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Gordon Keith's radio-TV days and daze

These are the jokes, folks. "Ticket" jester Gordon Keith gets ready to roll 'em on his new homegrown TV show. Photos by Ed Bark

Is it something he said -- or maybe the way he said it?

Perhaps the cut of his jib isn't quite as advertised. Or could it be that Gordon Keith plain and simply blows as a radio sideman turned TV frontman once a week?

He's not yet sure how to interpret the reception given The Gordon Keith Show, which premiered Feb. 15 on KFWD-TV (Ch. 52) and can be seen again on Thursday night at 10. Fans of his morning drive lunacy on "The Ticket" (1310 AM) have been vociferously opinionated.

"You get emails, and every one directly contradicts the one right before it," he says last week after taping a show at Belo8's new, glass-encased Victory Park studios. " 'Gordon, you don't have energy on TV. Gordon, you have way too much energy, just relax. Gordon you suck on TV. You should never try it ever again.'

"It really kind of shocked me, how brutal people were. These are the people who supposedly like me. And this is how they treat people they like. Gosh, if I'm going to be a battered wife, I should at least be married to ya."

He's admittedly been finding his way, with the inaugural half-hour show having "the rough-hewn feel of a well-earned hangover." At least that's the opinion of mad dog Ed Bark, who will be one of Keith's guests Thursday night along with Dallas mayoral candidate Zac Crain. In this humble opinion, younger pup Crain dully gummed it while grizzled old "Uncle Barky" showed off his biting sense of humor. Could be wrong, though. Often have been. Probably am again.

Keith's earlier guests have included Dallas Police chief David Kunkle, Belo8 anchor John McCaa and Ticket colleague George Dunham, who's taken "The Great Gordo's" guff on far too many mornings to count.

His basic radio character is "the wheels-off guy who has no responsibilities and is just there to gig George," Keith says. "On TV, you have to be all things to all people. You've got to be the driver that keeps things moving instead of throwing in cheap shots from the peanut gallery. . . I'm so happy I did this, though. I guess I wanted to try to grow some. I love the radio thing, and I never want to quit that. But the TV thing is a new challenge."

He's had previous screen tests, both as a feature reporter on CBS11's defunct Positively Texas show and as a foil for Mark Cuban on his shortlived local mess. The Gordon Keith Show is an entirely different proposition, with its host having the title of co-executive producer even though "I don't know a damn thing about television."

Belo, which has a "strategic alliance" with Ch. 52, initially envisioned a five nights a week show with a one-year commitment. Keith wanted to scale way back from that, agreeing to a 12-episode test run that's now reached the halfway mark.

"We're trying to experiment and just come up with a few things before we start trying to do the real show," he says. "I'm certainly a nobody in television, and they were kind enough to give me a shot."

Keith also caught Belo's eye with his weekly column for Quick, a free tabloid birthed by the corporation as an irreverent teenage counterpart to The Dallas Morning News safety-first parental unit. In his first taped piece for The Gordon Keith Show, he went Borat-style to Farmer's Branch to make fun of both the city's stern approach to illegal immigrants and the Hispanics who might run afoul of it.

Belo8 president and general manager Kathy Clements laughed heartily while station manager Mike Devlin watched the piece with his arms folded. Keith says he feared the worst until Devlin said, "That's perfect. That's what we want."

"I've been shocked by their attitude, their friendliness and their facilitating nature," Keith says of Belo8 executives. "They've been nothing but kind to me. They haven't meddled, which is just so odd with anyone in power. They let us fall on our face, which is always nice."

Out of camera or microphone range, Keith is a self-described "introverted, contemplative, quiet kind of guy" with a closely guarded private life. He admits to being in his "mid-30s now," and has been married to his "college sweetheart" for 10 years.

Any children?

"None to speak of," he says, meaning this literally. Let's just say that he's a Dad who simply doesn't want to talk about his in-wedlock progeny. Fair enough.

Keith aspires to be rich as quickly as possible, but only a little famous at best.

"Some people feel very comfortable living their lives publicly, and I've never felt that way," he says. "For the most part, people are nice. But when you become more and more public, people start talking about you on those message boards like you're just not even human. They feel like their job in life is to heap as much abuse on you as possible to counteract any sort of good thing in life that they think you have. I don't know why people are like that."

