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Back when just about everybody watched -- Feb. "sweeps," 1981

In prehistoric TV times, weathermen Troy Dungan (WFAA) and the late Harold Taft (KXAS) were both very much on the 10 p.m. map.

Note to readers: We're on the eve of the 2006-'07 season's final ratings sweeps period, with 10 p.m. newscast supremacy still the big prize when the competition kicks off on Thursday (April 26).

The following story first appeared on March 20, 1981, with D-FW still awaiting the dawn of cable TV while CBS'
Dallas TV series remained at the peak of its powers. John McKay and the late Dave Lane, respectively the general managers at KDFW-TV and WFAA-TV, loved to tangle with each other publicly back then. Both stations had mammoth Nielsen ratings compared to what they have now.

As a point of reference, WFAA won the February 2007 sweeps with an 8.7 Nielsen rating and 15 percent share of the viewing audience for its 10 p.m. newscasts. In February 1981, when Nielsen and Arbitron had competing services, an 8.7 rating would have been thrown back in the pond. Read on and check out those boffo numbers from yesteryear.

Were this a heavyweight title bout, an announcer would be screaming about a match made in heaven.

WFAA-TV (Channel 8) and KDFW-TV (Channel 4) are pounding bumps on each other in the fight for ratings supremacy at 10 p.m.

Last November, Channel 4 knocked Channel 8 out of the No. 1 spot at 10 p.m. Channel 8 had held the title since May, 1976.

Then in January, Channel 8 fought back, punching Channel 4 back into second place.

Now the February Arbitron and Nielsen ratings have put Channel 4 ahead on points again.

In the Arbitron "sweeps" (Feb. 4 to March 3), Channel 4 had a 20 rating and 34 percent share of the audience for its 10 p.m. newscasts. Back in second place is Channel 8 at 18/31. KXAS-TV (Channel 5) again is a distant third (12/21), but the station shows signs of moving up from the bantam to the welterweight class at 10 p.m. That's because the Nielsen ratings for February show Channel 4 with a sizable lead (19/34), with Channel 8 second (15/27) and Channel 5 closing the gap a bit at 13/23.

The latest ratings are a shot of adrenalin for John McKay, Channel 4's outspoken general manager.

"I'm thrilled to death. Out of sight. I love it!" McKay enthused. "We're now being considered a serious news operation by a majority of viewers out there. No longer does Channel 8 have the market virtually to itself."

One year ago, Channel 8 was the undisputed news leader at 10 p.m., with Channel 4 virtually out of the ratings picture. Channel 8 isn't a powerbroker anymore, but station general manager Dave Lane says a series by the name of Dallas is a significant ingredient in Channel 4's rise.

The Arbitrons say CBS's Dallas drew 64 percent of the viewing audience on an average Friday, compared to a 17 percent showing for ABC's movies and 9 percent for NBC Magazine with David Brinkley.

Thriving on its Dallas "lead-in," Channel 4's 10 p.m. Friday newscasts had a 44 percent share of the audience in February, compared to Channel 8's 25 percent and Channel 5's 18 percent. In other words, Channels 8 and 5 increased their viewing audiences while Channel 4's newscasts lost about one-third of their Dallas audience to the competition.

"The history of our performance at 10 p.m. has always been an improvement over our lead-in audience," Lane said. "I think that shows our strength. People are making channel switches to us. Where we're killed is Friday nights. It puts you in such a huge deficit position that it's practically impossible to overcome it."

Would Channel 8's 10 p.m. newscast still be No. 1 in the ratings if Channel 4 didn't have Dallas as its friend?

"Yes, definitely," Lane claimed. "No doubt about it."

McKay is getting tired of hearing that disclaimer.

"Dallas was on the air a year ago," McKay said. "Lane keeps using that to cover his ass. The fact is I've got Dallas and it's reflected in the numbers. We're in a helluva lot better shape than we were a year ago. I sense that he (Lane) is very nervous about what we're doing. He's clinging to things like a Dallas lead-in as a reason why he's No. 2. One night doesn't make you No. 1 or No. 2."

To test McKay's theory, Blake Byrne, Channel 5's general manager, wouldn't mind trading Brinkley's abysmally rated Friday magazine for J.R. Ewing's drawing power.

"If we had Dallas, I would guess the 10 o'clock situation would be very much like the six o'clock, which is statistically a dead heat," Byrne said.

Nevertheless, Byrne says he is "pleased" with his station's showing in the latest 4-week ratings books. "We're up a hair everywhere and Channel 8 is down," Byrne said. "You take the 5 and 6 p.m. news, and we're the No. 1 early news in the market."

McKay says Channel 5 also has older viewers than the competition, a fact that supposedly doesn't excite many advertisers.

