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This just in: A night in the lives of D-FW's 10 p.m. newscasts (Tues., Feb. 20)

A bomb squad robot prepares to take out an unarmed suitcase.

Just when you thought NBC5's 10 p.m. newscasts couldn't get any more ridiculous . . . well, never think that. Not even for a second.

The station devoted more than five minutes of Tuesday night's show to overhead Chopper 5 pictures of a tentacled bomb squad robot taking a bead on a suitcase left in a Tom Thumb store parking lot in Irving.

The biggest chunk of time -- 4 minutes, 24 seconds of continuous play-by-play coverage -- came two-thirds of the way through the newscast. NBC5 had hoped to catch a nice little, live mini-blast in the evacuated parking lot.

Never mind that the suitcase posed no apparent danger to anyone. Or that a hapless NBC5 street reporter typically gets a maximum 90 seconds of airtime to tell his or her story. That doesn't matter when you're on the scent of a wham-bam picture story that rival stations basically blew off Tuesday night.

"As you can see. the bomb squad robot is moving in right now," anchor Jane McGarry said expectantly.

Then the robot stopped cold in its tracks, measuring the suitcase for extinction while Chopper 5 reporter Ken Arnold endured questioning from McGarry and co-anchor Mike Snyder.

"I don't want to talk as action is happening here," said McGarry, who did so anyway.

Arnold fretted a bit as action reached a standoff. The robot cop kept staring down the suitcase, prompting Arnold to term it "probably one of the slowest suspicious device situations" he'd ever encountered.

"Usually they're a little quicker to make it happen," he said while itchy newscast producers probably prayed for the robot cop to wreak holy hell on the suitcase.

That didn't happen during this extended live segment. NBC5 finally retreated to David Finfrock's weathercast, which he had to rush through. Then came poor sports anchor Newy Scruggs, whose time on the air already is pint-sized compared to his competitors.

This time Scruggs got a swingin' 42 seconds. "That's all the time I've got. We'll be right back," he said with another long-faced look of beaten-down resignation.

NBC5 finally got its money shot -- on tape.

"Here's your update," said McGarry. "Just moments ago, the bomb squad blew up that suitcase."

It turned out to be empty, but "in these day(s) and times no chances can be taken with a case like that left in the middle of a parking lot," Snyder said. "So the bomb squad checked it out. And the good part is, nothing there."

"All is safe," McGarry assured the populace before Jay Leno's Tonight Show kicked in.

Belo8 and Fox4 both had video of the suitcase meeting its maker, but devoted only a handful of seconds to this "breaking news." CBS11 very briefly showed the robot cop closing in, with anchor Tracy Rowlett telling viewers, "We'll keep you posted on this one."

Seconds before segueing to Late Show with Letterman, Rowlett said that "all is OK at that Irving parking lot . . . Officers blew it (the suitcase) up and now everything is safe." NBC5 in contrast had thoroughly overblown coverage of a little incident in a very big city. But that's how the Peacock rolls -- night after night after night.

In other news, CBS11 consumer investigator Bennett Cunningham had a second installment in his "Dirty Dining" series. Frankly, these are much more show than tell, with the reporter this time getting treated rather shabbily by managers of Little Caesar's and Arby's restaurants in Arlington.

The Little Caesar's bossman showed Cunningham the door and tossed his restaurant inspection paperwork on the sidewalk. Arby's man in charge said, "Not today" when Cunningham requested to see the kitchen.

"Why not?" he asked.

"I don't like CBS," the guy replied.

As with Monday night's reports, all of the offending eateries shown on camera later passed re-inspection tests and are open for business, Cunningham said. The "Dirty Dining" dispatches then close with a quick, short list of otherwise unheralded restaurants that did "exceptionally well" when inspected.

Belo8 pioneered this kind of reporting in the 1980s with gumshoe Charles Duncan's legendary "Eat, Drink and Be Wary" sweeps series. Then as now, they're entertaining without really cleaning their plates in the public service arena.

Food-wise, Belo8 medical reporter Janet St. James had a better idea Tuesday night. She took 12 jars of 2111-coded Peter Pan and Great Value peanut butter jars to an Arlington forensics lab for inspection. A microbiologist told her, "We did not find any salmonella in the 12 samples that you sent us."

The inspections did net "one small, tiny ant" in a jar.

Belo8 earlier had led the charge with NBC5 in top-of-the-newscast "peanut butter panic" stories. In fairness, St. James' story also should have led Tuesday's 10 p.m. newscast instead of airing during the second-half.

Instead the station gave the top spot to reporter Dan Ronan's in-depth look at an averted American Airline tragedy from last August. It was solid, interesting work by Ronan. But the peanut butter controversy is much more in the here and now, thanks in large part to the many TV stations that gave it such earlier prominent play.

Fox4 found another American Idol angle, but this wasn't a bad one. Reporter Brandon Todd had a story on 29-year-old finalist Brandon Rogers, who performed with the University of North Texas' nationally renowned Jazz Singers while attending the school from 1996-'99.

Of course it helped that UNT earlier had laid out Rogers' background in a news release sent to unclebarky.com among many others. It led Todd to an interview with Rogers' old music professor, Paris Rutherford. The release also noted that Rogers performed with former UNT student Norah Jones on the Jazz Singers' "Yesterday" album.

Here's Tuesday night's violent crime story count, with the 14-night running totals in parentheses:

Belo8 -- 2 (19)
NBC5 -- 1 (54)
Fox4 -- 0 (29)
CBS11 -- 0 (27)