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This just in: A night in the lives of D-FW's late night newscasts (Wed., May 23)

Celena Rae and Maria Sotolongo commandeered Fox's 9 p.m. newscast Wednesday with non-stop American Idol coverage.

We've just got to stop meeting this way, and for awhile we will.

Ready for a padded cell and a very long weekend, your faithful correspondent at long last has finished a May "sweeps" marathon of 80 late night D-FW newscasts in 20 weeknights.

Oh the crime and tragedy I've seen. The twisted metal, the scared citizenry. "Breaking News" up the ying-yang. Reporters constantly caught in the act of molding something from nothing. Mistress of the Dark Susan Risdon emerging time and again from the North Texas cesspool she dives into every night on NBC5's 35-minute contribution to truth, justice and nothing of the sort.

Verily we've also seen bottomless vats of youth-rendering goop being spread nightly on women's wrinkled or cellulite-ravaged pusses, thighs and midsections. Pills for every conceivable ailment. All-purpose medical research on the plusses and minuses of just about everything you've ever stuffed into your yapper.

And let's not forget all that chuckletalk, most of it from the mouths of Pete, Dale, Gloria and John on Belo8's now first-place 10 p.m. newscasts.

Some solid enterprise reporting also has crept in, the great majority of it on Belo8 or Fox4. And yes, we've saluted you for pursuing genuine stories of worth.

But it's the excesses we tend to remember, and Wednesday's closing night of the sweeps seemed to set a new standard. Fox4's entire one-hour 9 p.m. newscast was hijacked by American Idol, save for Dan Henry's interloping weather segment.

Maria Sotolongo, Fox4's incredibly excited Hollywood correspondent, likely set a world's record for non-stop talking about essentially nothing. I mean, she kept going and going and going until "Idol insider" and former contestant Celena Rae took over at the Dallas anchor desk.

Poor Steve Eagar, who had to sit next to her, seemed way out of his element. And maybe a little irked, too, when the coverage piled up like a five-car wreck.

"All right, where we goin' now?" he asked at one point. "Help me out."

He was going, of course, back to Sotolongo, who had breathless news. "They just told me that we're 10 minutes away from all of the contestants coming out," she said.

You might have thought Fox4 was covering the first American landing on the moon -- or at least an imminent "weather event" in Palo Pinto County. But no, no chance of that.

Sotolongo told each and every interviewee how much she loved them. But her love for runnerup Blake Lewis was extra-special. When he finally bopped into view on the 10 p.m. newscast, she greeted him with a hug and a big "Mwaah!" on one of his authentic American Idol cheeks. He got another "Mwaah!" upon leaving.

Rae lavished a good deal of her love on Sanjaya Malakar, who first was caught on camera with that constantly sobbing little girl whom Idol viewers have gotten to know all too well.

"OK, at some point does that become abuse or something?" Eagar gamely wondered. "That poor little girl, she's bawling every time we see her."

Rae flicked Eagar away, dubbing Malakar an "amazing performer" who's going to make it all the way to Nickelodeon.

"I'm all about Sanjaya," she proclaimed. "I love Sanjaya. And I will go to my grave loving Sanjaya."

Yes, she actually said that.

The Idol coverage went on for so long that Eagar had to deal out consumer reporter Steve Noviello's "Deal or Dud" piece on women's wrinkle creams. No kidding.

In the end, Wednesday's sixth season Idol finale drew 30.7 million viewers nationally, according to Nielsen Media Research. That's considerably shy of the 36.4 million who watched Taylor Hicks win last year's competition.

But in D-FW -- and this is all that really matters -- Fox4's 9 p.m. Idol extravaganza proved to be a ratings bonanza. It drew 302,260 homes and 213,900 advertiser-craved 18-to-49-year-olds, resoundingly winning its time period against competition that included ABC's season finale of Lost.

Some people might have watched Fox4's Idol-athon just to goof on it. No matter. Maria Sotolongo and Celena Rae brought in the viewers and thereby the money. So that's the lesson that station management will take from this.


Local Nielsen ratings snapshot -- May sweeps finale edition

By ED BARK (copyright unclebarky.com)

It's official. Belo8's 10 p.m. newscasts now wear both ratings crowns for the first time since 2001.

The ABC station's big stretch run among advertiser-craved 25-to-54-year-olds pushed NBC5 into an unaccustomed second place and marked a stark reversal from a year ago. Belo8 also won comfortably in the total homes Nielsens, extending its streak to two sweeps periods.

Powerful lead-ins this week from three potent ABC season finales gave Belo8 the push it needed to overtake the Peacock. Sequentially, Belo8's late night newscasts were gifted with lead-ins from The Bachelor: Officer and a Gentlemen, Dancing with the Stars and Lost.

The NBC network, in the throes of its worst ratings season ever, couldn't come close to matching that kind of firepower. But in previous sweeps periods, NBC5 has benefited immensely from its network's lead-ins, particularly when ER was an unstoppable force. This time around, Belo8 won the 25-to-54 battles on seven of the sweeps' last eight nights.

Fox4 got good news, too. Its Good Day returned to the winner's circle in both the total homes ratings and among 25-to-54-year-olds. NBC5 and Belo8 respectively had won those competitions in the February sweeps. In May, the Peacock virtually fell off the map, finishing third in both measurements.

Also of note: the 7 to 9 a.m. portion of Good Day beat the three network morning shows among 25-to-54-year-olds, the main advertiser target audience for news programming.

Belo8 ran the table at 5 and 6 p.m., reversing a 6 p.m. loss to Fox4 last May in the 25-to-54-year-old demographic. The ABC station showed significant audience increases in all four major newscast time slots in registering its best ratings book this century.

Despite winning at 6 a.m., Fox4 experienced audience declines across the board. Save for the 6 p.m. 25-to-54 ratings, so did NBC5.

CBS11 had the most dismal ratings performance of all, though, in its first sweeps under new news director Regent Ducas. The station's vastly retooled 10 p.m. newscast dropped more than two ratings points from last May while also falling below its performance in the February sweeps. At 10 p.m., CBS11 finished a distant third in total homes and fifth with 25-to-54-year-olds.

Univision23's Noticias 23 Spanish language newscast finished an eye-opening second among 25-to-54-year-olds at 5 p.m. and placed third at 10 p.m. in that demographic.

Here are the total home and 25-to-54 ratings for the four major local newscast competitions. The Noticias 23 newscast is included at 5 and 10 p.m., where it competes directly against Belo8, Fox4, NBC5 and CBS11. May 2006 performances also are included, with ups or downs in parentheses.

10 P.M.

Belo8 -- 8.8 rating -- 209,440 homes (plus 30,940)
NBC5 -- 7.1 rating -- 168,980 homes (minus 40,460)
CBS11 -- 5.1 rating -- 121,380 homes (minus 57,120)
Fox4 -- 4.2 rating -- 99,960 homes (minus 30,940)
Univision23 -- 3.7 rating -- 88,060 homes (minus 2,380)

Belo8 -- 4.7 rating -- 134,890 persons (plus 22,960)
NBC5 -- 4.5 rating -- 129,150 persons (minus 40,180)
Univision 23 -- 2.8 rating -- 80,360 persons (minus 8,610)
Fox4 -- 2.1 rating -- 60,270 persons (minus 34,440)
CBS11 -- 1.9 rating -- 54,530 persons (minus 43,050)

6 A.M
Fox4 -- 3.9 rating -- 92,820 homes (minus 16,660)
Belo8 -- 3.4 rating -- 80,920 homes (plus 9,520)
NBC5 -- 3.3 rating -- 78,540 homes (minus 33,320)
CBS11 -- 1.3 rating -- 30,940 homes (minus 4,760)

Fox4 -- 2.4 rating -- 68,880 persons (minus 8,610)
Belo8 -- 2.3 rating -- 66,010 persons (plus 20,090)
NBC5 -- 1.6 rating -- 45,920 persons (minus 20,090)
CBS11 -- .7 rating -- 20,090 persons (same as last May)

6 P.M.

Belo8 -- 7.4 rating -- 176,120 homes (plus 52,360)
NBC5 -- 4.7 rating -- 111,860 homes (minus 9,520)
Fox4 -- 3.7 rating -- 88,060 homes (minus 7,140)
CBS11 -- 3.5 rating -- 83,300 homes (minus 19,040)

Belo8 -- 3.2 rating -- 91,840 persons (plus 28,700)
NBC5 -- 2.0 rating -- 57,400 persons (plus 5,740)
Fox4 -- 1.8 rating -- 51,660 persons (minus 14,350)
CBS11 -- 1.0 rating -- 28,700 persons (minus 8,610)

5 P.M.

Belo8 -- 6.6 rating -- 157,080 homes (plus 28,560)
NBC5 -- 4.0 rating -- 95,200 homes (minus 21,420)
Univision23 -- 3.1 rating -- 73,780 homes (same as last May)
Fox4 -- 3.0 rating -- 71,400 homes (minus 23,800)
CBS11 -- 2.3 rating -- 54,740 homes (minus 16,660)

Belo8 -- 2.8 rating -- 80,360 persons (plus 8,610)
Univision23 -- 2.1 rating -- 60,270 persons (minus 2,870)
NBC5 -- 1.6 rating -- 45,920 persons (minus 8,610)
Fox4 -- 1.2 rating -- 34,440 persons (minus 14,350)
CBS11 -- .7 rating -- 20,090 persons (minus 2,870)

This just in: A night in the lives of D-FW's late night newscasts (Tues., May 22)

Pandering to women. It's standard operating procedure on D-FW's two 10 p.m. ratings leaders. Why so? Let's look at Tuesday night's numbers before getting to the games stations play.

Night after night, Nielsen Media Research numbers show that many many more women than men watch late night newscasts. This is of most import in the key 25-to-54-year-old sales demographic. Tuesday night went like this:

A total of 296,234 women aged 25-to-54 watched the 10 p.m. newscasts on Belo8, NBC5 and CBS11, plus the 9 p.m. program on Fox4. A heavy majority of them -- 223,599 -- were tuned to either Belo8 or NBC5.

The figures for 25-to-54-year-old men aren't nearly as imposing. A grand total of 175,014 watched those same four late night local newscasts. Only Fox4's 9 p.m. news had more men than women on hand -- but just barely. For the others, it obviously wasn't even close.

Given those numbers, is it any wonder that Belo8 anchor Gloria Campos was instructed to tease these two stories during the final hour of ABC's Dancing with the Stars finale?

"The pill to stop your period for good!" she exclaimed shortly after 9 p.m. "Watch News 8 at 10."

And at 9:26 p.m.: "Fake designer handbags and how to spot the knockoffs! Watch News 8 at 10."

NBC5 uses the same tactics. Women are very much in the Peacock's crosshairs, too. So its Tuesday night news menu made room for the period-preempting pill, yet another facial wrinkle treatment story and "the secret to never wasting another minute in checkout lines."

Regent Ducas, CBS11's new news director, so far isn't playing this game. He told unclebarky.com last month that he wouldn't know how to do a "female newscast." And Fox4 hardly ever hypes stories that clearly are targeted at women. Maybe they're both paying a price for that.

The pill story turned out to be one of Belo8's briefer of the night, despite all that heavy promotion. Anchor John McCaa spent all of 18 seconds touting the new, FDA-appoved Lybrel birth control pill.

Rival stations also brought news of Lybrel, with CBS11 deploying anchor Karen Borta to read a much lengthier video report. But no one flogged it the way Belo8 did.

The "Real . . . or Replica" story on Belo8 had reporter Shelly Slater on the scent of high-priced handbags. Some "purse parties" apparently sell cheap knockoffs instead of the real thing. But at least one seemingly well-to-do young woman apparently got lucky enough to purchase a genuine designer tote for a mere $450.

"You actually have a real bag," she was told by a saleswoman at a rich people's retailer.

"I do!" she exclaimed. "Yay!"

You can imagine how much male appeal that one had.

Over at NBC5, correspondent Meredith Land got an exclusive "first look" at a new facial injection that supposedly can make Grandma Moses look like an Olsen twin. One grateful beneficiary had "been working to get a plumper pucker," Land told viewers. Cry me a river.

Then came Brian Curtis with a complete fraud of a story on how to spend less time standing in checkout lines. After all, "my time is very, very valuable," a woman told him.

OK, so what's the secret to waiting less? Go to stores on weekday mornings, but never during lunch, Curtis told viewers.

That's it? Yep. Epilogue: women sure are treated as imbeciles by some stations.

Tuesday's big story otherwise was the successful bid to host the 2011 Super Bowl at the Dallas Cowboys' eventual new stadium in Arlington.

It must have been really important because CBS11 scrapped its "urgent" new "First Five Minutes" crime-a-thon to offer a series of live reports on "the big play that has all of North Texas cheering," as anchor Doug Dunbar put it.

One citizen said he'd even think about driving to the game, but only after a reporter goosed him.

"Yeah, I might consider doing that," he then revealed. "I would."

Fox4's parent network will be telecasting the 2011 Super Bowl, a Fox spokesman confirmed Wednesday. Amazingly, the station forgot to mention this during its extensive 9 p.m. news coverage of the successful bid. Commendably, though, it offered some respite from the rampant cheerleading.

First came a woman's sour outlook: "I hear some people are excited about it . . . We're not, frankly," she told reporter Brandon Todd. "I don't know how it (the new stadium) got voted in in the first place."