Commenting on Channel 4's strong showing in the February ratings, McKay mentioned his station's increased appeal to women aged 18-49. This is a key "demographic" looked at by many advertisers. At 5 and 6 p.m., Channel 4 is increasing its number of viewers in this category, while the competing newscasts are losing ground, he said.

"The 18 to 49 audience is important because there are so many more of them out there," McKay explained. "It's the audience that advertisers are most attracted to because they're the consumers. And it's the audience that pretty much dictates what is and what is not on television. The really significant thing for us is the shift in the young audience. You can't be No. 1 without the young audience."

Until the next ratings book in May, Channel 4 clearly is No. 1. Undoubtedly, the station is being helped by Dallas. But in the Nielsens, Channel 4's 10 p.m. newscast also is the highest-rated on the other four weeknights.

"It's kind of hard to talk about being No. 2 at 10 p.m., but we'll be back," Channel 8's Lane vowed.

He has his work cut out for him against a significantly improved Channel 4 news operation and a Channel 5 outfit that is showing faint signs of rebounding to a competitive position at 10 p.m.

Weatherman update: Channel 4's Wayne Shattuck, who recently suffered a dislocated hip in a car accident, is still hospitalized in Arizona. Shattuck and his wife, Virginia, who has a broken shoulder, are scheduled to return to Dallas next week. It's uncertain when Shattuck, Channel 4's featured weatherman, will return to the air. He reportedly may have to get around in a wheelchair for awhile.

Asked whether he would let Shattuck wheel himself around his weather maps, McKay replied, "I'd put him on in traction and use his big toe for a pointer."

Meanwhile, McKay says that stand-in weatherwoman Jocelyn White is doing a good job under the circumstances.

Hillary, without "Tubby" in tow, braves Dave for the first time

The Dem Party's two big cheeses have laughed it up with Dave, too.

Note to readers: Barack Obama's winning performance on Monday's Late Show with David Letterman probably means that his arch rival for the Democratic presidential nomination will have to show up again in the near future. Hillary Rodham Clinton's first brush with Dave was a long time in coming, though. Return with us now to her maiden voyage, as recounted in a Jan. 13, 2000 review.

Her long, national late night-mare is over.

Ceaselessly lampooned and goaded by David Letterman, first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton finally appeared on his CBS Late Show Wednesday night. It was very, very good for both of them.

Replendent in a black pantsuit, pink blouse and shimmering earrings and necklace, Mrs. Clinton defrosted any ice maiden image through the simple acts of laughing amiably and chatting naturally. Or so it seemed on camera, which is all that really matters.

Letterman, in business to make his guests look good, broke the ice by telling viewers that he had seen Mrs. Clinton in the wings and that "she looks sensational." Suddenly it no longer seemed to matter that he regularly has derided her as a carpetbagger while dismissing her husband, the president of the United States, as "Tubby."

Mrs. Clinton prepared herself well, both with scripted quips and a winning way of delivering them. She even made a modicum of news, telling Letterman emphatically, "I am going to run for the (U.S.) Senate. And I'm officially going to declare." When the host asked when, she replied, "Next month."

The appearance was much more about perceptions, however. Principally, would Mrs. Clinton be able to banter with the same dexterity as some of Letterman's previous political guests, including Vice President Al Gore, Bob Dole, Dan Quayle and her future opponent, New York mayor Rudy Giuliani? Indisputably yes. And now the race is on.

"I knew if I were going to run for the Senate, I had to come and sit in this chair and talk to the Big Guy," she said.

Together for the first time: Hillary and Dave in January, 2000

Mrs. Clinton sealed the deal with a closing list of the "Top 10 reasons that I, Hillary Clinton, finally decided to appear on the Late Show."

She drew big laughs with No. 8 ("If Dan Quayle did it, how hard could it be?") and twitted the host with No. 2 ("Um, I thought Johnny hosted the show"). But No. 1 was the clincher: "If I can make it here, I can make it anywhere."

She has a long way to go to catch Giuliani, who has appeared on Late Show 19 times in various capacities. But this had all the earmarks of a great start, even if the lone low point came when Mrs. Clinton explained that being a senator is much different than being mayor.

"A senator can't go arrest a homeless person," she then quipped. To which Letterman retorted, "That's not entirely fair."

The moment quickly passed, however, and Mrs. Clinton soon was joking about the White House pets. She also deftly handled the host's six-question quiz about her new home, New York, correctly identifying the state bird and tree.

Before Mrs. Clinton came onstage, Walter Cronkite made a surprise walk-on to remind Letterman that he would be conversing with the "first lady of our nation." Pause, one-two. "Try not to be jackass, willya?"

He wasn't, she wasn't, and all involved must be feeling pretty good right now. For the record, retired pro football lineman Art Donovan followed the first lady as Letterman's second guest. The show must go on.

(On rival ABC, a Nightline depiction of "a day in the life" of George W. Bush's presidential campaign aired opposite the first lady's appearance on Late Show.)