His life's ambition is to "make my nest egg at this as quickly as possible, and then get out and not have to work. I've never been a natural worker."

Hit or miss, though, he does seem to be a natural comedian whose talent exceeds his misgivings. The Gordon Keith Show, for all its early flaws, gives local programming a heart murmur it hasn't had since the Ernie Kovacs-ian days of Ch. 11's Icky Twerp.

With Keith you sometimes just get ick. For now, so be it.

Changing markets, changing jobs

New news gigs for CBS11's Raquel Eatmon and Fox4's Chris Yates

CBS11 reporter Raquel Eatmon is stepping down to a smaller market in order to step up as an anchor.

The former Miss Ohio World, who joined the station in 2005, will be anchoring the 5, 6 and 10 p.m. newscasts for NBC affiliate WPMI-TV in Mobile, Ala. She'll join fellow newcomer Greg Peterson, formerly of KMTV-TV in Omaha, Neb. They're replacing a recently fired anchor team that took the fall when WPMI dropped to last place in the local news ratings wars.

Mobile is the country's 59th largest TV market, a considerable drop from No. 6 Dallas-Fort Worth. But Eatmon will get far more face time and responsibility in her new small pond.

Over at Fox4, veteran Chris Yates will be shifting jobs. He'll be the station's full-time sports web producer, dropping a Saturday morning anchor spot. Fellow Fox4 vet Max Morgan will be the weekend sports anchor, with Yates still likely to be filling in on occasion for weekday sports maestro Mike Doocy.

Hori: Over and out?

No one will comment officially at CBS11, but several well-connected local broadcasting sources say that morning co-anchor Shannon Hori is in negotiations to leave the station and return to Florida before her three-year contract expires in July.

She reportedly wants to spend appreciably more time with her husband, who still lives in Florida. Their 10-year marriage has endured despite jobs that often have kept them apart. It's rumored that former CBS11 news director Tom Doerr, who recently returned to Miami, might have a position for Hori at that city's CBS station, which he now heads.

Hori joined CBS11 in July 2004 from NBC affiliate WESH-TV in Orlando, teaming with fellow newcomer Doug Dunbar in hopes of juicing up the station's then moribund early newscast. Ratings and vitality have improved since that time, but CBS11 remains a distant fourth in this increasingly important four-way competition.

Dunbar recently replaced Tracy Rowlett as co-anchor of the 10 p.m. newscasts, leaving Hori with rotating partners until a new male anchor is hired. As previously reported on unclebarky.com, one of the prospects is former Belo8 anchor Scott Sams, who auditioned at CBS11 earlier this month. He's currently anchoring at KTEN-TV in Sherman-Denison.

Fox4 early riser opts to watch the sun set out West

Casey Stegall, a stalwart reporter on Fox4's Good Day, is leaving the station after two years to take a job as an L.A.-based correspondent for Fox News Channel.

Stegall, a native of Indiana, is a graduate of David Letterman's alma mater, Ball State University. He joined Fox4 from Austin's KVUE-TV and racked up two Katie Awards while in Dallas.

Good Day also is making an anchor shift while 9 p.m. co-anchor Heather Hays is on maternity leave. Megan Henderson will fill in for Hays on the station's most-watched newscast while Natalie Solis subs for Henderson in the early mornings.

Dream on: CBS11 TV reporter and partner reboot to shoot another film

Director John Venable, co-star John Wesley Shipp and assistant director Jay Gormley on the set of Karma Police. Photo: Ed Bark

Dormant for a while, their dream is back in Technicolor.

CBS11 reporter Jay Gormley and his filmmaking partner, John Venable, thought they were on a fast track two years ago with their comedy feature film $30,000 Millionaires. Interest was high and a proposed $1 million budget looked to be in the bag after the two presented the world premiere of their 11-minute film Bachelor 37 to an enthusiastic audience at the Magnolia Theatre.

"It's a great feeling when you stand up there and people applaud and appreciate your work," Gormley said at the time. "It's something you don't get in news."

The darkly comic Bachelor 37, directed by Gormley and starring Venable, built to a very clever twist of an ending and a short trailer for $30,000 Millionaires. "Coming soon," it said. "Soon as we have the money to film it."

They still don't.

"We were told that money would fall from the skies. It did not," says Venable. "We got a lot of lip service."

"We got a ton of lip service," adds Gormley.

