain's same-day news conference, in which he again unequivocally denied mounting charges that he had sexually harassed or assaulted any women. The McKinney chiropractor story played right into that "theme" on a day that Penn State coach Joe Paterno also was reported to be on his way out after one of his former assistant coaches had been arrested on charges of sexually molesting young boys.

Not that this is a fool-proof barometer. But the night's overall top story on local TV stations was an easily missed "Regional Roundup" brief on page 2 of The Dallas Morning News' Wednesday Metro section.

All four stations also had stories on the city's warning that it will evict "Occupy Dallas" protestors camped behind City Hall unless they stop violating previously agreed-upon guidelines. Fox4, NBC5, WFAA8 and CBS11 likewise all found room to report on Wednesday's 30-second national Emergency Alert System test, which at 1 p.m. (Dallas time) would be disrupting programming on each and every TV station in this great land of ours.

With more time to fill on its hour-long newscast, Fox4 got a bit carried away.

"So do officials think that people might freak out, we may have a 'War of the Worlds' situation?" co-anchor Steve Eagar asked reporter Shaun Rabb. Yes, some viewers might indeed call 911, Rabb said during his extended assertion that all is well.

Fox4 likewise went kind of cuckoo over video of an SUV flipping over a number of times after its driver got too close to tornado activity in Tipton, Oklahoma. The station showed the footage not once, not twice, but five times.

"Oh my God," said Eagar.

"I know," said deskmate Heather Hays.

Weathercaster Dan Henry then chimed in, telling the anchors that "I'm all for getting close for the purpose of science, but I think some of these guys are taking thrill-seeking just a little bit too much." He probably meant to say "too far." But Fox4 flogged the video anyway -- over and over and over and over and over.

Fox4's Brandon Todd, one of the station's best street reporters, earlier tried hard with a story on an asteroid the size of an aircraft carrier that came closer to the Earth than the moon is. That's still not very close at all. But astronomy buff Don Garland kinda sorta played along by telling Todd, "I would pretty much call this almost a near miss." How's that for being emphatic?

CBS11's Jason Allen was Tuesday's head chair-leader.

WFAA8 and CBS11 both reported on plans to build a giant-sized Nebraska Furniture Mart on undeveloped land in The Colony.

On WFAA8, Steve Stoler appeared au naturel without props. But on CBS11, relative newcomer Jason Allen (he joined the station last spring from an Orlando, FL station) went a little nutty by showcasing an office swivel chair outdoors after attending a meeting of The Colony's city officials.

The merchandise at Nebraska Furniture Mart, scheduled to open in 2015, will be "a lot nicer than this, of course," Allen said. You just can't make this stuff up.

CBS11 later wasted viewers' time with Lisa Pineiro's dispatch on how to pay less for beauty products. Her expert, Dr. Lynley McAnalley, "helps some of the most beautiful women in Dallas keep their youthful glow," Pineiro trilled. Botox injections also help, the good doctor advised.

Charitably put, Pineiro (also CBS11's early morning co-anchor) looks as though she's risking an onslaught of artificially puffed Lisa Rinna lips, which now embarrass the actress/host. Maybe it was just the camera angle or lighting, but let's be careful out there.

The station also chose to fill a little time with a collection of over-the-top "Best Sick Day Excuses" from CareerBuilder.com. Co-anchor Karen Borta howled at one of them, equally the occasional sonic laughs of WFAA8 counterpart Gloria Campos. But isn't there a better way to run a newscast?

Meanwhile, NBC5 presented part two of its "5 Nights That Could Save Your Life" series. Reporter Scott Gordon, during a treatise on how to avoid drowning in your car, dutifully drove a vehicle live to within inches of the Lake Arlington shore line.

Wednesday night will feature consumer/investigative reporter Kimberly King in a burning building, the station says. Former anchor Mike Snyder did that once in one of the most ridiculously riotous segments ever to appear on a D-FW newscast. Still awaiting its arrival on youtube. Say a little prayer.

WFAA8 led its Tuesday 10 p.m. edition with reporter Rebecca Lopez's "exclusive" followup on Dallas police officers who pulled a suspected thief out of his burning car after he crashed it into a home that also went up in flames. All four stations had video from the scene Monday, but Lopez added police dash cam footage for her Tuesday report.

"The officers shy away from being called hee-roes," Lopez said. "They say it's just part of the job."

Not to discount their actions, but when will reporters and anchors stop saying "hee-roes?" It's pronounced "here-oes," although you'd never know it from watching a D-FW newscast.