Reporter Scott Sayres later looked at the often inflated claims of economic booms for cities that host the Super Bowl. A projected $400 million will be pumped into the North Texas economy, supporters say. But some surveys contend that Houston's hosting of the 2004 game netted the city only $913,397 in net profits after all the pre-game expenditures were subtracted.

Still, the big game can bring priceless amounts of free publicity while also generating civic pride, Sayres said. We'll have a three-and-a-half year wait before being able to make cents and sense of it all.

Fox4 otherwise threw itself into post-American Idol coverage, with the station's Maria Sotolongo putting on an embarrassing display from the show's media area.

"We love you in North Texas," she told finalist Jordin Sparks after the 17-year-old phenom walked up and hugged her. Sotolongo later hugged her back before brandishing a "Team Jordin" t-shirt.

"Ya know what, I'm allowed to give my opinion," she old viewers.

It got worse.

Sotolongo also was intent on interviewing co-finalist Blake Edwards live.

"He might come to me in a few seconds," she said while otherwise narrating highlights from Tuesday night's sing-off. "I feel like I'm in the Super Bowl. C'mon, Blake. C'mon! Come to mama!"

He finally came, with Sotolongo hugging him, too. That makes her ready-made for Extra, Access Hollywood or Entertainment Tonight. But you just don't pull that kind of piffle when you're on an otherwise mostly respectable newscast.

Fox4 then segued to an actual news report from Jason Overstreet, who said that many McKinney residents are upset about their city's continued once-a-week watering restrictions.

Too bad he couldn't have hosed off Sotolongo at report's end. She really needs to look at her Tuesday night performance, and then take it way down for Wednesday's Idol finale.

This just in: A night in the lives of D-FW's late night newscasts (Mon., May 21)

TV gumshoes Bennett Cunningham of CBS11 and Brett Shipp of Belo8

Investigative reporting can be a valuable addition to any newscast's arsenal, especially when so much of the menu otherwise goes to quick-hit crime or tragedy coverage.

CBS11 is back in the game after an earlier layoff, Belo8 has always been there and Fox4 keeps going deeper, too. Only NBC5 is without any sort of investigative unit, unless one counts Brian Curtis' occasional pursuits of "Big Fat Savings."

In the real world of dig and delve, Fox4, Belo8 and CBS11 all had distinctly different reports Monday night. But this can be a tricky business. When does a reporter go too far in upbraiding an alleged wrongdoer? Do theatrics sometimes make a reporter look like a bigger ass than his or her prey? Let's investigate further.

CBS11's Bennett Cunningham told the sad story of Nellie Fleming, an impoverished Dallas woman living in a roach- and termite-infested apartment with a hole in the ceiling. She's a Section 8 client, meaning that the government pays most of her rent.

Lately, though, Nellie's been accused of being behind on the rent she does pay. Cunningham offered no further evidence as to who might be right in this matter, but did show viewers how the woman has to crawl out a window to leave her residence. That's because the management of her apartment building has placed an interior lock on her door that would keep her out if she closed it behind her. Not only that, but the place looked virtually uninhabitable.

Cunningham questioned Dallas Housing Authority personnel in a reasonable manner about this. But then he burst into the offices of the apartment managers to show them pictures of Nellie's abode while demanding an explanation.

"I'm not allowed to speak with you about this matter," a man politely kept saying before finally closing but not slamming the doors on Cunningham.

"Guess he doesn't want to talk to me," the reporter said rhetorically -- and self-importantly.

He then began squeezing the evidence through the office door. "Here, I'll leave the pictures of the roaches here for you. And this is the picture of her lock that you put on her door so that way you'll be able to see what it's like. There you go."

OK, OK, we get it. In the end, Cunningham reported, the hole in Nellie's ceiling got fixed and her apartment was sprayed for pests. Clearly Cunningham had something to do with that. But his extra added grandstanding cheapened the whole enterprise.

Over on Belo8, Brett Shipp followed up on Friday's investigation of former drag car racing legend Gene Snow, who seemed to get unusually lenient treatment after being accused of raping a boy who at the time was in the fifth grade and now is in his late teens.

A judge who had been on vacation reopened the case Monday and ordered that Snow must undergo further evaluation and possibly be treated as a sex offender. Shipp, who was in the courtroom, pointedly questioned attorneys from both sides. None would answer his questions, but really, how could they? Just what do you say when a reporter inquires, "Ma'am, do you think you had a child molester on your hands?"

Shipp for the most part didn't show off, although his last confrontation seemed unnecessary.

"Despite the victim's change of heart (he and his family had settled out of court with Snow), the question remains," Shipp told viewers before zeroing in on defense attorney Tim Evans.

"Did he sexually molest that child?" he asked Evans of his client.

"I'm gonna tell you, Mr. Shipp, that anything we had to say about this case was said on the record before this judge," Evans told him. "And you were in there."

Yes, he certainly was. So this last line of questioning in reality was kind of pointless.

Fox4's effort came from "On Your Side" reporter Steve Noviello, who looked at the legalities of merchants refusing to accept credit or debit cards unless minimums of $3 or $5 were spent.

"This is one of my personal pet peeves, and it is time we address it," he told anchors Steve Eagar and Natalie Solis, who probably didn't care one way or the other.

Most merchants have signs posted with debit or credit minimums. But Noviello found that three major credit card companies -- Visa, Mastercard and Discovery -- forbid such refusals.

Before making this point, Noviello tried to buy a $1 bottle of water with a credit card. But a merchant told him it would be no sale because his processing costs wouldn't be worth it to him.

"As opposed to taking my money, you'd rather me report you?" Noviello asked him.

"Go ahead," the man said.

"OK." said Noviello.

OK, this is interesting information to a point. But really, is it that big a deal? Or was it a nickel-and-dime story dressed up to look like a $10 hamburger?

As a postscript, Belo8 investigator Byron Harris deserves congratulations. He didn't have a story Monday night, but was named Tuesday as a finalist in the 2007 Gerald Loeb Awards for Distinguished Business and Financial Journalism. And as Robert Wilonsky notes on Unfair Park, Harris was the only non-network nominee in the Television Enterprise Category.

Harris has taken some lumps in this space lately. But clearly he's also capable of terrific work. He's shown that many times during an overall very distinguished career.

Selling Fox4 the John Kukla way

Coming to play: John Kukla in his well-appointed office. Photo: Ed Bark

Clearly he enjoys his work.

"I've been a child of television ever since I can remember," says Fox4's John Kukla.

As proof, his office is tastefully dominated by pop culture kitsch. Wayne Newton's "Red Roses For a Blue Lady" album from TV's Ed Sullivan Show era. An early home edition of The Newlywed Game. A Simon Cowell bobblehead doll. An old pocket-sized TV Guide with a cover boy caricature of his idol, David Letterman.

Kukla, the station's vice president of creative sales, says his mother has documented his nearly lifelong affinity for all things television.

"She has a journal where she wrote, 'When Johnny was three, he used to walk up to people and go, 'What is your name, please'?"

That's what emcee Bud Collyer used to ask two pretenders and the real deal on TV's original To Tell the Truth.

All these years later, Kukla, 48, retains his buoyancy and boyish enthusiasm. He's still in there pitching for whatever has to be promoted at Fox4 and sister station MY27, which lately is regrouping after flopping as a national carrier of nightly English language telenovelas.

On the My27 front, it might have been easier selling peanut butter sandwiches in the Mojave Desert. But most of Kukla's efforts are devoted to Fox4's daily seven-and-a-half hours of local newscasts, easily the most in the D-FW viewing area.

"I can't think of any other market in the country where there's not at least one weak station," he says. "Everybody is big, powerful, well-funded, smart and competitive. I'm always impressed by the creativity and strong marketing among all of us. And of course motivated to top it."

Instant daily ratings and audience demographics are spit out each morning via an updated Nielsen Media Research "people meter" system that hit the D-FW market in January 2006.

But even though every day's a report card, this is money time. Just three days remain in the four-week May "sweeps," which end on Wednesday. And in the increasingly important early morning race, Fox4 and Belo8 are virtually tied in the battle for advertiser-coveted 25-to-54-year-olds. That's why you're seeing such a heavy prime-time emphasis on Good Day anchors Tim Ryan and Megan Henderson. Belo8 is doing likewise with its early morning personalities.

"Promotionally you've got to represent what you really have," Kukla says.

For Fox4, it boils down to three words. "The News Station" has been the station's overall promotional slogan ever since Kukla arrived in 2000 after 18 years at WAGA-TV in Atlanta.

"It's direct. It's not catchy or whimsical. But it's what we are," he says.

Kukla, with a big assist from staff producer Chris Ivey, also co-wrote Fox4's undeniably catchy Good Day jingle rather than pay the oft-expensive rights to an existing feel-good song.

"John understands that the pen is mightier than the special effect," says his first lieutenant, "Promo Joe" Kozlowski. "Departments here flock to him for ideas."

Raised in Macon, GA, Kukla graduated from the University of Georgia with a broadcasting degree before landing an entry-level job at Atlanta's WAGA-TV, then a CBS affiliate.

"I was just a shlepper guy" with PM Magazine, he recalls. Virtually every major market had its own homegrown version, but most of them died at the hands of Wheel of Fortune in the mid-1980s. So Kukla joined WAGA's promotions department in 1986. Cable TV was growing and times were changing.

"Up until that point, our promotion was, 'Dallas is on at 8. You're all going to watch. We don't really have to tell you much more.' Everybody made a lot of money, and it was great."

Kukla met his wife, Catherine, at WAGA, where she was a floor director.

"She knows the business and understands the crazy hours," he says. "TV is the store that never closes, and God bless her for putting up with it -- and me. The term 'breaking promo emergency' sounds ridiculous, but we have them at least once a week."

Their two daughters, Bailey and Emma, now are teenagers and students at Ursuline Academy in Dallas. But station salesmanship had to come of age in a much bigger hurry during the mid-1980s. Wall Street demanded fatter profits of broadcasters that had gone public and were newly vulnerable to stock price ups and downs.

A consultant firm told WAGA that its news anchors were perceived as "very unfriendly, cold, too businesslike."

"So we did a 'Good News Atlanta' campaign," Kukla recalls. "Jingles, balloons and an orchestra in the park. It was gorgeous. Everybody loved it and nobody believed it for a second. It just wasn't who we were."

He rebooted with the slogan "Dedicated, determined, dependable," which WAGA used for 20 years before recently retiring it. But in 1994 the station experienced a seismic shift -- in prime-time at least -- when Fox rattled the broadcast terrain by buying a number of CBS stations.

"We went from Jessica Fletcher (on Murder, She Wrote) to Bart Simpson in the space of a week," Kukla says. "And we never looked back."

He spent six more years at WAGA before Fox asked him to make a switch to KDFW in Dallas. Kukla arrived well after the former CBS station used Jim Varney's imbecilic Ernest P. Worrell character to pitch the 10 p.m. news. KDFW also had shown incoming anchor John Criswell with tape over his mouth to spoof a "non-compete" clause that prevented him from immediately joining his new station from neighboring Belo8.

Kukla had his moments at WAGA, though. He once promoted CBS' coverage of the Lillehammer Olympics by having his sports anchor talk in Norwegian. He also had a barber shop quartet sing the praises of the news team. And on another occasion, anchors went knocking on doors as part of a "Honey, it's Forrest and Pam" gambit.

"Now we just mock them mercilessly," Kukla says.

Fox4 has had big promotional platforms this year with American Idol, House and Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?, the season's surprise new hit. Hard-edged newscast promotions about murder investigations or other violent crimes are out of bounds on Idol and other family-friendly Fox fare, Kukla says.

"Promotion is an ambush, really. You pop a promo in there that comes at you without warning. So we've got to be careful that we're not upsetting somebody during certain kinds of shows."

His teenage daughters have grown comfortable watching TV on their iPods, but "I can't do it," Kukla says. My head hurts. It's too little."

"TVs and computers are melding together, too, but I hope that the act of sitting down and being entertained will never go away. At the end of the day, I like to turn on the set and have somebody talk to me."

Kukla is asked how he'd promote himself, and the question initially throws him a bit.

"A man who loves TV and hopes you do, too," he says. "I don't know, something like that."

He's not at a loss for long, though. On the following morning, he emails "the Top 10 other slogans to sell John Kukla."

They include:

"Good and good 4 you."

"Dedicated, determined, dependable . . . dad."

"There's a million ways to sell The Jeffersons . . . I've done almost all of them."

"I'm not sure what it is I do, either."

Spoken like a true vp of creative services. But every station's gotta have one. And John Kukla has proven he's better than most at gettin' 'em to stay tuned.

This just in: A night in the lives of D-FW's late night newscasts (Fri., May 18)

The first (1988) and last (1991) minor league cards of Pete Delkus.

It proved to be that rare night of nights in D-FW television news.

NBC5 astonishingly scrimped on crime coverage during Friday's 10 p.m. offering, allowing CBS11 to run wild with it. And Belo8 weatherman Pete Delkus amazingly said, "I got nothin' for Dale tonight. I'm layin' out."

Delkus almost always takes a post-weathercast shot at sports anchor Dale Hansen. It's become a calculated part of the station's strategy to keep viewers from tuning out the last half of newscasts. Kind of like the ol' Tootsie Roll Pop strategem. Give 'em a reason to stay with it, whether it's a chewy chocolate center or the bite-sized banter between Big Pete and even bigger Dale.

Hansen, perhaps shocked at Delkus' oversight, found a way to slap a little line drive back at the former minor league pitching prospect.