Not that they're deterred. Venable and Gormley picked themselves up, scaled their operating costs way down and now are filming the crime drama Karma Police in Dallas for a small fraction of the $1 million they still hope to raise for $30,000 Millionaires.

The 105-minute film, tentatively scheduled to wrap on March 18, is pretty much Venable's baby. He wrote the screenplay and is directing Karma Police with help from Gormley. The two would switch positions on $30,000 Millionaires, with Gormley the head overseer on a film he co-wrote with Venable after they founded Parkview Place Pictures in 2002.

Venable "got me off my butt," Gormley says. "I was all depressed. 30K wasn't happening. What happened to all the hits on our web site and the interest in Hollywood (including from Fox TV's comedy development division)? I'm like all down in the dumps and John's like, 'Dude, let's go. Let's do something while we wait for 30K.' I said, 'No, no, let's wait.' And finally he just kind of put a foot up my butt. And that's how I got fired up for this."

They're on a brisk 17-day shooting schedule, with the cameras only rolling on weekends. On a recent Saturday afternoon, Karma Police is filming in a posh law firm office on the 50th floor of the Chase Bank building in downtown Dallas.

Co-star John Wesley Shipp, best known of late for playing Dawson Leery's dad, Mitch, on Dawson's Creek, is navigating a multi-take kissing scene with local actress Jessica Turner, whose time is limited. She soon must rush off to a matinee performance of Moonlight and Magnolias at the Dallas Theater Center.

Timing is everything in this scene, too.

"You better be home on time," Turner tells Shipp. "The kids are only gone for one night and I'll be home by myself."

"I'll be there, baby," he assures her. Smooch, smooch.

Gormley and Venable fret a bit about getting a half-dozen takes completed in time. But it's otherwise a relaxed set, with Gormley telling Shipp at one point, "John, we didn't tell you it was a porno? Sorry."

Shipp, who also had the title role in the 1990 CBS series The Flash, hooked up with Karma Police while attending a comic book convention in Dallas. He has a supporting role as a publishing company CEO who runs afoul of the "world's largest secret organization," a k a the Karma Police.

"They reward and punish people after tracking their good and bad conduct," Venable says. "But there's a little more to the Karma Police than meets the eye. That's about all we can say."

The movie's principal star is veteran Dallas stage actor Chamblee Ferguson, who also has played small parts in several feature films (The Newton Boys, A Scanner Darkly) and locally filmed TV series such as Prison Break and Walker, Texas Ranger. Ferguson, who isn't working on this day, plays "average guy" administrator Charles West, brother-in-law of Shipp's character.

Gormley in his CBS11 pose and Karma Police star Ferguson.

Venable and Gormley plan to have Karma Police ready for public showing by early June. They hope to have it accepted by the Toronto Film Festival. If not, the Sundance Film Festival beckons. And then Austin's South by Southwest event.

"This is not a means to an end," Venable says. "Karma Police isn't just a stepping stone to get to our other projects."

They've partnered with two North Texas companies, Red Productions and Filmfrog Productions. It all helps to keep costs down and at least a small profit in the picture.

"If we make money, that bodes well for us," Gormley says. "Your first piece on your track record, you don't want to lose money."

He says that Hollywood is starting to nibble again on $30,000 Millionaires, with a "major Hollywood movie studio" supposedly taking a hard look at this comedy film about "five vacuous Dallas bachelors striving to maintain upscale lifestyles via maxed-out credit cards."

"I'm learning quickly that it's going to take longer than I anticipated," Gormley says. "We've had a number of setbacks and it's not gonna happen overnight."

Venable is quick to accentuate the positive.

"I wouldn't really call them setbacks," he says. "It's just the normal MO for Hollywood. I don't think what we're going through is any different than what several filmmakers out there go through every day. We get more disappointed because we've got just these few projects that we're working on, and we're banking on being able to make them. So whenever somebody gets our hopes up and dashes them, it's a little more disappointing."

Meanwhile, Gormley will continue to be a CBS11 street reporter whose work is a staple of the station's 10 p.m. newscasts. There he was again on Wednesday night (March 7), leading the newscast with a story about a Dallas woman who was attacked in broad daylight by brick- and rocking-throwing teenagers who bombarded her SUV.

