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This just in: A night in the lives of D-FW's 10 p.m. newscasts (Tues., Feb. 27)

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Local TV's two queen bees of tease squared off again Tuesday on the penultimate night of the February sweeps.

NBC5's Jane McGarry and Belo8's Gloria Campos both wore leopard print anchor blouses and the well-practiced smiles of news wars veterans.

Otherwise the playing field tilted, as it usually does, to the unabashed McGarry. Campos has the noisier, bawdier cheerleader pipes. But she just doesn't get the material McGarry does during NBC5's nightly, mid-newscast pump-ups of junk news. On Tuesday, McGarry got to work with bras while Campos had to make do with ice cream. Sometimes life isn't fair.

McGarry's a marvel at shilling the hokum handed to her. About 11 minutes into NBC5's newscasts, Jane tunes out the bulky Tarzan seated beside her and gets in the zone. This is her time, but she has to be quick about it. Face the camera, let 'er rip and then always tell 'em, "The news continues in 30 seconds."

On Tuesday it went like this: "Move over, Wonder Bra, there's a new bra that's all the rage. One that makes almost every woman look slimmer in seconds. You have to see the before-and-after shots to believe this one.

"And the medical miracle that could be the beginning of the end of heart disease. This is true."

All together now: "The news continues in 30 seconds."

It's easy to envision McGarry gulping a couple of stiff shots after each newscast. But that's probably not the case. She seems to be a true believer, dispensing these promos as though they were soft-serve ice cream twirling into a happy sugar cone. Viewers then usually are tricked by either a far-fetched medical study from ACME University or a thinly veiled informercial.

Tuesday night's uplifting bra story, by Meredith Land, touted the $85 All You Bra, with its saleswoman happy to talk it up. NBC5 began the piece with an assortment of woman-on-the-street bosoms before settling on a full-figured young lady who first was shown in her crummy old gold brassiere.

She then strapped on the black All You Bra, which indeed made her torso look less more so. Land gushed a bit, and that was it, save for McGarry's obligatory push of NBC5's web site for all the details on how you can get one.

Over on Belo8, Campos took her best shot with this loudly proclaimed come-on: "If we all scream for ice cream, what will some women do when they hear it might aid fertility?"

Viewers had to sweat out the answer during a commercial break. But anyone expecting a big medical breakthrough story by Janet St. James instead got a 21-second reader from Campos, who essentially said there's really no story at all.

A new study by the Harvard School of Public Health says that a "diet rich in ice cream and other high-fat dairy foods lowers the risk of some types of fertility," Campos said. "But critics warn not to rush for the double fudge just yet. The study's based on what women said they eat, not a strict scientific experiment."

In other words, never mind.

Tuesday's 10 p.m. newscasts also had some good reporting, as well as a very clever gambit by Belo8 sports anchor Dale Hansen. Let's go to the highlight reel:

*** Reporting from Fort Worth, Belo8's Chris Hawes had an interesting story on efforts to curb frequent blasts from noisy freight train hornes. And sports reporter Erin Hawksworth had a nice piece on Dunbar High School's highly spirited women's basketball team, which will be competing for a state title this weekend.

***NBC5's Kristi Nelson reported on new $1 fees being imposed on users of Benbrook Lake Park. That's a first, and it has many frequenters understandably miffed.

***Over on CBS11, Jay Gormley pressed Dallas officials about losing the Cotton Bowl game to the new Dallas Cowboys stadium in 2010. They simply wouldn't give him a straight answer on the subject of failed, earlier efforts to build a Cowboys palace in Dallas.

The station's Joel Thomas had a nice human interest story on an elderly man's dogged search for his missing dog, Dakota. Beset with numerous medical problems, the man had relied on Dakota for what he called his "survivability." Passing out leaflets and offering a small reward, the man said plaintively, "I've got to get my dog back. I've got to."

CBS11's Jack Fink also excelled with an extended report on the worst commutes in North Texas, and why they aren't likely to get better any time soon.

***Fox4's Lari Barager also reported on Dallas' loss of the Cotton Bowl, but more from the perspective of Arlington, the city that's gaining it. That side of the story was interesting, too.

***Hansen gets the last word, as he regularly does on Belo8. Announcing a hockey trade between the Dallas Stars and Los Angeles Kings, he asked viewers to "read along with me at home."

A chart listing the names of the four players then appeared, with Hansen saying, "Stars get those guys on top and they give up those guys on the bottom."

Actually the names weren't all tongue-tanglers -- Mattias Norstrom, Konstantin Pushkarev, Jaroslav Modry, Johan Fransson. Still, it was an imaginative, fun idea for which Hansen deserves full credit -- and will take it.

Here's Tuesday's violent crime story count, with the 19-night running totals in parentheses:

NBC5 -- 1 (66)
CBS11 -- 1 (30)
Fox4 -- 0 (37)
Belo8 -- 0 (23)

This just in: A night in the lives of D-FW's 10 p.m. newscasts (Mon., Feb. 26)

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Who's prettier -- him or CBS11 investigator Ginger Allen?

At last we're near the end. Eighteen of the 20 February sweeps weeknights are in the books and my eyes/ears and typing fingers are wearier than a Branson, Missouri balloon artist.

Watching 72 late night D-FW newscasts since the first of this month is not conducive to sound mental health, even if I've learned at least 18 ways to lose weight from NBC5. So yes, it's getting tougher and tougher to come up with new angles if not new diets.

It'd be far easier if the four newscasts had to compete feverishly on a legitimately big, breaking news story. But the proposed TXU buyout was as good as it got Monday night. Not a lot of electricity there.

Anyhoo, we're going to turn our attention to two highly telegenic reporters of entirely different disciplines. NBC5's Brian Curtis, who also co-anchors the station's 4 p.m. newscasts, is on almost every night. He specializes in consumer reporting, although much of what he does is little more than an infomercial for merchants and companies happy to accept a free handout.

CBS11 investigative reporter Ginger Allen, who likewise does some anchoring, usually makes just a handful of appearances each sweeps. She showed up Monday night with an overblown trackdown of a man who allegedly had been stealing from realtors and homeowners whose residences were for sale.

Allen has done much better work than this, but that's not what caught the eye. Television is a visual medium, after all, and it looked as though the cute-as-a-button reporter had spent the first three weeks of the sweeps in a tanning salon or dipped in caramel sauce. She was more bronzed than a Lincoln penny, making co-anchors Tracy Rowlett and Karen Borta look like blackboard chalk. Frankly, it was a bit disconcerting on a night when she jumped out more than her story did.

The Peacock's Curtis, who easily could be a runway model, had a penetrating report on coffee laced with energy supplements. It's being sold by 7-Eleven, which was more than happy to let him talk it up.

"It tastes just like coffee," said one happy imbiber.

Curtis also treated viewers to "something you're seeing for the first time. It's actually an energy Slurpee."

He contentedly sipped from it after taking a handoff from a counter person used as a prop.

No D-FW station is more transparent about product placement than NBC5. The Peacock also trades heavily on scare tactic teases designed to suck poor saps in during NBC's prime-time programming. On Monday, anchor Jane McGarry warned, "Mixup at the drive-thru. Why you should always check your order."

Visions of salmonella poisoning or cockroach remnants might have prompted some viewers to stay the course. But of course it was another sham. The "story," a reader that lasted maybe 20 seconds, turned out to be an uptick in complaints from McDonald's drive-thru customers. They complained about receiving wrong items and slow service, or being charged too much. The horror.

Earlier in the newscast, NBC5 reporter Scott Friedman told of an elderly woman whose purse almost was stolen after a would-be thief slashed her tire as a ploy and then offered to help. Bless her, she may have had the quote of the sweeps, telling Friedman, "The front tire of my Escalade was flatter than a fritter."

The same pretty much could be said of Monday's 10 p.m. newscasts.

Epilogue: The Dallas Morning News is showcasing some of its standout reporters in a new ad campaign. TV-ready Kent Fischer, who covers education, stars as a compassionate, impassioned justice-seeker in a 30-second spot that ran Monday after Babe Laufenberg's sports segment on CBS11's 10 p.m. news.

At ad's end, an actress playing a DISD student's mother smiled at Fischer in gratitude for his uncovering of DISD credit card abuses. He smiled back in extreme close-up -- eat your heart out, Brian Curtis -- before the DMN's "Live Better Here" slogan popped into view.

Oddly enough, the commercial appeared only during CBS11's newscast Monday night. No. 1-rated Belo8, which like the DMN is owned by Belo Corp., has some synergistic catching up to do.

Here's Monday night's violent crime story count, with the 18-night totals in parentheses:

NBC5 -- 3 (65)
Fox4 -- 2 (37)
Belo8 -- 1 (23)
CBS11 -- 0 (29)

Local Nielsen ratings snapshot (Fri.-Sun, Feb. 23-25)

Here's a ratings shocker -- right here in D-FW.

Sunday night's elongated Oscar-cast on ABC of course squashed the competition, drawing an overall average of 571,692 homes from 7:30 to 11:15 p.m.

But last Thursday's episode of ABC's Grey's Anatomy lured more 18-to-49-year-olds, the audience that networks bank heavily on when selling advertising. And it wasn't even all that close. Here's the breakdown in D-FW:

Grey's Anatomy -- 447,000 in the 18-49 demo.
The Oscars -- 403,160

Grey's also drew more 25-to-54-year-olds and 18-to-34-year-olds locally than the 79th annual Oscars, which were hosted by Ellen DeGeneres. Wow, maybe next time they should get Dr. McDreamy to preside in smocks.

The annual Barbara Walters Oscar night interview special attracted a modest 178,500 homes, winning its 6 to 7 p.m. slot opposite a 60 Minutes repeat (142,800 homes) featuring Mike Wallace's interview with Bill O'Reilly. ABC's awful half-hour red carpet show then pulled in a very nice-sized 409,360 homes before the Oscar-cast jumped to 525,980 homes in its initial 15 minutes.

Oscar's audience peaked at 618,800 homes from 9 to 9:15 p.m. and hit its lowest point from 11 to 11:15 p.m. (509,320 homes). Then the closing credits and video recap rolled before the show officially called it a night at 11:21 p.m.

On Saturday night in D-FW, the Dallas Mavericks-Denver Nuggets game dominated the prime-time ratings, drawing 164,220 homes on TXA21. In contrast, Sunday afternoon's Dallas Stars-Vancouver Canucks contest was watched in 9,520 homes on My27.

In Friday's local news wars, Belo8 edged NBC5 in homes at 10 p.m. to remain ahead of the Peacock with just three nights remaining in the February sweeps. NBC5, which hasn't lost a sweeps competition at 10 p.m. since fall 2001, has a rapidly diminishing chance to catch Belo8. But it would have to score some relatively lopsided wins down the stretch, and that' s not likely.

Belo8 also won at 10 p.m. with 25-to-54-year-olds, the target advertiser audience for news programming. It still might beat the Peacock in that key demo, but will need a very strong finishing kick.

NBC5 won at 6 a.m. in homes, and looks as though it's going to carry the day there. But Belo8 nipped runnerup Fox4 and NBC5 with 25-to-54-year-olds, where it still has the lead in a close three-way tiff.

NBC5 won at 5 and 6 p.m. in homes, but Belo8 has those two races in the bank. Belo8 also will win the early evening news sweeps among 25-to-54-year-olds, where it had twin victories on Friday.

This just in: A night in the lives of D-FW's 10 p.m. newscasts (Thurs., Feb. 22)

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Reporting live every night: NBC5's Susan Risdon, Fox4's Jeff Crilley

D-FW's four major 10 p.m. news providers all gave prominent play Thursday to a baseball game warmup accident that sent a Grapevine High School varsity player to Parkland Memorial with a serious head injury.

Only NBC5 oddly is holding steadfast to its claim that the boy has not yet been identified. Reporter Susan Risdon's top-of-the-newscast story didn't name Chris Gavora as the unfortunate victim. Nor had the station's NBC5i.com Web site as of early Friday afternoon.

CBS11 anchor Karen Borta and reporters Jeff Crilley (Fox4) and Craig Civale (Belo8) all identified Gavora in their reports Thursday night. However, in an odd case of asymmetrical synergy, a Belo8-owned dallasnews.com story linking to Civale's video account says the injured player hasn't yet been identified.