WFAA8 ended Tuesday's newscast with anchor Campos' note that Nancy Grace is the latest to be booted off ABC's Dancing with the Stars. She said this with a smile, but co-anchor John McCaa then almost grimaced while signing off.

Perhaps he still had indigestion from the station's lengthy Monday night dispatch on the DWTS diet, reported by Shelly Slater from L.A. It would be hard to fault him for that.

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


Push came to shove again on WFAA8, with veteran investigator Byron Harris on the receiving end this time. Photos: Ed Bark

It's the heart of the November "sweeps" ratings period, with D-FW's four major local TV news providers again striving to make at least a little more noise than usual.

So for a limited time -- the next two weeks if the brain pan doesn't drip too much -- your friendly content provider will re-immerse himself in the 10 p.m. editions on NBC5, WFAA8 and CBS11, and the featured 9 p.m. presentation on Fox4.

This means recording and watching all four of 'em in an effort to see who's doing what -- and how well they're doing it. You can't fairly judge the content and quality of local TV news without plunging in head-first at regular intervals. So here we go again.

All four stations led off Monday's late nighters with the obligatory severe weather alarms and forecasts of a rainy North Texas Tuesday followed by a cooldown. WFAA8 forecaster Pete Delkus again was the only one who couldn't resist taking his jacket off, but had it back on for his regular mid-newscast segment.

For the record, Delkus uses "Doppler Net" to aid and abet his forecasts. NBC5's David Finfrock leans on "Nexrad Radar" and "Microcast" maps while CBS11's Larry Mowry flaunts his "FutureSky Forecast." Fox4's Dan Henry generally doesn't display names for his weather tech toys, instead opting for a "Storm Outlook" and "Futurecast."

Fox4's overall Monday presentation was pretty generic, too. The station filled an unusual amount of space with national stories while spending scant time on local enterprise efforts.

It didn't take much effort at all, for instance, to land a one-on-one interview with Fox-favoring Republican House Majority Leader Eric Cantor. In town for a speaking engagement, he sat down with reporter Shaun Rabb and spouted dull pro forma generalities for several minutes. Rabb wasn't exactly a bulldog during an interview that had about as much zing as 2% milk.

Colleague Saul Garza as usual put some legwork into his weekly "What's Buggin' You?" segment. His piece spotlighted the aggrieved owner of an elderly, infirm cat. She ran afoul of animal control officials after her beloved pet, named Phoebe, bit her while being prepared for euthanization. The animal police then insisted that Phoebe be "cut and chipped," which requires beheading in the interests of a rabies test.

The owner refused and is now facing a fine and a court date. An animal control spokesman, using classic "damage control" techniques by asking and answering his own questions, told Garza that things might have been handled with more sensitivity. Little human interest stories like these can be the lifeblood of a local newscast. But Monday's listless Fox4 edition otherwise never really answered the bell.

Over on WFAA8, investigative reporter Byron Harris characteristically pressed the issue during what turned out to be a combative piece on seemingly shady "We'll Buy Your House" operations in which sellers in some cases still remain stuck with the mortgage payments.

Harris' dirt-digging colleague, Brett Shipp, in recent times has found himself dodging an ice bag thrown at his head and withstanding a physical altercation outside the offices of embattled Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price. In his report, Harris ran afoul of an unnamed man he branded "an enforcer." Shoved hard on camera while trying to do an interview, Harris segued verbally to his observation that "selling troubled houses can be a contact sport, so painless solutions can be enticing."

That didn't make a whole lot of sense. But Harris' report otherwise seemed to be on solid ground. In another moment suitable for framing, he walked into his prey's office and said that "I'm working on a story about some of the deals you've done."

"Uh-oh," said a guilty-looking desk worker before spilling a few more beans.

WFAA8 reporter Chris Hawes also contributed an interesting piece on a family that's suing Fort Worth Animal Care and Control for mistakenly euthanizing their dog after he escaped from the yard during a thunderstorm.

"As a mixed breed, Avery (the dog) was legally worth next to nothing," Hawes said. But in what could be a breakthrough case, the family is citing the priceless "sentimental value" of Avery while at the same time putting a price tag on it.

WFAA8 then went to ridiculous extremes, let alone played with fire, by sending anchor/reporter Shelly Slater to Los Angeles for a piece on the Dancing with the Stars diet. The show is carried by WFAA8 and currently fills two-thirds of ABC's Monday prime-time schedule.

