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This just in: 20 nights in the lives of D-FW's late night newscasts

WFAA8 lapped the late night field from its Victory Park studios.

The February sweeps are history, and so, probably, are my eyeballs.

Another all-points journey through 80 late night D-FW newscasts is not for the faint of heart -- or sane of mind. But nothing in D-FW is more consistently watched than the goodnight news programs from Fox4, NBC5, WFAA8 and CBS11. So attention should be paid, particularly when the aggregate audiences are increasing, not shrinking in what is now the country's fifth-largest TV market.

Year-to-year February numbers from Nielsen Media Research show an increase of 34,552 homes for the quartet of 10 p.m. newscasts. And among advertiser-preferred 25-to-54-year-olds, an average of 13,673 more viewers watched this February than last.

Only NBC5 hemorrhaged audience, but the Peacock's substantial losses (scroll down) were offset by its three rivals' gains. That's pretty impressive in times when the Internet and myriad other channel choices are readily at hand. And audiences increased despite a writers' strike that left the 9 p.m. network lead-in slots with an uncommon number of reruns.

Here are a few carryover impressions gleaned from catching D-FW's late night newscasts on both their best and worst behavior.

The market's seemingly invincible ratings kingpin is also its class act on most nights.

Close to overflowing with solid, resourceful reporters, WFAA8 has re-taken the market's high ground after flirting not so long ago with the idea of trying to beat former top dog NBC at its own wham-bam game.

Those still relatively new Victory Park digs don't hurt either, communicating both prosperity and a sense of excitement. More than just handfuls of American Airlines Center attendees now are sticking around to watch WFAA's 10 p.m. show in a tinytown Times Square setting. News-wise and otherwise, the station is rockin' right now.

Through it all, weatherman Pete Delkus and sports anchor Dale Hansen continue to trade barbs while co-anchor Gloria Campos alternately reins them in or throws a little lighter fluid on the fire. She'll be shocked to hear this from these quarters; but truth be told, she's getting pretty damned good at this. Meanwhile, anchor John McCaa keeps his Martin Agronsky persona intact on a newscast that still needs his doses of decorum.

The Peacock showed signs down the stretch of U-turning from the rip 'n' read, crime 'n' tragedy motif that astonishingly served it so well for so long.

It didn't serve viewers, though, at least not those with more than room temperature IQs. So something's got to give, and the shakeups likely are only just beginning.

NBC5 has some solid street reporters in its arsenal, and needs to make them feel good about coming to work. As the sweeps deepened, news managers seemed more willing to let some stories breathe beyond what had been a hard-and-fast 90-second time limit. But NBC5 is still the only station without any self-standing investigative unit.

For now, an overall cheesiness is still gumming the works. The Peacock has miles to go in what looks like a long uphill climb. But reporters like Scott Friedman, Ellen Goldberg, Randy McIlwain and Scott Gordon can help save the station from itself if given a fair chance.


Recently installed news director Scott Diener is very bullish on investigative reporting, and the station lately has been piling it on. Some of these efforts have been worth your time, but others bordered on embarrassing or worse.

CBS11 also has succumbed to far too much pre-canned drivel aimed at keeping women viewers from dropping out in its newscasts' second halves. Poor Ginger Allen is the designated point woman, standing next to an HD screen and narrating one horrid mess after another glommed from CBS stations other than her own. Crying on the inside isn't her game. Free Allen to re-establish herself as a pretty decent investigative reporter.

The station's anchor team is solid and appealing, though, with new weathercaster Larry Mowry looking like a good find. Many of CBS11's reporters are top-notch and still young enough to hit the streets running. Jack Fink, J. D. Miles, Jay Gormley, Katherine Blake and investigator Bennett Cunningham are among the station's consistently strong night beat contributors.

Diener and assistant news director Sarah Garza need to lock up their evil twins, though. Discerning women viewers don't want canned crap, no matter what station consultants say.

The station pours most of its resources into the 9 p.m. newscast, which had impressive ratings in February opposite network entertainment programming.

Too often, though, Fox4 lagged behind on stories it deemed important enough to report -- but a day later than one or all of its rivals. The station should be leading the pack on a newscast that airs an hour earlier than those of its three rivals. You set their tables, not eat their leftovers.

On the other hand, this isn't an indictment of Fox4's reporters. Pavement pounders such as Jason Overstreet, Jeff Crilley, Lari Barager, Lynn Kawano and Brandon Todd should be a match for any of their competitors. Investigator Paul Adrian is one of D-FW's very best, and Steve Noviello's flamboyantly presented consumer reports generally are more fun than grating to watch.

Anchor Steve Eagar spoons out snarky "Fox attitude" in acceptably small amounts. His co-anchors are viewer-friendly as well.

Something's missing, though -- and it's not just long-exiled reporter Rebecca Aguilar. Maybe news director Maria Barrs needs to reach out and re-connect with the troops. Don't rely on sharp-worded staff memos for motivation. Get in there and make them want to run through brick walls for you. Not out of fear, but because they want to make you look good.

That's the optimum way for any station to bounce back.