Most news accounts in fact have named the junior pitcher/outfielder. Identities of minors routinely are withheld in criminal cases, but there seems to be no good reason to do the same here. Risdon's lead story instead showed a Grapevine baseball team picture, leaving viewers to speculate on which player it might be. In contrast, Fox4's Crilley showed a picture of Gavora as well as excerpts of prayers and well-wishes for him on his myspace.com page.

CBS11 played the story high in its newscast but only in a brief reader by anchor Borta.

"His parents have asked that his condition not be released," she told viewers.

Rival stations also respected the parents' privacy but otherwise got specific as to how the injury occurred. Newcomer Civale, criticized in this space for his bumbling live introductions to stories, did a capable, cogent job this time out. Stationed outside Parkland, as were his rivals, Civale said that Gavora had been struck from behind, at the base of his head, by a batting practice line drive.

(Note: Risdon sent an email to unclebarky.com mid-Friday afternoon to explain that she withheld the victim's name because of an email she received Thursday night from public information director Robin McClure of the Grapevine-Collyeville ISD. McClure's email reads in part: "The family has asked that the student not be identified and for all parties to respect its wishes for total privacy at this time.")

NBC5 gave second billing Thursday night to a scabies problem at a Petco, where "at least two employees are being treated for skin irritation," reported night ranger Scott Gordon.

Desperate to hold onto its slipping 10 p.m. ratings crown, the Peacock then went really nutso on a "Manhunt" story.

Chopper 5 circled live over a DeSoto neighborhood while the station filled home screens with a large circle, complete with crosshairs. It said "Wanted Burglar" on the lower left and "Dallas County Manhunt" on the upper right. But the still at-large burglar's trail otherwise has "gone cold," NBC5 reported. Someone in the control room should have telestrated "What a Crock" in a big, bold scrawl.

NBC5 reporter Kristi Nelson later slogged through another weight loss piece. This time it had to do with tiny magnets placed in "strategic locations," a treatment that's "very popular in Spanish-speaking communities," she told viewers.

A skeptical doctor said there's no sound medical reason why this should work, even though some clients supposedly have shed some poundage. Then Nelson's closing words pretty much sunk her story.

"Participants say they also get advice on what to eat at each session," she said. Gee, you think THAT might be the reason for any weight loss. Stick a magnet in your ear, where most of them are stuck, and then keep your pie hole at bay. Wow, another miracle diet uncovered by NBC5.

Some real reporting also occurred.

CBS11's Mary Stewart had an interesting story on disparate property tax assessments in Fort Worth. And the station's Jay Gormley looked at the ongoing sharp divisions within the Episcopal church regarding gay clerics and same-sex marriages.

The station's Jack Fink was the only D-FW television reporter to do a one-on-one interview with the lately beleaguered Gov. Rick Perry, who had been in North Texas for a speech. Perry didn't say anything of real note, though, at least in the segment that aired Thursday night. The pretty boy guv looked pretty haggard, though, in need of a shave and maybe even a haircut.

On Fox4, Lari Barager reconstructed how a bank robbery suspect was caught by police after visiting an International House of Pancakes restaurant on one too many occasions. Waitresses recognized him from previous video and helped to lay a trap. It made for an interesting little tale told well by Barager.

Belo8's Gary Reaves had an eye-opening report on how DNA evidence is being used to overturn a 13th wrongful conviction as part of "The Innocence Project." And medical reporter Janet St. James again stood out with a story on how Botox treatments seem to be offering a permanent solution for migraine headache sufferers. Could have done without the thumpety-thump intro, though.

The station's longtime sports reporter, George Riba, at Texas Rangers' training camp for the past week, again told viewers about the relaxed approach being taken by new manager Ron Washington. He then ended his report with a visit to Hooters, where four buxom staffers cooed, "Hi, George, welcome back."

Riba seldom does shtick. But after all these years in the trenches, hell, he's entitled.

Here's Thursday's violent crime story count, with the 16-night running totals in parentheses:

NBC5 -- 4 (61)
Fox4 -- 3 (35)
Belo8 -- 2 (22)
CBS11 -- 0 (29)

This just in: A night in the lives of D-FW's 10 p.m. newscasts (Wed., Feb. 21)

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Belo8's Brad Watson got under the skins of nail salons Wednesday.

When in doubt, go undercover to expose nail salons as health and sanitation sore spots.

Belo8 has done it before and is doing it again. Why? It's the perfect storm of a ratings sweeps series.

As noted here before, Nielsen Media Research numbers say that roughly 100,000 more women than men in the 25-to-54 age range watch one of the four nightly 10 p.m. local newscasts. So you try to tailor these shows with stories of particular interest to the gender with far more power to inflate ratings. And what woman hasn't gone for a pedicure, manicure or whatever at one of the nearly 5,000 nail salons in North Texas?

That's why Belo8 reporter Brad Watson acted tough-as-nails Wednesday during the first of his ongoing 10 p.m. reports on dangers afoot.

"Beneath the polish of pretty pedicures and manicures is an ugly reality at some salons," he gravely told viewers.

The station hired a female undercover operative to take a mini-hidden camera into six salons. Watson billed her as a "state licensed manicure instructor who's also worked as a private investigator."

She saw some "positive signs," Watson said. They were dismissed in a finger snap, because otherwise there's not much of a story. Belo8 instead dwelled on alleged infractions such as "indications of infrequent hand-washing," improper sanitization and a nail tech who repeatedly dipped an applicator into the same jar of cream.

The Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation's executive director, William Kuntz, of course readily agreed that such practices can be cause for concern. Watson then showed up at the salons with a Belo8 camera to confront their mostly Asian-American work forces.

"What are you doing here?" the proprietor of Angel Nails wondered with good reason.

OK, let's also note that customers can develop some serious skin ailments at salons with shoddy sanitation practices. Belo8 showed some still pictures to prove it. And the family of a Fort Worth paraplegic woman claims that she died from an infection contracted during a pedicure.

Still, Belo8 devoted an awful lot of time to a story that frankly played as more of a sweeps gimmick than a noble public service. The same can be said -- and it's been said here -- about the multi-part "Dirty Dining" series by CBS11's Bennett Cunningham. In the end, all of the restaurants he diddled with have passed their inspections and are open for business, Cunningham has said in closing all three of his reports.

At the end of his story, Watson said that none of the salons shown on camera has been charged by the state with any violations. But of course the state has "launched an investigation" after Belo8 weighed in.

Isn't that always the way it goes? Maybe the salons will be extra-vigilant now, which can't hurt. But were they really such bad guys in the first place? Or were they just easy marks for another showy sweeps series designed to attract more women viewers? Just asking.

Later in Belo8's Wednesday newscast, newcomer Craig Civale yet again had trouble enunciating his opening live standup. He's a good-looking guy and all, but this is a big-time TV market, not a finishing school.

This time Civale was stationed outside the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church in Dallas for a story on the suspension of the Rev. Nicholas Katinas, who ostensibly had retired in July after 28 years at the church. But parishioners were informed Wednesday that Father Katinas was suspected of child sexual abuse."

Civale kept calling him "Katrinas" during his report and also said "Greek Orthodock" in reference to the church. But the first words from him were a bigger mess.

"The church confirmed tonight what many of the parishioners had been whispering about for the last few months," Civale told viewers. "That Father Nicholas 'Katrinas' was indeed suspended. He wasn't fuh (fired), he wasn't, uh, he did retire as many had initially been told here."

Someone needs to sit Civale down and calm the poor guy's nerves a bit. So far these stumbling opens have been a pattern.

For on-air composure and coolness, Civale could study the work of CBS11's J.D. Miles, who may well be the best younger-generation TV reporter in D-FW. He had another interesting story Wednesday about an elderly serial rapist who hung himself in jail on the night before his sentencing. Miles interviewed one of his victims, a young woman who appeared undisguised on camera but didn't want her name used.

"It just proves that he's a very low character," she said in part.

CBS11's Jack Fink, another quality reporter, had an informative story on the possible scuttling of a proposed $1 billion tollway over Trinity Park. Safety and environmental concerns are starting to stack up against it, he said.

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NBC5, which generally bottom-feeds, finally had two stories that withstood the smell test.

Scott Friedman, one of the Peacock's nightly Four Horsepeople of the Apocalypse, contributed an interesting piece on the black market for retractable SUV seats. Five were stolen recently in a Parker County neighborhood.

NBC5's Kristi Nelson had a story on the Ikea store's decision to soon charge five cents for every plastic bag it supplies to customers. Eventually the bags will be phased out completely because of environmental concerns. And for now, the nickels will go to a conservation group.

Peacock sports anchor Newy Scruggs, whose station is the only one without a reporter at Texas Rangers spring training camp, tried to lighten up his brief time on-camera by brandishing a large, inflatable fish. It was a promotional come-on, he said, from the Texas Bass Classic.

"Newy is sleepin' with the fishes tonight," said anchor Mike Snyder, who seemed immensely amused with himself. Scruggs ended the newscast by tossing the fish to weathercaster David Finfrock.

Meanwhile on Fox4, too big a deal was made of a helicopter crash on the grounds of Mansfield's Walnut Creek Country Club. The station led its 10 p.m. newscast with reporter Jeff Crilley's dispatch, even though no one was hurt, including the pilots.

Later, Brandon Todd reeled in another American Idol watch party. This time he had to go to San Antonio, where the parents of Haley Scarnato had a couple of dozen people over.

Her dad, Tony Scarnato, didn't much like the criticism aimed at his daughter from judge Simon Cowell.

"If Simon's really mean to her, I'm gonna send him a dead fish in the mail," Tony promised.

Todd later tried to diffuse the comment as a joke. But these "Idol Insider" segments are getting to be a bigger joke. Fox needs to cease and desist for a while, if only to let Todd reclaim his reputation as a capable, thorough street reporter.

Here's Wednesday's violent crime story count, with the 15-night running totals in parentheses:

NBC5 -- 3 (57)
Fox4 -- 3 (32)
CBS11 -- 2 (29)
Belo8 -- 1 (20)

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NBC5 finally got its money shot -- on tape.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Why not?" he asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This just in: A night in the lives of D-FW's 10 p.m. newscasts (Mon., Feb. 19)

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Health and consumer reporting are the main beats of this NBC5 duo.

Lose weight, look younger, save money.

NBC5's 10 p.m. newscasts aren't alone in aiming this stuff at their nightly audiences. But no station makes harder sells than the Peacock. Too bad that so many of these stories are so utterly intelligence-insulting.

Reporters Kristi Nelson and Brian Curtis were just following orders, though, on Monday's 10 p.m. program. They each get roughly 90 seconds to turn lemons into something approximating those juicy promos from anchors Mike Snyder and Jane McGarry.

In contrast, veteran Belo8 investigators Byron Harris and Brett Shipp get two, three and sometimes almost four times the air time to make their cases. But they sometimes overreach, too, as was the case Monday night. Let's look much closer.

NBC5's Nelson stood in a store aisle, as she regularly does, after McGarry teased, "Could chewing gum be a medical marvel?"

The reporter began with the bold assertion that "chewing gum is easy, and most of us do it every day."

Frankly, most of us don't. But Nelson earlier had caught a young woman in the act. And what she said may have shocked you. Here's how it went: "I'm chewing gum right now. People chew gum all the time. Um, it's convenient. People like convenience."

Nelson then warmed to the task of positioning gum as a diet aid after earlier saying it might well be a "super food."

"Trying to lose weight?" she asked. "With just five to 10 calories a serving, scientists say chewing a piece of gum instead of eating a high calorie snack can help reduce calorie intake. The Wrigley Institute says it also serves as a diversion between meals, helping prevent the so-called mindless munching that can lead to weight gain."

Yes, the Wrigley Institute indeed is funded by the famed gum maker. So it's kind of like the makers of Blow Pops making the same claim. Suck on one of those babies and you'll have a hard time filling the ol' pie hole with a high-calorie snack. In fact, NBC5 might want to consider this for one of its future "Health Alerts."

Earlier in the newscast, reporter Curtis found an aggrieved elderly man, Theo Smith, whose truck had been damaged. And he supposedly was still dickering with his insurance company a month later.

Curtis used this as a gateway to the "latest consumer survey" (from J.D. Power) on auto insurance providers. A company ranked at the bottom, which won't be identified here, sent NBC5 a statement to the contrary. Then Curtis left viewers with a big finish that managed to say absolutely nothing at all despite the reporter's dramatic inflections. Here's exactly how it went:

"No matter which company is yours, experts offer this advice," Curtis told viewers.