"Robinson Tejada doesn't give up a hit 'til the sixth," he said, referring to the Texas Rangers' Friday night win over the Houston Astros. "You ever do that, Pete?"

Apparently Pete had. Hansen learned as much off-camera during reporter Joe Trahan's interesting piece on a facelift for the TPC links in Irving, site of the annual Byron Nelson golf tournament.

"Now Delkus tells me he started one game in minor league ball and he pitched a no-hitter," Hansen told viewers. "Now I'm really sorry I brought it up."

Anchor Gloria Campos immediately chimed in as always, once again promoting Hansen's bobblehead doll night at the June 1st Fort Worth Cats game. Viewers got to see the thing on Thursday's 10 p.m. show, with Delkus then making fun of it. Hansen had retaliated by showing an old autographed minor league card of his foil.

Iron John McCaa, who's trying hard to be a good "happy talk" teammate, said he could back up Delkus' claims that he'd tossed a no-hitter. "That is a true story, you know."

He of course didn't get to finish his story Friday because Campos filched the punchline. 'It's on that one (baseball) card you got," she said.

McCaa fought back: "The ball fell off the tee," he said.

"It was a tee ball game," said a giggling Delkus.

"Nobody cares about that," Hansen jabbed, ending another of Belo8's nights at the improv.

Copious googling couldn't determine whether Delkus actually pitched a minor league no-hitter. He was a very formidable relief pitcher, however, during his first two years with the Minnesota Twins organization.

In 1988 with the Class A Kenosha Twins, Delkus had a microscopic 0.26 ERA, allowing just two runs in 68 innings pitched.

He was almost as good the next year with the Double A Orlando Twins, leading the league with a 1.87 ERA.

Moving up to Triple A ball, Delkus got knocked around a bit with the Portland Beavers, finishing with a mediocre 4.18 ERA. Injuries then plagued him throughout the 1991 season before he blew out his elbow during spring training the following year.

Starting Monday, the Twins will be in town playing the Rangers for the final three nights of the May "sweeps" ratings period. You couldn't ask for a better happy talk setup. Maybe Delkus can show up in uniform on closing night.

During the serious portion of Belo8's newscast, investigator Brett Shipp batted leadoff with a look at the seemingly lax treatment of former drag racing legend Gene Snow. Currently running an "adult novelty" store, he had been charged with sexually molesting a boy during a six year period from 2000 to 2006. But Snow eventually received only probation and a $300 fine, which didn't please law enforcement officers.

Shipp and Fox4 gumshoe Becky Oliver have turned in the best investigative work during this latest hotly contested ratings sweeps.

NBC5 doesn't have an investigative team anymore. The station specializes in quick gulps, holding stories to 90 seconds or less and usually packing in plenty of crime and tragedy.

On Friday, though, the Peacock had just seven stories of that ilk in its first segment before anchor Jane McGarry teased the station's invariably laughable collection of health and consumer news.

NBC5 reporter Scott Friedman, usually assigned to the news blues, switched gears to give viewers an informative piece on a new tractor that can pull commercial jets around like toys. D-FW Airport was the first to get the new transporters, which looked very impressive in action. They supposedly will save airports six million gallons of fuel a year.

Meanwhile, CBS11 dove headlong into the crime and tragedy cesspool after first committing the sweeps' biggest gaffe. Anchor Doug Dunbar was billed as "Tracy Rowlett" in print during the opening seconds of Friday's 10 p.m. newscast. That hasn't been true since March 2nd, when Rowlett ended his 10 p.m. tenure at CBS11 and began co-anchoring the 5 and 6 p.m. newscasts.

He wouldn't want to be a part of what's going on now anyway. CBS11 rolled out 12 consecutive crime and/or tragedy stories before the first commercial break. Then it added another three, making it 15 in a row before toweling off just a bit with an update on child runaway Alyssa Frazier. She was found apparently unharmed after a heavily publicized Amber alert and fears that she had been sexually violated or killed.

It should be noted, though, that CBS11 continues to have the best and most thorough reporting on Thursday's murders of two Henderson County deputies. On Friday the station had an exclusive interview with the accused assailant's parents, who declined to be shown on camera.

They apologized for their son's actions while talking to reporter Bud Gillett, a greatly unsung veteran who wasn't credited with the 10 p.m. portion of the interview but did get an on-camera "byline" during CBS11's early evening newscasts.

Fox4 topped its 9 p.m. newscast with the story of a woman who had left her two preschool children home alone for more than an hour. An elderly neighbor phoned 911 after finding a three-year-old walking outside and crying for her mother. He first checked to see if anyone was home, though.

The woman later was arrested, with custody of her children given to their father. Reporter Brandon Todd tried to get an interview but instead got an angry retort from a man inside the woman's house.

"Our family right now is being torn apart and you have come in here for gossip," the man said.

"Gossip?" Todd asked.

"Yeah, gossip!"

At the very least Fox4 overplayed this story by leading its newscast with it. Somehow that seems like a good place to end.

This just in: A night in the lives of D-FW's late night newscasts (Thurs., May 17)

CBS11 reporters Jack Fink, Stephanie Lucero and J.D. Miles

Save for seriously bad weather, lead stories seldom are one and the same on D-FW's late night newscasts.

All agreed Thursday night, though, that the day's biggest news came from Payne Springs in Henderson County, where two deputies were killed and another wounded after they responded to a 911 domestic dispute call.

Big breaking news of this kind is tailor made for new news director Regent Ducas' rapid-fire "urgent" approach. It allows him to swarm a story with "Live Team Coverage," which CBS11 did to good effect with its exhaustive May 2nd storm reporting.

The station's extensive coverage of Thursday's shootings also stood out, with reporters J.D. Miles, Stephanie Lucero and Jack Fink all on the scene. Their live dispatches, with Miles doing a double-dip, gave viewers the best overall feel for what had happened.

CBS11 gets into trouble when it virtually has to manufacture mayhem for the Ducas-initiated "First Five Minutes" of whip-around crime and tragedy reporting. But on nights when there's genuine news of import, the approach can work well.

Belo8 sent reporters Gary Reaves and Dan Ronan to Payne Springs, and they also performed solidly. Ronan tripped himself up, though, by telling viewers, "Two of the three officers who died, they were wearing bulletproof vests. Not a match, of course, for shots fired from a high-powered hunting rifle."

Two, not three officers, died. The other deputy was taken to the hospital with a leg injury. Ronan obviously knew that, but his words didn't come out quite right under the duress of live reporting.

NBC5, which craves crime news even more than CBS11, sent only Scott Gordon to the scene for its comparatively brief coverage. But it was the only station to note that the sinister-looking mug shot of accused assailant Randall Wayne Mays was from a previous 1999 arrest. Blood ran from his left eye in that eight-year-old picture. Viewers watching rival stations were led to believe it was the current-day Mays.

All of the stations made heavy use of an interview with eyewitness Gerald Nicholson, using roughly the same vivid quotes.

"I hate to say it, but I wish they'd been able to kill him," he said of Mays.

Fox4's 9 p.m. newscast, delayed a half-hour by its network presentation of the movie The Day After, was the first station to report the names of the two deceased deputies and their wounded comrade.

Shortly after 9:50 p.m., reporter Brandon Todd read the names live after saying they'd just been given to him, presumably by authorities. CBS11 later named names during its 10 p.m. newscast , but Belo8 and NBC5 never did. Belo8's Ronan told viewers that police hadn't released them yet pending notification of kin.

Other crime stories as usual filled up most of the opening segments on CBS11 and NBC5.

The Peacock's Susan Risdon showed some enterprise in finding a Good Samaritan who came to the aid of a woman being sexually assaulted. And CBS11's Jay Gormley had an interesting followup to Wednesday's biggest crime, the murder of a donut shop employee by a robber who himself later was killed by police after a car chase.

Gormley interviewed a very talkative and demonstrative elderly woman who was with her husband at a Whataburger later in the killer's crime spree. She said he had set his gun down at their table.

Gormley also found the sister of the deceased donut shop worker, who left two young sons behind. It was compelling reporting with a point to it. Too much of CBS11's reporting these days is of the wham-bam school, with car wrecks also a favorite point of attack.

On Belo8, transportation specialist David Schechter had another interesting story on impending tollway makeovers. He makes this stuff interesting, which is no easy task.

Oddly, the station later showed "breaking news" overhead footage of a police car supposedly enroute to serving a search warrant in the case of dead SMU coed Meaghan Bosch. It was Belo8's first late night news mention of a death that has been covered prominently by all of its rivals.

Belo8 anchor Gloria Campos otherwise was nearly beside herself in promoting Janet St. James' story on "a breakthrough in the bedroom!" that might get women ready to rock.

Later in the newscast, Campos enthused, "Ladies, if you have a low sex drive, we may have just the pill for you!"

The station had gone the Viagra-for-women route during an earlier ratings sweeps period. But when in doubt, recycle -- especially when you can plug the story throughout Thursday night's season finale of ABC's Grey's Anatomy.

Pete Delkus and Dale Hansen cooked up another bit, too, after the Belo8 chatterbox promised "a little surprise after the weather."

It turned out to be a bobblehead doll likeness of sports anchor Hansen. It'll be given to lucky fans at the June 1 Fort Worth Cats baseball game.

Big Pete noted that the doll depicts a thinner Hansen with lots more hair. This triggered a full minute of "happy talk," with Hansen displaying and making fun of a minor league baseball card of Delkus when he pitched in the Minnesota Twins farm system.

Hansen ended it all by throwing a brushback pitch at his veteran co-anchor.

"You work with Gloria Campos for 20 years and we'll see how good you look," he told Delkus.

Campos let loose with another Jumbo Jet laugh, but may well have been seething on the inside. Might she have swatted Dale with her purse after the newscast? If so, let's hope they recorded it for future on-air use.

It should be noted that Belo8 management loves this stuff and heartily encourages it. The now almost nightly Dale-Delkus show is seen as a means of minimizing the usual viewer falloff in the second halves of late night newscasts.

Only four more sweeps weeknights to go before your faithful chronicler falls out. Can I at least get a Hansen bobblehead doll?

This just in: A night in the lives of D-FW's late night newscasts (Wed., May 16)

Fox4 consumer reporter Steve Noviello's official station blog includes this picture from a recent Make A Wish Foundation banquet, where his date was Good Day co-anchor Megan Henderson.

Still not quite sure what to make of this guy.

Fox4's Steve Noviello technically is the station's consumer reporter. But he sometimes seems to be auditioning for a red carpet spot on E! Or maybe he'd rather be a correspondent on Entertainment Tonight, Extra or Access Hollywood.

Earlier in the May "sweeps," Noviello contributed a really dubious segment on American Idol fashion, for which his principal source was a "lifestyle guru" who calls himself Stylin' Steve Kemble.

On Wednesday's 9 p.m. newscast, Noviello had the longest piece of the night on "Fox4 prom pics." He then segued to a debt management segment in which viewers could email questions live to imported expert Bettye Banks.

The businesslike Banks seemed to be put off her feed a bit by Noviello, a flamboyant, sometimes rather giddy man when on-camera.

He does get stuff out of people, though. In the senior prom pix piece, medical reporter John Hammarley recalled getting hammered with his date.

"Debbie and I had a fair amount of Colt 45 Malt Liquor," Hammarley recalled. "It stayed in my system for a while -- and then didn't."

Others playing along included Henderson, Good Day colleagues Tim Ryan and Dan Godwin, investigative reporter Becky Oliver, weatherman Ron Jackson and anchors Steve Eagar and Heather Hays.

It all went on for quite a while on a night when Fox4's newscast seemed too top-heavily tilted in the direction of a lifestyles/entertainment magazine program.

That's because the hour also had an extended, canned recap of the immediately preceding American Idol results show. Then came a dollop of gossip on the Carrie Underwood/Tony Romo relationship followed by an update on the seemingly inflated controversy over former Idol champ Kelly Clarkson's third CD. Anchor Natalie Solis called her "Carrie" Clarkson, though. Close, but no Coca-Cola.

Add surveillance camera footage of the so-called "Elmer Fudd Bandit" and stir with a closing "Then There's This" brief on a man named Bob L. Head -- who soon might have his own bobblehead doll.

One of Fox4's better reporters, Jason Overstreet, also miscued during a top-of-the-newscast piece on Rod Mathes, a resident of The Colony who shot that now well-circulated home video of two kids almost being struck by lightning while hustling through the rain.

Overstreet also wanted to interview the two children, but said that a "tabloid TV show" he never named had paid for the rights to an exclusive. One of the kids supposedly was in the same home as the man who took the pictures. But in the presence of Fox4's cameras, the little girl was whisked off by a woman who supposedly worked for the tabloid show.

Fox4 news would never pay for interviews, said Overstreet, who followed the woman and child to a home before ambushing a guy as he drove into its driveway.

"The man of the house refused to discuss the issue with us," Overstreet huffed.

During his closing live standup, though, he told viewers that the tabloid TV show -- and Fox4 for that matter -- had the wrong children in their sights, according to Mathes. If that's the case, then the so-called "man of the house" deserved, but didn't get an on-air apology for being wrongly depicted on camera as a mercenary.

Fox4's 9 p.m. newscast generally offers a balanced mix of spot news, in-depth, enterprise reporting and a little fun. Wednesday's edition simply lost its balance.

Elsewhere, CBS11 sports anchor Babe Laufenberg copped a male chauvinist pig award after a segment that showed colleague Gina Miller deftly fielding ground balls during a tryout for ball girls at Rangers Park.

