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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"An honest mistake, and we were wrong"


Relatives first heard of 20-year-old Ashley Parra's death Wednesday from a television reporter who reached them before police did.

"It was unintentional and not competitively driven. It was just a mistake," WFAA8 news director Mike Valentine said in an interview Thursday.

Reporter Craig Civale unknowingly broke the news to Parra's grandmother, Susan Castro, at her residence early Wednesday night, Valentine confirmed. Her car was crushed several hours earlier when an 18-wheeler fell onto it after plunging off the overhead Woodall Rogers Freeway ramp. The bizarre tragedy received heavy coverage on all four major local TV newscasts.

Valentine noted that authorities had held a news conference three or so hours before Civale knocked on Castro's door.

"It was under the assumption that everyone had been notified. I certainly wish it wouldn't have happened," Valentine said. "The reporter wishes it wouldn't have happened. . . Things fall through the cracks, and that happened in this case. We were not rushing to get to the house to get that on the air immediately. The timing from our end was just poor."

An anonymous tipster from a rival station earlier had accused WFAA8 of "committing the worst crime a news station can be accused of. . . They need to be called out on this because it's avoidable, irresponsible and makes me ashamed to be in the TV news business."

WFAA8 and all reputable news organizations have policies against notifying family members of such tragedies before authorities can contact them.

Valentine noted that the station had erred on the side of caution just a few days earlier in initially holding back the name of Dallas police officer Victor Lozada, who died Monday morning in a motorcycle crash while helping to escort Hillary Clinton's motorcade.

Rival stations publicized his name, but "we did not because police hadn't given us clearance to do it," Valentine said.

That doesn't excuse the Parra situation, he said. "It was an honest mistake, and we were wrong."

NBC5 also interviewed Parra's grandmother on-camera, arriving at her home shortly after WFAA8 did. CBS11 interviewed Parra's grieving fiance and her aunt.

Fox4 didn't interview anyone close to Parra on its Wednesday, 9 p.m newscast. Nor did the station even identify her during reporter Jeff Crilley's coverage.

CBS11 broaches a volatile campaign issue -- but will it go any farther than that?

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CBS11's Jack Fink and longtime Latino activist Adelfa Callejo

Longtime D-FW political activist Adelfa Callejo ran circles around political correctness in her blunt, racially charged comments to CBS11 about the Texas Democratic presidential primary.

But she also spoke the truth as she sees it, and shouldn't be shunned or vilified for that.

The racial dynamics behind support for Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are a very touchy topic. So far no local TV news operation has dared to touch it in depth. But it's a key element of the campaign, particularly in Texas. And it was addressed earlier this month in a fair and perceptive piece by CNN's Soledad O'Brien. She dared to explore both sides after beginning her story by asking, "Are Latinos rallying for this white woman or against this black man -- just because he's black?"

First appearing on Tracy Rowlett's Sunday night "Perspectives" segment, Callejo, 84, said that, in her mind, sharp divisions remain between the Latino and black communities.

"When blacks had the numbers, they didn't do anything to support us," she contended. "They always used our numbers to fulfill their goals and objectives, but they never really supported us, and there's a lot of hard feelings about that. I don't think we're going to get over it anytime soon."

She then was asked about Obama's efforts to court Latino voters.

"Obama simply has the problem that he happens to be black," said Callejo, who's supporting Hillary Clinton and attended her rally in Oak Cliff last Friday.

CBS11 reporter Jack Fink later brought up Callejo's comments during a one-on-one satellite interview with Clinton. In a story that aired on Wednesday's 10 p.m. newscast, he asked whether she would reject or denounce them.

"People have every reason (the probably meant "right") to express their opinions," Clinton told him. "I just don't agree with that. I think that we should be looking at the individuals who are running, and that is certainly what I intend to do."

Clinton made it a point to jab at Louis Farrakhan's unsolicited endorsement of Obama during the two candidate's Tuesday night debate in Ohio. Noting his anti-Semitic comments over the years, she called on Obama to reject his support, saying it wasn't enough to merely denounce his views.

The Clinton campaign, in a subsequent statement to CBS11 Wednesday night, fell back on sharper rhetoric in responding to Callejo's remarks.

"After confirming that they were accurately portrayed, Sen. Clinton of course denounces and rejects them," the statement said in part.

There obviously are many views within both the Hispanic and black community regarding the respective support of Clinton and Obama. Callejo's is only one of them, and it's easy to dismiss her as an addled member of the "Old Guard."

She has, however, provided an opening to look deeper into this volatile issue. But will any local TV reporter have the guts to touch it in the final days before the March 4th Texas primary? Or will the racial elements of the Clinton-Obama race simply be boiled down to the latest polling data -- and left at that? That, of course, would be the easy way out.

Local Nielsen ratings snapshot -- Feb. sweeps finals edition

Missed by that much. WFAA8 came within less than inches of winning all four major local news battlegrounds, but settled for dominating victories at 5, 6 and 10 p.m. in the just-concluded February sweeps ratings wars.

The 6 a.m. laurels went to Fox4's Good Day, which rallied in the second half of the 20-day period before surviving a strong finishing kick by WFAA8's Daybreak on Wednesday's sweeps sign-off. The difference in the total homes Nielsens ended up as a statistically insignificant 244 homes, with Fox4 logging a 4.05 rating and WFAA8 a 4.04.

Fox4 had a bit more breathing room at 6 a.m. among 25-to-54-year-olds, the main advertiser target audience for news programming. It won that one by a comparatively whopping two-tenths of a rating point.

WFAA8 won the 10 p.m. wars for the fourth straight sweeps period in total homes, and for the third consecutive time among 25-to-54-year-olds. NBC5 previously had dominated those competitions for five years dating to Feb., 2002.

WFAA lost year-to-year audiences only at 5 p.m. in total homes, but still won comfortably in that measurement.

Fox4 took the early morning golds for the third straight sweeps period after running second last February to NBC5 in total homes and WFAA8 among 25-to-54-year-olds. The station also registered significant gains in the early evening newscast competitions, moving into second place in three of the four key ratings measurements.

CBS11 won't be shouting from the rooftops, but can take some comfort in showing year-to-year ratings gains in all four major newscast time periods. There's a kinda hush over at NBC5, though. The Peacock lost major ground across the board.

Also of note: Fox4's 9 p.m. local newscast, aided on some nights by American Idol lead-ins, averaged 172,928 D-FW homes in the sweeps. That beat the ratings averages of all competing network programming, which was a mix of originals and repeats in a strike-torn season. Fox4 ran a close second to ABC programming among 25-to-54-year-olds. Both are impressive showings, with Fox4 raking in all of the advertising revenue while its rivals get only a small slice of local ad time within their respective network programs.

Here are the complete results from the principal newscast battlegrounds, with gains or losses from February 2007 in parentheses. (Also note that there's been a bit of ratings inflation from year to year. Based on revised Nielsen estimates for this season, a rating point in D-FW equals 24,356 homes and 29,445 viewers in the 25-to-54 demo. Last February, the respective net worths were 23,800 homes and 28,700 viewers of the 25-to-54 persuasion.)

10 P.M.

WFAA8 -- 241,124 (+34,064
NBC5 -- 160,750 (-34,410)
CBS11 -- 155,878 (+15,458)
Fox4 -- 121,780 (+19,440)

WFAA8 -- 147,225 (+15,205)
NBC5 -- 114,836 (-31,534)
Fox4 -- 85,391 (+19,380)
CBS11 -- 79,502 (+10,622)

6 A.M.

Fox4 -- 98,642 (-1,318)
WFAA8 -- 98,398 (+5,578)
NBC5 -- 75,504 (-33,976)
CBS11 -- 43,841 (+5,761)

Fox4 -- 76,557 (+10,547)
WFAA8 -- 70,668 (+1,788)
NBC5 -- 55,946 (-4,324)
CBS11 -- 29,445 (+6,485)

6 P.M.

WFAA8 -- 170,492 (+11,032)
CBS11 -- 119,344 (+7,484)
NBC5 -- 99,860 (-28,660)
Fox4 -- 94,988 (+6,928)

WFAA8 -- 94,224 (+16,734)
Fox4 -- 61,834 (+7,305)
NBC5 -- 55,946 (-10,064)
CBS11 -- 41,223 (+6,783)

5 P.M.

WFAA8 -- 136,394 (-18,306)
Fox4 -- 104,731 (+23,811)
NBC5 -- 97,424 (-21,576)
CBS11 -- 82,810 (+20,930)

WFAA8 -- 79,502 (+2,012)
Fox4 -- 53,001 (+15,691)
NBC5 -- 50,057 (-1,603)
CBS11 -- 32,390 (+12,300)

This just in: a night in the lives of D-FW's late night newscasts (Tues., Feb. 26)


Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are polls apart in Texas.

Disparate results from two local TV station polls conducted in the past week make it anyone's guess whether Hillary Clinton is slipping fast or still holding her own against Barack Obama.

WFAA8 chimed in on Tuesday's 10 p.m. newscast with the first "exclusive" results of a Belo/WFAA Texas Tracking Poll, conducted by Public Strategies, Inc. from Feb. 24-25.

A night earlier, CBS11, in partnership with KRLD-AM radio, released the latest results of a poll done by SurveyUSA from Feb. 23-25.

WFAA8, with Brad Watson dispensing the facts and figures, said that Clinton still clings to a 46 to 43 percent lead over Obama, with the poll's margin of error (plus or minus 4.4 points) basically making it a dead heat.

Her lead with Hispanics remains firm at 63 to 30 percent, Watson said.

In the far less hotly contested Republican race, John McCain leads Mike Huckabee by 59 to 29 percent overall. But his edge among "Christian conservatives" is just 47 to 42 percent, Watson reported. And with crossover voting allowed, "McCain might not get the winning margin he's planning on," in Watson's view.

One more thing. Public Strategies Inc. polled 507 Texans who are "likely to vote" in the Democratic primary, and 293 like-minded Republicans, according to data on WFAA8's Web site.