"Know what your policy covers," said a receptionist at a Haltom City collision repair shop.

"And if you're choosing a provider," Curtis added, "Theo has one more thought."

"They need to check and see which one is really the best one," said Theo.

"That is, before you need to make a claim," said the reporter. "Brian Curtis, NBC5, Haltom City."

In that vein, here's another valuable consumer news tip from unclebarky.com: Put one foot in front of the other and repeat with the one you didn't use. You'll find yourself walking. And walking can lead to weight loss, especially if you're chewing gum at the same time.

brads byronh

Belo8 investigators Brett Shipp and Byron Harris

Belo8 generally takes a more rarefied approach to its news reporting, particularly when the multi-award-winning Shipp and Harris are weighing in. They're not above criticism, though.

Shipp has done some valuable reporting on the separation of families and overall conditions at the T. Don Hutto facility in Taylor, TX, a converted prison where illegal immigrants are being detained. Many of them have requested asylum from oppressive governments.

The reporter went to Washington for this latest followup. He first found two U.S. representatives who were in full agreement with his findings -- Democrats Eddie Bernice Johnson of Dallas and Zoe Lofgren of California, who chairs the House immigration subcommittee.

"It sounds like the holocaust," said Johnson.

"Innocent families being treated like maximum security criminals? That's not the American way," said Lofgren.

Shipp then hammered home his thesis, ending with a sarcasm-flavored flourish. It went like this: "Given all the criticism, opposition and outrage, there is at least one place in Washington, outside of the Department of Homeland Security, where support for the Hutto residential center is unwavering. The White House."

This basically told viewers that Shipp couldn't find a single member of the House or Senate to counter the criticisms of Johnson or Lofgren. But he did get into a White House press conference, where he addressed the issue with press secretary Tony Snow. Here are the particulars:

"We asked Snow," said Shipp, "if another type of facility might be more appropriate. His response:"

"Such as?" Snow volleyed. "Sports stadium?"

"I don't know," Shipp could be heard saying.

"The point is it's difficult to find facilities," Snow said. "And you have to do the best with what you've got."

Shipp closed by restating what seemed to be a pre-drawn conclusion.

"But according to Johnson," he said, "Hutto is not the best this country can do. And both she and congressman Lofgren will call for an investigation."

Sorry, but it all seemed more than a little too pat. A reporter's presentation counts for a lot in stories such as these. Shipp could have scored more points by tempering his agenda just a bit.

Belo8's Harris followed later with an investigation of anesthesiologists drawn from an interview with a single, camouflaged hospital worker employed at an unnamed "North Texas day surgery center."

The woman, who wore a black shroud and whose voice was altered, said that in the past eight months two children had almost died from overdoses of morphine administered by an anesthesiologist.

"It was horrible. The child was like a noodle," she said.

Harris, who needlessly donned doctor's scrubs at one point, also found an expert who said that parents of young children have every right to question an anesthesiologist's qualifications before surgery begins. Frankly, that seems like a no-brainer.

The reporter closed his story in a parking garage, telling viewers, "Doctors say you have a greater risk of being hurt in an auto accident than you have of being harmed by an anesthesiologist. If that's the case, then asking the right questions about your children's doctor may be the medical equivalent of a child's safety seat."

The report seemed pretty flimsy. Both Harris and Shipp have done far better work in earning their spurs at Belo8. And unlike their competitors at NBC5, they're afforded the time and space to do so.

Here's Monday's unusually sparse violent crime story count, with the 13-night running totals in parentheses:

NBC5 -- 1 (53)
Fox4 -- 0 (29)
CBS11 -- 0 (27)
Belo8 -- 0 (17)

This just in: A night in the lives of D-FW's 10 p.m. newscasts (Fri., Feb. 16)

1219_unplugged200 unclebarky150

Belo8 sports anchor Dale Hansen invariably says what he pleases, and damn the big cheeses.

He took a big risk on Friday's 10 p.m. news, though, invoking the name of his parent company's devil dog in exile. That would be the virginal little boy pictured above in his Sunday best Perry Como polo. Hey kids, PC was the Diddy of his day.

Hansen chimed in after a report that the Lee Harvey Oswald "sniper's perch" auctioned on ebay had been taken off the market at least temporarily when a high bid of $3 million fell through.

"Our friend Hugh Aynesworth (dean of assassination investigators) says there are at least thee windows that have that alleged distinction," anchor Gloria Campos said, turning to Hansen.

"I'm not sayin' a word about it," Hansen rejoined. "No, no. Ed Bark got all upset when I said a joke about it the other day. And if Ed Bark says it, you know it's true."

"Yeah," Campos said gamely before quickly moving on to a closing video snippet of Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo singing horribly off-key at an L.A. club.

Hansen referred to an admonishment in this space after Belo8 anchors had joined him in laughing about whether President Kennedy had been killed by bullets fired from the Texas School Book Depository or the Grassy Knoll.

"Don't buy the window. It's bogus," Hansen said in part on the Feb. 7 newscast. It was then written here that the assassination is no joking matter, particularly on a Dallas newscast.

Hansen's Bark-as-truthteller riff likely was meant mockingly, but it does look good in the box score. One can imagine various Belo bosses turning whiter shades of pale before quickly segueing to livid beet reds. Oh to be a crystal paperweight in Belo potentate Robert W. Decherd's darkly foreboding command post. The one with the designer guillotine near the marble walking papers bin.

Belo8 otherwise had a meaty Friday night newscast, one of its better efforts during the ongoing February sweeps.

Reporter Steve Stoler had a good followup piece on 22 impoverished families being evicted from a code-violating budget hotel in McKinney. Good Samaritans have helped some of them to find new residences.

Colleague Chris Hawes had an interesting story on plans to build a possibly dangerous ethanol distribution center near a rail line in Arlington. And Gary Reaves reported in depth on an African-American man named Tyrone Brown, who's spent almost 17 years in jail after committing a petty theft as a 17-year-old and then violating his parole by smoking pot. Does the punishment fit the crime? Hardly. The report ended with Brown's mother telling Reaves, "I want him to know that he is truly, truly welcome. And this is his home."

Venerable sports reporter George Riba, the only D-FW television reporter with the Texas Rangers in Surprise, Ariz., again had a nice at-bat with a story on new manager Ron Washington.

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Reporters Gina Miller, Grant Stinchfield and Melissa Cutler

CBS11 likewise had solid work on several fronts.

Jack Fink reported on the easy counterfeiting of temporary Texas license plates; Jay Gormley had a story on a proposed bill that would end new toll road construction until September 2009; Carol Cavazos told viewers about a TCU professor who had furnished much of his home with discarded items found in dumpsters and on curbs.

Anchor Tracy Rowlett acted pretty frisky on the same day he announced his retirement from TV news in July 2008. He'll also be leaving CBS11's late night newscasts after the February sweeps in favor of current morning anchor Doug Dunbar.

After a brief report on Mardi Gras in New Orleans, Rowlett reminded anchor Karen Borta that she had tried tried to get him "in trouble" the last time they were there. At newscast's end, he said Borta told him during a break that her mother "hated fish." This referred to an earlier brief on how eating seafood during pregnancies might make babies smarter. Borta sorta played along, saying she could have been a brighter kid.

CBS11 sports reporter Gina Miller double-dribbled through her live dispatch from the NBA All-Star game in Las Vegas.

"Las Vegas is the first non-NBA team to host an All-Star team -- All-Star game," she said.

Miller also told viewers, "It's Sin City, Las Vegas. And according to many, it's the perfect place to host the NBA All-Star game."

She likely didn't mean it quite that way.

Fox4's story on possible legislation regulating TV violence was preceded by a 24 promo that ended with Jack Bauer's duplicitous father holding a gun to his head.

Reporter Melissa Cutler then mostly used clips from the Fox series to illustrate the "cringe-inducing" fare that has some in Congress ready to pounce. At least she can't be accused of playing favorites.

Fox4 led its newscast with a story on a seedy Henderson County couple that had been padlocking the mother's two teenage girls in an unheated tool shed at night before freeing them for school in the morning.

Reporter Jeff Crilley, the soft-spoken Gentle Ben with a Ford tough drive shaft, cornered the just-released boyfriend while Mom remained in jail.

"I need to call you out on this," Crilley told him before the knuckle-dragger reluctantly acknowledged being more than an innocent bystander.

All four stations reported on the abandoned baby left outside the Baylor Institute for Rehabilitation in Dallas. Only NBC5 made a big deal of it, though, leading Friday's newscast with piano music, black-and-white stills and anchor Mike Snyder's somber, dime store novel narration.

"A lonely bench," he intoned. "The only refuge for a newborn. Abandoned in the cold."

"All right, we'll pray for that little one," anchor Jane McGarry said after reporter Susan Risdon said the baby is now doing fine.

NBC5's Grant Stinchfield, who's had an ongoing "Price of Power" series, scored with the tale of a young couple who received a monthly bill of $11,100.82 from TXU to keep the lights on in their modest 1,400 square foot home. The company then "corrected" it to $10,983.98 before Stinchfield stepped in and got TXU to admit it had made a clerical error.

Here's Friday's violent crime story count, with the 12-night, 10 p.m. running totals in parentheses:

Fox4 -- 4 (29)
CBS11 -- 3 (27)
NBC5 -- 2 (52)
Belo8 -- 0 (17)

Local Nielsen ratings snapshot (Fri.-Sun., Feb. 16-18)

Consider Sunday night's NBA All-Star game a big hit in D-FW despite lip-syncing Wayne Newton's best efforts to drive viewers away with a dreadful pre-game show.

Originating from Las Vegas on cable's TNT, the game drew an impressive 192,780 homes to place second in prime-time behind only ABC's lineup of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, Desperate Housewives and Brothers & Sisters.

But among advertiser-coveted younger viewers -- 18-to-49 and 18-to-34-year-olds -- the All-Stars were outpointed only by Desperate Housewives. Consider the fearsome whipping taken by Donald Trump's once potent The Apprentice, which the NBA dunked on all fronts in D-FW from 8 to 9 p.m.

Total Homes
All-Star Game -- 188,020
The Apprentice -- 88,060

All-Star Game -- 208,500
The Apprentice -- 69,000

All-Star Game -- 108,037
The Apprentice -- 33,737

Friday's local TV news wars saw Belo8 win at 10 p.m. for the eighth consecutive weeknight, this time by a comfy margin of 66,640 homes. With eight nights left, Belo8 has a thin but widening margin over the Peacock, which has a late night news winning streak dating to February 2002.

Belo8 also edged NBC5 among 25-to-54-year-olds, but is still running second with the target advertiser audience for news programming.

Fox4 took the 6 a.m. bouts in both measurements in what looks like a down-to-the-wire battle with NBC5 in homes. Belo8 is still very much in the race among 25-to-54-year-olds.

The 5 and 6 p.m. news battles again were won on all fronts by Belo8, which has them all but sewn up.

This just in: A night in the lives of D-FW's 10 p.m. newscasts (Thurs., Feb. 15)

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Had to have a peanut butter sandwich -- honest -- before seeing which of D-FW's Thursday 10 p.m. newscasts would spread the most fear about the allegedly salmonella-tainted Peter Pan/Great Value brands.

NBC5 approached the story in its usual subtle manner.

"The peanut butter recall, and tonight our viewers are outraged," anchor Jane McGarry teased.

Were they really?

Belo8 went a little nuts, too.

"Peanut butter panic hits North Texas," said anchor John McCaa.

Gloria Campos was right there with him on that one.

"2111," she said, referring to the lid code that signified possible danger afoot. "Have four numbers ever caused such an uproar?"

Fox4 took a much quieter approach, giving the peanut butter story only fourth billing, and handling it in pretty quick fashion.

CBS11 easily made the least of it, relegating peanut butter to a "reader" by anchor Tracy Rowlett. He didn't get around to it until six minutes had elapsed.

By that time, Belo8 and NBC5 already were done with their Bubonic Plague treatment of something that so far has caused 300 non-fatal illnesses in 39 states since last August. Both stations' coverage gave me a headache. Am I alone? Should I ask for a newscast recall?

NBC5's Scott Gordon reported finding two North Texans who said they'd become sick from eating peanut butter. One was a middle-aged man from Little Elm, another a teenage girl from Justin. The guy had a big ol' tin can of peanut butter that he flamboyantly threw into a trash can while the camera rolled. Good job.