She looked good, said the Babe, " 'cept she throws like a girl."

Anchor Karen Borta gamely laughed along while partner Doug Dunbar cracked, "Not touchin' it," while doing a fingertip zip of the lips.

After a commercial break, Borta sorta admonished Mr. Former Second-String Pro QB. "How 'bout that Babe Laufenberg. Throws like a girl," she said with just a bit of a hitch in her voice.

Any extended multi-anchor banter is a rarity on CBS11, Fox4 or NBC5. But it's become a way of life on Belo8, where weatherman Pete Delkus usually throws the first pitch at sports guy Dale Hansen before anchor Gloria Campos automatically injects herself into the mix.

On Wednesday night, Big Pete noted that he'd made a lunchtime public appearance during which he told the gathering that Hansen regularly tells him "what a hottie he used to be back in the day."

He then showed a vintage snippet of Hansen in which he had both his hair and a still firm jawline.

"What happened?" Delkus jabbed.

Hansen had a Grade-A, self-deprecating comebacker.

"That was only three months ago," he said.

Belo8 closed shop with a shot of the throng gathered outside of the station's Victory Park studio.

Except there were only two smiling, waving men. Many nights it's like that.

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

The battle lines are clearly drawn, seldom more starkly than on Tuesday's 10 p.m. newscasts.

On a so-called "busy night of breaking news," NBC5 reeled off 11 crime or tragedy stories before the first commercial break.

D-FW's new Peacock copycat, CBS11, pounded out nine crime or tragedy stories before its first pause in the action.

Belo8 went without any crime or tragedy stories in its first news segment before breaking for commercials at the 13-minute mark.

Fox4's most popular and heavily promoted newscast, its one-hour 9 p.m. edition, split the difference with five crime or tragedy stories before the initial break.

What comes next may shock or stun you, as many in the TV news biz enjoy proclaiming.

Tuesday's most-watched newscast, both in total homes and with advertiser-favored 25-to-54-year-olds, turned out to be Belo8's 10 p.m. edition. And that's not because the station enjoyed any appreciable "lead-in" advantage from prime-time's closing 15 minutes of network entertainment programming.

NBC5 in fact had a small edge on that score with Law & Order: SVU. Belo8 was a close second (Boston Legal) and CBS11 had a competitive third-ranked lead-in from the Academy of Country Music Awards. All things considered, it's about as even a playing field as you're going to get on any one night of the ongoing May "sweeps."

So does Belo8's win signal anything? Are viewers looking to get off the ooh-scary merry-go-round?

For now at least, Belo8 clearly is trying to drive a wedge through the void created by its two principal competitors. NBC5 and CBS11 whisk viewers from one "urgent" reporter live shot to another. And those reporters invariably are bringing quick whiffs of stinkum. Bad things happen on a daily basis in the country's very populated No. 6 TV market. NBC5 and CBS11 are going to throw it all at you or look like idiots trying to manufacture something that isn't.

This brings us to NBC5 Mistress of the Dark Susan Risdon, who had one for the ages Tuesday night. Anchor Jane McGarry dutifully set the table, informing viewers that "startled parents are talking about a wild tale tonight from under the Golden Arches."

And what might that be -- Ronald McDonald hanging out with the Geico cavemen? But no, McGarry got all excited about a "nasty animal on the playground" before turning it over to The Mistress.

"A scary looking creature sent everyone scrambling inside," Risdon reported. And take it from a nearby nanny, "it wasn't a squirrel. The kids would have known."

But what was it that supposedly sent the little ones running from the McDonald's play area? Well, we'll never know for sure, but Risdon knew this: "The mystery creature escaped back through the fence. The manager tells me it had a long nose and was not a rat."

This NBC5 "exclusive" played as Tuesday night's No. 4 story. Over at CBS11, there must have been a fearsome price to pay for not having it. No more Happy Meals for a while. Get out there and get something meaty, dammit! Find a giant cockroach at Wendy's or you'll be workin' for 'em!

The station did have a Dallas teen "talking exclusively to CBS11" about an alleged kidnapping attempt.

"So how frightened are you to go outside now?" reporter J.D. Miles asked her.

Very frightened, said the girl, whose face at least wasn't shown on camera.

It's a shame to see Miles slowly going down the drain under CBS11's new newsroom regime. He's one of the market's better reporters, as is Risdon. But neither gets any nourishment. Their stations' formats require them to find a nightly crime or tragedy, and then spit it out as quickly as possible. Gotta move on. A car wreck beckons in Sunnyvale. Or a fire in Pleasant Grove. And if you don't like those assignments, then you'd better come up with a giant fire ant in a Kentucky Fried Chicken bucket.

Some crimes should be reported, obviously. And Belo8 erred in completely ignoring the discovery Tuesday of a missing SMU senior who apparently had gotten heavily into drugs. She was found dead near Waco, her body dumped in a portable toilet. NBC5, CBS11 and Fox4 all played the story prominently on their 10 p.m. newscasts, and they can't be faulted for that. It's another cautionary wake-up for any parent of a college student.

Belo8 otherwise had a substantive investigation by Brad Watson into unlicensed air-conditioning repair people who scam the unknowing. And reporter Chris Hawes led the newscast with a "North Texas Miracle" story of a Dallas man whose comatose wife died of a brain aneurysm just two days after doctors delivered her baby girl via C-section.

Fox4's Jeff Crilley also had a heart-warmer about a young autistic boy whose parents see a vast difference in him when he's with his calming "service dog." They're hoping to get permission from the Wylie ISD to let the Golden Retriever accompany the boy to classes.

Veteran Fox4 medical reporter John Hammarley later had an interesting report on a new diet system that feeds off individual genetic profiles. NBC5 regularly touts just about any new health product as a medical miracle. Hammarley was duly skeptical, interviewing a naysaying doctor and telling viewers at story's end, "For now, get moving and eat more fruits and veggies."

On the fun 'n' games front, Belo8 tempered its "happy talk" after running amuck the previous night. But sports anchor Dale Hansen got a shot in at weatherman Pete Delkus, who's usually the instigator.

Delkus earlier had promoted his station's ongoing Daybreak series on surviving Texas weather. While doing so, he agreed with anchor Gloria Campos that lightning can strike indoors as well as out, particularly if you're on the phone or in a bathtub.

Hansen didn't buy it.

"You made that up about getting hit by lightning indoors just to hype that story tomorrow, didn't you?" he asked Delkus.

"Well, yeah, maybe a little bit," Delkus said, chuckling.

Campos then chimed in to say that in fact you really can get hit by lightening indoors. Atta girl. Because after all, "Delkus delivers." And he's portrayed as nearly God-like in some of those new Belo8 promos and billboards.

Over on CBS11, anchor Doug Dunbar reminded viewers to stay tuned to the station's "exclusive interview" with Dallas Cowboys QB Tony Romo and girlfriend Carrie Underwood at the Academy of Country Music Awards.

It came courtesy of former CBS11 reporter Christina McLarty, who's now covering entertainment for the CBS-owned station in Los Angeles.

"I mean, we're really good friends that spend a lot of time together and we talk a lot," Underwood told McLarty during the red carpet media gang bang.

She did concede, though, that the two were "on a date."

"We're really dressed up for this date tonight, too," Romo added.

McLarty's own dating habits lately have been making the gossip rounds. But Dunbar and co-anchor Karen Borta didn't ask her about her relationship with Girls Gone Wild sleazebag Joe Francis, who's lately been facing charges of sexual battery, contempt of court and tax evasion.

Maybe next time, eh?

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

Belo8 funsters John McCaa, Gloria Campos, Pete Delkus, Dale Hansen

A little song, a little dance, a little seltzer down your pants.

Or you could have achieved roughly the same effect by watching Belo8's 10 p.m. newscast Monday.

OK, a little mirth certainly is permissible among the various anchor teams populating D-FW's late night airwaves. After all, they're "family," even if Belo8 now has two crazy uncles throwing jabs and counter-jabs while mom and dad (Gloria Campos, John McCaa) sort of try to keep them in line.

Monday's high-def telecast got uncommonly slap-happy, though. Stopwatch technology says that one minute, 13 seconds of it went the "happy talk" route. And that's not counting those recurring live shots of hyped-up Dallas Desperadoes fans gathered outside Belo8's Victory Park studios.

Rascally Pete Delkus is usually the instigator. This time he ended his weathercast by noting that sports anchor Dale Hansen earlier had asked him if he could borrow a hairbrush. Now why would a balding man need such a thing, particularly when he'd compared Pete's military cut to a Chia Pet's? At least that's what Pete wondered.

Gloria let loose with her patented sonic boom laugh while McCaa pretty much shied away for the moment. Iron John's gotten more playful, though, and his time would come.

Later, after the sportscast, Dale bantered a bit about how much he hated to put Dallas Cowboys receiver Terrell Owens in a positive light. Gloria then reminded Dale that at least the new coach, Wade Phillips, is talking to him. Yeah, but give it time, Dale rejoined.

This was all merely a warmup for the big finish. It came after a newscast closer on Mary Kay Ash Day in honor of the late Dallas cosmetics queen. All four family members pitched in. Let's go wild:

Pete -- "I'm wearing the Mary Kay hydrating freshener right now. I'm not kidding either. I use that stuff all the time. Hansen bummed some off me after he looked for the brush earlier tonight."

Gloria -- "And I've got the eyeshadow on if you're interested. But yes!"

Dale -- "O-h-h-h-h."

John -- "I don't know if I've got any pink on me. Well, actually, yeah, I do have a little pink on me (looking at his tie). Yeah, it works. Whaddya think?"

Dale: -- "Hurry up. Get him off. Get him off."

And so they went their merry way after a final glimpse at those nutty Desperadoes fans.

A little of this goes a long way, like a nice cool drag off a Slurpee. But you've got to know when to downshift, and Pecos Pete doesn't quite have the knack yet.

Imagine him as Walter Cronkite. He'd dutifully say, "And that's the way it is." But then he wouldn't be able to stop from adding, "Oh, and by the way, did you hear the one about the one-armed monkey who told his organ grinder to give him a hand?" Har-dee-hoo-hah.

Belo8 otherwise has the cure for what's ailing D-FW's late night newscasts. Rivals keep loading up at the top with live "breaking" crime, but the ABC station intentionally has minimized such reporting in favor of news that has some overall nutritional value.

So far it hasn't hurt. Belo8 remains locked in a very close 10 p.m. ratings fight with crime-loving, bait-and-switch NBC5, which still leads by a paper-thin margin among advertiser-coveted 25-to-54-year-olds.

Still, the best story of the night -- and of the entire May "sweeps" -- came from Fox4 investigator Becky Oliver. Playing off the recent heavy round of student TAKS test failures (Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills), she looked at the large numbers of public school teachers who routinely flunk their certification exams at least once.

High school students who came up short on TAKS aren't being allowed to graduate with their classmates this spring, Oliver noted. But teachers who fail their tests are allowed to take them over and over -- all while still teaching.

Oliver interviewed one teacher who had flunked a certification test 54 times in a 14-year period. Others wouldn't talk to her. A representative of the Dallas Independent School District said that the "bottom line" is persistence on the part of teachers who don't at first make the grade. DISD statistics show that an eye-opening 41 percent of them failed their certification test at least once.

It was a tough but fair-minded report that raised valid questions about the fitness of some teachers to prepare students for tests they themselves can't pass.

In contrast, CBS11 offered a Ginger Allen investigation rendered ridiculous by an abundance of intrusive sound effects and whiplash editing. It concerned a financial advisor -- and Catholic Church deacon -- whose alleged "mastermind" was a twice-convicted felon. An aggrieved elderly couple told Allen they were bilked out of their retirement funds.

Valid or not, the story couldn't overcome all of its silly artificial additives.

CBS11 also had "breaking news" on what anchor Doug Dunbar billed as a "prostitution sting taking place at this hour." Reporter Carol Cavazos then briefly reported live from Fort Worth on a police decoy whose efforts had netted a Class B misdemeanor arrest. Felt sorry for her -- Cavazos that is.

NBC5 went its usual route -- which is now being copied by CBS11. Wham-bam "scary" crime and tragedy for the first 10 minutes. Then another dollop of "medical breakthrough" stories and "health alerts" aimed at women viewers.

The Peacock also found room for a little Wal-Mart infomercial after unclebarky.com reported Monday on the station's recurring portrayals of the discount chain as a haven for crime and perverts. Viewers were told that Wal-Mart will be stocking a line of new products from a leading Internet communications company.

Now let's just hope that somebody doesn't try to steal them.

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

Attention would-be Wal-Mart shoppers. Little good can come of going there. Or at least that's the not-so-subliminal message from NBC5.

The Peacock's favorite crime scene got another workout on Friday's 10 p.m. newscast, with night ranger Scott Gordon bringing viewers "Only on 5" news of a "creepy encounter" (anchor Jane McGarry's tease) inside a Midlothian Wal-Mart.

The mother of a six-year-old, her back to the camera, told a concerned looking Gordon that a man had been "peeking from behind some boxes" while she innocently shopped.

"He then jumped out and shocked me," she said. The man fled from the store before she could catch him. Was he intent on abducting her child? She thought so.

On the previous night's NBC5 10 p.m. newscast, the station reported the beating of a Wal-Mart manager by a robber. Anchor Mike Snyder later rubbed it in, telling viewers that retail sales were down during the latest reporting period, with Wal-Mart especially hurt.