"I'm not going to let this jeopardize my career with the station," he said two years ago while still basking in the afterglow of that Magnolia Theater screening. "But I think there's going to be a point where I'll have to decide if I can balance both. That's a choice I'd like to have."

Freeze-frame that quote. For now it still holds.

Local Nielsen ratings snapshot (Tues., March 6)

Belo8 recorded a rare double grand slam Tuesday, sweeping the two principal Nielsen ratings measurements in the daily newscast wars.

The ABC station won at 6 a.m., and 5, 6 and 10 p.m. in both total homes and with 25-to-54-year-olds, the main advertiser target audience for news programming. It's the first D-FW grand slam in the four major news food groups since December 18, when NBC5 touched all the bases.

Tuesday otherwise belonged as usual to Fox's dynamic duo of American Idol and a new episode of House, which easily won from 7 to 9 p.m.

But then the closing hour of the Dallas Mavericks-New Jersey Nets game took over at 9 p.m. Airing on Fox Sports Southwest, the Mavs' 16th consecutive victory beat all competing programming in homes and with 25-to-54-year-olds, 18-to-49-year-olds and 18-to-34-year-olds.

The Mavs' path was made easier by reruns on NBC and ABC, but that's still an impressive feat for a cable-only attraction. The entire game averaged 142,800 homes, peaking at 183,260 between 9:45 and 10 p.m.

Local Nielsen ratings snapshot (Mon., March 5)

Capitalizing on a strong lead-in from CSI: Miami, CBS11's late night news edged runnerup Belo8 in homes Monday, giving new anchor Doug Dunbar a nice liftoff.

CBS11 drew 185,640 homes at 10 p.m., with Belo8 right behind (178,500) and NBC5 in an unaccustomed third-place dumper (130,900). That's what happens when Episode 2 of the Peacock's new Black Donnellys series lures just 66,640 homes from 9:45 to 10 p.m., compared to CSI: Miami's 266,560. Monday marked Dunbar's debut at 10 p.m., with Tracy Rowlett now doing only the 5 and 6 p.m. newscasts enroute to retirement in July of next year.

NBC5 recovered very nicely with advertiser-courted 25-to-54-year-olds, winning at 10 p.m. over CBS11 despite again being behind a Black Donnellys 8-ball.

Otherwise Belo8's Daybreak scored big at 6 a.m. with wins in both ratings measurements. The ABC station also took all the gold at 5 and 6 p.m.

In prime-time, Fox4's 9 p.m. local newscast had another strong outing, finishing second across the board to CSI:Miami while pummeling both Black Donnellys and ABC's What About Brian. This time the newscast didn't have much help from Fox's preceding entertainment series. 24 ran only fourth in both homes and with 18-to-49-year-olds, the main advertiser target audience for entertainment programming.

Fox's Prison Break, nearing the end of Season 2, continued a season-long struggle in the D-FW ratings despite being filmed entirely in North Texas. It also ran fourth in homes and among 18-to-49-year-olds. Nationally, PB ran second in the 18-49-demo.

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

CBS11's Tracy Rowlett went out with a . . . well, not with a bang Friday.

On a light viewing night, the longtime anchor's last 10 p.m. newscast drew 116,620 homes in placing third as usual behind Belo8 (145,180 homes) and NBC5 (142,800 homes). Among advertiser-courted 25-to-54-year-olds, the Peacock edged Belo8, with CBS11 running fourth behind Fox4.

NBC5's early morning news won in both audience measurements at 6 a.m. and also was tops at 6 p.m. with 25-to-54-year-olds. Belo8 took the 6 p.m. news battle in homes and had twin wins at 5 p.m.

On Sunday night, a new episode of ABC's Desperate Housewives ruled the prime-time ratings roost, luring 371,280 homes and 276,000 in the 18-to-49 demographic, the main advertiser target audience for entertainment programming.

A double premiere of the new Fox sitcom The Winner (at 7:30 and 8:30 p.m.) had stinkum ratings in the total homes Nielsens. It edged NBC's barely visible Grease: You're the One That I Want to finish fourth at 7:30 p.m. (behind even an America's Next Top Model "encore"). At 8:30 p.m. in D-FW, The Winner also ran fourth.

Starring Rob Corrdry from The Daily Show as a virginal nebbish, The Winner fared somewhat better with 18-to-49-year-olds. It placed second at 7:30 p.m. (to ABC's Extreme Makeover: Home Edition) but only fourth an hour later.

