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Rolling, rolling rolling: Wheel of Fortune begins 3-week tour of Dallas


The thrill of victory and, for the first time, the agony of high-def. Wheel of Fortune has both going for it this fall, which makes the show's two longrunning stars just a little camera-shy.

Vanna White, who will hit the half-century mark on Feb. 18, isn't ready for those kinds of closeups. Pat Sajak, who turned 60 last Thursday, would just as soon be shot the old-school way. They talked about putting their pores on the line during a recent stop in Dallas to tape three weeks worth of Texas-themed shows that begin rolling out Monday (6:30 p.m. on CBS11 locally).

"No. No, of course I'm not ready for it," White says without batting an eyelash. "It shows every line and wrinkle in your face. Makes you look 20 times older than you are!"

But how does she really feel?

"They apply the makeup differently because every little thing shows. Everything. Every follicle. I'm scared to look at it. I don't think I'm going to watch the show for a while. All these years people say, 'You look so much better in person.' But now I'm afraid what they're going to say."

Sajak spoke with clarity, too. So to speak.

"Boy, I'm not a fan of HD personally. I'd like some Barbra Streisand gauze...I want the Barbara Walters soft-focus. You can barely see Barbara anymore. People may be completely repulsed and say, 'Who's this new host that we have here -- Quasimodo?' I want low-def. Low, lower and lowest def."

They're otherwise doing just fine. Sajak is in his 25th year of hosting Wheel, which is very nice work if you can get it. The hours aren't long, the pay is super-sweet and Wheel is still the No. 1-rated show in syndication, according to Nielsen Media Research.

"It's a show that defies logic in some ways," Sajak says. "There's an old-fashioned nature to it that's kind of counter to what's going on in television. If I went to pitch this show to a network today, I wouldn't get past 30 seconds. But somewhere along the line we became part of the popular culture. Even if you don't watch the show every day, it's kind of comforting to know it's out there. It's like the sunset."

White, who began turning heads and letters in 1982, has both a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and an entry in the Guinness Book of World Records as "Television's Most Frequent Clapper." She supposedly averages 720 claps a show and more than 28,000 a season.

"What did they do, slow the camera down and count each one?" she wonders.

She's never replicated a dress on the air, and now has worn more than 5,000 different outfits. But White's briefly stumped when asked to name the first letter she ever turned (according to official Wheel press materials).

"Let me guess. N?"




"OK. All right. I should have remembered that one."

She'd rather have people forget her upcoming 50th birthday.

"I don't know what I'm going to do. I need to figure out something. It's going to be here before I know it."

She then says "yikes" in a whisper, prompting her even older interviewer to blurt, "Don't get depressed."

"No? I kind of am," White says. "I am depressed. There's something about it. It just sounds so old. But it's only the way we feel, right? I'm going to be as good as I can when I turn that age on my next birthday. I refuse to say it."

Let's end on a brighter, perkier vowel. Sajak is a master of self-deprecation, it turns out. At the time of our interview, he hadn't yet read a Rolling Stone profile on Wheel creator Merv Griffin. But this did cause him to remember what Rolling Stone once said about him. The writer first referenced the movie The Fly. Then he said that if Dick Clark and a chipmunk entered its experimental machine together, Pat Sajak would emerge.

High-def at least won't do that to him.

In performance: Craig Ferguson at the Granada


Craig Ferguson had a Brit night of his own with Ringo Starr.

Craig Ferguson gave up his desk job Friday night, stopping in Dallas to be a standup guy both onstage and for charity.

The Scottish host of CBS' Late Late Show found himself a bit at odds with the British-themed "Community a Go-Go" event at the Granada Theater. The stage was back-dropped with three big Union Jacks, prompting Ferguson to ad lib, "When I see a flag like this, I think I'm in court."

Wearing faded jeans, white sneakers and a hang-out black tee, Ferguson held court for 55 minutes on behalf of Community Partners of Dallas, which aids abused and neglected children. His TV show also got into the act. A VIP package that includes a backstage tour of Late Late Show fetched the night's top bid of $2,600 at a concluding live auction. In comparison, a "celebrity mountain bike" autographed by Jessica Simpson, Tommy Lee and Pamela Anderson had a tough road to just $700.

Ferguson, who mostly eschews cue cards during his TV monologues, resorted to well-practiced material at the Granada. Still, he threw himself into it, winning the crowd over with his exuberance as much as his jokes. He gabbed about his youthful years in Glasgow ("a medieval Starsky & Hutch"), his "odd" mother, his own rehabbing from drug and alcohol abuse, Tom Cruise ("the apex of success and crazy") and most notably, fellow Scotsman Sean Connery.