A company called "Freshology" prepares tasty, low-calorie meals for Dancing's pro hoofers and their celebrity partners. Slater talked to the head chef and to dancer Anna Trebunskaya, who pointed to her trim, firm bod and said, "This is my moneymaker right here. I gotta take care of it." Slater's story also noted that plus-sized contestants Ricki Lake, Nancy Grace and Chaz Bono all have lost substantial weight during their time on the show.

As most readers of this site likely know, WFAA8 anchor/reporter Debbie Denmon has charged the station with discriminating against her on the basis of her weight. That suit is ongoing. So it seems ill-advised, if not completely insane, for WFAA8 to risk reinforcing her claims with a lengthy story of this nature. Could Denmon use Trebunskaya's words to help bolster her contention that WFAA8 wants no part of plus-sized bodies, at least where on-air talent is concerned? Are female news anchors hoping to be promoted also obliged to keep the the pounds off their "moneymakers?"

The station may feel it has a saving grace in Nancy Grace, who contributed what appeared to be a tacked-on ending that didn't at all jibe with the overall thrust of Slater's story.

"Frankly, ladies, I think you should love your bodies like they are," she said before co-anchor Gloria Campos noted that one of her sons is a vegan.

Delkus later joked about beefy sports anchor Dale Hansen's unsuccessful efforts to maintain a vegan diet.

"Actually, I'm a quasi-vegan. My cows are vegans, and then I eat my cows," said Hansen, who basically is being held up as Exhibit A in Denmon's charge that men are treated differently at WFAA8 when it comes to body size.


Action anchor: NBC5's Meredith Land grips a wheel to make a point.

NBC5 went extra-heavy into show-and-tell mode with anchor Meredith Land's kick-off of a week-long sweeps series titled "5 Nights That Could Save Your Life."

Longtime Night Ranger Scott Gordon first primed the pump a bit by dipping his shoe into a little puddle to show viewers that, yes indeed, it had been raining outside. Land then went head-over-heels in her report on how to react when faced with a speeding wrong-way motorist heading directly at you on a freeway.

"NBC5's Meredith Land gets behind the wheel to show you what to do when seconds count," co-anchor Brian Curtis assured viewers before she could be seen driving "live" -- in the rain -- for a few yards in the station's parking lot.

Um, that may not have been entirely necessary. But the gist of her otherwise taped report found Land driving for keeps while being shown how to react in a wrong-way crisis by an expert who also instructs police officers. The gist of it: "Swerve quickly and hit anything but that oncoming car."

Viewers got at least a bit of useful information in tandem with Land trying to get the hang of things. "I was fully focused and still really on edge," she told Curtis back at the anchor desk. He then pumped Tuesday nights segment on how to avoid being claimed by the "biggest weather killer." Perhaps someone will show viewers how to scrunch in a tub?

Later in the newscast, reporter Ellen Goldberg had a nice piece on a 14-year-old boy who collapsed at soccer practice before his life was saved by quick-to-react coaches and the school nurse.

On CBS11, reporter Jay Gormley had an intriguing story on a woman whose disappearance in July 2008 was solved by drought conditions that drastically lowered water levels on a private lake in Van Zandt County. The woman was found in a previously submerged car, her seatbelt still attached. Authorities believe she committed suicide after her son likewise had intentionally drowned himself.

But the station's showcase show-and-tell piece was by investigator Ginger Allen. She reported on how various companies continue to surreptitiously downsize their food products while still charging the same price.

Allen duly brandished a number of grocery items, but this is a somewhat shopworn story by now. Her designated expert in the field, consumer watchdog Edgar Dworsky, has been crusading against this practice for several years, and has regularly appeared on other CBS stations. The story appeared to use previous footage of Dworsky, although Allen did do her own interviews with some local shoppers.

Here's the Dancing with the Stars diet video:

Former D-FW entertainment reporter Christina McLarty continues to mix business with eye-catching L.A. hookups


Former CBS11/TXA21 entertainment reporter Christina McLarty, who left the D-FW market for L.A. in late 2006, is steadily working her way up via a combination of high-profile dating and more visible TV venues.

McLarty lately has been named to co-host CBS' coverage of The Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade. She'll join Kevin Frazier of The Insider for the 8 to 11 a.m. festivities.

McLarty spent four years on glitz patrol at KCBS-TV in Los Angeles before joining Entertainment Tonight and The Insider in February as a full-time correspondent. She's also currently dating recently bounced Dancing with the Stars contestant David Arquette, whose separation from Courteney Cox continues to pop in and out of the pages of tabloids and gossip mags.