CBS11, with Jay Gormley doing the honors, gave the impression that Clinton is "losing her grip" across the board. The station's first poll, released on Monday, Feb. 18th, had her ahead of Obama by 50 to 45 percent (with a margin of error of 3.8 percent). A week later, Gormley said, she trails Obama by 49 to 45 percent.

Her pulling power with Hispanics also is in virtual free-fall, CBS11 reported. A 30-point lead over Obama has melted to 13 points in the week between polls, Gormley said. That's a considerable difference from the aforementioned WFAA8 results.

McCain has a 56 to 32 percent lead over Huckabee in the CBS11 poll. And his edge with respondents who say they're pro-choice is 50 to 40 percent.

SurveyUSA polled more Democrats (704) and more Republicans (484) than Public Strategies, Inc. did, according to data provided here and here on CBS11's Web site.

Polls were notoriously wrong in New Hampshire, at least for the Democratic primary. WFAA8, which plans to put out a nightly "tracking poll" until the March 4 primary, so far has Clinton in better straits momentum-wise than the CBS11 poll does. But no matter they're sliced, their respective statistical margins of error make it two ongoing dead heats for the Democrats.

Hillary's unpredictable husband, Bill Clinton, also appeared in North Texas Tuesday for a series of daytime speeches delivered from pickup trucks. Charitably put, attendance was sparse. And by the time the late night newscasts rolled around, Big Bill had been reduced to a virtual non-person.

NBC5 had no coverage of him at all while WFAA8 and CBS11 offered sub-brief video blips.

Fox4's 9 p.m. newscast gave him some quality time, although most of it was via reporter Shaun Rabb's "inside look" at preparations for his appearances, all of which saw him arriving typically late.

Rally-goers did get free Mexican food, though, and "at each event, mariachis," Rabb reported.

Fox4 also was home to the first late night news campaign commercial from Huckabee, The 30-second spot billed him as both a "Christian Leader" and an "Authentic Conservative," with Huckabee saying, "Faith doesn't just influence me, it really defines me."

He further zeroed in on the Christian conservative vote by declaring, "I believe life begins at conception."

And In Other News . . .
Fox4 and NBC5 both did a good job of humanizing the escalating number of home foreclosures in Texas, according to newly released statistics.

The Peacock's Scott Friedman visited a DeSoto neighborhood to interview a man who's unsuccessfully been trying to sell his home at discount prices in a neighborhood "hit by a wave of foreclosures."

Fox4's Jason Overstreet, reporting from Plano, told viewers that a police presence is required when banks move in to remove the remaining contents from foreclosed homes. That's because it can be a dangerous situation if the aggrieved former resident is on the premises. But the time spent policing such situations means that other police duties can suffer, including warrant-serving.

***Starbucks got tons of free publicity from Tuesday night's three-hour nationwide closings to retrain employees in the are of making drinkable espressos. But at least Fox4's Jeff Crilley turned it into an expanded and interesting piece on how competitors hoped to take advantage.

***WFAA8's Steve Stoler went some extra miles to track the abuse of HOV lanes by single-passenger vehicles.

While stationed on the Legacy Drive overpass above Central Expressway, "we counted 29 solo drivers" in 30 minutes, he said. Moving on to the Parker Rd. overpass, the tally was 30 soloists in 10 minutes.

Limited entrances and exits to and from the HOV lanes make it hard for transit police to catch offenders, Stoler said. But increasing those numbers would slow HOV traffic. Which is another way of saying that law-abiders again can count on getting screwed.

***CBS11 reporter Ginger Allen returned with yet another lengthy narration of a story aimed directly at keeping women viewers from tuning out.

This time, however, the station didn't try to pass off a fellow CBS-owned station's reporting as a "CBS11 investigation," as it did on Monday night's 10 p.m. news.

The report, on "Mommy Make-Overs," at least originated from North Texas instead of Florida. Allen never appeared on-camera, nor did any other CBS11 reporter. But the station did appear to be shooting its own interview footage.

***WFAA8 wrapped up its Tuesday late nighter with overhead footage of shark-infested waters near Boynton Beach, Fla.

Sports anchor Dale Hansen, again wearing a camel-colored plaid sportcoat that only anchor Gloria Campos seems to like, joked that a shark would throw the thing back if he became its dinner.

"Surely, he wouldn't finish you," weatherman Pete Delkus jabbed, still mining fat jokes despite Hansen's newly svelte appearance.

It was a funny line, though, and Hansen laughed all the way to Nightline.

Dropping anchor: Dale Hansen's larger-than-life diet makes him local TV's biggest loser

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WFAA8's INCREDIBLE SHRINKing man says he's dropped 47 pounds since New Year's Day.

Which means that sports anchor Dale Hansen is only about seven-eighths the man he used to be.

Ah, but we kid. And as the February sweeps ratings period enters its final day, there's no more danger that a rival station -- or WFAA for that matter -- will use his regimen as fodder for another of those miracle diet stories. So dish, Dale. What's gotten into you -- or out of you? And please don't mean it when you say on the air that you're going to gorge yourself on Saturday and then quickly pack it all back on.

"I did have all my clothes tailored down," Hansen says in an email. "So the bottom line is if I do gain it back it's gonna cost me a fortune. And even I'm too cheap to do that. But no promises."

His regimen, scheduled to continue through at least Friday, has him strictly abiding by the following:

"I do two Slim-Fasts in the morning with a banana in the blender.

"A vitamin pill.

"One or two V-8s during the day.

"And two Slim-Fasts with a banana or berries in the blender at night.

"And that's ALL I've had since Jan. 1."

Hansen says he "was tired in the beginning but that soon passed." And now "I'm never hungry."

He's hoping to keep the faith, but knows what a backslider he can be.

"Making the changes necessary to keep it off might be a little harder" than dropping all that poundage," Hansen says. "But I think I have the motivation and the plan to do it. At least I hope so. . . A nutritionist once told me I could lose weight on a doughnut diet. I just wouldn't be able to eat very many doughnuts."

Hansen says he's had many inquiries about his new strapping buck look. Now it's time to keep Lumpy Rutherford on the outside looking in.

"Somebody will probably follow my diet and die and then sue my ass," he jokes.

On the plus side, there's not as much to sue anymore.

This just in: a night in the lives of D-FW's late night newscasts (Mon., Feb. 25)

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The following may shock or surprise you, as they like to say in the TV news biz we all know and love/loathe.

NBC5's 10 p.m. newscasts appear to be undergoing at least a semi-extreme makeover. The Peacock-ian fixation on quick-hit crime and tragedy -- and quickie cosmetic fixes -- seems to be going out of fashion. Respectability lately has crept in under cover of dark. And it seems to be taking hold.

Monday's edition marked the second straight weeknight without any spot news dollops of violent crime or flaming car wrecks. No, this is not a misprint.

Instead NBC5 sent the very capable Scott Friedman to a Monday night public hearing on controversial student transfer initiatives in the McKinney school district. It was the only station with a live, reporter-driven story on something that clearly doesn't make for "sexy" video or overblown anchor buildups.

Even Brian Curtis got into the act. Oft-ridiculed in these spaces for his "Big Fat Savings" dispatches and borderline informercials for area merchants, Curtis had a "Lowfat Lowdown" piece that actually had some meat to it. And "with results that may surprise you," anchor Jane McGarry prototypically teased.

Curtis bought four supposedly low-fat/low-calorie meals from the weight-conscious menu choices at Chili's, Applebee's, T.G.I. Friday's and the Olive Garden. Then he had them tested at a lab for fat grams and calorie counts. The results at all four restaurants were pretty much in line with the information on menus.

Some stations might say there's no story if you can't find a figurative fly in the soup. But in fact it's also news if the verdict is "Not Guiilty" of customer deception. So Curtis gave it to viewers, as he also presumably would have if one or more of the restaurants had screwed up.

NBC5's Meredith Land, who likewise used to specialize in classic NBC5 superficiality, had an interesting piece on Dallas City Councilman Dwaine Caraway's latest crusade -- against garage sales. Clearly he needs to take a chill pill and ease up, because garage sales are the American way. But knowing Caraway, he'll next be waging an all-out war against dogs peeing on fire hydrants.

The Peacock's Ellen Goldberg also regularly shows her her mettle as a resourceful nightbeat scooper. This time, though, she joined rivals in covering the candlelight vigil for police officer Victor Lozada, who died in a motorcycle crash Friday morning while helping to escort Hillary Clinton's motorcade.

Goldberg unfortunately wore a snow white outfit, necklace and notably heavy makeup that made her look more suited to a toney Highland Park tea party than this somber occasion. She usually knows better.

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CBS11 reporters Kaushal Patel and Ginger Allen

CBS11, engaged in a tight fight with NBC5 for second-place in the total homes Nielsens, also had some reporting of note. But the station engaged in clearly pre-meditated deception, too.

Assuming it's accurate -- which is a big assumption these days -- CBS11's latest poll in partnership with KRLD-AM radio had some deflating news for Mrs. Clinton.

As reported by Jay Gormley, it showed her now trailing Barack Obama by a 49 to 45 percent margin among would-be Texas voters. That's a reversal of last week's results, when she led by 50 to 45 percent.

Clinton's lead among Hispanics also has dropped -- from 30 to 13 percentage points -- in just a week's time. And she's also "losing her grip" with women, Gormley said. We'll see when the vote comes in on March 4th.

CBS11's Kaushal Patel, lately chipping in as one of the station's gumshoes, had an "exclusive undercover investigation" of a drug-testing facility that also seems to be giving failing patrons a way to mask results via a "body cleansing system."

A producer with a hidden camera talked to an employee of the Uni-State lab who offered 14-day and 10-day cleansing systems as well as a "Quick Solutions" method. The latter would yield a five-hour "clean time" window on the day of testing.

A subsequent visit to the facility was rebuffed in roughly the same way that an inquiring snoop would be tossed from a TV station's lobby.

"Is that thing turned on? You need to turn it off," a woman snapped.

Dallas County district attorney Craig Watkins told Patel he plans to launch an investigation. And Uni-Stat, in a subsequent face-saving statement, said it regretted its association with the body cleansing product.