Last call: Tracy Rowlett calls it a night at CBS11

Toasting, one-two-three: CBS11's Tracy Rowlett bids adieu to the 10 p.m. news, with his wife, Jill, and his successor, Doug Dunbar among those sharing this signature off-camera moment. All photos: Ed Bark

All dressed up with just one 10 p.m. newscast to go, CBS11 anchor Tracy Rowlett marked time in a station conference room Friday night by looking back without flinching.

The Walter Cronkite of D-FW television news had been hired in 1999 to eventually take his new station to the promised land -- a No. 1 spot in the late night news ratings.

That never happened but there were a pair of savory victories over Belo8, where Rowlett made his name before making the biggest anchor move the market had ever seen. Now he's segueing to CBS11's 5 and 6 p.m. newscasts before a planned retirement in July of next year. Beginning Monday (March 5), former morning anchor Doug Dunbar will join incumbent Karen Borta at 10 p.m.

"I have never regretted making the move, regardless of some pitfalls and difficulties," Rowlett said. "I've missed some of the people with whom I worked at Channel 8, but I've never missed that station. Which is kind of interesting because people will ask me, 'Aren't you sorry you left Channel 8?' I have never been sorry."

His old station, which years ago left Rowlett out of a picture history in the entrance foyer, is having something of a last laugh on him. Belo8 is back in the No. 1 spot at 10 p.m. after winning in total homes in the February sweeps for the first time since November 2001. NBC5 is still a close second and CBS11 is well back in third place despite again getting better "lead-in" audiences at 9:45 p.m. than any of its competitors.

Quality-wise, though, the CBS-owned station has made major strides with Rowlett as point man.

"Jim Holland (the news director when he joined CBS11) was more concerned with what (co-anchor) Karen's hair looked like than about what was coming out of her mouth," he said. "We couldn't even see Channel 8 looking up. It was like stepping down 50 markets when I came over here. We truly were still in those early throes of trying to put a newscast together.

"I'm sorry that we didn't ascend to the No. 1 rating. I know that's something that everybody kept looking at. But despite that, we're a real player in the marketplace. This station has credibility it didn't have before."

Rowlett and Borta converse during a commercial break Friday night.

Rowlett, 64, joined WFAA-TV in 1974 from KWTV-TV in Oklahoma City. He began co-anchoring the station's 6 and 10 p.m. newscasts in August 1975, teaming with Iola Johnson and eventually Troy Dungan and Dale Hansen to form a veritable Mount Rushmore of a news team. Big Nielsen ratings came fast.

"We just went right to the top of the market. Those were some stellar days for Channel 8," Rowlett said.

He stunningly left the station in 1999 after CBS bought Channel 11, backed up the money truck and offered Rowlett a reported $7 million contract. He jumped at it rather than continue to negotiate with WFAA. Rowlett and his wife, Jill, have an autistic son, Michael, who is now 20. Rowlett said at the time that the deal ensured his son's well-being as well as his own. He never expected to get an offer of such magnitude.

"When Tracy left Channel 8, my God, I cried for six hours straight," Jill Rowlett said Friday. "It was just the change and not knowing what was going to happen. And then it became the most positive thing in the world for us."

A non-compete clause kept Rowlett off the air for several months before he and Borta signed on as a team in February 2000. In their first sweeps together, CBS11 averaged a 5.7 Nielsen rating (125,400 homes at the time), drawing less than half the audience of frontrunning Belo8 (12 rating/264,000 homes).

CBS11's best performances during Rowlett's reign came in 2004. The station surpassed Belo8 for the first time ever in February of that year, placing a still distant second behind NBC5.

By November 2004, Belo8 had edged back into second place ahead of CBS11, but it was the closest three-way ratings race at 10 p.m. since Channel 11 became a CBS affiliate in 1995. NBC5 led with a 10.4 rating, with both Belo8 (9.5) and CBS11 (9.1) within striking distance.

A year ago, the February 2006 sweeps still gave CBS11 some hope of reigning supreme at 10 p.m. All three stations had lost audience, but third-place CBS11's 7.5 rating (178,500 homes) at least wasn't a big loser in the three-way battle with NBC5 (8.8 rating/209,440 homes) and Belo8 (8 rating/190,400 homes).