Arquette told People magazine last month that his relationship with McLarty is "going well." He first identified McLarty as his girl on Howard Stern's radio show, where Arquette recurringly shows up to bare his soul. "We try to see each other as much as possible," he said.

Before hooking up with Arquette, the adventuresome McLarty was very briefly married to Girls Gone Wild impresario Joe Francis. They were wed in November of last year, but McLarty reportedly moved out after Thanksgiving, making the recent 72-day marriage of Kim Kardashian and Kris Humphries seem like a long-distance runner.

Local Nielsen ratings snapshot (Fri.-Sun., Nov. 4-6) -- Cowboys pace pigskin parade

The Dallas Cowboys' methodical beatdown of the feathered failures from Seattle topped a big football weekend that also included a titanic college face-off and another Baltimore-Pittsburgh grudge match.

Dallas' 23-13 win over the Seahawks Sunday afternoon averaged 1,131,275 D-FW viewers on Fox, with a peak crowd of 1,273,531 for the closing minutes of a game that ended earlier than usual at 2:56 p.m.

Sunday night's Ravens-Steelers war on NBC's Sunday Night Football easily bested all prime-time competition with an overall average of 474,187 viewers. Fox's mid-afternoon Cowboys followup between the New York Giants and Boston Patriots drew more attention with 596,121 viewers. Both games featured last second comeback wins -- respectively by the Ravens and Giants.

ABC's first-year fairy tale series, Once Upon A Time, had a semi-tough time in the 7 p.m. hour. Its 189,675 viewers put it third ahead of Fox's cartoon combo of The Simpsons (162,578 viewers) and Allen Gregory (115,160 viewers). Among advertiser-craved 18-to-49-year-olds, Once Upon A Time beat Allen Gregory and CBS' The Amazing Race while losing to football and The Simpsons.

Saturday's marquee attraction, CBS' prime-time matchup between No. 1 Alabama and No. 2 LSU, matched up favorably with all football attractions except the Cowboys. The elongated game, with LSU winning 9-6 in overtime, averaged 555,476 viewers with a high of 684,184 between 8:30 and 8:45 p.m.

ABC's competing Oklahoma State-Kansas State game had 155,804 viewers overall while the network's earlier Texas A&M-Oklahoma matchup drew 318,383 viewers.

On Friday, the biggest prime-time draw again was CBS' Blue Bloods, with 277,738 viewers. As usual, though, the Tom Selleck cop drama faltered with 18-to-49-year-olds, dipping to third in the 9 p.m. hour, which was won by Fox4's local newscast.

NBC's second episode of Grimm, which didn't have to go against Game 7 of the World Series this time, ran second at 8 p.m. in total viewers, trailing CBS' competing CSI: NY by a score of 182,901 to 149,030. Among 18-to-49-year-olds, Fox's Fringe nipped Grimm for the 8 p.m. top spot.

CBS' new hospital drama, the Ghost Whisperer-infused A Gifted Man, won comfortably in total viewers at 7 p.m. with 216,771 before sliding into third base with 18-to-49-year-olds behind Fox's Kitchen Nightmares and NBC's Chuck.

And now it's on to Friday's local news derby results, which actually make for a pretty short story.

CBS11 prevailed at 10 p.m. in both total viewers and 25-to-54-year-olds, the main advertiser target audience for news programming. Fox4 otherwise collected the gold in both measurements at 6 a.m. and 5 and 6 p.m. The 6 a.m. win in the 25-to-54-year-old demographic was shared with NBC5.

Daybreak, circa 1998: In primitive pre-Corning times, WFAA8 promoted the team of Sams, Redmond and Kahanek

You've perhaps noticed that WFAA8 Daybreak co-anchor Ron Corning is "Taking Over the Morning" as part of an ongoing promotional campaign.

Thirteen years ago, the Dallas-based station's Daybreak promos skipped the comedy and touted the show as "Beyond What You'd Expect" from a waker upper. A then svelte 'n' studly Scott Sams was Daybreak's leading man, with Gina Redmond co-anchoring and Kristine Kahanek doing the weather updates.

Both Sams and Kahanek eventually made their ways to rival CBS11 for tours of duty. Sams is now a morning man at KRLD radio (1080 AM), Kahanek is writing children's books and Redmond broke a long silence last fall after being involved in a 2002 barroom altercation while anchoring for a Pittsburgh TV station. She's lately running her own production company after a five-year stint at a Birmingham, Alabama TV station ended in July 2010.