Rewind to the Peacock's May 7th late night news, with Gordon again in the saddle. This time he brought news of a police sting that led to the killing of an alleged kidnapper in a Wal-Mart parking lot. The chain's familiar, big-lettered sign glowed in the nighttime dark during the live portions of Gordon's report.

Later in that same newscast, viewers were told of an Alabama Wal-Mart that got tough with a filcher. Rather than a 60-day jail sentence, the man wore a sign at the store's entrance. "I am a thief. I stole from Wal-Mart," it said.

NBC5's May 1st 10 p.m. show began with Mistress of the Dark Susan Risdon's dispatch from a Dallas Wal-Mart, where a woman received a "disgusting shock," said Snyder.

Yeah, it wasn't very hospitable when a half-naked man stopped his truck next to a woman in the parking lot. He still had his pants down when police arrested him. "Just relieving anxiety," he reportedly told the cops.

Most of these "stories" weren't reported on rival late night newscasts. But NBC5 apparently will leave no Wal-Mart crime untouched. It's the dark side of "product placement" advertising, with Target and K Mart no doubt glad to be excluded. Nothing bad ever seems to happen in their stores or parking lots. But Wal-Mart apparently keeps the police scanners humming -- or at least that's the way NBC5's viewers see it.

Elsewhere Friday night, CBS11 began by reeling off nine consecutive crime and/or tragedy reports. After a brief respite, it then spent an undue amount of time on an outbreak of fires on Catalina Island.

Reporter Christina Penza, who's not on the CBS11 staff, went on and on from her post in Long Beach. Charitably speaking, her face seemed to be decomposing as she spoke.

After that came a roundup of other fires and flooding, pictures of a small plane collision in Cincinnati and "Video of the Day" footage of a brawl in a Jackson, Miss. courtroom. And how was your day?

Fox4 in contrast offered an extended investigative report from Paul Adrian, who looked at the legalities of an eyesore dumping site near the Dallas/Collin County Line.

The station's whispering Jeff Crilley also had an interesting piece on the Texas Rangers' major league effort to block construction of a small minor league baseball park in nearby Grand Prairie. But voters approved funding in Saturday's election, meaning the Rangers struck out again.

Fox4's weekly "Viewers' Voice" segment had extensive pro-con reaction to Rebecca Aguilar's report on the fatal police shooting of a suspected drunk driver in Kilgore. Did police videotape of the incident show the man seemingly reaching for a gun when an arresting officer pulled his own trigger?

Anchor Steve Eagar said the station received hundreds of responses from viewers, with reactions split 50-50.

On Belo8, reporter Jim Douglas led the 10 p.m. newscast for the second straight night. This time seemed to be much ado about little, though. An elderly Tarrant County man is objecting to post office demands that he raise his roadside mail box in the interest of safe mail delivery. Non-compliance has resulted in no mail delivery of late. Other customers haven't been similarly penalized, he says.

Solution: just raise the thing a couple of feet and stop griping.

The station's Craig Civale had a better report on flood-induced waste buildups on the shores of Lake Ray Hubbard. He had a good word description, too: "Looks like a dumpster threw up in his backyard," he said of one lakeside home owner's dilemma.

Reporter David Schechter also went wet with an intriguing story on whether salt water filtration systems for backyard pools in fact are having a corrosive effect on operating equipment.

Anchor Gloria Campos then said she had found a frog in her hot tub. That signaled a start to the nightly laugh-around, with weatherman Pete Delkus again jabbing at sports anchor Dale Hansen -- and vice-versa.

But Campos has fine-tuned her "happy talk" and seems to have downshifted her loud-ish laugh a bit.

All in all it's better to fill 30 or so seconds a night with anchor merriment than take another harrowing trip to a Wal-Mart parking lot.

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

First-rate vets: Belo8's Janet St. James and Jim Douglas

Breaking crime and tragedy still have a place on Belo8's 10 p.m. newscasts.

It's just that the station usually has better things to do.

Thursday night offered further evidence of how Belo8 is striving to differentiate itself while at the same time keeping an eye on the late night news ratings prizes.

NBC5 and Fox4 (at 9 p.m.) both led with live reports from the backyard lawn of an Arlington man who recently was struck by lightning while mowing his lawn. He remains in serious but stable condition.

CBS11 gave the struck-by-lightning story second billing after topping its 10 p.m. newscast with a live report from Fort Worth on a four-year-old girl who'd been hit by a car earlier in the day. She remains hospitalized.

Neither tragedy made Belo8's 10 p.m. newscast. The station instead led with reporter Jim Douglas's piece on how a stretched-thin National Guard may be hard-pressed to respond to natural disasters. That's because a lot of the Guard's helicopters and transport equipment, in Texas and other states, is now deployed in Iraq.

Douglas's story is of far more import, and there's definitely a void to fill. Belo8 seems to have rededicated itself to nutritive enterprise reporting rather than non-stop siren chasing.

In contrast, NBC5 and now CBS11 are fixated on police scanners while Fox4's featured 9 p.m. newscast lands somewhere in the middle. Its nightly menu is a mix of quick-hit crime/tragedy reports and substantive stories by a quality team of correspondents. Basically, there's room for both when you have twice the time to fill.

Just past the halfway mark of the May "sweeps," Belo8 is leading NBC5 in the total homes ratings but still narrowly trails the Peacock among 25-to-54-year-olds, the main advertiser target audience for news programming. And Fox4's 9 p.m. newscast is doing robust business, regularly beating first-run network entertainment programming.

This holds out hope that a high-road -- or a close approximation -- can lead to high ratings as well.

But the jury is still out. Would you rather see CBS11's Brooke Richie report live from a sub-dumpy shack, where a nine-year-old boy allegedly was beaten by his granny with plastic tent rods? Or does Belo8 medical reporter Janet St. James catch your interest with her well-researched followup report on the little-reported dangers of increasingly popular Lap Band surgeries?

Not all of Belo8's "packages" are first-rate. Reporter Rebecca Lopez, who had a good piece Wednesday night on City of Dallas-employed felons, seemed too intent on drawing hearts-and-flowers sympathy for a Latina mother of 11 who was arrested at the state border for trying to smuggle in three young boys dressed as girls.

One of the smuggler's daughters, a teenager, sobbed for her mother -- twice -- as a close-up camera rolled. Others said she had never done anything wrong previously and should be let off. But the woman admitted to authorities that she was promised $1,000 per child if she successfully transported them illegally from Mexico to Dallas. Sorry, but sometimes crime just doesn't pay. Pure and simple. End of sob story.

Lopez's story wasn't helped by a ridiculous graphic that had her super-imposed on a garish-looking map as she took some big steps from Dallas to Laredo and and then over the border to Mexico. It all looked like a very dated leftover from Belo8's long defunct Mr. Peppermint children's series.

CBS11 did have one meaty story Thursday night. Investigator Bennett Cunningham, resurfacing for the first time under new news director Regent Ducas, had a report on Dallas constables who seem far more intent on writing millions of dollars worth of speeding tickets than fulfilling their principal mission of serving arrest warrants.

Looking for answers, Cunningham went to the residence of Dallas constable Mike Dupree, who peeked around the front door at him. The reporter said that elected officials have an obligation to explain such matters.

"OK, but you just woke me up at 7 in the morning," Dupree snapped.

"OK, I'm sure you have to be at work soon, right?" Cunningham snapped back. Showy but effective, even if Dupree wouldn't talk.

Three of the four stations at last got around to "covering" the Dallas mayoral race for the first time on their late night newscasts.

CBS11 goofed on it and NBC5 had a 16-second snippet from Thursday night's candidate forum at SMU, but with no audio. Belo8 anchor John McCaa spent even less time than that telling viewers that the 11 candidates had set a new spending record.

The CBS11 piece, by Jay Gormley, trolled for Dallasites who knew little about the would-be successors to Mayor Laura Miller.

"Now don't get me wrong, there are some voters who know a name or two," he said midway through the report.

He then latched onto a woman standing within easy eyesight of a Max Wells campaign sign. So - ta-da! -- she knew he was running.

Gormley, wearing sunglasses, then walked over to the sign and asked, "Did you know that he was proven, experienced and accountable?"

Cheap shot, cheap report from a guy who knows better. Then came the kicker: "Try, try as they may, we couldn't find one voter who knew more than three candidates. But we found plenty of voters who were at least honest about it."

It's a safe bet that virtually no one in the CBS11 news department can name more than three candidates either. That's pretty much a self-fulfilling prophecy when D-FW's principal TV news operations ignore the mayoral race all together and then twit people for knowing nothing about it.

Thursday night also yielded three news bloopers.

***On NBC5, reporter Kristi Nelson closed her piece on Little League baseball rainouts by telling viewers, "Some of those games might be made up with doubleheaders and other creator re-scheduling." (Creator indeed. He caused the rainouts.)

***Belo8's Shelly Slater, the market's reigning hand-talker, got tongue-tangled during her story on a power company's extensive tree-pruning in McKinney. Some residents see it as far too excessive. Slater's interpretation went like this: "For people in this neighborhood, they say their trees are their liveliness, the reason that they chose this neighborhood. So they're not giving 'em up without a fight." (Their "liveliness?")

***Fox4 had more video of the decimating tornado damage in "Greensboro," Kansas. (Make that Greensburg.)

By the way, the names of the 11 Dallas mayoral candidates are -- oh, the hell with it.

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

A New Mexico bear and God had prominent roles on CBS11.

They're kidding with this stuff, right?

If only.

CBS11's ever-changing 10 p.m. newscast seemed to satirize itself Wednesday with a purloined story on God's existence and the saga of a Dallas hiker chased by a New Mexico black bear.

The bear got top billing over the Supreme Being, with reporter Jay Gormley assigned the thankless task of dramatizing your basic non-story. Standing live in the dark for no good reason, Gormley introduced viewers to Steve Middleton, who got chased and scared by a bear during a hiking jaunt in New Mexico.

The station had his "exclusive" 911 call to prove it. Yes, Middleton phoned for help, but then managed to run the bear off by himself.

"The chase left Steve tired and lost," Gormley told viewers. But he was unhurt and soon found some friendly park rangers. End of "story." Huh?

It should be noted that Gormley is one of several accomplished reporters at CBS11 who now are being ordered to assume the position or else. In this case, make that grin and bear it.

Soon after came Marita Arita's report on a Tulane University physicist who claims to have "clear-cut, scientific proof of the existence of God."

Actually, it mostly wasn't her report. Arita stood in a studio, narrating footage "courtesy of" WGCL-TV, Atlanta's CBS station. Viewers saw Prof. Frank Tippler doing the math on a blackboard and then proclaiming, "God exists. God is the cosmological singularity."

Arita or somebody from CBS11 talked to a couple of area authorities, but the majority of the story came from WGCL. Wheels really must have been turning back on the homefront. Maybe the thinking went something like this: "This is the Bible belt, dammit. Put God's name in a tease and they'll come runnin' faster than that guy who ran away from the bear."

Whatever the strategy, Prof. Tippler's theorems seemed impenetrable if not totally nonsensical. But it didn't stop him from proclaiming to WGCL, "You are forced to conclude that God exists."

Anchors Doug Dunbar and Karen Borta both deserve discredited Katie Awards for keeping straight faces. Good Lord.

NBC5, rapidly becoming just the second worst newscast in town, countered with Mistress of the Dark Susan Risdon's thought-provoking piece on a since terminated exterminator who allegedly exposed himself to a customer while in her home. A neighbor woman dutifully wondered what might have happened had she bought his services.

He was a "really creepy kind of guy, ya know," the neighbor said. Risdon then sealed the deal, telling viewers that her interviewee "still can't forget how the exterminator stared at her."

Anchors Jane McGarry and Mike Snyder soon were double-teasing Grant Stinchfield's big feature report of the night.

"Wait 'til you see what's going on in the public library," said McGarry.

Snyder later told viewers that libraries are supposed to be for reading and learning, and not a place to "rest and recover from a hard night of living out on the streets."

What a high and mighty ass he can be. Sorry, but sometimes you just have to use language that hits the spot.

Stinchfield, who "exposed" the Dallas downtown library two years ago as a popular venue for the city's homeless, offered "undercover" footage of actual homeless people within the confines of the place.

He also interviewed a college student who had been "trying to focus" on her studies when a man sat beside her and starting "ranting and raving." So she moved away from him. Not a big deal, really.

"Napping is also common. So is just hanging out," Stinchfield revealed while creepy organ music set the desired mood. That's right. Drive them out with cattle prods and let 'em snatch purses so NBC5 can double-dip with a heaping helping of companion crime stories.

We're only halfway through the May sweeps ratings period, and NBC5 is fighting hard to stay atop the 10 p.m. ratings in the key 25-to-54-year-old audience measurement. So of course you're going to get plenty more where this came from.

Belo8's Shelly Slater, Fox4's Rebecca Aguilar, Belo8's Rebecca Lopez

Meanwhile, Belo8 is just a hair behind in the 25-to-54 ratings race. And the station is taking the opposite tack by de-emphasizing and sometimes altogether ignoring breaking crime in its 10 p.m. news packages.

Wednesday's newscast instead opted for solid enterprise reporting rather than unduly scaring viewers with worst-case scenarios and on-the-spot dispatches from yellow police-taped locales.

Shelly Slater reported from Frisco on the high yearly costs of a taxpayer-funded recreation center. Chris Hawes had a story on a Fort Worth neighborhood's battle to rid itself of an unwanted dumping site. Gary Reaves also reported from Fort Worth on that city's progress in building an official memorial for fallen police officers. And Rebecca Lopez looked at the city of Dallas's increased willingness to hire convicted felons to do taxpayer-funded work.