The station's Kimberly Ball also had an interesting story on the grieving mother of a Midlothian teenage girl who was killed by an alleged drunk driver who's in the country illegally. And J.D. Miles joined other reporters in following up on acknowledged dispatcher problems that caused a delayed response to the scene of officer Lozada's fatal motorcycle crash. Miles first broke this story on Saturday, CBS11 anchor Karen Borta told viewers.

Borta also touted what she called "another CBS11 investigation into cosmetic concerns." In fact it was nothing of the sort. Its "reporter," Ginger Allen, again was no more than a decorous prop for a story on "potentially dangerous" levels of mercury in mascara and other beauty products.

An unclebarky.com archaeological dig on the Internet located the true origin of the story. It's by Michele Gillen, an investigative reporter for CBS-owned WFOR-TV in South Florida. Video was posted Feb. 11th on the station's Web site, and can be found by searching for "mercury in cosmetics" in the station's video archives. CBS11's only contribution to the story was to edit it from an original running time of 5 minutes, 47 seconds. It otherwise has the same interviewees, etc.

Ironically, the WFOR story was introduced by co-anchor Shannon Hori, who left CBS11 last year after a stint on the station's early morning news program. Hori's news director at WFOR, Tom Doerr, formerly had that position at CBS11.

It's one thing to work in partnership with a corporate sibling. It's quite another to give that station no credit and instead pass a story off as "another CBS11 investigation." The station should be above this, because its overall news content otherwise is significantly improved under news director Scott Diener. He took over last fall after a brief reign of terror by predecessor Regent Ducas, now in Providence, R.I.

Allen, who also co-anchors CBS11's early morning news, has been appearing night after night in the service of stories obviously aimed at keeping women viewers tuned in. But as with Friday's "Headache Agony" piece and numerous others this month, she's a narrator piggybacking on others' work while standing next to an HD screen. The impression however, is that Allen is out there reporting this stuff. She isn't, and it's shame to see it come to this for a once capable member of the station's investigative team.

And In Other News . . .
Fox4 investigator Becky Oliver did her own work in the service of a story on police and courtroom bungling of a case that clearly resulted in the wrongful arrest and physical abuse of a young man accused of slapping a woman at the Red River Dance Hall & Saloon. She rightly called it a "legal fiasco," and had the goods to prove it. Good work.

***The station's invariably resourceful Jason Overstreet had a piece on a recently announced Lifetime cable movie drawn from the "cheerleaders-out-of-control" scandal in late 2006 at McKinney North High School. Its working title is Fab Five: The Texas Cheerleader Scandal, with well-worn Tatum O'Neal as the principal. Current-day students and some of their parents say they're upset, even though some also admit they'll be watching.

***Meanwhile, "everybody watches Channel 4," said a woman who's been looking for the owner of a military ring ever since she found it three years ago. She finally called on "What's Buggin' You?" correspondent Saul Garza after "watching Channel 4, as I always do."

That should be worth a little paycheck bonus for Garza, who as yet can't find the ring's owner either.

***WFAA8's Brad Watson wrung a decent quote out of Hillary Clinton during a one-on-one satellite interview. He asked her about that recently distributed picture of Barack Obama in an African turban and robe, for which his campaign blames her.

"Every time I traveled to foreign countries, I wore the costume of that country," she told Watson. "You can find dozens of pictures of me in different parts of the world. You know, this is one more attempt by my opponent's campaign to change the subject."

Fox4 anchor Steve Eagar made do Monday with a satellite interview of John McCain, who's yet to campaign or advertise in the state but is scheduled to make an appearance in North Texas Thursday.

As previously posted, only the two remaining Republican presidential candidates are willing to talk to Fox4. The Democrats aren't making themselves available to the station because they distrust the station's cable sibling, Fox News Channel. As also posted before, that's pretty childish of them.

Local Nielsen ratings snapshot (Fri.-Sun., Feb. 22-24)

Sunday night's 80th annual Oscar ceremony on ABC may have hit an all-time ratings low in D-FW.

The three hour, 21 minute ceremony averaged an 18.9 Nielsen rating (460,328 homes), significantly down from last year's 24.1 rating (573,580 homes).

(Note that a Nielsen rating point was worth 23,800 homes in February 2007. Adjusted for yearly inflation in the number of TV homes, each point now equals 24,356 homes, according to Nielsen Media Research. The 460,328 total is based on the lower number of homes.)

The Oscars also dropped more than three ratings points among advertiser-craved 18-to-49-year-olds.

Even so, the Jon Stewart-hosted trophy give-away easily vanquished everything in its path, nearly tripling the total homes audience for the most-watched competing program (CBS11's 10 p.m. news with 165,621 homes).

The Dallas Mavericks early evening road win against the lowly Minnesota Timberwolves, which was ending just as the Oscars began, drew 63,326 homes on Fox Sports Southwest.

Barbara Walter' annual 6 p.m. Oscar warmup show lured 146,136 homes, losing to CBS' competing 60 Minutes (168,056 homes) in that measurement but winning among 18-to-49-year-olds by a more than two-to-one margin. But the end of Fox's NASCAR Sprint Cup race from Fontana, CA handily beat both of them.

On Friday, NBC's premiere of the Dennis Miller-hosted game show Amnesia bombed with just 70,632 D-FW homes from 8 to 9 p.m. That put it fifth in that measurement and also among 18-to-49-year-olds. The Peacock had better not forget to cancel it soon.

Meanwhile, the local early morning news race remains way too close to call. WFAA8 returned to the 6 a.m. winner's circle in total homes Friday, edging Fox4 by just one-tenth of a rating point. Fox4 returned the favor in the key 25-to-54-year-old news programming demographic, nipping WFAA8 by two-tenths of a point.

With just three weekdays to go in the February sweeps, either station could win, lose or draw in both competitions.

WFAA otherwise ran the table at 5, 6 and 10 p.m. At the latter hour, the real race is for second place in total homes between NBC5 and CBS11, which drew very close to the Peacock with a comfy runnerup finish Friday.

This means that all four stations will be cracking the whip down the homestretch in their respective hot races. It could make for some wacky promos, but topless anchors still remain at least several years in the future.

This just in: a night in the lives of D-FW's late night newscasts (Fri., Feb. 22)

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Fallen DPD officer Victor Lozada and Hillary Clinton with reporters.

The tragic death of Dallas police officer Victor Lozada, who crashed Friday morning while helping to escort Hillary Clinton's motorcade, obviously figured prominently in newscasts throughout the day.

It remained the lead story on two stations' late night newscasts while two others opted to first give viewers "Breaking News" of a warehouse fire in Azle.

Fox4, NBC5, WFAA8 and CBS11 all should be commended for their solid and compassionate coverage of Lozada's death. But yes, some were better at it than others.

NBC5's Ellen Goldberg, who's quickly establishing herself as a savvy and resourceful newcomer, had the most affecting interview with Lozada's distraught best friend, Sr. Cpl. Robert Garcia. WFAA8's Gary Reaves and CBS11's J.D. Miles also talked to Garcia. Fox4 overlooked that key component of the story on its featured Friday 9 p.m. newscast, where it has more time than its rivals.

Three of the four stations -- again NBC5, WFAA8 and CBS11 -- also had companion late night newscast stories on the soccer team whose players included Lozada's 10-year-old son, David. His dad was one of the team's three coaches. Fox4 followed their leads with a Saturday story on the team.

NBC5 and WFAA8 topped their newscasts with team coverage of Lozada's death. Fox4 and CBS11 first went to the three-alarm warehouse fire in Azle, where two firefighters and a witness suffered minor injuries. The Peacock had just a brief mention of the fire while WFAA8 ignored it all together. The latter arguably was an error of omission.

Fox4 and WFAA8 gave viewers an opportunity to express condolences to Lozada's family on their Web sites. By 2 p.m. Sunday, 25 had done so on Fox4 and 39 on WFAA8.

The ABC station also made the somewhat controversial decision to add a Web poll asking, "How do you think Senator Clinton handled this tragedy?"

A great majority of the 107 respondents (by 2 p.m. Sunday) praised her comportment. But others questioned the propriety of such a poll. Said one commenter: "How dare WFAA manipulate the news, using Cpl. Lozada's death as an easy way to scrutinize a political candidate . . . You insult me as a viewer."

Another commenter used a coarse description of Mrs. Clinton that would never be allowed on the air. The station ought to consider removing it.

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NBC5's you-know-who and CBS11's Stephanie Lucero

And In Other News . . .
NBC5 had one of its best newscasts in recent memory -- and all without a single violent crime story. That may be a first, but shouldn't be a last.

The station's solid work included Brett Johnson's story on the busting of a major identity thief ring in Richardson and Meredith Land's followup interview with the pregnant widow of a big rig driver who died in a heavily covered Nov. 15th wreck.

Their first child, a girl, is due in early July, and Sarah Webb says she hopes for a Fourth of July delivery.

"Daddy went out with a bang and baby comes in with a bang. That's what I really want," she told Land. Sounds a little insensitive, but you had to see the story.

***WFAA8 also weighed in with some worthy reporting. Reaves returned with a second contribution, this time on a tough new illegal immigrant law in Oklahoma that has many fleeing to Texas. Some employers say the state's economy is being severely compromised as a result.

The station's Chris Hawes offered an eye-opening, up-close look at what's become the annual "School Campout" in Arlington. Some parents already have rented RVs and claimed spots in line for a March 3rd enrollment day that allows them to handpick their child's school. Meanwhile, the district's school superintendent is looking for ways to put an end to this jockeying for position.

***On CBS11, reporter Stephanie Lucero had an interesting piece on a Salvadoran family that illegally settled in North Texas after being violently threatened by a gang of thugs demanding payment of a "livestock tax." Authorities quickly deported the father, who was murdered in what appeared to be retribution. His widow and their children, who have lived in the U.S. since the middle of last year, now also are facing deportation. But their attorney is arguing that this also could be a death sentence for them.

***Fox4 continued to follow the story of a college prep school whose owner, Karen Dillard, is being accused of illegally obtaining copyrighted SAT tests.