In perhaps simpler times for all three, here's the 1998 Daybreak promo:

Congressional candidate Stinchfield braves "Occupy Dallas," emerges with showy campaign video

Former NBC5 reporter Grant Stinchfield's run for Congress might be quixotic. But whether you agree with him or not, he still knows how to turn a story.

Stinchfield sent an email late Wednesday night touting his visit to the "Occupy Dallas" camp, where he "found a group of misguided and confused misfits. I left well aware, the majority of so called protestors, have no idea what they are protesting. You need to watch this video. It's the story the media refuses to cover!"

Stinchfield, an avowed conservative Republican hoping to unseat incumbent 24th District Rep. Kenny Marchant, may have cannily picked his targets in this "report." But it likely was easy pickings, and he isn't shy about stating his views. "I think this protest is ridiculous," he tells one sad sack occupier before a group of them begin chanting "Shame" at him.

"I'm getting chased off by the entire 'Occupy Dallas' contingent," Stinchfield says as swelling music takes him to this big finish. He earlier assures viewers that "you can bet I paid for this message" in order to further set him apart from the mostly deadbeats he interviews.

Stinchfield, married to WFAA8 Good Morning Texas co-host Amy Vanderouf, left NBC5 in April of this year to take ownership of a Kwik Kar Auto Lube and Repair business in Irving. In September he launched his bid for Marchant's seat.

Here's Grant amid the Lilliputians. It's pretty good theater, and he does make some solid if showy points.

Comcast's re-investment in NBC-owned stations is potentially a big story for NBC5's news department

Fort Worth-based NBC5 (KXAS) and the local news departments of nine other NBC owned-and-operated TV stations are finding it's good to be parented by Comcast.

Under an initiative officially announced Monday, Comcast's "major investment" in those stations will mean more reporters, an updated news set, the re-launch of an investigative unit and the return of a locally based promotions department for NBC5.

The latter was disbanded in September of 2009 by previous owner General Electric, which set up a new promotions division at its New York corporate offices to both control the messages of its O&Os and save money. Ten NBC5 staffers were laid off as part of the consolidation, which Comcast now has overturned.

"We welcome this because we know our market best and we can hire the appropriate people in our market to explain us and promote us," NBC5 vice president of programming Brian Hocker said in a telephone interview Tuesday.

The station also is re-launching an investigative/consumer unit that had been dormant for years. It will be headed by Kimberly King, who was hired by NBC5 in May from WXIN-TV in Indianapolis. A revamped news set also is in the works, but "we don't have the timetable yet," Hocker said.

In making the announcement, NBC Owned Television Stations president Valari Staab said that the network's 10 owned stations "have a responsibility to deliver critical local news and information to viewers in their respective communities each and every day. By making these strategic investments in our stations, we will ensure we meet our viewers' high expectations."

More than 130 additional news staffers will be hired by the 10 owned stations, NBC said.

"When all is said and done, we'll have a considerably greater number of feet on the street," Hocker said. "It'll give us the opportunity to 'enterprise' stories better. You get to a point where reporters are having to turn out a story each day. The additional staff gives us the opportunity to do more research on stories and not have to turn them out as fast.

"Clearly Comcast is investing in the owned local stations, and we are the beneficiary of that. It's very exciting. Arguably we've been very competitive in this market with what we've had to work with for some time. Having more resources is going to help us all the more, and I think that will be demonstrated on-air."

Hocker said that another cost-cutter under the old regime, NBC5's ongoing LNS (Local News Service) partnership with Fox4 and CW33, also could be ended as part of the station's re-investment in its own brand. "At this point there's nothing new on that, but clearly everything is under review," he said. Under the arrangement, the three stations share video and reporting on some stories.

NBC5 still hopes to move its operations to a planned new $16 million headquarters in the CentrePort office park south of Dallas-Fort Worth Airport. It's seeking a tax abatement from Fort Worth in return for staying within the city. The station currently remains at 3900 Barnett St. in Fort Worth, the only home it's ever known.

"It's a somewhat complicated deal, and it's not done until it's done," Hocker said. "We are still actively discussing CentrePort, but it's not signed yet. That's all there is to it."

Hocker noted that in 2012, the still ratings-challenged NBC network will have the Super Bowl and the Summer Olympics. Both big-ticket sports events are "certainly opportunities for us" to present a new-look NBC5 with a larger and more aggressive reporting staff, he said.