Belo8's promotions were a little hysterical on the latter story, but Lopez reported with an even hand. Victims rights advocates agree that ex-cons should get a second chance, but not on jobs in which the public writes the checks. Others say they'd rather see former crooks turning their lives around than on the streets looking to commit more crimes.

Fox4's 9 p.m. newscast offered some worthwhile stories, too, but only after a heavy dose of crime coverage at the top.

Scott Sayres had a piece on San Antonio's efforts to land a biological defense laboratory that some cities consider too dangerous. Rebecca Aguilar looked in-depth at a New Year's Eve police shooting outside Kilgore that resulted in the death of an unarmed man stopped for allegedly driving while intoxicated. Brandon Todd had a fun feature on a kangaroo that's become an area law firm's in-house mascot.

That said, the station is running on empty with its periodic "Idol Insider" segments.

American Idol already has enough in-show infomercials on its Wednesday results shows. So please spare viewers the likes of a giddy Steve Noviello's report on Idol fashion and where to buy it. His principle source, a "lifestyle guru" named "Stylin' " Steve Kemble, proofed to be more irritating than a Paula Abdul coo.

We'll close by noting that the Dallas mayoral race is still unaccounted for on D-FW's late night newscasts. That's right, not one story. And that's just not right.

Only two days remain until Saturday's election. C'mon, who's gonna be first. Anybody? Can't hear you.

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

Belo8's Byron Harris had Dateline NBC in his crosshairs Tuesday.

Veteran Belo8 investigator Byron Harris definitely took his time Tuesday with Dateline NBC's "To Catch a Predator" series.

He was given an extraordinary 7 minutes and 25 seconds to shred a rival news network's showiest ratings-getter.

Here's the litmus question, though. Would Harris have been so accusatory if the program were Dateline ABC? Or 20/20?. You don't have to be smarter than a fifth grader to know the answer. It's a big NO. He never would have gotten out of the starting gate.

Simply put, Belo8 is an ABC affiliate station. So you won't see Harris trespassing into that territory. The Belo Corp., which also owns The Dallas Morning News, long has been notoriously secretive and sometimes disingenuous about its own machinations and news practices. But it turned Harris loose with a vengeance on Tuesday's 10 p.m. newscast. And the award-winning gumshoe seemed more than willing to pile-drive a competitor.

His report, titled "The Sting," returned to last November's events in Murphy, TX, where Dateline set up one of its prototypical "gotcha" operations with help as usual from the "Perverted Justice" web site.

Twenty-four arrests were made, but some citizens were angry about the program's clandestine invasion of their neighborhood. And since that time, "not one case has gone to court," Harris told viewers at the outset of his report. That's because of "poorly gathered" evidence and "botched" paperwork, he later said.

Perverted Justice did aid Murphy police, however, in a successful bust in July of a man who pleaded guilty to attempted coercion and enticement of a minor. The perpetrator, Ali Vagefi of Tyler, was sentenced in April to five years in prison. A companion April 19th Dallas Morning News article, posted on Belo8's web site next to Harris' expose, has further details in a story headlined "Man in online sex sting gets 5 years."

Vagefi had attempted to solicit sex from a decoy posing online as a 14-year-old girl, the newspaper reported.

"That'll be time that at least kids are safe from that one person," Murphy city manager Craig Sherwood was quoted as saying.

So there at least was precedent -- and maybe even good reason -- for the Murphy police department partnering with Perverted Justice, and by extension, Dateline NBC.

Belo8's Harris also produced a letter from Collin County assistant district attorney Chris Milner, who had opposed any cooperation with Dateline. Harris made a point of underscoring Milner's dictum that his office "is in the law enforcement business, not show business."

Harris seems to think that commerce and news are somehow entirely divorced from one another. In his February demolition job on D magazine, he told viewers that the magazine's executive editor, Tim Rogers, "admits that the 'Best Doctors' issue is about making money, from the choice of the subject to who's on the cover."

He tried to discredit some of the doctors on D's list, saying they'd been sued for malpractice. But the magazine's bloggers quickly struck back, noting that Harris' own expert, Dr. Arthur Caplan, had been named in a well-publicized 2000 malpractice suit.

This isn't a defense of the "To Catch a Predator" series, which clearly overreaches on occasion. But any investigation by a rival news operation automatically is suspect and open to question.

Dateline, which apparently allowed Belo8 to use extensive footage from the program, otherwise declined to participate.

"We do not comment on the details of our news gathering," Harris said he was told.

He ended Tuesday night's marathon report by telling anchors John McCaa and Macy Jepson that "six cases from the (Dateline) operation have now been resubmitted" for possible prosecution, according to Murphy city manager Sherwood.

Belo8 now is likely to take credit for any future convictions. But in the meantime, maybe Harris can turn his sights on a full-page ad that ran on the back of Tuesday's Dallas Morning News A-section. It prominently notes that a certain doctor has been named "Best in Ophthalmology/LASIK" five years in a row.

By whom? By D in its annual "Best Doctors" issues.

But should Belo8's synergistic print partner, involved in the daily "cross-planning" of the station's newscasts, be taking all that ad money from a doctor who links himself to a magazine list that Harris tried so hard to demolish?

Sounds like a job for -- well, not for Byron Harris.

Also on Tuesday's late night newscasts:

***Fox4's 9 p.m. program had strong enterprise stories by Jason Overstreet (on Denton families still struggling from the April 24 flooding) and Paul Adrian (on how temperature changes can gyp gas buyers at the pump).

***NBC5 presented its entire 10 p.m. newscast in split-screen so that viewers supposedly could track the path of Tuesday's storms. But the weather map insert was too small to really see anything. That is unless you were watching the program on an outdoor theater-sized screen.

***CBS11 joined rival stations in mostly ditching any reporter live shots in deference to the dangerous lightning in the area. But that pretty much meant a give-up newscast for a station that in large part has sworn off any lengthy "packaged" reports.

Absent anything in the hopper, CBS11 had to rely on a cavalcade of videotape from other suppliers plus two live shots of "big, massive flames against that dark, nighttime California sky," as anchor Doug Dunbar put it. He was referring to the state's latest outbreak of brush fires.

CBS11 sports reporter Steve Dennis did have a package in hand, though. He did a nice job on the golf course with Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo, who dreams of qualifying for the U.S. Open golf tournament someday. But his round of 72 wasn't good enough to get to the next level this year.

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

Invisible men: Dallas mayoral candidates Tom Leppert and Max Wells

Local TV stations are happy to take their money, but the candidates for Dallas mayor just can't seem to buy any campaign coverage.

Commercials for Tom Leppert and Max Wells continue to run during the late night newscasts on Fox4, NBC5, Belo8 and CBS11. The election, after all, is on Saturday (May 12). So time is short and air time is precious.

Look in vain, though, for any TV news coverage of the campaign to succeed Laura Miller. Through the first eight weeknights of the ongoing May "sweeps," none of the four major providers has even mentioned a candidate's name during their most-watched newscasts of the day.

Why not? Basically, it's thought to be a viewer turnoff. Let the candidates pay for their 30-second exposures. But digging into their pasts, presents and issue positions is not seen as news you can use. An informed electorate is all well and good, but not on their time. CBS11's new reporter assignments have even dealt out the Dallas City Hall beat. But six reporters are assigned full-time to either the Dallas or Fort Worth police departments.

That's not a crime, but it is a shame. Serving the public interest? That's for geeks. Electing the next mayor of Dallas is an irrelevant nuisance when you have a pressing "Wild Dogs" story to pounce on.

That was NBC5's lead news bulletin Monday night, with Mistress of the Dark Susan Risdon holding a cat while reporting live from a terrorized Dallas neighborhood.

The Mistress knows her stuff. She appeared to have a vise-grip on the cat's front paws to keep it from squirming or lurching away from her during the opening and closing standups. Viewers learned that three dogs were on the loose, and they'd already killed "Big Boy" the feline.

Imparting great knowledge, an informed citizen told Risdon, "These dogs apparently don't particularly care for cats."

Now that's a stunning, shocking revelation. But here's something that might really drop your jaw. Unlike its competitors, Belo8 set sail with a crime-free newscast Monday night. And it won the 10 p.m. ratings in both total homes and among 25-to-54-year-olds, the main advertiser target audience for news programming.

Stories included reporter David Schechter's heartwarmer on long-lost but lately found photos of a deceased World War II Marine. And medical correspondent Janet St. James investigated the dangers of "skin resurfacing" treatments at some Medispa facilities.

Belo8 reporter Craig Civale also had an interesting look at an historic, but badly worn Oak Cliff house that's being offered free of charge to anyone who will pay the considerable costs of transporting it to another location.

These aren't sexy "urgent" stories, but they are worthy ones. On Monday night at least, Belo8 carried the ratings day with them.

Fox4, however, had the most arresting story of the day. But it, too, had nothing to do with crime.

Weatherman Dan Henry interviewed a woman who discovered old eight millimeter footage of the 1957 Dallas tornado. Taken by her late father, it had sat in a film cannister since that time. The woman took it to Fox4 after last week's serious storms peaked her curiosity. The station then shared it with viewers after transferring the amazingly well-preserved film to DVD.

Fox4 reporter Saul Garza's weekly "What's Buggin' You?" segment also again proved its worth. He came to the aid of a middle-aged woman confined to a wheelchair and forced to use her apartment complex's wobbly and clearly unsafe wooden ramp. One of the apartment's chicken-hearted managers held a manila folder over his face while he talked to Garza. A city inspector has ordered the complex to provide a safe ramp by next week.

Contrast this kind of consumer reporting with what passes for same at NBC5. In an all-time classic, even for the Peacock, anchor Jane McGarry urged viewers to stay tuned for information on how to "stop the stink of those spray-on tans."

Then came reporter Meredith Land with a peep show featuring two bikini-clad fans of fake tans. Alas, some of the spray-ons smell like bacon or over-cooked meat, said one. That might be a turn-on for Homer Simpson, but some find it icky.

Land found a new product that supposedly is odor-less. As evidence, she sniffed the arm of a woman who'd just tested it.

"Post-tan, she doesn't smell. And that's a good thing!" exclaimed Land, whose station recently won a regional Edward R. Murrow award for "Overall Excellence" in news coverage.

Over on CBS11, one of "The Investigators" finally emerged after a long hibernation under new news director Regent Ducas. The latter day mothballing of the station's gumshoe unit had been noted in a Monday posting on unclebarky.com.

Reporter Robert Riggs outed a doctor who had covered up a previous jail term for Medicare and Medicaid fraud. His official records on file with the Texas Medical Board failed to cite any criminal past. The doctor subsequently operated on an elderly man who eventually had to have part of his right leg amputated.

"Had I known about this (the doctor's criminal past), he woulda never done surgery on me," the man said from his wheelchair. "He would have never got near me."

Riggs' story didn't directly say that the doctor's criminal past made him a bad surgeon. It just left viewers with the impression that the guy was pretty shady. Was that really enough?

The story did have one magic moment, though. A Medical Board member in Austin told Riggs they didn't have enough resources to run background checks on doctors. The reporter then told him he'd uncovered the doctor's criminal past in just one minute's time on a Web site.

Riggs' prey gulped, nodded his head approvingly and finally managed to say, "That's good."

Meanwhile, the Dallas mayoral campaign marches on. Four more days to go and still not a speck of coverage on D-FW's late night newscasts. Will any of the stations at least stick a pinky in?

Possibly not, unless one of the candidates wants to talk about his new miracle diet.

This just in: A night in the lives of D-FW's late night newscasts (Fri., May 4)

CBS11's Robert Riggs, Tracy Rowlett and Ginger Allen

"The Investigators" -- remember them?

CBS11's new, "urgent" 10 p.m. newscasts so far have dealt out the station's three resident gumshoes -- Ginger Allen, Bennett Cunningham and Robert Riggs. They again were missing in action on Friday. In fact none of them has investigated anything in more than five weeks, according to the station's web site.

Click on The Investigators and you'll see that Riggs last made an appearance on March 28th. Allen hasn't been seen -- investigating at least -- since March 19th. And Cunningham, whose peeks at unsanitary restaurants used to be a "sweeps" staple, has been out of commission since March 14th.

Instead, anchor Tracy Rowlett's new Sunday night "Perspective" segments are being billed as investigations, too. These are meaty, well-researched and welcome additions to CBS11, but it's a stretch to make Rowlett a sleuth. His second commentary tackled illegal immigration reform.

In an April 24th interview with unclebarky.com, new news director Regent Ducas said, "When we get it all rolling together, investigations will be a major part of what we do."

He also said that Riggs would have an investigative piece on Monday, April 30th. But he didn't.

NBC5, which CBS11 seems intent on replicating, no longer has an investigative unit either. The station prefers to track down "Big Fat Savings," with reporter Brian Curtis regularly sniffing out infomercials for area merchants.

Belo8 still deploys old hands Byron Harris and Brett Shipp, each of whom has contributed two reports in the first seven weeknights of the May sweeps. And Fox4 has veteran Becky Oliver on the prowl. She's had one sweeps report so far.

CBS11's only extended report of any kind came on Monday, April 30th. That's when Mary Stewart produced a "stunning, shocking" expose on a Palo Pinto County constable who watched while a male companion offered a convenience store clerk oral sex if she would illegally sell them beer. It was all caught on the store's in-house surveillance camera.