"We first reported this last night (Thursday)," said anchor Steve Eagar. That's true. But NBC5's Goldberg had the story on Wednesday night's 10 p.m. newscast, including an interview with Dillard. WFAA8 also briefly touched on the story during Wednesday's late nighter, but didn't include Dillard's side.

Fox4's nightly "Viewers' Voice" segment included a variety of gripes from viewers complaining about the station's political coverage.

"You can definitely tell who Fox4 is voting for -- (Barack) Obama," one of 'em said.

In reality, sources within Fox4 say the station has been stiffed by both Obama and fellow Democrat Hillary Clinton, who have declined to do any one-one-one satellite interviews with Fox4 because of their distaste for cable's Fox News Channel. That's small-minded on their part. Fox4 is part of the same corporation as Fox News Channel, but its local news coverage marches to its own beat.

***WFAA8 solicited viewer email on sports anchor Dale Hansen's light blue plaid sportcoat to determine whether it's "ugly" as charged by weatherman Pete Delkus.

Hansen said the verdict was running seven to one in favor of ugly, with one viewer telling him that "Verne Lundquist (Hansen's long-ago predecessor) called and he wants his jacket back."

Anchor Gloria Campos said she liked Hansen's attire, but "she's been drinking," cracked Delkus.

"Not too much," Campos retorted. "It's early yet."

Yo ho ho. Anchor John McCaa, ever the newscast's bulwark, again shook his head while grinning gamely. The poor guy oftentimes just can't help being Zeppo Marx in the company of Groucho, Harpo and Chico.

This just in: a night in the lives of D-FW's late night newscasts (Thurs., Feb. 21)

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Investigator Brett Shipp's hammer-and-tong approach to the Dallas Cowboys' new stadium may not be entirely fair. It is fun to watch, though.

The WFAA8 gumshoe sought to give owner Jerry Jones another wedgie Thursday night by treating viewers to an inside look at "the posh extravagance portrayed in the sleek animated renderings" that depict the finished product. It's his third February "sweeps" tackling of the still incomplete edifice.

Shipp is "the only reporter taking a critical look at the project," anchor Gloria Campos told viewers before his "How 'Suite' It Is" story likely made Jones want to strip him naked, coat him in silver and blue, towel-snap him and then make him run laps around Flozell Adams' waistline.

"Fans want premium service," Cowboys spokesman Greg McElroy told Shipp before he donned a hardhat and toured the unfinished concrete cavern in Arlington. The place is so massive that top-row seats are 180 feet above field level, he said. To illustrate, Shipp stood atop the WFAA TV tower and peered down at the company parking lot shared by WFAA8 and Dallas Morning News personnel. It's romantic to think that a big oil spot from my old Ford LTD might still be visible from even those heights.

Shipp contrasted that nose-bleed view of the game with Jones' under-construction personal suite, which at 30,000 square feet is the length of a football field, he said. Other football palaces, such as the new Reliant Stadium in Houston and the yet-to-open Indianapolis Colts' home field, are much cheaper than the roughly $1.2 billion that Jones and Arlington taxpayers are spending, Shipp said.

And of course, Houston fans say they have all the amenities at a fraction of the cost.

Shipp also flashed footage of the Green Bay Packers' Lambeau Field, where hardy Wisconsin natives like myself are willing to freeze their asses off for the privilege of watching the Green and Gold. In comparison, the Cowboys' Taj Mahal is hermetically sealed. The team's fans will "never suffer the indignity of discomfort," said Shipp, whose disdain almost matched Martha Stewart's feelings about skim milk.

Jones still won't talk to him, said Shipp, who asked the anchors at the end of his report if they'd like to know the takeoff point of Jones' new private elevator. He then plugged the 6 a.m. hour of WFAA's Friday Daybreak, where he planned to tell all. That explored new promotional vistas in the ratings war between WFAA8 and Fox4's Good Day, which are locked in a virtual first-place tie with just four weekdays to go in the sweeps.

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CBS11 investigator Robert Riggs also zeroed in on a favorite target -- the alleged donor-abusing hierarchy of UT Southwestern Medical Center, led by president Kern Wildenthal. The state university fired back at Riggs and CBS11 Friday in a lengthy rebuttal posted on its Web site. Riggs' reporting, it said, "demonstrated the most negative attributes of investigative journalism" and also was flatly untrue.

Combing through public records, Riggs detailed what anchor Doug Dunbar termed a series of "eye-popping discoveries." Some of donors' "hard-earned dollars" were being spent not on medical research, Riggs said, but on "expensive Belgian chocolates," gourmet popcorn (to the tune of $30 grand), caviar, repeated "business lunches" at a Mexican restaurant and tulips ($13,000 worth).

Much of this came in the form of gifts to donors as enticements to give more. But Riggs found two veteran consumer watchdogs who said it's uncalled for.

"They strike me as indulgent," said one.

"It's a bloody waste of money," said the other.

Riggs tried to corner Wildenthal outside the Mexican restaurant where he regularly has "business lunches" with fellow hospital officials.

"This is not an appropriate time," he told Riggs, who has yet to land an interview with him. CBS11 even went to the extent of having hidden cameras inside the restaurant to capture Wildenthal and friends eating. They also could be overheard discussing their golf games and other leisure activities instead of business, Riggs said.

Hospital officials would be wiser to just sit down with Riggs and have it out with him. If they think this is a baseless vendetta or a sweeps stunt, then they should tell him so on-camera. Riggs at times does seem to take undue delight in skewering his prey. So does Shipp for that matter. But it's always easier to take pot shots when your targets won't talk.

And In Other News . . .
All four major TV news providers sent reporters to Austin for live dispatches on Thursday night's Hillary Clinton-Barack Obama debate.

NBC5's Grant Stinchfield seemed to think he was Chris Matthews. "Most people agree they both fared very, very well," he began. "But that 's a problem for Clinton because she came into the debate needing to throw that knockout punch. And that she didn't do."

It took almost an hour for Clinton to "fire a shot across the bow," in Stinchfield's view. He again interjected himself at report's end, telling viewers, "Well, there's speculation the two were acting so nice to each other because they may end up on the same ticket. I think it may be they just respect each other."

CBS11's Tracy Rowlett stumbled out of the block, almost drawing a blank in trying to say Barack Obama's full name. He got half of it out (the Obama part) while telling viewers that Hillary Clinton probably didn't succeed in any mission to "pull herself away" from the frontrunner.

Rowlett was joined by colleague Jack Fink who hit the post-debate "spin room" for some less than pulsating quotes.

"He did terrific," said an Obama rep. "She did great," said a Hillary advocate.

Fox4's Shaun Rabb, in his Scoops McDeadline fedora, said he had been right in telling viewers on an earlier newscast that this would be a "cerebral drama." As for a clear-cut winner, "in this observer's opinion, no," he concluded.

Brad Watson of WFAA8 had a comparatively straight-ahead report after first noting that "Hillary Clinton needed to strike some sharp contrasts tonight to Obama and his momentum. After a pleasant start, she drew some sharp lines of difference."

***WFAA8's Gary Reaves had a very nice story on a Millbury, Mass. group that calls itself The Lord's Builders. They've journeyed to Oak Cliff to renovate a church that thieves had burned down way back in 1995 to cover their tracks. Its pastor had died before being able to bring his church back to life. It remained largely in disrepair until the volunteer Good Samaritans arrived.

***Fox4 consumer reporter Steve Noviello gave viewers an informative look at how complimentary "companion certificates" offered by airlines are often anything but bargains when you first must pay a premium price for a single ticket on eligible flights.

***NBC5 anchor Mike Snyder copped to being a snorer and invited viewers to read his blog after Brendan Higgins' story on a device that supposedly can work wonders. He's been blogging quite a bit lately. Tell me about it.

***CBS11 sports anchor Babe Laufenberg got off a nifty little line after dispatching his two principal staffers to New Orleans for the Dallas Mavericks and Surprise, AZ for the Texas Rangers' spring training.

"Here's how you keep your job as the main sports anchor," he said. "You send everyone else out of town."

***Finally, Fox4's nightly "Viewers' Voice" segment included a bizarro suggestion.

"Steve Eagar needs to shave his ears," said a fan of the newscast. "He has a halo this evening."

Eagar mugged a tad for the camera. Yes, Steve, these are your viewers.

Local Nielsen ratings snapshot (Thurs., Feb. 21)

CNN's Barack Obama-Hillary Clinton debate from Austin had blockbuster ratings Thursday night -- at least by the cable network's standards.

The one hour, 45-minute faceoff, which began at 7 p.m., averaged a robust 138,829 D-FW homes. That exceeds the audiences for several of the night's network entertainment offerings, including CBS' Survivor: Micronesia (124,216 homes), the "enhanced" reprise of last week's Lost episode on ABC (104,731 homes) and NBC's Celebrity Apprentice (70,632 homes).

Fox's American Idol of course ruled the ratings, with the seventh edition's first vote-off drawing 336,113 homes. The network's following Don't Forget the Lyrics! also scored big (245,996 homes).

In the local news derby, D-FW's hottest race is still at 6 a.m., where Fox4 edged WFAA8 in total homes and tied the ABC station among 25-to-54-year-olds, the main advertiser target audience for news programming. The two stations remain in a virtual tie in total homes, with Fox4 keeping a slight edge in the 25-to-54 demo. There are just four weekdays to go in the February sweeps, which end on Wednesday.

Also of note: CBS11's early morning show perked up to finish a rare third -- ahead of NBC5 -- in both ratings measurements.

WFAA8 held serve at 10 p.m. with twin wins. It's dominating in total homes and has a comfortable lead over the Peacock among 25-to-54-year-olds. The race for second place in total homes tightened, though, with CBS11 taking the silver medal to inch closer to NBC5.

WFAA8 easily ran the table at 5 and 6 p.m., where first place sweeps finishes are assured.

Escape to L.A.? Prison Break plotting to vacate North Texas if and when there's a fourth season


Prison Break stars Dominic Purcell and Wentworth Miller braved Santa Monica for a Fox press party last summer. Photo: Ed Bark

A fourth season of Fox's Prison Break is by no means assured. But if it happens, odds are it won't be in North Texas, where the series' second and third seasons were filmed.