Live from CW33 studios, Eye Opener gets its early morning game on


Watch out for those curves on your morning commute. CW33's Toni Duclottni may have stopped traffic on the Halloween morning premiere of Eye Opener, which airs from 5 to 8 a.m. Photos: Ed Bark

Eye Opener is on the air, taking a very playful Toys R Us approach to early morning TV with three young hosts who combine to make WFAA8's resident quipster, Ron Corning, seem like a cornish hen.

Originating from CW33's Dallas studios and beamed to four other Tribune-owned TV stations, the 5 to 8 a.m. show bounced into view on Halloween morning. You definitely won't mistake it for Face the Nation, but that's OK.

Here's the deal. Tribune's original Eye Opener was test-launched on Houston's KIAH-TV in May of this year, with the entire show produced out of Chicago. But in late August, as initially reported on unclebarky.com, Tribune decided to revamp the program and originate it from Dallas.

CW33, now officially Eye Opener's home base, also provides a quartet of three-minute live local cut-ins per hour. On Monday's launch, newly hired Laura Thomas did weather updates, lifestyle reporter Toni Duclottni doubled down on traffic and Tommy Noel had brief reports from the field on topics ranging from the discovery of a missing 10-year-old girl's body to the Dallas Cowboys' Sunday Night Football whipping by the Philadelphia Eagles.

Duclottni's bright red, form-fitting cocktail dress proved to be the premiere outing's biggest attention-getter. Who said freeway congestion can't be sexy? Perhaps the D-FW market's lone male presenter, Fox4's Chip Waggoner, should consider going to muscle shirts while Duclottni's female rivals at NBC5, WFAA8 and CBS11 wonder why they're all suddenly looking like Betty Crocker. Hey, we're tryin' to have a little fun here.

The show's three hosts might as well be on pogo sticks. They're much wider awake than the law should allow, throwing out quips and riffs on news nuggets ranging from Heidi Klum's "skinned corpse" Halloween costume to Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain defending himself against old sexual harrassment charges while also admitting he's never heard of "The Dougie." Their principal showcase is a five-pronged "Opening Shot" segment at the top of each hour. (On Monday's Eye Opener, the 7 a.m. hour was a repeat of the 5 a.m., save for the local CW33 cut-ins, which all looked pretty much the same anyway.)

Eye Opener hosts Douglas Caballero, Ellen Fox, Sean Dowling

One of the hosts, Sean Dowling, also worked on the Chicago-produced Eye Opener program, as did ostensible news anchor Mia Gradney, who adopts a marginally more serious tone during her segments.

Dowling is joined by newcomers Ellen Fox and Douglas Caballero, both of whom previously worked for Al Gore's Current TV network. Fox was with Current's The Rotten Tomatoes Show and Caballero, an Austin native, has The Daily Fix on his resume. The latter's bio on CW33's web page also says he was Gore's "music consultant" during his 2000 presidential campaign.

All three wore jeans for Monday's Eye Opener, but the two guys had their shirts tucked in. Dowling arguably giggled a little too much. But they do have an aptitude for goofing around together, whether the topics were Lindsay Lohan's newly remedied stained front teeth or a "Viral Videos" segment in which a guy carved a Halloween pumpkin by blasting a face onto it with a shotgun. The ongoing commentary and repartee at times approached the level of ABC's Wipeout, and that actually is meant as something of a compliment.

Meanwhile, token oldster Larry Mendte, his hair dyed the traditional middle-aged newsman brown-orange, appeared in a taped segment to slice 'n' dice the Republican presidential field. Fox then added, "That Larry Mendte. He's Mendte fresh." Her delivery kind of made it work.

There also was a very odd and out of place detour in which terrorist attack footage was accompanied by heavy metal music and narration by a guy who sounded like Ted Baxter on steroids. The three hosts wisely said nothing about this and simply moved on. Perhaps they were a bit stunned.

Eye Opener is somewhat reminiscent of The Daily Buzz, a syndicated 'tude-heavy waker-upper that used to air in D-FW on TXA21. Neither is the kind of show you'd want to watch on mornings when major serious news is in play. But Halloween morn posed no real danger of that. So Dowling, Fox and Caballero pretty much played around from start to stop.

Fox even did a little pre-taped comedy skit on the lack of tweets reacting to how they were doing on day one of Eye Opener. It came in the form of Fox admiringly tweeting herself.

Most viewers understandably aren't aware of the show yet, and the vast majority of viewers in this market probably never will be. But it's here, it's now and it gives the local TV economy a welcome little boost while your friendly eyewitness to the show's D-FW debut can't help wondering what Duclottni will wear next.