"He's a walking cadaver!" Ferguson said of Connery, 76. But in his view, Connery remains "the sexiest man alive" and the consummate James Bond. No offense to latter day 007 Pierce Brosnan, but he's merely "cute in a sort of Orlando Bloom way. I can do Orlando Bloom, but Sean Connery can do me."

Ferguson, who's been doing Late Late Show since January 2005, recalled first visiting America as a 13-year-old during the 1976 Bicentennial. He and his parents came over on a "tramp steamer, which has nothing to do with Paris Hilton."

He vividly remembers America's vibrant colors and gleaming teeth from that year. Plus he got to see Blue Oyster Cult with his cousins at a concert where they "all had to share the same cigarette." This convinced him that one had to do some sort of drug at a rock concert. But when Deep Purple came to Glasgow, he inadvertently knocked himself out with an artificial stimulant that turned out to be chloroform. The moral of that story: "Just say no to chloroform."

But seriously, folks, he's been sober, by his count, for 14 years. And that's even though "you're encouraged to be crazy in L.A."

Ferguson knows where he stands, though. He's just a slug on a TV talk show, a mere mortal who bows to the goddess of the genre.

"Oprah is the world's last superpower," he declares. "I love Oprah. I have to. I'm in show business."

Troy's autumn years mean summer departure

Troy Dungan, dean of Dallas' weathercasters, is forecasting his own future, too. He'll be hanging up his trademark bow ties on July 18, leaving WFAA-TV (Channel 8) after 31 years of taking our temperatures.

"I've done this enough," he said in a telephone interview Wednesday. "I'll miss the people. You know how it is. It's a soap opera every day. There's always stuff going on."

Dungan also has been teaching Bible study classes on Wednesdays in the station's conference room. He'll miss that, too, he said.

Although he doesn't look it, he'll have a momentous birthday on November 17. But being 70 years old isn't a death sentence for those with sunny dispositions.

"My parents were looking for a casket to crawl into," Dungan said. "They got old before their time. I think it's a state of mind."

His wife, Janet, will be throwing him a black tie party at Dallas' Mercury Grill, where they have brunch on most Sundays. They're also fresh from a two-week vacation in Italy, where Dungan said he wore a tie just once -- a long tie -- on their last night before returning to Dallas Sunday.

Dungan already has lightened his workload, doing just the 6 p.m. newscasts since July 19, his 30th anniversary at Channel 8. His successor, meteorologist and former Minnesota Twins pitching prospect Pete Delkus, joined the station in June 2005, with Dungan playing a key role in recruiting him. He came from WCPO-TV in Cincinnati, which offered Delkus a lifetime contract in a last ditch effort to keep him.

"So we had at least a year for what we call the anointing process," Dungan said. "This market does not take to newcomers very well."

For five months they tried a two-headed weatherman gambit, cross-talking throughout their 10 p.m. segments in an effort to accustom viewers to ringing out the old, ringing in the new.

"That was not our favorite thing," Dungan said. "We didn't mind working together, but every night at 6:30 we said, 'What the heck are we going to do tonight?' It was a bit awkward."

Delkus now is fully in charge of the latenight newscasts, with "Delkus Delivers" promos getting heavy play on Channel 8. Dungan is content to fade into the background and get home early. In retirement, he'll still have a 25-days-a-year deal with Channel 8 to "do whatever we decide," he said. That might include weather specials, filling in for Delkus on occasion and a return to the "Santa's Helpers" charity drive that he's spearheaded for much of his tenure at Channel 8. "Just something to kind of keep me in the mix," he said.

Dungan said he'll also be free to do "commercials, voiceovers and other projects they wouldn't let us do at Channel 8." He might try writing a book, too.

"It'll just be nice to have that freedom," he said, after weathering a career that began in 1958 at KWTX-TV in Waco.

"I think I've worked about enough. I've worked in parts of six decades. I must be pretty old."

The Belo guv debate: Self-serving or public service?

Are the powerbrokers at Belo Corp. playing monopoly with Friday night's one and only televised Texas gubernatorial debate?

Well, they're certainly playing hardball. But from this view, the bigger problems are the night, the format and the on-air exclusion of anyone not employed by Belo.

Here's the gist of "Belo's Rules for the Gubernatorial Debate," a document sent to various news outlets with an interest in the four-way face-off among Republican Gov. Rick Perry, Democrat Chris Bell and independents Carole Keeton Strayhorn and Kinky Friedman:

1. No non-Belo stations in "Belo markets" (Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston, San Antonio, Austin) will be allowed to carry the debate live.
2. TV stations outside these markets can air the debate live, but can't stream it on their Web sites.
3. Spanish-language and PBS stations in Belo markets cannot carry the debate live, but can rebroadcast it later within a four-day window that will close at 8 p.m. Tuesday.
4. Radio stations in and outside Belo markets can air the debate live, but can't stream it on their Web sites.
5. All TV stations in Texas can air segments from the debate on their late night Friday newscasts.