"Right now we are being told the plan is to take it to Los Angeles," Dallas Film Commission head Janis Burklund said in an email sent to Dallas-based Fox4 and unclebarky.com. "Nothing has been announced officially by the studio. Be assured the City of Dallas and the Dallas Film Commission have not given up. Mayor Tom Leppert has expressed his desire to assist in this effort and will be placing calls to the heads of the studios and network to ask if there is anything additional the City of Dallas can do to convince them to keep Prison Break shooting here."

The escapist drama has helped to pump multi-millions into the area economy, but has performed modestly in the Nielsen ratings this season. The show's Feb. 11th third season finale, which capped a strike-shortened order of 13 episodes, finished 33rd in the national rankings with 7.8 million viewers.

Fox so far has not announced whether PB will return next fall or from where it might originate. Its first season was filmed in the Chicago area before the network moved it South to warmer climes. But the blistering summer heat of North Texas proved to be no picnic either.

Burklund, who is seeking news coverage of the city's and Film Commission's efforts, said that "the discussion of relocating is due to creative reasons and the direction the show will take in the future, and not a negative reflection on their experience here in the Dallas-Fort Worth area."

The show's producers, she added, "have assured us they have had a very positive experience in Dallas and the region and have nothing but praise for the local crew, talent and the community. And we have every reason to believe there will be other projects to come in the future with this studio and the producer."

PB's two principal stars, Wentworth Miller and Dominic Purcell, varied in their adaptations and approaches to Dallas.

Miller, who lived "not too far" from Southern Methodist University, said he enjoyed exploring his new surroundings.

"I try to go out to these little towns on weekends and see what there is to see," he told unclebarky.com at a Fox press party in Santa Monica last summer. "It occurred to me on my summer break in L.A. that I don't live in L.A. anymore. I actually live in Texas for 10 months out of 12. So the reality is that Dallas is my home for the time being."

Purcell, still an avid surfer, saw Dallas as something of an occupational hazard.

Asked if he was enjoying the city, he said, "No, of course not. I'm away from home. But that's part of the deal. I get to play, I love what I do and I get good money. I'm not gonna sit here and whine and bitch about bad my life is because I'm in Dallas. It's hard being away from my kids and the surf and water and stuff. But it is what it is."

This just in: a night in the lives of D-FW's late night newscasts (Wed., Feb. 20)

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Two presidential candidates and a prominent surrogate converged on North Texas Wednesday, presenting late night newscasts with interesting choices on how to play them up -- or down.

Democrats Barack Obama and Chelsea Clinton held their rallies during daytime hours. Republican Mike Huckabee had the only nighttime event, which made him fresher news. Even so, Obama drew by far the biggest crowd, so wasn't he the biggest news at any hour? Let's go to the videotape after first noting that all four major TV news providers already had provided extended Obama coverage during their early evening shows.

WFAA8 was the only station without a reporter-driven story on Obama, instead opting to have anchor John McCaa narrate footage from his event with accompanying sound bites. But McCaa also called Obama's noon appearance at Reunion Arena "the largest single political rally in Dallas ever," with its estimated 17,000 attendees easily topping the 10,000 drawn by Ronald Reagan in the same venue. So didn't it deserve another full-blown presentation from a reporter standing live either outside Reunion or in the comparative warmth of WFAA8 studios?

McCaa's Obama reader led to a little schmear of video from Chelsea's appearance on behalf of her mother at the University of Texas at Dallas. Next came reporter Shelly Slater's live report from outside Huckabee's event at Collin County Community College in Plano. Her backdrop was a half-dozen or so signs for GOP candidate Ron Paul.

Huckabee earlier did one-on-one interviews with reporters from all four stations, but Slater easily got the most colorful quote out of him. Texans don't like to be told that the nomination already has been decided "by people on the East Coast," he told her. "That's when Texans put their boots on, but it isn't just to strut and look pretty. It's to kick some backside. And I think there's going to be some serious backside-kickin' goin' on March 4th."

Anchor Gloria Campos later revisited this particular imagery after sports anchor Dale Hansen lightly twitted the opening night performance of Jason Kidd, who looked hesitant and out of sync during the Dallas Mavericks' loss to New Orleans.

"You are mean," she somewhat jokingly told him. "Hope that bites you you-know-where."

But we digress.

NBC5 was the only station to put Huckabee at the top of the candidate pecking order after anchor Mike Snyder first gravely intoned, "A cold front is moving into North Texas as we speak tonight."

Reporter Randy McIlwain then reported from the scene after finding a spot without any Ron Paul signs. He noted in his closing standup that The New York Times would have a front page story Thursday about Republican John McCain's alleged affair with a woman lobbyist.

"Certainly a bad time for him as he tries to court more conservative voters," McIlwain opined.

Obama duty went to reporter Grant Stinchfield, who stood outside Reunion Arena and fell back on the now shopworn observation that "he captivates an arena like a rock star."

The charismatic candidate delivered "an inspiring message of change and hope," Stinchfield told viewers. "But his critics were quick to point out (that) his speech was short on details."

Actually, no critics emerged during the story, which briefly morphed into Chelsea's speech to a "smaller, more intimate crowd." NBC5 showed her addressing a student question on gays in the military by quoting deceased conservative Barry Goldwater as saying, "You don't have to be straight to shoot straight." Stinchfield then wound things up with video of donuts being handed out before Obama's arrival.

Fox4 topped its 9 p.m. newscast with Shaun Rabb's report on what his station billed as Obama's "rockin' rally" at Reunion. He interviewed a white grandma from Parker County who said she wants her grandchildren to "be proud of their nation."

A dollop of Chelsea coverage followed, although the Clinton campaign would have opted for no coverage at all. That's because the station found a male student who said that "Chelsea's where it's at" and her father is "really cool," too. But the kid said he didn't like Hillary at all and wouldn't vote for her.

Reporter Jason Overstreet's live dispatch from the Huckabee rally fell to the middle of the newscast, likely because the station was still putting the finishing touches on accompanying video. Overstreet interviewed a middle-aged woman who identified herself as part of the "left-out conservative Christian group" supporting Huckabee.

"We are a big part of the Republican party, and they need to hear us," she said. A lone Ron Paul sign loomed in the backdrop during Overstreet's standups.

CBS11 had Jay Gormley reporting live from the site of Obama's rally. Companion video showed Obama excusing himself to blow his nose. His worsening cold forced him to cancel a later planned appearance at a Mexican restaurant in Oak Lawn, Gormley noted. Instead he flew directly to Austin to rest up for Thursday night's possibly pivotal debate with Hillary Clinton. Interesting detail.

Chelsea got less than a smidgen of video, with no audio, before CBS11 segued to a live shot of anchor/reporter Tracy Rowlett in Austin. He noted that Clinton has "been pressing for more (debates). He (Obama) doesn't want them. So there you go. This one is going to be extremely important. We expect her to be very aggressive."

Drawing the Huckabee straw was Chris Salcedo, who reported from in front of a veritable sea of Ron Paul signs.

"Before his rally in North Texas, Mike Huckabee sat down with me," Salcedo said grandly. His hardly revealing and very brief sound bites included the declaration that "I think I'm the best candidate to challenge Barack Obama."

Furthermore, said Salcedo, "Sen. John McCain told me (via satellite) he's ready to be commander in chief."

Wow, really? Shocking. For the record, McCain also did rotation interviews with rival stations.

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CBS11's Ginger Allen got revved up over a rise and shine pill.

And In Other News . . .
WFAA8 had a very unusual and sadly revealing story about an Army National Guard sergeant who contacted the station to tell a tale of woe about being illegally searched for drugs.

"It made me feel violated and disrespected," he said while in uniform. But the man in fact was a suspected drug dealer "under surveillance" by police. He also had to be one of the dumbest crooks ever, going off to make a crack cocaine delivery after appearing on WFAA8. He got busted, with his big bag of coke caught in closeup by the station. Since then he hasn't wanted to do any interviews.

Chris Hawes presented this bizarre story on WFAA8's 10 p.m. newscast, but Jim Douglas had reported it earlier in the day.

***She's still billed on CBS11's Web site as one of the station's three "Investigators." But Ginger Allen continues her transformation from gumshoe to gumdrop. Her latest light-headed feature put viewers on the receiving end of an energy supplement called "Wake Up On Time."

It has "a lot of people excited about waking up in the morning," anchor Karen Borta trilled before Allen asked rhetorically, "How would you like to wake up every morning feeling happy and energized, even before you sip that first cup of coffee?"

This led to a happy/sappy soundtrack accompanying live-wire Kerri Villegas, who suddenly feels peppier than a Dr. Pepper addict. Or as Allen put it, "Kerri Villegas used to hate the alarm clock, always waking up grumpy and groggy. But now she wakes up happy and energized. There's no morning misery and bickering with her children."

The woman seemed more than a bit dippy, but otherwise very bouncy. You supposedly take this stuff before beddy bye. Then its time-released energy jolt kicks in seven hours later, just in time to bolt out of bed and watch Allen and Scott Sams on CBS11's early morning show.

A naysaying doc briefly popped in to say that the "whole concept is somewhat voodoo." But a revved-up Kerri is having none of that because "I feel like I can do so much!"

Who the hell is assigning these stories? Allen can't be coming up with them on her own -- can she?

***Steve Noviello's latest "Deal or Dud? feature on Fox4 instead should have been burned at the stake. He purportedly put the "XShot Personal Tripod" to the test, but spent a near-eternity setting it up with some goombah shtick from the cast of the local stage production Tony and Tina's Wedding.

The Personal Tripod, in effect a camera on a stick, at long last was deemed a "Deal." But the segment itself barely achieved liftoff before landing with a thud.

This just in: a night in the lives of D-FW's late night newscasts (Tues., Feb. 19)

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When in doubt, cue up the grainy police "dash cam" video and roll with it.

Three out of four D-FW stations did just that Tuesday, leading their late night newscasts with the Feb. 11th rescue of a Cleburne man trapped inside his flaming SUV.