NBC5 anchor Mike Snyder then brought more bad news.

"If you want your money back, you're gonna have to wait," he intoned before throwing it to reporter Kristi Nelson.

She in turn instructed viewers who had bought a 2111 jar to mail the lid in for a refund that could take a while. It hardly seems worth the trouble. After all, peanut butter doesn't exactly cost a King's ransom. But NBC5 made it seem as though aggrieved consumers were ready to secede from the union if they were denied justice.

Over on Belo8, new reporter Craig Civale again struggled with his live opening standup. This time he was stationed outside Tom Landry elementary school in Irving.

"John, it sure sounded innocently enough," he said of a first grade Valentine's Day project in which kids made peanut butter sandwiches with what turned out to be the code 2111 Peter Pan brand.

School officials are "now scrambling to notify parents," he said, although there still are no reports of any kids getting ill. Imagine enjoying a nice sandwich, Civale added, "only to learn that the tasty treat came from the same batch of polluted peanut butter."

Tom Landry elementary will soldier on, however. "The school doesn't plan to change its policies when it comes to the teachers bringing food to class, despite the sticky situation," Civale said in closing.

Belo8 medical reporter Janet St. James then urged viewers to flush toilets with their feet if possible. Otherwise use a paper towel or toilet paper when touching commode handles. And by all means, if you have code 2111 peanut butter, "immediately throw the jar away," she instructed. St. James then demonstrated with a flourish, causing a trash can flap to rotate like a Plinko wheel.

NBC5 otherwise had its usual ridiculous collection of health alerts, but this time outdid itself.

Anchor Snyder let it be known that "those very breath fresheners could be making our stinky breath worse." How so? Reporter Meredith Land said that some toothpastes and mouthwashes have a chemical that can dry out the mouth, promoting bad breath. Oh get outta here.

Correspondent Brian Curtis followed with a blockbuster. The University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio found that diet soda drinkers became more obese than sugared drink users.

The center didn't know why this might be. But Curtis found someone to say that diet drinkers might think they can indulge themselves with more sweets and junk food. NBC5 of course promoted the story as though it had found a cure for cancer.

CBS11 succumbed to anchor Karen Borta's trifecta on what she said were three big concerns for women -- "shoes, weight and cramps."

She read reports from each of these basic food groups, prompting co-anchor Rowlett to grouse, "Man, we never have stories about men's shoes and our weight gain and stuff . . . What's up with that, anyway?"

He knows full well. The Nielsen ratings consistently show that lots more women watch newscasts than men. This is particularly true within the key advertiser target audience for newscasts -- 25-to-54-year-olds. In the November sweeps, Nielsen data showed that an average of 273,446 women in that age group watched the 10 p.m. D-FW newscasts on Fox4, NBC5, Belo8 and CBS11. For men, the figure was 177,907.

Those numbers are the reasons for Borta's three-part bonus round and yet another of St. James' diet stories on Belo8 Thursday night. It followed a Campos brief about "massaging away your cellulite."

Anchor McCaa, usually reticent, might have had another kind of massage in mind when he made an uncommonly bold prediction after weatherman Pete Delkus warned viewers of another frigid February night.

"All this cold weather," he said. "I'll guarantee ya, July, August, September, you'll see a lot of babies."

That's the Spirit of Texas, baby.

Here's Thursday night's violent crime story count, with the 11-night running totals in parentheses:

NBC5 -- 3 (50)
CBS11 -- 2 (24)
Fox4 -- 1 (25)
Belo8 -- 1 (17)

This just in: A night in the lives of D-FW's 10 p.m. newscasts (Wed., Feb. 14)


In happier times: D magazine editors Eric Celeste and Tim Rogers

D magazine's annual "Best Doctors" issue underwent a proctoscopy at the hands of Belo8 investigator Byron Harris on Wednesday's 10 p.m. newscast.

But was Harris himself guilty of malpractice? The magazine's Frontburner bloggers immediately got busy making that case Thursday morning. And newly hired managing editor Eric Celeste delivered a nice zinger in noting that the story's designated medical ethicist, Arthur Caplan of the University of Pennsylvania, was named in a 2000 malpractice suit.

But before weighing in on Harris' reporting, let's not feel overly sorry for D. Most of its bloggers aren't known as fastidious fact-checkers. They regularly traffic in rumor and innuendo before later correcting the record if necessary. Post first and ask questions later, because everything comes out in the wash. OK, fine. But then don't whine too hard when a seasoned TV gunslinger decides to pistol whip you just because he can.

Harris also looked at Texas Monthly's "Super Doctors" lists, but no one from that magazine would talk to him. D magazine executive editor Tim Rogers agreed to play ball, though, and Harris had little trouble depicting him as a weasel. Selective editing is a TV gumshoe's best friend. And Rogers really didn't have a chance after Harris began by asking rhetorically whether the popular D and Texas Monthly best doctor issues are "about quality medicine or advertising revenue."

Gee, guess what conclusion he'd be drawing?

In Harris' accusatory words Wednesday night, "Rogers admits that the 'Best Doctors' issue is about making money, from the choice of the subject to who's on the cover."

Harris should know. We're in the heart of a ratings "sweeps" period, where heavily hyped stories are prepared weeks and sometimes months ahead of time in hopes they'll draw extra viewers. That in turn allows a TV station's sales department to adjust advertising rates upwards. So let's get real.

Belo8's Mike Wallace cannily dug several graves for Rogers to lower himself into. Or at least that's what it looked like in the finished product. What would stop doctors in the same practice from voting for one another in D's survey, Harris asked.

"In the same practice? Nothing," Rogers said. "Those votes won't count as much as they would if somebody got a vote from outside their practice."

He then nervously sipped from his D coffee mug while Harris probed, "How do you weight those?"

"That's proprietary," Rogers said, supplying ample rope for Harris' noose.

The reporter noted that D's "blue ribbon" panel can "add doctors at its own discretion." Then he loaded the chamber, telling viewers, "Not even Rogers is certain of all the details."

Harris to Rogers: "By the way, is a podiatrist a doctor?"
Rogers: "That's not one of our categories. I don't think it is."
Harris: "It is."
Rogers: "OK, then they're a doctor."
Harris: "Well, they're not. They don't go to medical school."

Which really has little to do with anything. Still, Rogers was starting to look more uncomfortable than Marvin Hamlisch at a Beastie Boys reunion. And Harris had one more card to play after Rogers told him that D didn't particularly care if any of its designated best doctors had a malpractice suit or two filed against them.

Vetting all of those doctors would be a "very daunting" task, which is why D doesn't do it, Rogers explained.

But it "really isn't that hard," Harris then said while standing in a county court house. Belo8 back-checked the D doctors list in less than eight hours, he said. And it found that 18 percent of them had been "sued for malpractice or related causes in the last 10 years."

As an emergency room orderly for five years, I can tell you that's not even a remotely big deal. Malpractice suits are as commonplace as "Gotcha" stories in TV news. They're often without merit, as Harris well knows. And as noted, the reporter somehow forgot to mention that his story's lone accusatory medical ethicist also has been on the receiving end of a malpractice suit.

Oh well. In the end, both sides probably got what they wanted. Belo8 had D-FW's No. 1-rated newscast Wednesday night, spurred by both Harris' investigation and sports anchor Dale Hansen's grossly overblown one-on-one interview with Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones. And D's Frontburner blog no doubt had plenty of extra traffic Thursday, courtesy of all those broadsides aimed at Harris.

Earlier on Belo8, the station was less than forthcoming in a brief followup story.

"Hey," said anchor John McCaa, "you remember that van that wound up in a Dallas homeowner's living room yesterday afternoon? We've learned the driver lost control after going into diabetic shock."

They must have learned it from rival stations, where that important piece of information was reported the night before. It's called covering your ass.

Over on CBS11, reporter J.D. Miles went against the grain with a story on how violent and overall crime dipped significantly in D-FW during an especially cold January.

"The cold keeps people indoors, which causes less interaction and creates fewer opportunities for criminals," Miles said, noting that last January's average temperatures were 13 degrees warmer.

It didn't stop NBC5 from once again loading up on crime stories. But the station first spread it more than a little thick with a "massive recall on peanut butter" bulletin that topped Wednesday night's newscast.

The Peter Pan and Great Value brands are being recalled nationwide after an outbreak of salmonella poisoning, NBC5's Scott Gordon said while brandishing two jars outside one of the station's favorite venues, Wal-Mart. The recall is "just a precaution," he added. Also, only jars with the code beginning 2111 are considered suspect.

Belo8 was the only other station to report the peanut butter recall. But it waited until midway through Wednesday's newscast and was far calmer about it.

Fox4's 10 p.m. newscast included yet another Brandon Todd dispatch from an American Idol watch party. But the station finally may have exhausted its repertoire after both North Texas contestants, Baylie Brown of Krum and Waxahachie's Jimmy McNeal, failed to make Idol's final 24 during this week's pre-taped shows.

Todd soldiered on anyway, reporting from an empty bar that earlier had been crowded with McNeal supporters.

"A real classy guy," he said of McNeal, who wasn't there. "He didn't stomp his feet. He didn't go out crying."

Todd then felt the urge to show a "We Love Fox 4!!" sign that just happened to be within easy reach.

OK, enough.

Here's Wednesday night's violent crime story count, with the 10-night running totals in parentheses. (Note: the CBS11 report on a downswing in violent crime is not being counted as a violent crime story.)

NBC5 -- 4 (47)
Fox4 -- 3 (24)
Belo8 -- 2 (16)
CBS11 -- 0 (22)

This just in: A night in the lives of D-FW's 10 p.m. newscasts (Tues., Feb. 13)

johnm gloriac

Smelling victory: Belo8 anchors John McCaa and Gloria Campos

Their long 10 p.m. nightmare may be ending.

Veteran Belo8 anchors John McCaa and Gloria Campos haven't been ratings winners at 10 p.m. since 2001. But they've never been in a better position to snap NBC5's long run at the top. And in High-Def, too.

A fifth consecutive ratings victory Tuesday night broke a first-place tie with the Peacock and put Belo8 narrowly ahead at 10 p.m. near the halfway mark of the four-week February sweeps. (See companion ratings story for more details.) NBC5 has won 15 consecutive sweeps battles in total homes, dating to February 2002. But the numbing, head-hurting sameness of the Peacock's nightly presentations at last is starting to look like a turnoff.

NBC5's four horsepeople of the Apocalypse -- Susan Risdon, Scott Gordon, Scott Friedman and Kristi Nelson -- are part and parcel of virtually every night's 10 p.m. show. They're usually bringing bad news, and Tuesday was typical.

Friedman stood in the dark and reported on that day's trial of a laser hair removal specialist who's charged with sexually molesting some of his clients while tending to their bikini lines.

Gordon stood in the dark to bring viewers news of a gang of teen thieves from Watauga who call themselves "The Knockout Boys."

Risdon stood in the dark to recap a weekend jewelry store robbery at the Town East Mall in Mesquite.

And Nelson stood in the dark outside a home that had been severely damaged after an out-of-control van smashed into it.

All four stations jumped on the out-of-control van story, but of course NBC5 made the biggest deal of it. Besides crime, the nightly NBC5 formula calls for a car wreck or two, a fire or two, a few cockamamie surveys and a barrage of health alerts. Season with a thinly disguised informercial for an area merchant or a "story" on how to look younger or feel better. On Tuesday night it was pillows, with anchor Jane McGarry teasing about "how the right type of fluff can help you fight fatigue."

NBC5's graphics people might be getting fatigued, too. Anchor Mike Snyder's silly little dollop on the perils of a "Weakened Immune System" was spelled "Weakend" on-screen. Somebody needs a long weekend.

NBC5 management in turn needs to go on a weekend retreat whose sole purpose would be to renovate this mess before it's too late. Don't say you weren't forewarned. The bottom is starting to drop out, and no amount of coughing by weatherman David Finfrock's is going to remedy that.

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Reporters Lari Barager, Craig Civale and Jeff Crilley

None of NBC5's rivals had any big, eyecatching stories Tuesday night.

Block-jawed Belo8 newcomer Craig Civale and his seemingly immovable Everly Brothers pompadour reported live from lower Greenville Ave. That's where police recently mounted a little sting operation on bar and restaurant owners who have been lax in enforcing non-smoking ordinances.