This isn't the way it used to be done, although in practice not much will change in terms of the debate's overall TV and radio exposure. In recent years, gubernatorial debates were brokered by a consortium of Belo, PBS TV stations, the Texas Association of Broadcasters, the Texas State Radio Networks and Texas Monthly. That was the game plan again this year, with Thursday, Oct. 5 the original target date.

Then Belo stepped in and agreed to Perry's insistence that there be one debate only, and that it be scheduled on the eve of Saturday's Texas-Oklahoma game. Frankly, there's no use in having a debate without Perry, so he can pretty much call the tune.

Let's be honest. Even if Belo's rules permitted, rival broadcast stations would have next to no interest in preempting network entertainment programming for a Texas governor's debate. And anyone who wants to watch Perry et. al. instead of Ghost Whisperer presumably will have an opportunity to do so, either on live TV or on Belo-owned Web sites. It's not a perfect situation, but it's good enough for government work. In this case, that's doubly so.

Here are the potential pitfalls, though. First, it's a lousy night and time. Many potential viewers are still out and about at 7 p.m. on a Friday. Texas-OU weekend further drains the audience pool.

Belo also is relying solely on Belo-ites to both question the candidates and keep them in line during the one-hour debate. The corporation's four Texas TV properties are represented by moderator Greg Hurst (Houston's KHOU) and questioners John McCaa (Dallas' WFAA), Sarah Lucero (San Antonio's KENS) and Christine Haas (Austin's KVUE). The lone print interloper is easily the most knowledgeable participant. Veteran Austin bureau chief Wayne Slater of Belo's The Dallas Morning News knows Texas politics through and through.

McCaa is a quality anchor, but his slot should have been given to Brad Watson, the guy in the campaign trenches for Belo8. Hurst, Lucero and Haas are all anchors, too. Do they really know the ins and outs of the governor's race better than their respective stations' field reporters, who perhaps aren't as pretty?

One more thing: There's no slot this time for Texas Monthly's hard-hitting political junkie, Paul Burka. He doesn't work for Belo, so tough luck for him.

Oh well, it's a done deal, and we'll see how Friday's Belo-centric event plays out. For an objective review, check out unclebarky.com on Saturday morn.

Mark her for stardom

Shelly Slater, News 8

First impressions can be misleading, but not these.

Sparkling News 8 newcomer Shelly Slater, newly plucked from Fox-owned WDAF-TV in Kansas City, clearly is on a fast track to the top of the Dallas station's anchor hierarchy. No longer dominant at 10 p.m. or anywhere else, the Belo-owned station sorely needs a rising star with charm, smarts and sex appeal. In short, a beaming babe with brains. Sorry if that sounds sexist, but you can bet that station management is sold on exactly that combination.

Born in Plano, and currently anchoring weekends with Brad Hawkins, the University of Missouri-Columbia journalism major looks like a diamond in the not-so-rough. She already seems finely polished, a dynamite hire by a station that hasn't been No. 1 in the key 10 p.m. news wars since the November, 2001 "sweeps."

Slater prepped at WSAZ-TV in Charleston, West Virginia, where she was the 2003 Associated Press reporter of the year. She joined Kansas City's Fox station in 2004 as a general assignments reporter, soon becoming a weekend anchor. Now she's effortlessly assumed that same position at News 8. Her talent is apparent at first sight. Simply put, she clicks. Iola Johnson had that same kind of magic during her glory days at Channel 8 with co-anchor Tracy Rowlett.

Not that Slater's inevitable ascendance will happen overnight. Channel 8 obviously has a longtime incumbent anchor, Gloria Campos, at 10 p.m. weeknights. But there are ways of shuffling these decks without altogether dealing someone out.

Know this for sure, though. Belo8 is tired of losing ground to its network-owned rivals at Fox4, NBC5 and CBS11. Also, it's no longer enough to win in the household ratings anymore. Stations whose newscasts prosper with advertiser-coveted 25-to-54-year-olds are making the cash hauls these days. Belo8 isn't exactly a bullet on those charts, but that's where young gun Slater can help.

Prediction: By this time next fall, Shelly Slater will be a full-fledged player on one or more of Belo8's major weeknight newscasts. Not to put any undue pressure on her, but that's exactly why she was hired.