Friday's CBS11 newscast began with Kimberly Ball's report on a puppy mill raid in Johnson County, where 30-some dogs were being badly treated.

Fox4 and reporter Fil Alvarado also gave heavy play to that story, following later in the newscast with the heartwarming saga of Sassy the pug. Stolen from her Garland owner's car, the dog later was found 30 miles away in Irving.

Who dog-napped her and why is still a mystery. The only eyewitness, who was with Sassy in the car, is unable to provide much information. Or as reporter Brandon Todd couldn't resist putting it, "So far this rat terrier has not been able to rat out the bad guys." G-r-r-r-r.

NBC5 was all over Sassy, too, and then ended Friday's 10 p.m. newscast with video of an albino squirrel who's supposed to be a symbol of good luck on the University of North Texas campus. But intrepid CBS11 got to that one a night earlier. On Friday, the station closed shop with video from China of a duck and a puppy who've become inseparable friends. CBS11 anchor Doug Dunbar then made a quacking sound.

Belo8 didn't have any animal stories Friday, instead settling for Harris's extended "Game of Chicken?" report on whether fowl advertised as "100% natural" is in fact really that.

Frankly this came off as pretty much a "So what?" story in which viewers learned that some chicken is legally injected with broth, water and seaweed to enhance flavor. Harris can and has done much better than this during a long and mostly distinguished career. But he lately seems to be in a slump.

The station led with reporter Darla Miles' far more compelling story on a grieving widower whose wife died at Harris Methodist Hospital Northwest while undergoing relatively minor surgery for nose cysts. Packing gauze apparently got caught in her throat, and she suffocated. No other station had this story. The hospital is promising the usual "thorough review."

NBC5's medical reporting isn't quite as substantive. Anchor Jane McGarry cued viewers to a "miracle pill" revelation in her nightly teases of medical stories that seldom if ever -- make that never -- measure up to their billing.

Reporter Curtis then brought news of an oral medication that could help smokers kick the habit. But it's "not a magic pill," cautioned a doctor, which apparently means it's not really a miracle pill either. NBC5 could care less -- as the station proves night after night.

CBS11 sports reporter Steve Dennis and Mavs owner Mark Cuban

Three of the four stations otherwise spent considerable time rehashing the Dallas Mavericks' stunning loss to Golden State. NBC5's Newy Scruggs wore a bright red "Gone Fishin' " hat, Belo8's Dale Hansen unplugged himself and CBS11 had the best quotes from Mavs owner Mark Cuban, courtesy of reporter Steve Dennis

Dennis asked Cuban whether it was especially tough losing to Warriors coach Don Nelson in light of the ongoing feud between the two.

"Not at all," said Cuban. "Some of my old girlfriends are dating guys I've known, married some of the guys I've known. Ya know, more power to them."

Nelson, who's suing Cuban for $6.6 million in alleged back pay, isn't a personal favorite of his, the Mavs owner said. But "Nellie the coach I have phenomenal respect for. He's a phenomenal coach."

Scruggs, whose sportscasts are short-sheeted by NBC5, gets far more to say on the station's Web site. But he at least made a visual statement Friday night in a fishing hat trimmmed with gold-colored lures. Acting friskier than usual, Scruggs even got a big hee-haw out of McGarry after saying his physique used to be just like those of boxers Floyd Mayweather and Oscar De La Hoya.

Over on Belo8, Hansen said the Mavericks should resist all entreaties to blow up the team or trade Dirk Nowitzki.

"I'm not here to praise Nowitzki, but I'm not here to bury him either," Hansen said before offering a litany of other Dallas pro teams that had overreacted and then underachieved even more.

Belo8 then closed with another of those hokey, small-town news shots of "crowds" gathered outside the station's new studios in Victory Park. Perhaps 10 people were on the outside looking in, and they all got to be on TV for a few seconds.

Welcome to Dinkytown, USA.

This just in: A night in the lives of D-FW's late night newscasts (Thurs., May 3)

Starfish Foundation founder Belita Nelson, Belo8 investigative reporter Brett Shipp and onetime Dallas Cowboys great Mel Renfro

It seemed like old times on Belo8's 10 p.m. newscast Thursday.

Veteran investigator Brett Shipp, winner of numerous major journalism awards, had another good one going with Part 2 of his expose on a formerly much-publicized charitable foundation.

That's right, Part 2. Once a staple of local TV news, multi-part ratings "sweeps" series are now all but extinct. Consultant firms say viewers just don't have the time, patience or attention spans for elongated reporting of this sort.

But Belo8 let Shipp air this one out. And on Thursday night he reeled in former Dallas Cowboys great and NFL Hall of Famer Mel Renfro. It was buzz-worthy stuff, even if the late night news ratings on all four major stations were depleted by the competing Dallas Mavericks playoff game. Still, Belo8 managed to draw 204,680 homes in leading the pack.

Shipp obtained and meticulously examined bank records of Starfish Foundation, founded in 1998 by a mother who had turned her heroin-addicted son over to police and then vowed to spend the rest of her life fighting drug abuse. Belita Nelson, who in 2002 hired Renfro as Starfish's director of marketing and fundraising, instead seemed increasingly enamored of creature comforts, pricey trips and Cowboys season tickets, all apparently funded with donations.

A bookkeeper eventually was arrested for allegedly stealing money from Starfish. But Shipp's report convincingly made that look like a cover story. Starfish folded in June of 2006 after Nelson was charged with "deadly conduct" for firing a pistol at her son, Jason, who again had been arrested for possession of heroin. Pretty sordid.

Renfro received a $2,000 a month salary from Starfish, which later increased to $2,800. The bigger checks were rerouted to his "Bridge Foundation" for kids, said Shipp. Renfro declined an on-camera interview, but Shipp quoted him as saying by telephone, "My CPA said I could have the money paid to my foundation to avoid -- I mean, to save -- on taxes."

Had he in fact ever paid taxes on his Starfish income? Shipp said Renfro replied, "I'm not sure."

The report obviously didn't let Renfro off, but did strive to let him down easy. Shipp described the former Cowboys cornerback as "by all accounts . . . a likable man with a generous heart" who on a "grand scale" had minimal overall involvement with Starfish. He also interviewed KTCK-AM radio ("The Ticket") sports talk personality Norm Hitzges, who said that prominent ex-athletes "sometimes can be too trusting, and they wind up with egg on their face."

Nelson is now in Denver trying to launch a new foundation -- the Professional Football Players Alumni Association. She's refused on-camera interview requests, but denies all wrongdoing, Shipp told viewers.

But this story had the goods -- as well as the bad and the ugly of a foundation that fell into an abyss of its own making. (Note to readers: The case against Belita Nelson and her son eventually was dismissed on April 30, 2010 at the request of the Collin County District Attorney, who said the state was unable to make a prima facie case.)

Elsewhere, CBS11's 10 p.m. newscast reverted back to tabloid crime after a solid night of storm coverage Wednesday. The station's second story -- "only on CBS11" -- played the "Peeping Tom" card often dealt by NBC5.

Reporter Brooke Richie interviewed a 16-year-old girl -- in silhouette -- who said that a man had tried to watch her undress in a clothing store changing room.

"Now police want to know if they have a serial spy on their hands," said Richie, who noted that store management never called police. Instead, they "kicked us out of the store," she said. "Tonight they did call police, but on us."

All four stations offered ample post-storm mopups, with NBC5 night ranger Scott Gordon as usual displaying the common touch.

He found a salt-of-the-earth elderly woman whose Arlington home remained without power. Lily Thompson gladly took Gordon on a tour of her well-packed freezer and its endangered contents: "Steaks and pork shops and meatballs, chicken pot pies, biscuits, bacon, salmon. It's just going to spoil if I don't get some electric back on."

And then the clincher: "Oh, and here's my coffee pot," she told Gordon. Bless her.

Everyone otherwise happily gathered around the "breaking news" picture story of the night. A large Grand Prairie home was damaged shortly after 9 p.m. Thursday after an unidentified motorist swerved into it and crashed partially through it. But no one got hurt.

Fox4 devoted three separate segments to live "Car Into House" reports by chopper reporter Scott Wallace. And NBC5 led its newscast with it.

These things are just way too picture-perfect to pass up.

Local Nielsen ratings snapshot (Thurs., May 3)

Out with a whimper, except in the D-FW Nielsen ratings.

The Dallas Mavericks' concluding late night horror show averaged 471,716 homes Thursday, with 287,980 tuned to TXA21 and another 183,736 catching the peerless Marv Albert's call on TNT. That fell short of the six-game playoff high, set Tuesday night with 487,305 homes.

This time audiences dwindled, rather than peaked in the game's desultory final minutes, when Golden State danced on the Mavs' grave. From midnight to 12:15 a.m., the game drew 249,900 homes on TXA21 and 133,280 on TNT. At its TXA21 peak, between 10:30 to 10:45 p.m., the still-alive Mavs had 323,680 homes on hand. TNT's audience topped out between 10:15 and 10:30 p.m. with 221,340 homes.

Thursday's other big draw, a two-hour Grey's Anatomy that also served as a series spinoff, pulled in 326,060 homes from 8 to 10 p.m. on ABC. The big audience lead-in enabled Belo8 to cruise to easy wins at 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 time Belo8 has won in the latter competition, where NBC5 was tops on the first five weeknights of the ongoing May "sweeps."

Fox4 continued to rally in the early morning, scoring twin ratings wins at 6 a.m. for the second straight day.

Belo8 still has few if any problems at 5 and 6 p.m., again sweeping those time slots in both measurements.

This just in: A night in the lives of D-FW's late night newscasts (Wed., May 2)

CBS11's Mark Johnson gets all wet in Fort Worth Wednesday.

Maybe Mother Nature just wanted to cleanse the palate.

Severe storms are no laughing matter, and Wednesday's latest round caused some serious property damage in North Texas. But there's this, too. D-FW's weather-heavy late night local newscasts came and went without a single breaking crime story. That's right, not a one.

No purse snatchings, smash 'n' grabs, car jackings, sexual assaults, home invasions or a man sticking fish down his pants in a foiled grocery store robbery attempt. The latter was a big story on NBC5 Tuesday. But on the fourth day of the week, even the Peacock rested.

Instead, Fox4, NBC5, Belo8 and CBS11 threw their reporters and resources into the night's foul weather. In particular it provided a chance for CBS11 to show what it can do well under the new "urgent" regime of news director Regent Ducas.

The station led the league with nine different reporters stationed live throughout the viewing area. Its classic "whip-around" coverage was both seamless and competent.

Today's technology is pretty amazing when you think about it. During CBS11's 10 p.m. newscast, viewers sequentially were taken to Arlington (Jack Fink), Oak Cliff (Jay Gormley), Alvarado (Chris Salcedo), Colleyville (Kaushal Patel), Red Oak (Stephanie Lucero), Plano (Brooke Richie), West Fort Worth (Kimberly Ball), South Fort Worth (Mark Johnson) and Wylie (J.D. Miles).

CBS11 also found time to show a closing, taped collage of several reporters getting drenched and wind-whipped earlier Wednesday night.

Veteran Mary Stewart had all she could do to say, "We are struggling to stand up in this gale that is coming down on downtown Fort Worth."

Rival stations were no slouches either, but CBS11 merits at least this brief respite from all the criticism directed its way. Absent a storm we'll likely see a resumption of the new "run 'n' gun" approach that has many reporters up in arms. But the station deserves credit for a job well done on Wednesday's 10 p.m. news. CBS11 marshaled its forces and put on a solid show 'n' tell show.

Fox4 had live dispatches from eight different reporters, including sports anchor Mike Doocy. He was at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington when the storms turned the playing field into a swamp and washed out a scheduled game against the Yankees.

Most of the station's reporters had dried out by the 9 p.m. newscast, but Emily Lopez kept her yellow raincoat hood in place "because the hair's not lookin' so hot right now." It's always good to have your priorities straight.

NBC5 made room for six live weather reports, with intrepid Scott Gordon "chasing" the bad weather in the station's ostentatiously named Storm Tracker H3 vehicle. He eventually found himself at the Chicken Express in Alvarado, where it was lights out for the employees.

"We were all scared," said one young woman. "We all ran into the back."

The Peacock loves to use the scare-word. It ended Wednesday's newscast with a recycled soundbite from a man who experienced the storm's full fury.

"It's a little scary," he said. "It's a little scary." Cut to The Tonight Show.

Belo8 squeezed in five live weather reports. It otherwise devoted a good part of Wednesday's 10 p.m. newscast to Brett Shipp's eye-opening investigation of the now defunct Starfish Foundation, which apparently used large amounts of donated funds on various creature comforts instead of drug prevention.

On the storm front, reporter Gary Reaves had the citizen quote of the night from Oak Cliff.

"What was the storm like for you?" he asked a young dude in a car.

"Pretty crazy, man!" he responded. "Wild and everything. Wind everywhere. Water. Man, you couldn't see nothin' ! "

OK, it was more the way he said it.

Belo8's excitable Shelly Slater was in Plano, where she'd earlier let loose with a little squeal while being buffeted by the storm.

"Uh, I hear you," Slater said during that live report. "I'm just trying to stand up, seriously."

On Friday morning, Belo8 Daybreak anchor Jackie Hyland told viewers, "You know, I think Shelley might actually make YouTube today."

As of mid-Thursday afternoon, that hadn't yet happened. But for a somewhat slow-loading Belo8 video of Slater and other reporters under duress, go here.

