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Gotta sing, gotta dance, gotta watch: special D-FW tornado scare edition (April 3)

Belo8 blew off its tornado-themed coverage just in time for Shandi Finnessey's eviction from Tuesday night's Dancing with the Stars.

Belo8 weatherman Pete Delkus knew he was playing with fire -- and rain.

All four of D-FW's major TV news providers broke into prime-time programming shortly after 8:15 p.m. Tuesday to present extended and sometimes rather breathless coverage of a tornado warning near Arlington. But Delkus also had ABC's live Dancing with the Stars results show on his radar.

"I don't want anyone to take this too lightly," Delkus said at 8:30 p.m. as his weather map showed an angry red/purple buildup over Arlington. "I know that we have a very popular show on ABC right now."

You can bet that Belo8's switchboards got flooded, even if no operators were on duty. So Delkus had to tap-dance a bit as the winds, hail and rain dissipated before his watchful eyes.

"I appreciate your understanding," he said as Belo8's Dancing preemption neared 8:45 p.m. He was referring to the many viewers sitting high and dry in their living rooms while heavy rains quickly spat and moved on elsewhere. "I appreciate your consideration of others."

Stations understandably are obligated to break in for tornado warnings, and Delkus said there was one in effect for Tarrant County until 9:15 p.m. But weather watchers on the ground didn't seem quite as anxious as the viewing area's four fearless forecasters. Delkus gets especially grave whenever the weather kicks up.

He spoke of "potentially deadly hail" falling in some locations and warned of "a tornado that may be on the ground right now" in the Arlington area.

But a minute or two later, Arlington resident David Willbanks told the station by phone that "right now the rain is pretty much dissipated." Also, what looked to be a funnel cloud had gone away, he said.

Fox4, NBC5 and CBS11 also were starting to downplay the storm activity, but it had gotten too late to save respective firstrun episodes of House, Law & Order: Criminal Intent and The Unit. By 8:50 p.m. the tornado warning officially was canceled after Energy Management Administrator Irish Hancock told Delkus and Belo8 anchor John McCaa, "Nothing significant seems to have been reported to us."

Belo8 finally returned to Dancing at 8:52 p.m., in plenty of time for viewers to see celebrities Leeza Gibbons and Shandi Finnessey in the show's Bottom Two before the latter got voted off. NBC5 and CBS11 stayed with weather coverage until 9 p.m. rather than return to filmed dramas that already had been ruined for their viewers. Fox4 dropped back in for the last minute or two of House, only making matters worse.

So did the stations overreact? After the fact it's always easy to say they did. And it doesn't help their cases when all four have recent track records of looking like idiots during those annual "Arctic Blast" follies.

Belo8 easily could have opted out of weather coverage a few minutes earlier. But at that point everybody is covering their asses by reminding viewers what a horrible situation this could have been, but luckily wasn't. Realistically, you can't just say, "Whoops." Plus, imagine the outcry if Belo8 had stayed with Dancing while a tornado in fact was tearing through Arlington. So yes, these can be tough calls.

The ABC station, to its credit, initially went to Delkus only during commercial breaks, allowing Dancing fans to see the first 15 minutes of the show intact. After that, Delkus, Fox4's Dan Henry, NBC5's David Finfrock and CBS11's Kristine Kahanek kicked into full-blown, bad-storm-rising mode. And once they get started . . .

***Earlier Tuesday night, Fox4 fortunately didn't have to make an even tougher choice -- whether to preempt a live performance edition of American Idol.

Legendary Tony Bennett "coached" this time, with all those kids who otherwise never listen to him bowing to his greatness.

It's looking as though Sleepy Time Phil Stacey will be the next contestant to take the gas pipe. His performance of "Night and Day" had Simon Cowell enthusing, "I think it had all the joy of someone singing in a funeral parlor."

Much-maligned Sanjaya Malakar looked slick in "singing" Irving Berlin's "Cheek to Cheek." He also danced with a typically dazed Paula Abdul, who then cooed, "I get why people love you."

Cowell doesn't, but was willing to offer unequivocal praise in hopes of getting Sanjaya out of his hair.

"Let's try a different tactic this week," he said. "Uh, incredible!"

Host Ryan Seacrest also let it be known that inaugural Idol champ Kelly Clarkson of Burleson will be performing live on the show's April 25th Idol Gives Back charity extravaganza. It will be her first trip back to a show that she's pretty much ignored since becoming a big pop star in her own right and on her own terms.