The bottom dropped out last month, though, with CBS11 slumping to a 5.9 rating (140,420) homes while never seriously challenging for the top spot. It pretty much brought Rowlett back full circle to February 2000, and that 5.7 rating that marked his first sweeps for CBS11. The good news: his station is the only one not to lose viewers in that seven-year span.

Rowlett is vacating the 10 p.m. newscast just a few weeks before the sixth CBS11 news director during his tenure, Regent Ducas, arrives this month from Kansas City.

"It's awfully hard to develop a philosophy that takes you in a specific direction when each person who comes in as news director has a somewhat different idea," Rowlett said. "I think if we could ever get grounded and have a real direction charted for us, that would pay dividends in this marketplace. I want us to represent something, to be something. Maybe it's too late for that. I really don't know. I don't know why we're not No. 1 now."

Just dessert: Rowlett's wife, Jill, and incoming 10 p.m. anchor Doug Dunbar, who's leaving mornings, await with a cake inscribed, "Thanks for 30+ years at 10 p.m. Let's get 'em at 5 and 6."

Borta and Rowlett became close friends over the years. Jill Rowlett considers her a "member of our family," and they indeed seem like sisters.

"I know we have to adapt, we have to change," Borta said while seated next to Rowlett a half-hour before their last newscast as a 10 p.m. team. "But all day today I've just been a little blue. As I told Tracy, I'm just a little melancholy, baby. I just can't shake it. It's going to be fine here, but it's just not going to be the same. I've been very privileged to work with Tracy."

Dunbar, who joined CBS 11 three years ago as the main morning man, said he hadn't expected any changes to be made until the new news director had his feet planted in D-FW. But the 10 p.m. show is now his, "and the biggest thing is you don't want to screw it up," Dunbar said.

"There's no brighter spotlight than when you're taking over for a legend. And it can be a glaring spotlight. But the other side of it is that the first day Tracy went on the air in this market, he didn't do it with 30 years of experience. He's a guy who had to carve a name for himself, and he had to start from the ground up."

Rowlett soon will be starting regular commentaries for the 10 p.m. newscast, and he even hopes to do a documentary or two for CBS11, although that might be far-fetched. He sees NBC5's tumble from the 10 p.m. top spot (in homes but still not among advertiser-coveted 25-to-54-year-olds) as a possible repudiation of the station's crime-and-tragedy-laden, furiously paced newscasts.

"There's not a direct correlation between ratings success and newscast quality," Rowlett said. "Oftentimes what happens is that stations will do almost anything to get a (ratings) number so they can sell that and make a lot of money. It's really that simple, and I think that's what's happened over at Channel 5.

"They're bright people. They know what they're doing and they have no illusions about what they're putting on the air over there. . . But some of the real flash-and-trash news organizations are seeing some erosion in their numbers now. I hope that's sort of the bell that's sounding for folks to change their ways."

Last supper: From left to right, weatherman Mike Burger, Tracy and Jill Rowlett, Doug Dunbar, Karen Borta, sports anchor Bill Jones.

Friday's 10 p.m. newscast quickly went into the books. Time didn't stop or slow in deference to the night's graying centerpiece. It did give one pause, though, to think what all of this meant.

Tracy Rowlett graced D-FW news for 32.5 years as a 10 p.m. anchor of authority and distinction. He was the antithesis of a blow-dried pretty boy. News to him really was a calling, not a modeling opportunity. He endured in good times and bad, never a choir boy but always on the side of the angels. He's leaving the station's big stage in times when the news increasingly is being tailored toward the perceived appetites of younger viewers, particularly women. So it's best for him, really, to exit CBS11's biggest news stage before someone pushed him ingloriously into a mosh pit.

"I'm really not having a difficult time with this," Rowlett said shortly before facing the Friday night lights. "Frankly, I'm looking forward to it. You surrender a lot with these jobs in terms of the hours and family life."

Borta narrated a filmed tribute to Rowlett and CBS11 president and general manager Steve Mauldin phoned in from out of town before D-FW's quintessential anchorman had the last words.

He paused just once to gather himself after commending "all my colleagues here. You are the best."

It finally came down to this: "I know I've always been a guest in your home. I never wanted to overstay my welcome. Thank you for watching, and good night."

Night 1 of the Doug Dunbar era begins Monday.