This just in: A night in the lives of D-FW's late night newscasts (Tues., May 1)

Maybe all resistance is futile.

NBC5 put on its usual newscast for dummies Tuesday night at 10, except that this time you had to be really stupid to play along. Pound-for-pound it was one of the more ridiculous TV broadcasts of the year. Yet the Peacock won the ratings battle across the board, finishing first in total homes and with advertiser-favored viewers aged 25-to-54 and 18-to-49.

So are lots of people watching just to goof on NBC5's nightly displays of yeller journalism? Or are there really that many Ma and Pa Braindeads in the latenight audience pool?

Then again, what do TV critics know? They're the bane of the consulting firms that coach and poach on local newscasts, telling them what to do and how to do it, but never when to stop. Journalism? Whazzat? With Tracy Rowlett out of the way, the longest-lasting Walter Cronkite of our burg is NBC5 anchor Mike Snyder. But instead of "That's the way it is," his tagline is "Go there, woncha?" That's Snyder's nightly plug for his station's web site.

You'll notice we have a fish pictured above. It's because Snyder and co-anchor Jane McGarry had a near-obsession with seafood Tuesday night.

He first teased a "very fishy situation" in Grapevine, where a man and a woman tried to rob a grocery store. He "stuffed fish down his pants," said Snyder, while his accomplice stuck shrimp in her purse. They were apprehended with $60 worth of seafood in what was deemed D-FW's fifth most important story Tuesday.

NBC5 happily pictured the two goobers, who looked a lot like the station's basic viewer profile. "Lookee here, Selma Sue, there's us right there on the teevee. Quick, call Uncle Festus and cousin Pinhead."

McGarry later sounded the nightly siren call for NBC5's health and beauty segment. But this time was special. Verbatim, here's her pre-commercial pitch:

"OK, zap the fat in one treatment. See the cellulite cure that will fix your flab just in time for swimsuit season. Also, a serious health alert tonight for women. A deadly disease that doctors have trouble detecting. Not even regular tests pick it up. Call your mother, your sister, your best friend. Every woman needs to see this story. It airs in one minute."

Not that it matters, but the "zap the fat" infomercial from Brian Curtis dealt with a new "smart lipo" treatment that costs $3,000 "per area."

"This is going to be the gold standard," said the doctor who performs it. Translation: You've got to be filthy rich to put money in his pocket.

Yawn, the story that every woman had to see was Meredith Land's mini-piece on a woman whose arm numbness initially was diagnosed as a pinched nerve. Instead she had a serious heart ailment, but doctors supposedly often miss this diagnosis with women, Land said. Sorry, just not buying it based on one example. Also, consider the source -- NBC5.

OK, back to the fish motif.

Night ranger Scott Gordon tried to unravel "a fishy mystery in Denton tonight," as Snyder put it. Or as Gordon chimed in, "a whopper."

Amazingly, a man found six dead fish on his lawn while mowing it. But he doesn't live near a body of water, so could last week's heavy winds somehow have blown them onto his lawn?

"He admits he just doesn't know, and may never know," Gordon concluded. Damn, the mystery of the Loch Ness monster and now this, too. Back to you, Jane.

"That's an odd one, Scott," she said. "Or as Mike would say, 'Sounds fishy'."

Snyder wasn't about to let McGarry steal his act. Nor was sports anchor Newy Scruggs. Following his nightly mini-cast, Scruggs said of the Dallas Mavericks' ongoing playoff game: "It's win or go home and go fishing."

"I can just hear the reels spinning," said the wizened Snyder.

The table was set for all of this by Mistress of the Dark Susan Risdon's opening report on a "disgusting shock" for a woman shopping at a Dallas Wal-Mart. While still in the parking lot, she was visually harassed by a "half-naked" man who had pulled his pants down.

He supposedly remained in that state when police arrested him. "Just relieving anxiety," the man supposedly said. Yes, this was NBC5's lead story Tuesday night.

We pause now for just a brief note on the market's latter day NBC5 wannabe, CBS11. On Monday night, the station led its newscast with reporter J.D. Miles' report on a "missing toxic truck" with a van full of hazardous sodium hydroxide. Viewers weren't discouraged from being gripped by fear.

Well, the van was recovered by police Tuesday, which Belo8 duly reported after also playing the "toxic truck" story prominently on Monday's late night newscast. But CBS11's 10 p.m. news came and went without any followup at all. Miles instead reported live from an auto pound, where thieves were breaking into cars.

To illustrate, he opened and closed a car door. CBS11 reporters are newly trained to do something "visual" and pro-active during their live shots. This is supposed to communicate a real "involvement" in the story. It's a shame to see some topflight reporters turned into marionettes.

Good work by Belo8's Dan Ronan and Fox4's Becky Oliver

Some solid reporting also crept in Tuesday night, even if most newscast consultants say that's yesterday's news.

Belo8's sturdy Dan Ronan reported on alleged discrimination at the Plano Day Labor Center, whose director is under fire for supposedly giving the most and best daily jobs to Hispanics while blacks and whites are left wanting.

Ronan had videotape of the director, Lourdes Ignacio, saying, "Most Orientals don't like blacks. They don't like blacks because they're afraid of them."

Representatives of the center say they're only reacting to the marketplace, and that many contractors prefer Hispanic labor. But the Plano city manager has promised to investigate further, as they all do, of course. This story begs for an eventual followup.

Belo8's Craig Civale had a touching followup report on a man whose brother was shot and killed in March by a tailgater. The pain is still very real, and the assailant remains at large.

On Fox4, spicily seasoned Becky Oliver, who's been the station's featured gumshoe since 1991, had a lengthy expose on abuses in state-run mental health facilities.

It seems that conditions never really change for the better at many of these places, but that doesn't lessen the need for dogged reporting and records-digging. Oliver is one of D-FW's best at this, even though her voice now seems to be gripped in a permanent rasp.

Fox4's Jason Overstreet had another informative report, this time on the pros and cons of a push to require seatbelts on all school bus seats. And trusty Jeff Crilley gave viewers the best historical perspective on Tuesday's immigrant reform march in Oak Cliff.

These kinds of reports seem to be falling out of favor, though. Well-prepared "packages" requiring time and legwork are fighting for air. And detailed spot reporting of substantive news events increasingly is being supplanted by brief anchor narratives garnished with a sprig of video.

Viewers indeed will be poorer for this, but many may not care any more or know any better. For too many stations -- including NBC5 and now CBS11 -- happiness is a warm police scanner. And a decrepit-looking thief stuffing fish down his pants is simply irresistible..

Local Nielsen ratings snapshot (Tues., May 1)

The Dallas Mavericks' Lazarus-like win over Golden State late Tuesday night no doubt has many keyed-up viewers feeling like the living dead at work this morning.

Ending at 11:35 p.m., the fifth game of their first-round playoff series averaged 336,968 homes on TXA21 and another 150,337 on TNT. The grand total of 487,305 homes surpasses Sunday's previous record high of 463,018.

Audiences peaked in the closing minutes. From 11:30 to 11:45 p.m. (Nielsen Media Research measures in 15-minute increments), Mavs-Warrriors drew a combined 590,240 homes (404,600 on TXA21 and 185,640 on TNT). Tuesday nights' second most-watched attraction, Fox's American Idol, hit a high point of 366,520 homes from 7:45 to 8 p.m.

Check this out, too. In the advertiser-coveted 18-to-49-year-old demographic, a total of 379,940 men rallied around TXA21 and TNT during the game's final minutes. Those are massive numbers, and they don't include bars.

Um, the Texas Rangers home game against the New York Yankees on Fox Sports Southwest averaged 28,560 homes and 7,850 men in the 18-to-49-year-old demo. It hardly seems fair.

This brings us to the local news derby, where NBC5 scored twin wins at 10 p.m. in homes and with 25-to-54-year-olds, the main advertiser target audience for news programming. So far the Peacock has won all four nights of the May "sweeps" in the latter, more important demographic.

NBC5 and Fox4 tied for first at 6 a.m. in homes, but Belo8 won among 25-to-54-year-olds.

Belo8 also again set the pace at 5 and 6 p.m. in both audience measurements.

This just in: A night in the lives of D-FW's late night newscasts (Mon., April 30)

Fox4 reporter Saul Garza takes it to the streets on 9 p.m. newscasts.

OK, the logo's well beyond corny and yes, it's a gimmick.

Even so, bravo for Fox4 reporter Saul Garza, whose "What's Buggin' You?" segments on 9 p.m. newscasts tackle real problems and invariably fix them.

Monday found Garza being a figurative caped crusader on two fronts. A parking lot in downtown Dallas had a confusing configuration of pay boxes and parking slots. Some parkers paid the wrong heavy metal teller and then got fined. Garza looked into it and then had the pictures to prove that the mess had been solved.

Next he went to a Fort Worth school that didn't have a school zone speed limit on the street right in front of it. Now signs are up. Another triumph for D-FW's unassuming voice for the people, who didn't even show himself on camera. Imagine that.

Garza's efforts on behalf of Fox4 viewers are a genuine public service. So he gets an official unclebarky.com pat on the back, which with $5.50 will get him a double mocha, super-caffeinated, triple-thick toffee coffee at Starbuck's.

Contrast this kind of consumer reporting with what goes on -- night after night -- on NBC5. The Meryl Streep of cheesy teasers, anchor Jane McGarry, invariably sets the table. On Monday, she cued viewers to a "Flip Flop Flap" Health Alert from reporter Kristi Nelson.

Anchor Mike Snyder earlier chipped in, too, during a promo that fittingly ran near the tail-end of NBC's dreadful The Real Wedding Crashers.

"Flip flops keep your feet cool," he said, "but tonight we discovered a nasty health problem."

Snyder injects words like "nasty" with his patented rusty syringe inflection, leaving home screens in need of a Windex wiping. Atta boy, Mike. McGarry then sweet -talks viewers, keeping a cheery but straight face no matter how cockamamie it gets.

Nelson's "story" had a doctor opining that dirty, non-supportive flip flops can cause "serious injury or infection." Wow, so can a sock if you put a rock in it.

Still, "flip-floppers say these are risks they're willing to take," Nelson then actually said. It's all ready-made for Comedy Central.

Fellow consumer reporter Brian Curtis had a hot one, too, after McGarry told viewers they'd soon learn how to "zap zits without creams, jells or pills."

Curtis then trilled about a new acne treatment called "photo-pneumatic therapy," which allegedly vacuums oil from aggrieved faces. It's pretty pricey, though --- $300 a pop. And you have to keep having it done. Oh well, another infomercial in the bank.

NBC5's Scott Gordon earlier had a consumer-oriented story of actual value. He reported from D-FW Airport on escalations in airline prices, the highest in seven years. Just about everything else having to do with riding a plane now costs extra, too, he said. We kind of knew that already, but Gordon laid it out well.

Over on Belo8, reporter Debbie Denmon had a way-overlong story on needle-free acupuncture, which the station initially teased in print as "Power Without a Prick."

Sports anchor Dale Hansen resisting interpreting that as the Dallas Cowboys without Bill Parcells. He instead found another opening to hammer Parcells after a brief story on how former Cowboys coach Jimmy Johnson was excused from jury duty because he took Parcells fishing.

"You every try that?" anchor John McCaa asked Hansen.

"No," he said, "but I'm in favor of sinking Bill Parcells. I'll take him out to sea."

Hansen can have a big heart, too. Much of his sports segment went to re-showing a tribute to the late Byron Nelson that he had no role in preparing. It originally was little-watched on Sunday night opposite a heavily-watched Dallas Mavericks-Golden State playoff game. Hansen graciously credited the piece's producers by name and said he just wanted more people to see their work.

CBS11 heavily promoted a "stunning, shocking" report by Mary Stewart.

"We're gonna have that for you in just a few minutes," anchor Doug Dunbar said at the start of Monday's 10 p.m. newscast. More than 15 minutes then passed before Stewart introduced her story about a Palo Pinto County constable who dropped in with a friend to buy beer at a convenience store.

The clerk told them it was legally too late to purchase alcoholic beverages. An in-store audio-video cam then caught the constable's pal offering the clerk a "blow job" and other sexual enticements in return for making a sale. The constable supposedly never said a word, but the clerk's lawsuit to have him removed from office eventually was dismissed by a judge.

Stewart confronted the constable, but he kept declining to comment on the advice of his attorney. She closed the report by telling Dunbar and co-anchor Karen Borta that the lawman still must contend with a petition signed by more than 270 people who want him sacked.

The "exclusive" story had some pop to it, but didn't blow the lid off of anything. It does reflect the new CBS11, though, where viewers earlier were treated to a brief tight shot of pit bull dog turds as evidence they were being kept in filthy conditions.

CBS11 also found room for a story about an aggrieved mom in faraway Borger, TX. Earlier this year her six-year-old son found a "bloody band-aid" in his Happy Meal box.

"It's very heartbreaking to think that you can't go just anywhere and let your kids eat," said mom.

The heartbreak of various disenfranchised CBS11 reporters is a bigger story these days. A number of them now have called or emailed to say they can't say anything on the record for fear of losing their jobs.

That's certainly understood at this end.

Addendum advice to Fox4: Don't use that network-fed reporter from Washington, Tom Fitzgerald, anymore. He was bad on every level in his report on the "D.C. Madam" who's now releasing the names of her many clients. Fitzgerald shouted out his story and hand-talked as though he were a cop directing traffic at an eight-way intersection. Keep him off our air, willya?