Two Fort Worth police officers came in for some much-deserved praise in the process, even if the stories had a very familiar ring to them. Is any term more over-used than "hero?"

"Humble about their heroic efforts," said Fox4 anchor Steve Eagar before passing the baton to a sober and almost worshipful Jeff Crilley.

"To protect and serve," he told viewers. "Those are not just hollow words. It's not just some slogan that the police use."

The two officers, Adam Coleman and Victor Tapia, pulled the man to safety just in time. It was all on the video, and TV is nothing if not a picture medium. Both rescuers said they were just acting in the line of duty. But anchors and reporters invariably see it otherwise.

"Officers Tapia and Coleman say they're no heroes, just doing what they're paid to do," said NBC5's Scott Gordon.

"Tonight, dramatic video that highlights the heroism displayed by police officers," CBS11 anchor Karen Borta told viewers before Carol Cavazos detailed their story.

The rescued driver declined to be interviewed on-camera, and Cavazos perhaps provided an overriding reason why. She was the only reporter to both name the man and peg him as an "illegal immigrant."

WFAA8 downplayed the rescue in a middle-of-the newscast snippet, instead going in a completely opposite direction by leading off with a story on possible police wrongdoing in the shooting death of a teenager. Reporter Rebecca Lopez said the Dallas PD is investigating the matter. All concerned, including the deceased's attorney, acknowledge he was "up to no good" when the shooting occurred.

Later in the newscast, WFAA8 fell back on another newscast staple, video from a merchant's surveillance camera. In this case, Chris Hawes reported on a theft in Irving during which a little boy seemed to be in the company of two adult crooks.

"Watch. Boom," said the store owner as the kid tripped while carrying off some merchandise.

"Ow," said Hawes. She later told viewers that the owner hopes the child can be identified by someone before he's sucked into a life of crime.

Tuesday also brought the finalization of Jason Kidd's trade to the Dallas Mavericks, complete with press conference. All of the stations except Fox4 waited until their regular sports segments to talk about it. This gave Fox4's Mike Doocy a chance to double-dip with a rare commentary near the end of the newscast.

"The Mavs might regret this deal for a long time," he said before crediting owner Mark Cuban with being "willing to swallow some pride" and make the deal rather than wait for point guard Devin Harris to develop.

"Anything less than a championship and this Kidd deal is a failure," Doocy said. "That's an incredibly high standard by which to judge a trade . . . I still would not have done the deal. But if the Mavs win a title with Kidd, I will be the first to sit here and admit I was wrong."

NBC5 sports anchor Newy Scruggs doesn't get enough air time to admit much of anything. So he told viewers, "I like this deal" before urging them to read more at his "New Dawg blog" on NBC5's Web site.

CBS11's Babe Laufenberg shared Scruggs' opinion.

"Here's all you need to know when analyzing the trade," he said. "(The) Mavericks are a better team today than they were yesterday. And come playoff time, they'll be a whole lot better than they are today."

WFAA8's usually voluble Dale Hansen had no further opinions Tuesday night. Perhaps Hansen shot his wad on earlier sportscasts in which he called owner Mark Cuban a liar and said the $4 million payoff to former Maverick Keith Van Horn is "an unbelievably stupid way to run a business and incredibly unfair to your ticket-buying fan."

And In Other News . . .
CBS11 investigator Robert Riggs did a nice job of nailing an obviously crooked and arrogant roof contractor who profited from a recent hail storm.

Repairs were never done by Shawn Tatum, who nonetheless cashed a number of homeowners' checks and now has filed bankruptcy while simultaneously claiming that money is owed to him. Outside a courtroom, Tatum figuratively stiff-armed Riggs, asking him, "You mean this is really a story?"

Well, yeah.

"Nobody's suffered any losses," Tatum contended before mockingly telling Riggs, "Thanks for your time, Robert." He then softly shoved him away. Tatum lately is selling hockey gear to youth leagues, Riggs then told viewers. Buyers beware.

***Fox4 gumshoe Paul Adrian had another revealing piece that in fact was more serious-minded than its title -- "How Now Cash Cow?"

Adrian looked at the massive property tax breaks developers are cashing in on under the state's agriculture exemption laws. Tarrant County's chief appraiser, John Marshall, jokingly called it the "developer relief act." About all you have to do is bale a little hay on undeveloped land in order to qualify, Adrian was told.

Fox4 juiced his extended report with those annoying "whoosh" sound effects popularized in another TV era by A Current Affair. It's understood that this presents a difficult "picture story," but let's try to find something less intrusive.

***WFAA8's "Dryer Danger" expose included anchor Gloria Campos brandishing one of these lethal hand-held weapons before turning it over to reporter David Schechter. It turns out that hair dryers sometimes can shoot flames or even burst into flames on their own. And as one aggrieved woman put it, "Basically, no one wants to have the Fourth of July in their bathroom."

Schechter didn't deploy his Barbie dolls for this one, as he has during stories on decreased spending by consumers. But surely she's very concerned about this.

***Over on NBC5, reporter Ellen Goldberg said that restaurants increasingly are using surveillance cameras in their dining rooms, supposedly to gauge customer satisfaction.

"I'm not watching them eating," said a Subway manager with the foreboding name of David Doom. "I'm watching to see that they're happy."

Lettuce pray.

This just in: a night in the lives of D-FW's late night newscasts (Mon., Feb. 18)

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Jack Ruby and associates; Lee Harvey Oswald amid reporters.

The enticing President's Day release of Kennedy assassination documents locked in a safe for more than 40 years remained a high priority Monday on three of D-FW's major late night newscasts.

But CBS11 mostly put the story to rest, dismissing it in a news brief read by anchor Karen Borta. There was reason for that. The station already had beaten its competitors to the punch with reporter Kaushal Patel's "exclusive sneak peek" Sunday night.

She indeed did get a big jump, at least in the TV world, after The Dallas Morning News broke news of the the impending release in its Sunday editions. Patel interviewed Dallas County district attorney Craig Watkins and also had excerpts from one of the prize finds, a printed exchange between Jack Ruby and Lee Harvey Oswald on the subject of killing President Kennedy. It turned out to be dialogue from a would-be $1 million movie that was never made, she reported.

Patel made no mention, however, of the racial invective repeatedly used by then district attorney Henry Wade. Nor did NBC5's Ellen Goldberg during her 10 p.m. report. But anchor Mike Snyder did urge viewers to "read my blog on the secret JFK files." I did. It's less than inconsequential.

That left WFAA8's Brett Shipp and Fox4's Richard Ray to at least briefly address this touchy area. Watkins, who is black, also went public in his Monday news conference by describing the documents' repeated use of "that racist tone that goes throughout our criminal justice system."

Ray, who has become Fox4's resident JFK expert, closed his 9 p.m. newscast story by telling viewers, "Lost in the fuss about the fake transcript are communications between Henry Wade and others that could easily be classified as racist. A window on a very different time in Dallas County. As D.A. Watkins said, a look at how far we've come, how far we need to go."

Shipp chose to be bracingly less benign. He speculated that Watkins might have decided to release the documents in large part because of their racial overtones. His closing standup had a serrated edge to it.

"Watkins also implied that the documents have been kept secret by his predecessors, hoping to protect Wade's reputation," Shipp said. "Now it's the public's turn to decide which is more plausible, a Ruby-Oswald assassination plot or '60s era officials making bigoted remarks."

And In Other News . . .
Early morning co-anchor Brendan Higgins, making an exceedingly rare appearance on NBC5's late nighter, had a lengthy piece on two professional cage fighters who each had turned 40 before recently learning they're brothers. The Peacock lately seems more willing to let at least one of its nightly stories stretch out, and Higgins did a very nice job with the extra time.

***NBC5's veteran Night Ranger, Scott Gordon, also found himself in unusual circumstances. He reported live from the station's newsroom rather than alone out in the dark. And instead of another dollop of crime or tragedy, Gordon had a feel-good dispatch on a Good Samaritan foster mother who's taken multiple kids under her care during a "Foster Care Crisis."

***Also, the Peacock's Grant Stinchfield had a not-bad lead story on pilots flying with little reserve fuel as part of a mandate to cut costs. Ergo, there supposedly have been more emergency landings and "unnecessary diversions" to other cities.

"The documents we uncovered are disturbing," Stinchfield said with a well-practiced dramatic flourish. "Airline pilots complaining to the FAA that their airlines are forcing them to put the cost of fuel above the costs of lives."

To conserve credibility, Stinchfield would have been wise to ease off the gas a bit.

***Reporter Jay Gormley spelled out some particulars of an "exclusive" CBS11/KRLD-AM Texas presidential primary poll that showed Hillary Clinton with "very little breathing room" in her battle against Barack Obama. With the primary coming on March 4, she leads Obama by just 50 to 45 percent, with 5 percent undecided, he said.

Gormley also noted the crucial importance of Hispanics, who now make up one-third of the Texas electorate and still favor Clinton by a wide margin.

"If they fail to turn up at the polls, it could be devastating for Hillary Clinton," he said.

Obama has an overwhelming lead among black voters, who aren't as plentiful in the state. But D-FW's television reporters have yet to address the delicate racial element -- or even thinly veiled racism -- behind these respective strongholds. For a primer, they should look to a perceptive and fair piece Saturday by CNN's Soledad O'Brien, who asked for openers, "Are Latinos rallying for this white woman or against this black man -- just because he's black?"

***All hope may be lost for CBS11's Ginger Allen, the once plucky investigative reporter who's turned to mush in recent weeks.

On Monday she weighed in with a story on The Black Book of Hollywood Diet Secrets after anchor Doug Dunbar teased, "We'll give you the skinny next."

We learned that actress Elizabeth Hurley "actually eats bacon" as a means of tempering her high-fat cravings. And that some celebs gorge on asparagus because it can be a laxative. A dietician named Robin Plotkin warned that some of these diets, including eating a cookie and skipping two regular meals, can be self-defeating and unhealthy. Perhaps you already knew that.