Civale said he had encountered "ashtrays that are just cluttered all over the place." He then had a little trouble with his syntax in setting up the piece: "The attitude of many of the owners down here is if the city does not want people to smoke, then you force them to do it, 'cause we're not."

Sometimes live TV can mess with your mind. And it was pretty cold outside, too.

Belo8's sturdy, dependable Jim Douglas went to snowy Upland, Indiana to interview a woman who was dismissed from her job for being a woman. She relocated after officials at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary decided they were violating Scripture by allowing a woman to teach Hebrew to men. Interesting story.

Fox4's unsung, understated Jeff Crilley braved an encounter with a tollway cheater whose tab had run to $62,848.45 before his name was released to the media along with the area's other five top offenders.

"The worst offender wasn't home, but the second biggest violator was," said Crilley. That offender had his TV on, and it wasn't Fox4 news.

"It's already being settled . . . You have to talk to my lawyer," he told Crilley before shutting the door in his face.

Also on Fox4, reporter Lari Barager went deep on a story that rival stations only briefly touched on during their 10 p.m. newscasts. She evenhandedly looked at Bank of America's controversial decision to provide credit cards to customers without requiring proof of citizenship.

On the sports front, Belo8 anchor Dale Hansen prepped viewers for Wednesday night's one-on-one interview with Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, whom he's frequently ripped and shredded.

Anchor Campos wondered whether he actually has the video to prove it.

"He still talks to me," Hansen assured. "He never ever says no."

CBS11 got the jump on Hansen Tuesday night by airing portions of Jones' sit-down with reporter Steve Dennis. He not surprisingly disputed the perception that new coach Wade Phillips is merely a "figurehead."

"He's gonna have every opportunity to sell me on any issue involving this football team," Jones said. "And I want it, I'm open-minded about it and will be a very good listener when it comes to that. That's not a puppet."

That is a pretty good quote, though.

NBC5 sports anchor Newy Scruggs isn't allotted enough time to be worth Jones' while. But Scruggs did get off a zinger aimed at Texas A&M fans, who have complained that he doesn't show enough of their Top 10-ranked basketball team.

Scruggs complied by running tape of Texas A&M losing on a heart-breaking buzzer-beater to visiting Texas Tech.

"There's your Aggie highlight," he sniffed.

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

NBC5 -- 3 (43)
CBS11 -- 3 (22)
Fox4 -- 1 (21)
Belo8 -- 0 (14)

This just in: A night in the lives of D-FW's 10 p.m. newscasts (Mon., Feb. 12)

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Could the thrill be gone?

NBC5's rapid-fire, consultant-driven, ooh-scary, low-brow 10 p.m. newscasts might finally be heading for a fall after a victory string that stretches back to February 2002.

Belo8's fourth straight late night win Monday put the ABC station in a first-place tie with the Peacock after eight weeknights of the latest 20-night sweeps period. Both stations are averaging 8.4 Nielsen ratings (199,920 homes), with CBS11 holding down third place (6.0 rating/142,800 homes).

NBC5 still has the edge with 25-to-54-year-olds, the key advertiser target audience for news programming. But a first-place finish in homes would give Belo8 the bragging rights it's craved since finishing second to the Peacock in the Winter Olympics-aided February 2002 sweeps. All told, NBC5 has won 15 consecutive sweeps ratings battles, which are fought three times a year in February, May and November.

NBC5 is being hurt in part by declining lead-ins from NBC's 9 p.m. entertainment programming (See companion ratings story). Still, maybe viewers at last are growing weary of stuff like this from anchor Mike Snyder. On Monday's 10 p.m. newscast, he reported that a "pe-r-r-r-rvert" had exposed himself in a Grapevine woman's apartment. The man supposedly "pulled down his pants and asked,' Do you want some of this?' " Snyder related.

The woman then ran away and phoned police, the anchor said. And perhaps at that precise moment, a good number of viewers turned away from NBC5 and sought a less smarmy alternative. Not surprisingly, the pe-r-r-r-rvert story didn't make the cut on rival stations.

Belo8 in contrast had a generally solid Monday night newscast, with strong contributions from reporters Jim Douglas and Janet St. James.

Douglas went to San Antonio to interview Iraq war veterans who have returned home as amputees. All are victims of EFPs (Explosively Formed Penetrators), with neighboring Iran the suspected provider.

St. James continued a revelatory run of medical reports by looking at the significant increases in Lap-Band and gastric bypass surgeries, many of which are botched and must be redone at enormous expense.

On the small but significant front, Belo8 was the only station to note that a just-announced tour by The Police will include a June 26th stop in Dallas. All of the stations assuredly had this information, so why not share it? CBS11 in particular should have seen this opening. Its widely watched Sunday night telecast of the Grammy Awards opened with the newly reunited Police performing a tour appetizer, "Roxanne."

CBS11 did have a big opening story from reporter J.D. Miles, who used an undercover camera to document sales of pre-paid cell phones to customers who buy them without showing any form of identification. It's a new and easy way for drug traffickers and terrorists to cover their tracks, police say. Laws requiring government IDs from all cell phone purchasers supposedly are in the works.

Fox4 had an interesting update from Jeff Crilley, who said that authorities now know who cut down thousands of trees at Lake Dallas last year. The perpetrators' identities are being kept secret while a multi-million dollar settlement is being negotiated, Crilley reported.

All four stations found their way to a medical study that says men significantly can reduce their risk of heart disease by taking short daytime naps.

To waylay brain pan drain, you might want to skip an NBC5 newscast or two.

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

NBC5 -- 4 (40)
Fox4 -- 4 (20)
CBS11 -- 2 (19)
Belo8 -- 0 (14)

This just in: A night in the lives of D-FW's 10 p.m. newscasts (Fri., Feb. 9)


Immigration and Customs Enforcement official Gary Mead led a media tour Friday of a facility in Taylor, TX. But Belo8 billed it an "exclusive" on that night's 10 p.m. news. Pool photo by I. M. Otero

News operations need to be careful when making claims of exclusivity.

Belo8 lately hasn't been.

Friday's 10 p.m. newscast found anchor Gloria Campos telling viewers, "News 8 was granted an exclusive tour of the detention center in Taylor, Texas."

That would be true if Fox4, NBC5, CBS11 and other state and national media outlets also hadn't given viewers and readers a look inside the T. Don Hutto Family Residential Facility.

Officials wanted to diffuse charges that the detainee center is unsafe and dehumanizing. Belo8 investigator Brett Shipp has led the way in reporting on a legal suit filed by a recently released Palestinian family, the Ibrahims. But the station had been denied access inside the Hutto building, as Shipp reported on Thursday's 10 p.m. newscast. Then on Friday the doors were opened, belying Belo8's bogus claims of exclusivity. Its rivals also showed video from inside the facility during their 10 p.m. newscasts Friday.

Fox4 anchor Baron James called it a "first look at the treatment of detained families," which is stretching the truth a bit. NBC5 and CBS11 abstained from gilding the lily.

On Thursday's 10 p.m. newscast, Belo8 had touted an "exclusive murder investigation" into the deaths of young couple Linoshka Torres and Luis Campos. Belo8's Rebecca Lopez said that police now think they were tortured and killed by a vengeful drug ring boss (Nicolas Monarrez) who thought Torres and Campos had broken into his house and robbed him.

Lopez's piece was praised in this space, but probably shouldn't have been. It turns out that the basics of her investigation already had been reported early last week by The Dallas Morning News, which like Belo8 is owned by Belo Corp.

Fox4 reporter Rebecca Aguilar also was ahead of Lopez on the mistaken identity revelations. Her stories aired earlier in the week on Fox4's 6 and 9 p.m. newscasts, but weren't shown on the 10 p.m. telecasts that have been monitored here since the latest four-month "sweeps" period began on Feb. 1.

So what's been learned? Belo8 seems to have adapted a Bill Clinton-esque definition of "exclusive" in its determination to end NBC5's longtime ratings dominance at 10 p.m. The Peacock hasn't changed, though. It continues to pour on the junk news, and plenty of it. It's hard to know where to start anymore, so let's go where much of the real news is -- on CBS11.

The station's lead story, by reporter Jack Fink, fully merited such prominent play. He reported on a string of non-functional overhead freeway lights that repeatedly have been disabled by thieves stealing their copper wiring. Some 50 light poles keep going dark despite the Texas Department of Transportation's repeated repair efforts.

A TxDOT spokeswoman told Fink that wiring has been replaced 15 times in the past six months at a cost of $250,000. For now, she said, repairs are on hold while a "permanent solution" is sought. Meanwhile, motorists must drive dangerously in the dark.

CBS11 reporters J.D. Miles and Carol Cavazos also had worthwhile, nutritive pieces on the Dallas Police Department's budget shortfall and the Texas Food Bank's back taxes woes. These aren't particularly easy or "sexy" stories to tell. But they do stick to the ribs, unlike NBC5 reporter Meredith Land's piffle on "Tummy Triggers" or anchor Mike Snyder's drivel on a study that says it's best to not start dieting on a Monday.

Over on Belo8, Janet St. James continued to show why she's the best medical reporter in D-FW. She had an affecting story on a family whose young son, Kyle, was killed when their auto was broadsided. They later learned that his car seat was defective. The surviving parents now are raising money to buy safer, more expensive car seats for needy families that otherwise couldn't afford them.

Belo8 also is the only station to find time virtually every night for a solid, staff-reported story on area high school or college teams. Sports reporters Erin Hawksworth, George Riba and, on Friday night, Ted Madden, are usually the ones doing the legwork. It's a stark contrast to NBC5, where sports anchor Newy Scruggs' staff has been downsized to near-zero.

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

NBC5 -- 5 (36)
CBS11 -- 2 (17)
Fox4 -- 2 (16)
Belo8 -- 1 (14)

This just in: A night in the lives of D-FW's 10 p.m. newscasts (Thurs., Feb. 8)

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Jim's Krispy Fried Chicken in Mexia and the Dallas Cowboys' Pepsi Cola press room at Valley Ranch were the disparate go-to venues on Thursday's late night newscasts.

Let's go to the videotape to see how the four big providers handled the sudden death of Anna Nicole Smith and the surprise elevation of Wade Phillips.

All of the stations sent reporters on a 90-minute drive to Mexia, where they gathered in front of the fowl-smelling place where Smith once waitressed under her birth name of Vickie Lynn Hogan. Jim wouldn't let anybody in, but issued a printed statement expressing shock and sadness at the tabloid queen's passing.

Fox4's soothing Jeff Crilley, whose voice is like melted butter, easily did the best job under the circumstances. Crilley had the smarts to visit the local Mexia Daily News, where Smith's death rated no more than below-the-fold display on the next day's front page. He noted the contrast between the voluminous national coverage of her death in Hollywood, Fla. and the comparative cold shoulder from Mexia's only daily.

"It wasn't the kind of fame that everyone here enjoyed," Crilley said. "But they all agree that her death is sad on so many different levels."

Many in town chose not to talk about Smith on-camera, Crilley said. Not so Nan Capers, who used to teach at the high school that Smith attended. Capers popped up on all four newscasts. She told Crilley that Smith "was hunting for something, and couldn't find it."

NBC5 stalwart Susan Risdon, also known as the "Mistress of the Dark" in these dispatches, found a tart convenience store cashier who said that Smith's national fame didn't do Mexia any good. "She never did anything to help us or anything like that," the young woman opined.

Belo8 sent hunky new reporter Craig Civale to the scene. This time he showed his face after two previous "sweeps" reports in which he was only heard, not seen. Civale looked to be fully recovered from eye burns suffered during a recent mishap with camera lights. His standard-issue report noted the lockdown at Jim's Krispy Fried Chicken, but didn't get into any of the community's negative feelings toward Smith.

CBS11's man-on-the-scene, Chris Salcedo, was borrowed from sister station TXA21. Salcedo pretty much stumbled through the live portion of his report, showing he still needs more seasoning even if Jim's Krispy Fried Chicken doesn't.

The Phillips story drew more unfriendly fire from sports anchor Dale Hansen, who proclaimed, "I'm goin' unplugged, and I don't think (Cowboys owner Jerry) Jones is gonna like it."

His end-of-the-newscast commentary made plenty of sense. Hansen summoned the stomach to praise Jones' passion and overall likability. But that's overshadowed by his continued ineptness as the team's general manager, said Hansen.

"The general manager of the Cowboys couldn't get a job with another NFL team if he didn't bring his checkbook with him," he contended. "Not a single team in the NFL would hire him. And he's the general manager of the Dallas Cowboys!"