This just in: A night in the lives of D-FW's 10 p.m. newscasts (Wed., Feb. 28)

It's over. Eighty weeknight 10 p.m. newscasts later, unclebarky.com at last is at parade rest for a while.

As you'll see elsewhere on this page, Belo8 came out the big winner in the four-week February sweeps ratings period, which ended Wednesday. NBC5 is still a force to be reckoned with, in the Nielsens at least. But its momentum is in a ditch and its low-brow late night newscast sorely needs a makeover.

Wednesday's finales again saw the four major news providers do what they do best -- and worst.

Belo8 and CBS11 do the most enterprise reporting, downplaying crime and tragedy in favor of stories with wider impact. Fox4 regularly puts in the extra legwork on basic news of the day reported on multiple stations. And NBC5 pumps up the fear, scatter-shooting through a dozen or more figurative dirty diapers a night.

The Peacock led Wednesday's 10 p.m. news with anchor Jane McGarry intoning, "A beauty shop shut down. Army officers unnerved. Tonight, terror in North Texas."

Well, not exactly "tonight." A North Texas man appeared in federal court to face charges Wednesday after he began making telephoned threats last December to area Army recruiting offices. He supposedly said, "You'll pay for your sins. The jihad has begun."

This certainly is a reportable story, and Mistress of the Dark Susan Risdon again was capably on the spot. But NBC5's scare tactic promos led viewers to believe they might be under attack. You can only bait-and-switch 'em for so long before losing all credibility. And the Peacock has gone virtually bankrupt in that respect.

Later in the newscast, anchor Mike Snyder had a stunner. "A McChange is coming to McDonald's," he said before citing three menu changes due this summer. He seemed to greatly approve of the new sweet rolls with cinammon glaze. But was this a thinly disguised "make-good" for a recent NBC5 story that said drive-thru customer complaints had gone up at McDonald's? It sure McSeemed so.

Belo8 in contrast had several lengthy reports of actual worth. Shelly Slater led Wednesday's newscast with a piece on how copper thefts from freeway lamp posts had left stretches of I-30 dangerously pitch dark. CBS11 reporter Jack Fink covered much the same ground back on Feb. 9, but these kinds of stories bear repeating.

Investigative reporter Brett Shipp later tracked the luxury jet plane travel of North Texas-based televangelists Kenneth and Gloria Copeland, who have pledged to use the aircraft only for God's work. Shipp wondered whether trips to Maui, Honolulu, Steamboat Springs and the like qualified as such.

On CBS11, investigator Robert Riggs had Wednesday's most compelling story. He looked at taxpayer-funded boarding houses that are supposed to provide humane shelter and three meals a day for their mentally disabled residents.

Instead many of these places were a disgrace. Riggs made a salient point by noting that one of the landlords has a $250,000 home that "looks out on Lake Ray Hubbard. His boarding house looks out on a pool of mud."

CBS11 also had a happy ending to its Tuesday night story of an infirm elderly man who desperately was searching for his missing dog, Dakota. They were reunited Wednesday, the station reported.

Fox4 had another utilitarian newscast. But reporter Emily Lopez spiked it by getting the only on-camera interview with 60-year-old Sally Reed of Frisco. She's lately become famous in these parts for fending off a nineteen-year-old male thief armed with a pistol. They wrestled and the punk ended up being shot in the stomach before running off. He's now in jail.

"Concentrate on the perpetrator, not on me," Reed told Lopez. "I just want to get on with my life.'

Nice sentiment. I'll now get on with my life for a while before again scrutinizing the 10 p.m. newscasts during the May sweeps ratings period. By then, CBS11 will have a new news director, NBC5 perhaps will have a new model and Belo8 will be fighting anew to keep its 10 p.m. crown.

Let's close, as always, with the final violent crime story count, a competition that of course was won by NBC5. Here are the not-so-grand totals:

NBC5 -- 68
Fox4 -- 39
CBS11 -- 31
Belo8 -- 23

February sweeps fini: Belo8 makes big inroads at 10 p.m., 6 a.m.

Belo8's first ratings sweeps month in its new Victory Park studios has proved prophetic.

The ABC station ended NBC5's long reign of 10 p.m. newscast wins in total homes and also beat the Peacock at 6 a.m. among 25-to-54-year-olds, the main advertiser target audience for news programming.