Maybe this is Allen's road by choice now that she's co-anchoring CBS11's early morning show. But she used to find time for some real reporting despite those hours. Now she's not even close.

***WFAA8's Rebecca Lopez led the station's Monday 10 p.m. newscast with a close look at why 25 DISD teachers are being fired after their students logged unacceptably low state test scores. Fox4, the only other station to mention this, kissed it off with a news brief.

***Fox4's Jason Overstreet, his station's leadoff hitter, focused on a "shocked" 16-year-old boy whose fight at his Little Elm school got him a police citation as well. This supposedly is happening more and more.

"I can't believe that they hit the parents in the pockets," said his Dad, who believes that disciplinary measures should be taken only by the school. They eventually agreed to a $60 fine and eight hours of community service. Interesting.

***Also on Fox4, reporter James Rose hunted down a Mansfield woman charged with child abandonment after leaving her three children -- a 9 yr. old, a 4 yr. old, a 4-month old -- home alone with marijuana on the coffee table.

Rose knocked on her door and she peeked out as he told her, "We're just trying to talk to you, get your side of the story."

She apparently denied the charges, but not very audibly or in view. "You don't want to tell me that?" Rose persisted.

"No," she said. "I don't want to talk to you."

But the camera keep rolling as the woman emerged and headed for her car while Rose asked, "Did CPS take your kids? Do you have the children?"

You probably know where this is going.

Fox4 reporter Rebecca Aguilar is now in her fifth month of a paid suspension after being similarly aggressive -- but more soft-spoken -- while questioning an elderly, yet vigorous man who at first said he didn't want to be on camera. But property defender James Walton kept talking to her from the driver's seat of his car, while Aguilar questioned him about the two junkyard intruders he had killed with his shotgun in the space of three weeks. She found him outside a Mesquite sporting goods store after they talked on the phone. Walton had just bought a new shotgun.

That was a story of far more import than Rose's was. But no, he shouldn't be suspended. Nor should Aguilar still be in limbo -- or have been suspended in the first place. Clearly it's long past time to settle this one way or the other.

In the meantime, being a Fox4 reporter under such uncertain circumstances can't be much of a picnic. How far do you go in getting a story? How hesitant can you be without risking your job? Does anybody really know?

Local Nielsen ratings snapshot (Mon., Feb. 18)

Prison Break said goodbye Monday -- probably for a good -- with its third season finale on Fox. Most D-FW viewers couldn't be bothered.

The made-in-North Texas drama dragged a ball-and-chain in the Nielsen ratings, drawing just 60,890 homes at 7 p.m. to rank fourth in its time slot. The hour was controlled by NBC's juiced-up Deal Or No Deal, which had 245,996 homes in thrashing ABC's runnerup Dance War (126,652 homes overall for the two-hour finale.

Prison Break did edge Dance War's first hour among advertiser-craved 18-to-49-year-olds to rank third in that key measurement.

At 8 p.m. the premiere of NBC's My Dad Is Better Than Your Dad won the 18-to-49 crown and tied for second with Dance War in total homes. CBS' comedy combo of Two and a Half Men and The New Adventures of Old Christine led the pack.

In the local news derby, Fox4 "threw out" all of its local newscasts because of the President's Day holiday, meaning they won't be counted in the final February "sweeps" averages. CBS11 took the opposite tack in counting its four major local news programs. WFAA8 discounted its 10 p.m. newscast and NBC5 kept its 6 a.m. waker-upper out of the mix.

Citing only the newscasts that counted, NBC5 had the biggest audiences at 10 p.m. in both total homes and among 25-to-54-year-olds, the main advertiser target audience for news programming.

WFAA won twice at 6 a.m. and did likewise at 6 p.m. The 5 p.m. spoils were split, with WFAA8 tops in total homes and the Peacock winning in the 25-to-54 demo.

There's this, too. Katie Couric's CBS Evening News beat Brian Williams' NBC Nightly News for the fourth straight weeknight in total homes. That's still not the case nationally, where Couric remains a distant third.

NBC5's Children's Health Check: Is it also checkbook journalism?

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Sponsoring newscasts is one of television's oldest living professions. But is NBC5 prostituting itself by taking money for something that looks like news but is pre-bought as part of a contract with a Dallas hospital?

We're talking about the station's weekly "Children's Health Check," which airs on Wednesdays within the closing 6 a.m. hour of NBC5's early morning newscast. NBC5 reporter Melissa Newton is the latest to introduce the segments, which news director Susan Tully says have been airing for well over a year under a paid sponsorship arrangement with Children's Medical Center.

How much money is changing hands? Tully wouldn't comment, but sources close to the situation say that between $250,000 and $300,000 is paid annually to NBC5 under a deal brokered by The Richards Group, a prominent Dallas advertising agency. Several sources also say that WFAA8 recently turned down an opportunity to be the "Children's Health Check" station in place of NBC5. Another D-FW station, says Tully, "went after the sponsorship hard, and we got it again."

WFAA8 president and general manager Mike Devlin declined to "confirm or deny whether we were approached."

"But our policy is you cannot buy news content at WFAA," he said.

In return for the payments to NBC5, doctors from Children's Medical Center are interviewed on matters ranging from chicken pox to ear infections to easier holiday dinners for diabetic children. The exposure is considered a significant bonus in a fierce competition for patients among Children's Medical Center, Medical City and Cook's Children, which sometimes sponsors NBC5's early morning "Gridlock Busters" traffic reports.

"This is a sponsorship. They don't control editorial content," Tully said of Children's Medical Center in a recent telephone interview. "They give us resources and story ideas, but we decide what we're going to cover, how we're going to cover it."

In a subsequent email to unclebarky.com, Tully emphasized that "CMC helps us quickly find the right pediatrician to talk about the topic. If CMC can't help us find an expert, we can look anywhere for that person. From the newsroom perspective, we have access to great resources through CMC, and they typically find who we are looking for . . . Our newsroom has total control over the segments, and we see them as having news value to parents watching at 6:30 a.m. who are about to send their children off to school for the day."

Research of previous "Children's Health Check" segments on NBC5's Web site found no instance in which a Children's Medical Center doctor wasn't the designated expert. In the 12 segments posted, eight different Children's Medical Center doctors were interviewed. Several made more than one appearance, led by Dr. John McClay's three.

NBC5's Newton, whom Tully says is a freelancer, is nonetheless listed and pictured as a full-fledged "reporter for NBC5" on the station's Web site. She introduces the paid segments while standing next to a "Children's Health Check" logo in NBC5's studios. Newton in turn is first introduced from the anchor desk by the early morning program's two principal news readers, Deborah Ferguson and Brendan Higgins. In commercial breaks before or sometimes after the segments, viewers are told that they're "sponsored by Children's Medical Center."

WFAA8 isn't entirely pristine in this. Its locally produced Good Morning Texas variety program, which doesn't fall under the station's news umbrella, invariably has guests whose companies pay for their 5-minute mini-infomercials with the show's hosts, Brenda Teele, Gary Cogill and Amy Vanderoef.

On a recent GMT, a printed disclaimer near the end of the show said that "promotional considerations" were paid for by Hawk Electronics, IBB Design Group Furniture Showroom and Our Children's House at Baylor. In the Hawk segment, guest Jeff Gerred hawked cell phones during a sit-down with Teele.

"The news department has no involvement in it," WFAA8's Devlin said of GMT. "And any of those paid segments are clearly labeled as such. We have a longstanding policy that advertisers and sponsors cannot buy news content, and that's the distinction."

WFAA8 also has used Dr. David Winter in "Health Source" segments during daytime newscasts. But Winter does his own independent standups after being introduced by one of the station's anchors or medical reporter Janet St. James. A search of the station's Web site found just one spot, and a dated one at that. Dr. Winter talked about "Lip Plumpers" on March 22nd of last year after St. James set up the segment.

"We pay fees to Dr. Winter for transmission costs," Devlin said in an email when asked about his arrangement with WFAA8. "He is used sparingly. There is no advertising relationship between us and Baylor. They don't pay us any money to run him and in fact we don't promise to run him on a regular basis."

It's an "apples and oranges comparison" in relation to NBC5's "Children's Health Check" segments, Devlin said.

One news director, Glen Mabie of WEAU-TV in Eau Claire, WI, resigned early this year after his station formed what a Columbia Journalism Review article called "an exclusive coverage deal with a local hospital, which he says would have compromised the station's independence and integrity."

NBC5's Tully insists that's not the case at her station.

"Nothing prevents us from going to Cook Children's or Medical City," she said of any other reporting the station might do. But within the confines of the "Children's Health Check" segments, "we typically do" use Children's Medical Center doctors, Tully conceded.

"There's nothing written that you can't use anybody else. But it's just a partnership that makes sense to us. They give us access to great pediatricians quickly. It's a win-win for us."

The money isn't bad either.

This just in: a night in the lives of D-FW's late night newscasts (Fri., Feb. 15)

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WFAA's Chris Hawes, Gary Reaves flank Fox4's Jason Overstreet.

Who got there first?

This matters very much in the local TV news eco-system, or in some cases ego-system. Emails and reader comments, some from local reporters, definitely attest to that.

So let's look at some recent scoops and mop-ups, with the proviso that we're only looking at the featured late night newscasts in the D-FW market. In those arenas, Fox4 has been several steps slow of late.

Friday's 9 p.m. newscast brought two stories that rivals had earlier. So did Thursday's Fox4 edition. Here's how it shook out.

Fox4's Jason Overstreet reported Friday on a Frisco law enforcement officer who spent a very uncomfortable night in jail after being wrongly arrested in a case of mistaken identity. It didn't help that Leonides Ramos was wearing a "Department of Justice" T-shirt at the time.

The same story originated a night earlier on WFAA8, with Gary Reaves delivering the exclusive.

On Wednesday's 10 p.m. WFAA8 newscast, reporter Chris Hawes had the first story on an 80-year-old World War II vet from Granbury who fought off two punk brothers trying to rob him in his home. His face, head and right arm bore the after-effects of the scuffle. But the scummy thugs who thought they had an easy mark are now both in jail.