Hansen said Phillips in fact might be a good pick in Jones' ongoing carousel of coaches. "But the biggest problem Wade Phillips has in convincing people he is the right man for the job is that Jerry Jones says he is."

CBS11 sports anchor Babe Laufenberg focused on Jones' apparent change of heart in hiring Phillips instead of the heavily favored Norv Turner. On Saturday in Miami, Jones told the station he was "leaning" in a certain direction. He stammered when CBS11 asked him at the press conference whether he was speaking of Phillips.

"Not necessarily," Jones finally got around to admitting. Asked whether the question wasn't clear enough, Jones said, smiling, "You were clear, and I'm trying to be unclear."

Mike Doocy, Fox4's sports chief, noted how choked up Jones got before introducing his latest hire to the media. The station also had an interview with Phillips' colorful father, former Houston Oilers coach Bum Phillips.

"He won't be a screamer and a hollerer," Bum said of his son. "But he might pull 'em aside and give 'em an earful."

A Fox4 viewer survey gave Phillips a paper-thin vote of confidence. Fifty-two percent said they agreed with his hiring; the other 48 percent didn't.

NBC5 sports anchor Newy Scruggs again got little time to do much of anything on a station where sports at best is an afterthought.

"I got an angry email who called Wade Phillips Dave Campo 2.0," Scruggs said to off-camera hoots from anchors Jane McGarry and Mike Snyder. Sorry, time's up.

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Good work from CBS11's Robert Riggs and Belo8's Rebecca Lopez

Other news broke in, too. CBS11 investigator Robert Riggs uncovered ongoing corruption in Iraq in which billions of dollars worth of stolen oil ends up funding insurgents who are terrorizing the country. Inoperative meters on transport tankers allow easy theft of the black gold, Riggs said. It also results in higher prices at domestic pumps when countless barrels of oil headed for the U.S. in fact never get here.

Riggs' principal source was a former state department oil advisor to Iraq named Mikel Morris. It was an important story with worldwide implications, even if too many viewers seemingly would rather watch pieces on how to lose weight or make their skin smoother. There are plenty of those going around these days, principally on NBC5 and Belo8.

Reporter Rebecca Lopez of Belo8 bucked that trend with an investigation into the much-publicized murders of young couple Linoshka Torres and Luis Campos. They apparently were victims not of voodoo, as a Wednesday report implied, but of a vengeful drug ring boss who thought they had broken into his house and robbed him. Torres and Campos were tortured and killed "by mistake," police now think. Lopez did the requisite legwork to flesh out a story that no other station had.

Contrast the above two reports with NBC5's heavy nightlong promotion of a scent that supposedly drives women wild. Anchor McGarry's subsequent in-newscast tease went like this: "Men think it stinks, but it turns some women on. The sexy smell you'd never expect, and the rest of the day's news in 30 seconds."

The "story," barely longer than its tease, was an 18-second reader by anchor Snyder. A study done by the University of California at Berkeley found that "the smell of sweat has a powerful effect on women," Snyder grandly told viewers. A whiff of it prompts "increased hormone levels and a faster heart rate."

Man, that's Peabody-quality stuff.

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

NBC5 -- 2 (31)
Fox4 -- 2 (14)
Belo8 -- 1 (13)
CBS11 -- 0 (15)

This just in: A night in the lives of D-FW's 10 p.m. newscasts (Wed., Feb. 7)

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Ups and downs on Belo8: Sinister escalators, chortling over the Kennedy assassination, etc. on Wednesday's 10 p.m. newscast.

Belo8 put on quite a show Wednesday night from its new Victory Park studios.

Evil D-FW airport escalators seemed intent on maiming innocent travelers in a lengthy expose by reporter David Schechter.

Weatherman Pete Delkus sought help in curbing the enthusiasm of boisterous Dallas Mavericks fans.

The whole news team chortled over sports anchor Dale Hansen's Kennedy assassination riff.

A low, but audible in-studio whistle could be heard as anchor Gloria Campos detailed new information on a deceased Catholic priest's history of child abuse.

And new reporter Craig Civale continued to play a veritable Phantom of the Opera.

Good times.

Campos' presented viewers with a sweeps-flavored worst case scenario before Schechter stepped in. "A surprising risk before you even get on the plane," she said. "The escalators at the airport are hurting people. A lot of them."

The story focused on an unfortunate mishap involving a five-year-old girl who tripped on an escalator and suffered serious tendon damage to her hand. Another woman, who's filing a lawsuit of course, fell on the back of her head and has been dizzy for quite a while, Schechter reported.

"A passenger is injured here nearly every two or three days," he said. But most don't require medical attention, Schechter added. That in itself is the real story. Millions upon millions of travelers use the escalators in a year's time. So the airport rightly touted its overall safety record in a statement issued to Belo8.

That didn't stop cameras from capturing repeated chilling closeup shots of escalator stairs, which looked ripe for co-starring roles in any new sequels to The Mangler. At least the station didn't use any accompanying horror film music. That's better left to NBC5.

Weathercaster Delkus soon found himself competing with noisy fans emerging from the adjacent American Airlines Center after the Mavs slaughtered the Memphis Grizzlies. Belo8 has touted the immediacy and excitement tied to its new seeing eye showplace, but be careful what you wish for. Eh, Pete?

"Dale, will you calm those folks out there -- your fans," he ad libbed midway through his weather report. Hansen demurred, but never stays quiet for long. He decided to weigh in a bit later after a brief story about the ongoing ebay sale of the Texas School book Depository window that Lee Harvey Oswald allegedly fired through on Nov. 22, 1963.

"It never ceases to amaze me what you can find on ebay," Gloria said in seguing to Hansen's sports segment.

"Yeah, but it's bogus," he retorted. "Because he didn't shoot through that window . . . They shot from behind the grassy knoll. Don't buy the window. It's bogus."

Campos, Delkus and anchor John McCaa all laughed heartily at Hansen's riposte. Yes, the assassination happened more than a generation ago. Still, it's no laughing matter and never will be. Period.

Earlier, Campos read a brief update on former Fort Worth Catholic pastor James Reilly, who died in 1999. "Now we've learned there are five new allegations (of child molestation) against Reilly," she said. A low whistle, seemingly expressing amazement, could be heard off-camera. And it clearly came from the studio, not from outside Victory Park. It likely was one of those involuntary reactions that have escaped most of us from time to time. Clearly, though, it has no place in a newscast.

As earlier reported on D magazine's Frontburner blog, new reporter Civale recently had his eyes burned by HMI camera lights (Hydrargyrum medium-arc iodide) while doing a live shot. It hasn't stopped him from working, but he's still obviously not camera-ready. On Wednesday, Civale again was heard but not seen during a story on escalated school closings caused by a flu outbreak. Hopefully his face time is coming soon, although Civale might consider wearing a "Spirit of Texas" face mask in the interim.

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CBS11 reporters Ginger Allen, Bud Gillett and Tiani Jones

Belo8 and CBS11 both led Wednesday's 10 p.m. newscasts with stories on a "voodoo"-type shrine found in the vicinity of two dead bodies that were dumped near the Dowdy Ferry Bridge over the Trinity River.

Both Belo8's Gary Reaves and CBS11's J.D. Miles said that police hadn't linked the shrine to the murders of young couple Linoshka Torres and Luis Campos. But Miles had the more calming report, noting that "the area is a frequent dumping ground for murder victims." He also told viewers that the human skull found at the shrine likely was stolen from a grave, according to police.

Reaves chose to raise more suspicions, ending his story by saying that police "are telling us they have found about five bodies in this general area in the last year." His report led viewers to believe that the human skull could be tied to one of those murders.

CBS11's newscast again had several worthwhile reports that couldn't be found anywhere else.

Bud Gillett caught mayor pro tem and mayoral candidate Don Hicks in the act of filming a campaign commercial while he sat in for Dallas mayor Laura Miller at a City Council meeting.

Tiani Jones had a story on the amazing recovery of 13-year-old bullrider Dalton Blazek, who was almost killed in the ring. And Ginger Allen went one-on-one with a seemingly crooked Irving businessman who had been branded "Hollywood's Biggest Con" eight years ago before moving to these parts.

Over at NBC5, weatherman David Finfrock coughed live for the first time since the February sweeps began last Thursday. NBC5 had started the tri-annual sweeps warfare with an exploitative story on Finfrock's overall health after he had hacked his way through a number of wintertime forecasts. So for the record, it's four newscasts without a cough and now one with coughus interruptus.

Earlier, anchor Mike Snyder treated viewers to news of a high-heeled shoe "attack" at a Dallas car wash.

"The shoe, by the way, is being held for evidence," he intoned. Thanks for that, Mike.

On Fox4, reporter Brandon Todd found that flogging American Idol isn't as easy as it might seem, even on a Fox-owned station. Todd had hoped to get more time with Waxahachie's Jimmy McNeal, who's going to Hollywood next week after a successful audition in San Antonio. Sorry, that train's already left the station.

"We wanted to show you more of Jimmy McNeal," Todd told viewers at story's end. "But Fox publicity put a stop to any and all interviews and any and all media availability to any and all contestants of American idol."

Also of note: Fox4's Mike Doocy was the only sports anchor to even hint that Wade Phillips had re-emerged as a serious contender for the Dallas Cowboys head coaching job. Phillips is "creeping back into the conversation," he said before playing a sound bite from him.

Here's Wednesday's violent crime story count, with the five-night running totals in parentheses. (Caution: what you see may shock you. NBC5 for the first time didn't top the field.)

CBS11 -- 4 (15)
NBC5 -- 3 (29)
Belo8 -- 3 (12)
Fox4 -- 1 (12)

This just in: A night in the lives of D-FW's 10 p.m. newscasts (Tues., Feb. 6)

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Ball's in Dale Hansen's court after Tracy Rowlett serves him.

It takes two to tangle, so this isn't that. Still, CBS11 anchor Tracy Rowlett threw a crisp jab -- or was it a right cross --- at former Belo8 colleague Dale Hansen Tuesday night.

It came out of nowhere after sports anchor Gina Miller, subbing for Babe Laufenberg, finished a segment that included a piece on the Dallas Mavericks' so-called "Miracle Home" in Carrollton. Star player Dirk Nowitzki was on hand to sink his palms in concrete at the site. Eventually a lucky raffle winner will get both the home and Dirk's imprints.

Miller, who like Rowlett used to work with Hansen at Belo8, noted that someone stepped on her palm prints, requiring her to re-do them.

"Aw, bless your heart," Rowlett rejoined. "Maybe it was Dale Hansen who stepped on 'em."

"You said that, not me!" Miller quickly exclaimed.

Those who know Hansen know that he very seldom attends such functions anymore. On his Tuesday night segment, he instead contentedly reminded viewers of his old feud with former Dallas Cowboys coach Barry Switzer, who punched him not so playfully on the arm several times during a storied live interview.

Hansen uncommonly had praised Cowboys owner Jerry Jones Monday night for taking his time in finding a new coach. Now he wants him to get his ass in gear.

"I'm so tired of this process," he said of Jones' ninth prospective coach interview Tuesday. "I'm almost ready for Barry Switzer to come back. And then I realized, no, I'm not. But I want somebody! And I want somebody soon."

Maybe he'll now want a piece of Rowlett? Hey, all's fair, unfortunately, in a 10 p.m. ratings battle that began with frontrunning NBC5 exploiting weatherman David Finfrock's persistent cough. So maybe Hansen could say, "I went golfing yesterday and let Rowlett carry my bag. Unfortunately he only lasted two minutes, which come to think of it is par for the course for him in any activity." Ba-boom-ba.

OK, on to the news, with NBC5 and Belo8 seemingly in a fevered race to jam as many stories as possible within their 35-minute telecasts. The Peacock invariably sets the pace, ripping and reading at near-WARP speed. Excluding the weather and sports segments, NBC5 zipped through 31 stories, with the usual heavy emphasis on crime, fires, auto wrecks and silly medical alerts.

Belo8 countered with 23 stories, saving plenty of squeeze room for anchor "happy talk," in which it's lately become the uncontested league leader.

The ABC station had the night's best story, a report by veteran Brett Shipp on a series of questionable and outdated telephone bill charges that state legislators seem to have little interest in repealing. Principal among them is a "Tif" charge (Telecommunications Infrastructure Fund") for a now defunct state initiative. One lobbyist told Shipp that it's the easiest way to raise state revenues "without leaving fingerprints." Roughly $210 million annually is brought in by Tif, with the money now being dumped into the state's general revenue fund.