A year ago, when a new electronic measuring system completely replaced handwritten diaries, Belo8 placed second at 10 p.m., just slightly ahead of CBS11. And it was a distant third at 6 a.m. in both homes and the 25-54 demo.

Belo8 also won in the two main audience measurements at 5 and 6 p.m., logging its best sweeps book in several years. NBC5 claimed the other two victories, edging Belo8 with 25-to-54-year-olds at 10 p.m. and beating Fox4 at 6 a.m. in homes.

Kathy Clements, Belo8's president and general manager, said the station's investments in high-definition and Victory Park added to the momentum that's been building for the past year.

"I think everything finally came together for us," she said in a telephone interview Thursday. "We have the buzz, we have the excitement, we have the contemporary feel."

The Peacock's 10 p.m. winning streak in homes had dated to February 2002, when NBC's Winter Olympics telecasts helped it beat Belo8. NBC5 hadn't been defeated in 15 consecutive sweeps periods, which are tabulated annually in February, May and November.

Five Februarys later, NBC5's bait-and-switch, flash-and-trash news approach finally may have hit the wall. The station also had less help from Peacock network lead-ins, with Thursday night's ER no longer the mega-hit it used to be.

Here are the February sweeps Nielsen ratings results in the four major local newscast time periods, with gains or losses from February 2006 in parentheses:

10 p.m.

Total Homes
Belo 8 -- 207,060 (+16,660)
NBC5 -- 195,160 (-14,280)
CBS11 -- 140,420 (-38,080)
Fox4 -- 102,340 (-14,280)

NBC5 -- 146,370 (-28,700)
Belo8 -- 132,020 (-5,740)
CBS11 -- 68,880 (-37,310)
Fox4 -- 66,010 (-28,700)

6 a.m.

Total Homes
NBC5 -- 109,480 (-4,760)
Fox4 -- 99,960 (-11,900)
Belo8 -- 92,820 (+14,280)
CBS11 -- 38,080 (no change)

Belo8 -- 68,880 (+22,960)
Fox4 -- 66,010 (-20,090)
NBC5 -- 60,270 (-2,870)
CBS11 -- 22,960 (no change)

6 p.m.

Total Homes
Belo8 -- 159,460 (+4,760)
NBC5 -- 128,520 (+2,380)
CBS11 -- 111,860 (-23,800)
Fox4 -- 88,060 (-16,660)

Belo8 -- 77,490 (-2,870)
NBC5 -- 66,010 (+8,610)
Fox4 -- 54,530 (-20,090)
CBS11 -- 34,440 (-8,610)

5 p.m.

Total Homes
Belo8 -- 154,700 (-7,140)
NBC5 -- 119,000 (+14,280)
Fox4 -- 80,920 (-23,800)
CBS11 -- 61,880 (-21,420)

Belo8 -- 77,490 (-14,350)
NBC5 -- 51,660 (+8,610)
Fox4 -- 37,310 (-22,960)
CBS11 -- 20,090 (-5,740)

These year-to-year ups and downs show that Fox4 was hit the hardest among the four stations while CBS11 fell out of contention at 6 p.m. and 10 p.m.

Fox4's only bright spot was its 9 p.m. local newscasts, which averaged a very competitive 166,600 homes with help from ultra-potent American Idol lead-ins on some nights. That was good enough to beat a variety of NBC prime-time programming (158,865 homes) from 9 to 10 p.m.

In other ratings highlights:

***CBS11's Wheel of Fortune handily prevailed in total homes at 6:30 p.m. against three competing, Anna Nicole Smith-obsessed TV rags -- Entertainment Tonight, Extra and Access Hollywood. But ET was tops with 18-to-49-year-olds, the key advertiser target audience for entertainment programming.

***The third hour of NBC's Today won in homes at 9 a.m. in an extremely tight fight among Fox4's runnerup Live with Regis & Kelly, Belo8's homegrown Good Morning Texas and CBS11's Rachael Ray. But Regis & Kelly placed first with 18-to-49-year-olds, followed closely by GMT.

***The Price Is Right on CBS edged ABC's competing The View in total homes at 10 a.m. But the two shows switched places among 18-to-49-year-olds.

***In the network dinner hour news race, ABC's World News with Charles Gibson placed first in homes and with 25-to-54-year-olds. The CBS Evening News with Katie Couric finished fourth in both measurements.