It takes work to do these kinds of stories. Over at NBC5, little legwork is expended on anything other than rushing to the nearest tragedy. Even the Peacock's featured crime story, on "Bump keys" that can be used to open just about anyone's door, was a rehash of a rival reporter's work. CBS11's Bennett Cunningham had an almost identical piece last Thursday. NBC5's Scott Friedman did give a nice presentation, though.

"Some chilling information, Scott. Thank you," anchor Jane McGarry said in turn. Chilling information is always welcome on NBC5.

Fox4 had an unusually flimsy newscast. After a lead story on NASA astronaut Lisa Nowak's bizarre murder plot, anchor Clarice Tinsley signaled a "Breaking News" segment.

"You are looking live" at a traffic accident on Northwest Hwy., she said with what turned out to be laughable urgency. The station's Chopper 4 correspondent, Scott Wallace, then quickly reported, "It doesn't look like anybody was hurt seriously in this accident . . . Nobody has been transported this evening to any hospitals."

In other words, this really wasn't anything worth reporting in -- all together now -- the nation's sixth-largest TV market.

Later in the newscast, Fox4's usually solid Brandon Todd got stuck on American Idol duty in Krum, where 16-year-old Baylie Brown's parents threw a watch party at their home.

"The country girl from Krum is headed to Hollywood," Todd enthused. And Baylie herself said she'd received 900 messages on myspace.com.

There's also a very polished bayliebrown.com Web site. Or at least there was until unclebarky.com linked to it Tuesday night on the Above the Fold page. It's now been rerouted to "Austin Lane Technologies," apparently in an effort to re-position Baylie as the wide-eyed innocent portrayed on Idol instead of the slickly marketed phenom who "has all the ingredients to emerge as country music's newest superstar."

The suddenly vanished site additionally described 16-year-old Baylie as "already a seasoned professional." It also included a gallery of very professional looking glamour shots and a way to "spice up your computer with one of our exclusive Baylie downloads." She also was "Entertainer of the Year" at Denison's 2004 Main Street Showcase. And her CD, Big Trouble, is touted as a "must for all contemporary and traditional country music fans."

But that was yesterday. American Idol has a way of changing things.

That said, here's the nightly violent crime story count, with the 4-night running totals in parentheses:

NBC5 -- 5 (26)
Belo8 -- 2 (9)
CBS11 -- 2 (11)
Fox4 -- 1 (11)

This just in: A night in the lives of D-FW's 10 p.m. newscasts (Mon., Feb. 5)

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Cheesy: Belo8's Steve Stoler baited viewers with an "exclusive" top-of-the-newscast "story" co-starring a purse and and a mousetrap.

Apparently this has to be restated. D-FW is the nation's 6th-largest TV market, an area teeming with stories of import and impact to the millions living here.

On Monday Belo8 answered that bell by leading its 10 p.m. newscast with an "exclusive" story that anchor John McCaa said couldn't be seen anywhere else. As well it shouldn't have been. Reporter Steve Stoler's dispatch from Denton, deemed the most important story of the day, concerned a woman who put a mousetrap in her purse to catch a thieving co-worker.

"I didn't actually want to hurt him. I just wanted to catch him," said the woman, who had suffered the earlier loss of $40. Supposedly the thief was caught, although Belo8 didn't have any covert video of the trap being snapped. Oh the games stations play, with the once standard-setting Belo8 no longer above such stunts in its efforts to stop the even cheesier NBC5 from winning yet again in the 10 p.m. ratings.

A mousetrap in a purse is strictly Tinytown stuff, but Belo8 played it like the story of the century Monday night. And this is the station with more prestigious Peabody and duPont-Columbia awards than all of its rivals combined.

Meanwhile, NBC5 shockingly led its Monday night festivities with a story that actually mattered -- and that no other station reported. Mistress of the dark Susan Risdon took a break from mayhem to report on the two-day shutdown of the entire Eustace school district due to heavy student illness. The district serves nearly 1,600 pupils, so it's no small deal.

CBS11 had an "exclusive," too, even if it really wasn't. Reporter Sarah Dodd put DISD associate superintendent Celso Martinez on a hot seat for his flaunting of residency requirements. He's had the position for seven months, but still lives outside the district despite regulations that give employees six months to either comply or face termination.

The Dallas Observer's "Unfair Park" blog detailed Martinez's situation in a Feb. 2 post. But Dodd made him squirm on-camera after he initially evaded a question on whether he has "put money down on a new house in Collin County."

Martinez at first fibbed and then fessed up. He also acknowledged on camera that his "extenuating circumstances" are that he simply wants to live wherever he wants.

Dodd got a bit too breathless about it all, and most viewers likely could care less. Still, Martinez is a well-paid executive, and his flaunting of the rules further tarnishes a school district that regularly seems to be dazed and confused on just about everything.

Later on CBS11, anchor Tracy Rowlett teased, "Hookers are going high-tech."

It was the hook for an already much-reported story on how some prostitutes are abandoning the streets and instead advertising their wares on the heavily trafficked craigslist.com.

Frontrunning NBC5 again loaded up on crime and tragedy, at one point reeling off 13 consecutive stories from these two basic food groups before yielding to a thumb-sucker on how Dallas firefighters are holding public meetings to find out what the citizenry thinks of them.

The Peacock actually did have one other substantive story, though, and from an unlikely source. Reporter Brian Curtis, whose bargain-hunting beat usually amounts to infomercials for area merchants, alerted viewers to a one-time only tax deduction for a long obsolete excise tax that's still been showing up on phone bills. The standard refund, available on Line 9 of tax forms, is between $30 and $60, he said. Good information.

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Belo8 medical reporter Janet St. James and Fox4's Jason Overstreet

Viewers also benefited from interesting reports by Belo8's Janet St. James and Fox4's Jason Overstreet.

St. James had an eye-opening tour of an outwardly "nondescript" Irving factory that so far is the country's only manufacturer of silicone breast implants.

Its heavily protected technicians dress as though they're working in a nuclear power plant. St. James also demonstrated a new form of silicone that "when you cut it open, it has the consistency of a Gummi bear."

"All are designed to feel more like the real thing," she added, something that makes women happier."

"And men," a beaming male exec added.

On Fox4, Overstreet reported from Frisco on how tax dollars spent on parks and playgrounds drive area property values upward. The end results are higher tax bases that justify the initial investment. It wasn't a showy story, but it's one that matters. Local stations should invest more time on these topics and far fewer resources on the visual cocaine of car wrecks, conflagrations and yellow police tape.

CBS11 reporter Brooke Richie likewise contributed something of worth with a piece on Allen's only and constantly jammed post office, built when the city had a population of just 2,000. Allen now has 76,000 residents, more than enough to justify another post office or two.

On the "happy talk" front, rascally Belo8 weatherman Pete Delkus has made it a habit of goading sports anchor Dale Hansen, an old hand at opening his mouth without any extra provocation.

Delkus began Monday's weather segment by cozying up to anchors McCaa and Gloria Campos: "I want you guys to know we are not just here for Dale Hansen, Gloria. This is all about you and John tonight. Take a look at these numbers (sub-freezing temps in the Midwest). We're gonnna let you know the way things look right now across the country, as we -- Dale, does this make you sick, this little animation here that we just did? We'll zoom in."

Hansen stifled himself until after Big Pete closed shop. Then he noted the day he spent in St. Cloud, Minn., where it was 72 degrees below zero counting the wind chill.

"I didn't age for three days," he cracked. "Then I thawed out and here I am."

He still hasn't warmed up to ex-Cowboys coach Bill Parcells. Referring to Troy Aikman's appearance at Roger Staubach's 65th birthday party, Hansen said, "We were gonna talk to him about the coaching search, but then he said Bill Parcells was not a failure and did a very good job, so I didn't want to hear any more."

The other three stations did talk to Aikman, whose close friend, Norv Turner, is still considered the frontrunner. Aikman said he'd have more of a rooting interest in the Cowboys if Turner's the man, but otherwise didn't say much.

Hansen couldn't resist closing Belo8's newscast with this: "He (Aikman) really doesn't think it's his place to give that kind of opinion (on Turner). And he's dead wrong about Parcells."

We'll close with the nightly violent crime story count, with the three-night running totals in parentheses:

NBC5 -- 6 (21)
CBS11 -- 5 (9)
Belo8 -- 4 (7)
Fox4 -- 3 (10)

This just in: A night in the lives of D-FW's 10 p.m. newscasts (Fri., Feb. 2)

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Jack Fink (CBS11), Joe Trahan (Belo8) and Jane McGarry (NBC5)

It's D-FW's second biggest unsolved TV mystery, bowing only to the confounding, continuing staying power of NBC5 anchor Mike Snyder.

Why aren't more people watching CBS11's first-rate 10 p.m. newscasts, which continue to run third despite a nice lead-in lift on most nights from the 9 p.m. network entertainment programming?

Friday was typical. Top-to-bottom, CBS had a solid, informative, genuinely newsy newscast. And it barely beat Fox4 to finish third despite following the night's most-watched prime-time program, Numb3rs.

The station is still hunting for a new news director whom staffers expect to make sweeping changes. But really, there's nothing inherently wrong with CBS11's late night newscast. All it needs are larger numbers of more discriminating viewers. Instead, though, the ratings game again is being won by NBC5's flea circus. Step right up to hear anchor Jane McGarry proclaim, "The health alert you need to hear before you use the germ-killing gel again."

She was talking about the dangers of hand-sanitizers. A medical study reported five cases of "people swallowing the stuff," which contains a substantial amount of alcohol. If that qualifies as a health alert, then don't go near anything, not even the water. Because studies show that prolonged dunking of heads in sinks can lead to premature drowning or, even worse, prune skin.

CBS11's Friday night newscast was hokum-free, which apparently leads to viewer disinterest. The station had a good mix of enterprise stories, led by reporter Jack Fink's piece on increased coal-hauling near a Fort Worth school.

The extended transport trains, illustrated in a real-time YouTube video that ran in the upper right-hand corner of home screens, cause infuriatingly lengthy delays and also could further foul the air with pollutants, Fink said. He responsibly got both sides of the story, which certainly seemed to be of more import than hand sanitizing gel run amuck or a companion NBC5 sniglet on the heartbreak caused by "excessive" female sweating.

CBS11 also looked at plans to give Deep Ellum a facelift, with Dallas Observer mainstay Robert Wilonsky fearing the worst in a tasty, colorful soundbite.

"My sense of what Deep Ellum will become is something between the West Village and a Sesame Street soundstage," he said. "Something very quaint, very perky, very cute."

A developer countered that Deep Ellum "will never be that," but might end up showcasing a more "mature" brand of music. Or to put it another way, hello Mitch Goodly and the Swingin' Capricorns, goodbye Snotty Yellow Stuff Wiped on My Pants.

CBS11 reporters Mary Stewart and Doug Dunbar respectively had interesting stories on an increase in women hunters and how Botox injections are being newly used to relieve back pain. The station also thoroughly covered the catch-all significant news of the day, joining its three competitors in giving prominent play to Gov. Rick Perry's controversial executive order that all school-age girls receive mandatory vaccinations against a sexually transmitted disease known to cause cervical cancer.

Belo8 had some strong reporting, too, particularly by Dan Ronan on an escalating program whose goal is to have at least one armed and trained pilot on every commercial flight. Said one proponent: "If you're coming in there (the cockpit) with ill intent, you won't be doing it again."

Reporter Brad Watson also had an interesting story on the demand for Catholic school education in population-sprouting communities such as Plano. But the piece ended abruptly, victimized by chop-block editing that deprived Watson of a summing-it-all-up signoff. Instead viewers were left hanging after a St. Jude priest said, "People are asking us why we don't have a school."

Belo8 sports reporter Joe Trahan, in Miami for the Super Bowl, had a close brush with two scantily clad female roller skaters who blew past him during a live segment. He had been telling viewers that expected guest and Cowboys head coach candidate Norv Turner wouldn't be showing up after all.

"Of course there's a lot going on in South Beach, and apparently he found a better offer than us," Trahan said while briefly taking in the sight of the two skaters.

Back home at Belo8's new Victory Park studios, sports anchor Dale Hansen offered another of his quick counter-jabs.

"Apparently there's a lot coming off in South Beach," he ad libbed just before ABC's Nightline took over.

Fox4 had another few frills outing Friday, with the station clearly putting considerable more emphasis in recent months on its growing 9 p.m. newscast. Reporter Jeff Crilley did his best to stand out from the crowd by kneeling next to a waterlogged pothole for a story on how bad weather can ravage Dallas streets.

The 10 p.m. news race otherwise is looking like another two-way battle between NBC5 and Belo8, with the Peacock again banking on a format that calls for high story counts and ample violent crime. Excluding the weather and sports segments, NBC5 threw 31 stories at viewers Friday night while also extending its lead on the police blotter front.

Here's the nightly violent crime story count, with two-night totals in parentheses:

NBC5 -- 8 (15)
Fox4 -- 3 (7)
CBS11 -- 3 (4)
Belo8 -- 1 (3)

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

Super Bowl XLI did good, as you knew that it would.

The Indianapolis Colts' rain-soaked win over the Chicago Bears, which stretched from 5:25 to 8:58 p.m., averaged a suitably colossal 1.06 million homes in D-FW. Its 44.6 Nielsen rating means that 44.6 percent of all TV sets in the viewing area had the game in view. The CBS telecast also had a 68 "share," which equals the percentage of all TV sets actually in use.

Competing programming fared about as well as a Rex Grossman flutterball. The most-watched attraction opposite the Super Bowl, ABC's repeat telecast of the feature film Old School, drew 61,285 homes for its first hour.

The game also amassed 906,000 advertiser-coveted 18-to-49-year-olds, with women watching in almost equal numbers as men. The Super Bowl is the only sporting event in the country that renders gender largely irrelevant.

CBS' followup special telecast of Criminal Minds (9:25 to 10:25 p.m.) kept 384,370 homes in tow, even if some of the supposed viewers already had dozed off from over-consumption.

Sunday's other pro sports attraction, an NBA game between the Detroit Pistons and Cleveland Cavaliers, drew just 45,220 homes on ABC opposite all the Super Bowl pre-game filler.

In Friday's local newscast derby, NBC5 again prevailed at 10 p.m. in both homes and with 25-to-54-year-olds, the key advertiser target audience for news programming.

The Peacock also won in homes at 6 a.m, but was edged by Fox4 among 25-to-54-year-olds.

A 7 to 9 a.m. battle was forged between Fox4's homegrown Good Day and Belo8's Daybreak, which supplanted ABC's Good Morning America to bring D-FW viewers an extra two hours of wintry mix coverage.

Both shows outdrew NBC's Today, with Fox4 drawing 147,560 homes to Belo8's 133,280. But the two stations tied for first with 25-to-54-year-olds, luring 86,100 apiece.

The early evening 5 and 6 p.m. battles were won by Belo8 in both audience measurements.

This just in: A night in the lives of D-FW's 10 p.m. newscasts (Thurs., Feb. 1)

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News purists perhaps are still spitting up. That's assuming there still are any.

But the cold, hard truth is this: NBC5 rode weatherman David Finfrock's hack attack to a dominating win in the 10 p.m. ratings on opening night of the February sweeps (see companion story). So who's sorry now? Not the Peacock. In fact, rival Belo8 anchor Gloria Campos seemed downright hopeful Thursday when she told weatherman Pete Delkus at newscast's end, "Heard ya sneeze. Hope you're not getting sick."

"I'll survive," said Delkus, who clearly doesn't know what it takes to make the ratings merry. C'mon, Pete, at least get a good wheeze going. Or maybe you could blow your nose real hard while forecasting freezing drizzle for Palo Pinto county.

NBC5 anchor Jane McGarry happily served as point woman on the Finfrock front. "We follow our good friend to the doctor and give you the straight scoop," she promised viewers.

Reporter Meredith Land then "got to the bottom of it," in McGarry's apt words. Her story racked up a total of 13 on-air coughing fits from Finfrock, all delivered in short, economical bursts. That's an odd sort of record not likely to be broken any time soon. Still, wouldn't it be fun if anchor Mike Snyder tried to one-up Finfrock with a sweeps flurry of on-air flatulence? Imagine the promotional campaign: "What's got into Mike? You've emailed us with your concerns. Tonight we'll sniff it out for you."

For the record, Finfrock is severely allergic to mountain cedar and also developed a sinus infection during his prolonged bout with heavy coughing. He went to three doctors in search of relief and now "is doing better, but it's a slow haul," Finfrock said.

His anchor-mates twitted him a bit with some home remedies sent in by viewers, including sucking on a lemon and eating Hot Tamales candy. During Finfrock's resultant suspenseful weathercast, he stifled one cough but otherwise proceeded without incident.

His anchor mates and reporter Scott Friedman weren't as fortunate. Friedman's "Winter Blast" report ended with him on-camera but apparently unaware of it. He stood mutely for five or so seconds before McGarry bailed on him.

Snyder said that "insolent resistance" could be one of the causes of women tiring more easily than men. He quickly noted that he meant to say "insulin resistance."

McGarry told viewers that a grandmother beaten by her grandson remains in "critical emission." She meant "condition," but never said so. Still, McGarry later ribbed Snyder after he had a little trouble pronouncing the name of the Dallas Symphony's new musical director, Dutchman Jaap van Sweden.

"We'll see how well you do it next time, OK?" Snyder retorted in an oddly high-pitched girl's voice before the newscast gave way to NBC's Tonight Show.

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Street reporters Bennett Cunningham, David Schechter, Shaun Rabb

Some inventive, interesting reporting also broke out Thursday night.

CBS11 consumer investigator Bennett Cunningham alerted viewers to the easy availability of "bump keys" on the Internet. Generically cut, they can be used to open most common locks, making them a burglar's best friend. Cunningham confronted a young man who's been selling them, legally as it turns out, on ebay. More sophisticated locks can thwart bump keys, but they can be expensive and therefore unaffordable for one particular low-income woman whose home recently was burglarized.

Fox4's Shaun Rabb had a touching story about veteran Mesquite police officer Lynn Stevens, who's in need of another kidney transplant. His first donated kidney lasted him for five years, but now he's undergoing dialysis again. Stevens isn't begging, though. "I'm looking for that third chance," he told Rabb. "And if it comes my way, I'll be a fortunate man. More fortunate than I already am."

On Belo8, eager Clark Kent-ish David Schechter had an enterprising piece on how women consistently have to pay more to dry clean their shirts than men do. He surveyed 30-some North Texas cleaners to come up with statistics that say women on average pay $1.30 more per item. Why? Because dry cleaning presses are made to fit men's shirts while women's have to be finished off by hand. And men's shirts supposedly make up 97 percent of the shirt business, so there's no impetus to manufacture smaller presses.

Unfortunately, anchor Campos comically oversold the story, brandishing a woman's shirt and poking a finger at poor co-anchor John McCaa while telling him, "John, I wanna know why I can pay up to $4 more to launder a shirt than you."

"Doesn't seem fair, does it?" McCaa replied, following the script.

Campos wasn't finished. "Ladies, this is one you'll be talking about at the office." And later: "Ladies, you might not realize this, but we pay more than men. And guess what? It stinks!"

Oh cripes, ease up.

As usual there were no praiseworthy news stories on NBC5. The station's 10 p.m. street reporters, led by mistress of the dark Susan Risdon and dogged survivor Scott Gordon, mostly are dispatched for quick hits on whatever tragedies have befallen the viewing area.

In contrast, the Peacock's three competitors wisely sent reporters to Stephenville for live reports on a well-attended "Unity Rally" at Tarleton State University. That's where 15 idiot students -- expel them all -- recently dressed as African-American stereotypes at a Martin Luther King Day party where fried chicken and Malt Liquor were served.

NBC5 didn't bother with Stephenville, instead sticking to a police blotter format that generally dominates the opening 10 minutes of its latenight newscasts. Here's Thursday's violent crime story count:

NBC5 -- 7
Fox4 -- 4
Belo8 -- 2
CBS11 -- 1

But crime and Finfrock's coughing fits made NBC5 No. 1 with a bullet in Thursday's 10 p.m. Nielsen ratings. So whatever's said here stays here until viewers decide otherwise.

Coach DeVito: Former D-FW anchor now calling the plays


Jolene DeVito did more than play an anchor on TV. She was one at TXCN and Belo8. Now she's teaching others how to bring a newscast home as a coach at Irving-based Talent Dynamics. Photo: Ed Bark

IRVING -- TV anchors need love, nurturing and sometimes a kick-start when they're stalled. Maybe their energy is down a quart or their rapport with desk mates seems forced, faked or flat-out fraudulent.

This is where Jolene DeVito can help. She's not Supernanny or Professor Higgins. But the 37-year-old ex-anchor knows how the game is played -- and how to play it better. She used to be a raw rookie, too, and was coached by the very company that now employs her -- Irving-based Talent Dynamics.

"These anchors are so hungry for feedback, it's crazy," she says. "News directors have a whole lot going on, all kinds of things on their plates. And they don't necessarily have time to sit down and really give their anchors feedback in a way that's constructive and helpful. We speak 'anchor' in ways that news directors don't or don't have time to."

Born in Richardson and a graduate of Berkner High School, DeVito broke into the news biz as a reporter for KLTV-TV in Tyler. She moved up to NBC affiliate KXAN-TV in Austin before returning home in 1999 to anchor at Belo's new 24-hour cable venture, TXCN. Talent Dynamics beckoned after TXCN got downsized to a skeleton crew and Belo8 decided not to find a spot for her. Now she's one of six coaches for a company whose confidential client list includes both Belo and D-FW stations.

"I love what I'm doing here more than I ever thought I could," DeVito says. "I can't imagine the circumstances under which I'd go back to anchoring."

Married with two young children, daughter Avery, 3, and son Carson, 6, she's also wedded to North Texas.

"This is home. Kids and family and all that. I'm not goin' anywhere. I fought to get back here. This was always my personal and professional goal. I'm not one of those who could just throw a dart at the map and go anchor the news there."

She remains a closet anchor, though. "It's still full of anchor clothes that I have absolutely no use for," DeVito says. "All those bright, bold colors and the purple pantsuit that made me look like Barney. I should let anchors shop in my closet, 'cause I'm not wearin' those clothes anymore."

She now hits the road about 60 days a year, conducting two-day coaching sessions in markets ranging from Cleveland to Myrtle Beach, S.C. Anchor teams in need of bonding also travel to Talent Dynamics' home offices, which include a small studio used to simulate newscasts.

"There only so much we can do to make people like each other," DeVito says. "But we can make them understand why he or she communicates the way they do. It's like marriage counseling in a lot of ways."

Bad body language or over-the-top voice inflections are the root causes of many anchor failings. DeVito recalls telling one client, "OK, I know you're crossing your arms just because you're cold in the studio. But look how it makes you look. It makes it seem like you hate your co-anchor."

Overselling stories is getting out of hand, too, she says. "It's like crying wolf. If you give me the stuffed animal parade at the same energy level that you give me the serial killer, I ain't buyin' it. So we talk about that a lot."

DeVito especially enjoys aiding and comforting the early morning afflicted. It's a booming growth area in many local markets, second only to late night newscasts in both emphasis and profitability. But the hours can be killers, especially on women, DeVito says. She counsels them to get to a gym immediately after getting off work. And to lay out the morning wardrobe the night before. And oh yeah, establish an ironclad sleep routine and go very easy on the catnaps.

"Otherwise you'll fall into bad habits," she says. "You can run on adrenaline for about a year. And after that you just start fallin' apart. You get sick left and right. It shows in your skin. It shows in your crosstalk. And it's very easy to put on weight."

Her words carry weight with most anchors because she's been in the arena, endured the grind, taken the lumps.

"I always tell my anchors, 'The last thing I'm going to do is try to take you out of your own skin. If I'm asking you to do anything that's just not you, you have the right to overrule me. And I have the right to fight back if I'm convinced it's the right thing for you to do.' "

It's all done very privately. No TV station wants to acknowledge publicly that its anchors need to be schooled in the art of acting naturally and not like Ted Baxter. So Jolene DeVito comes and goes without calling any attention to herself. Her clients are left to be recognized in supermarkets. She returns home to further fade from view.

"I'm not up for public consumption anymore," DeVito says. "I can wear my hair the way I want, dress the way I want to dress, go out and not have to put on a smile."

Being anchored without having to be one: priceless.