Fox4's Lari Barager had the same story, but not until Friday's 9 p.m. newscast. That's a two-day gap, a k a an eternity in the news business.

On Thursday night, Fox4 trailed all three competing stations in its reporting on an eight-year-old girl whose bedroom had been invaded by a would-be child molester who apparently has struck before. The station's Melissa Cutler did the story a night after NBC5, WFAA8 and CBS11 had it on their Wednesday, 10 p.m. newscasts.

Fox4's Brandon Todd had an affecting piece Thursday on efforts to help pay the medical bills of four-year-old Haley Hart of Mansfield, whose cancerous tumor on her kidney had spread to her lungs. CBS11 reporter Nerissa Knight first introduced viewers to Haley on Feb. 6th, although the little girl's story certainly bears repeating.

All of the aforementioned Fox4 reporters are generally solid. And everyone gets whipped on a story now and then. Still, the station seems to be behind the curve more often than its rivals when it comes to nuts-and-bolts spot news. It would be one thing if Fox4 decided that the above four stories simply weren't worth reporting. Clearly that wasn't the case, so leftovers were served.

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CBS11's Carol Cavazos, WFAA8's Shelly Slater, CBS11's Gina Miller

And In Other News . . .
CBS11's Carol Cavazos had Friday's best story on a Fort Worth police officer and former Methodist minister who tries as best he can to play Good Samaritan to the homeless. Sgt. Richard Morris is no patsy, but clearly has compassion for drunks and drug addicts with a seeming desire to get straight. He regularly reaches into his own pocket, with help from a minister friend, to help them toward a better path. Cavazos brought this story home without getting maudlin about it.

***WFAA8's Shelly Slater did double duty Friday with two stories in the same newscast. Her best effort brought viewers into the trying life of Dr. Don Bauer, who's trying to recover from a cancerous tumor in his throat. He's found bottled breast milk to be something of an elixir, but is low on the priority list because of a substantial increase in teen pregnancies. The teary-eyed doc is trying alternative supplements while also vowing, "I came into this world screamin' and kickin', and that's exactly how I'm goin' out."

Slater also had her station's lead story on a Plano neighborhood whose Homeowner's Association is willing to pay $$8,000 to expedite the sale of a register sex offender's house. Some neighbors want him out, but don't want to enrich him in the process.

The story's bottom-of-the-screen printed shorthand managed two mistakes in just one sentence. It read: "Neighborhood willing to pay $8,000 to sale sex offenders house." Upon further review, that should be "Neighborhood willing to pay $8,000 to sell sex offender's house." You're welcome.

***CBS11 sportswoman Gina Miller was the only local reporter in New Orleans for the NBA's All-Star game weekend. This paid off when Dirk Nowitzki and would-be Maverick Jason Kidd wound up on the same team for a largely symbolic "NBA Cares" outing that had them trying to fix up a dilapidated house. The visuals were terrific, with Kidd talking to Miller while working as best he could on a window.

***Fox4's James Rose likely set a modern-day record for use of the word "scary" during his piece on a photographer who supposedly was with MTV but wanted SMU students to pose nude for him.

NBC5, D-FW's grand master of scare tactics, could only look on with awe and envy as Rose warmed up with a male student who dubbed it "scary." Then a female student said it was "really scary." An SMU official chimed in with "really scared" before two more university co-eds dropped the "scary" word. Rose might still be toweling off.

The Peacock's Ashanti Blaize did get one SMU student to say, "It's creeping me out a little bit." But that ain't going to cut it at NBC5.

***WFAA8 investigator Brett Shipp had an interesting story on a South Dallas retail district fouled with copious trash by its street people. "Hey, everybody," he said jauntily while walking past a small group of the homeless. Left carrying the bag -- and the empty Colt 45 bottles caught in closeup -- is a woman who owns 19 acres of property in the area. The city has cited her 16 times for littering, she told a clearly sympatico Shipp.

***WFAA8 weatherman Pete Delkus joined his fellow forecasters in saying he'd be on top of the lousy weather that in fact materialized on Friday night and all-day Saturday.

This prompted co-anchor John McCaa to note that poor Pete again wouldn't be getting much sleep.

"That's too bad," sports anchor Dale Hansen mocked, sending the usually temperate McCaa into nearly convulsive laughter.

Eight more nights to go.

This just in: a night in the lives of D-FW's late night newscasts (Thurs., Feb. 14)

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CBS11's Chris Salcedo, NBC5's Ellen Goldberg, WFAA8's Jim Douglas

The most important news of the day?

That used to be the benchmark for leading off a TV newscast. It's now become a laughably antiquated notion in D-FW and most other locales. Thursday's late night newscasts offered more proof that much ado about little doesn't keep a reporter from hitting in the lead-off spot.

On NBC5, fledgling Mistress of the Dark Ellen Goldberg (successor to former nightbeat reporter Susan Risdon) led the 10 p.m. show with the saga of an angry mother whose four-year-old son inadvertently had been left in a day care center bus for an hour after falling asleep.

Yeah, it shouldn't have happened. But the kid's just fine, and he agreeably giggled for the camera while sitting next to his momma.

WFAA8's Jim Douglas topped his station's late nighter with a "Buying Time" story about two Granbury inmates who were allowed to go on brief Thanksgiving and Christmas furloughs because they'd earned "trusty status." The men also had saved taxpayers thousands of dollars by making repairs inside the prison, the sheriff told Douglas. "Nothing bad has happened by these guys going home," he said, noting that the furlough policy also had been in effect under previous sheriffs.

One of the trusties has been serving an 80-year sentence "for drugs," Douglas said vaguely. He agreeably talked on-camera. But now the "shocked" judge who sentenced the men has ordered the furlough practice stopped, Douglas said at the end of his story. Cripes, what did that really accomplish?

Douglas is a solid, seasoned reporter who has little to do with how his stories are placed. And Goldberg seems to be a promising newcomer who does the best she can under the yoke of her station's crime blotter approach. But this is the fifth-largest TV market in the country. And neither of these stories really held much if any water wherever they wound up on the NBC5 and WFAA8 newscasts.

That brings us to CBS11's Chris Salcedo, who led Thursday's 10 p.m. newscast with "exclusive" audio tape from a Jan. 18th Southlake police department meeting in which chief Wade Goolsby told his officers to stop leaking information to outsiders.

Salcedo noted that his station and one of its "media partners," the Southlake Journal, were the first to reveal "allegations of integrity issues and immoral practices inside the Southlake police department."

The cop shop indeed is under an ongoing Tarrant County grand jury investigation. But Salcedo never went beyond his highly generalized introduction, which likely left most viewers puzzled.

Specifically, in case you wondered, several officers in the department have contended that some of the city's wealthy residents are getting preferential treatment. According to a Fort Worth Star-Telegram story, "the issue came to a head after five teens received community service on a reduced charge of attempted criminal trespassing, a misdemeanor, after they were originally charged with criminal trespassing."

Chief Goolsby also has been accused of using department equipment for personal business and of impairing morale.

Salcedo didn't get into any of that during his mostly perplexing "exclusive." The chief's purloined audio tapes, which had a squeaky quality to them, mostly sounded like a typical company boss -- or TV news director -- telling the troops that internal business shouldn't be discussed with outsiders. In other words, business as usual.

For the record, Fox4 led its 9 p.m. newscast with an update on Thursday's "deadly massacre" at Northern Illinois University, in which five people were killed on campus before the shooter made himself the sixth fatality.

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Having a heart: WFAA's Mike Castellucci and Fox4's Krystle Gutierrez

And In Other News . . .
NBC5 reverted to classic sweeps form with news of a "New Diet Development" that has many acolytes "peeling off the pounds," according to anchor Jane McGarry.

Reporter Meredith Land then did the dirty work, extolling a regimen that didn't seem to be much more than eating healthy and controlling portions. Except that "The Dr. Ted Diet" costs $895 for a 10-week immersion, which one patient said was "like pennies" paid for the privilege of shedding some flab.

Maybe WFAA8 should succumb to a feature on the "Dale Hansen Diet." After all, the loquacious sports anchor has shed 39 pounds in 41 days by his count.

"I'll probably die soon, but damn, I'll look better," he said in an email to unclebarky.com. He's nothing if not an inspiration.

***WFAA8 "Why Guy" Mike Castellucci hammed it up as always with a Valentine's Day love story about a Kaufman judge who married a prosecutor and now is giving him one of her kidneys, too. Castelluci quizzed them as though he were Perry Mason. Good story, hackneyed approach.

***Fox4's Krystle Gutierrez had a nice 'n' buttery piece on two seniors who met online after losing their longtime spouses. It didn't exactly hit the bullseye with the station's younger target audience. But oldsters need some sugar, too, and Gutierrez displayed a nice touch.

***Veteran Fox4 reporter Shaun Rabb also had a worthy story on efforts to get more young African-Americans interested in becoming doctors. He visited a classroom at Prairie View A&M, which has a prep course aimed at upping the very low percentage of black MDs.

***CBS11's Jack Fink asked Hillary Clinton some bracingly pertinent questions about her campaign in a satellite interview tied to Texas' possibly pivotal March 4th presidential primary.

"Why aren't women voting for you in the same margins as African-Americans are voting for Senator Obama?" he wondered.

Fink got a stock answer in return, with Clinton professing to be "very proud" of the "deep and broad" support she has among women. All you can do is ask sometimes.

This just in: a night in the lives of D-FW's late night newscasts (Wed., Feb. 13)

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Bennett Cunningham, Richard Ray, Steve Stoler and Scott Friedman

Worthwhile enterprise reporting should be applauded when witnessed. And D-FW's major late night news providers all had a little somethin', somethin' Wednesday.

CBS11 investigator Bennett Cunningham found ample red meat in his latest expose on junketeering public officials. Even if some instead "feasted on lobster" instead of steak while many taxpayers ate gruel.

"Here's a riddle for you," he said for starters. "How many county officials does it take to tour a courthouse?"

More than a dozen, Cunningham answered, referring to a group of Collin County judges, clerks, commissioners and administrative staffers that spent three days in Orlando and Tampa. They supposedly needed that time to check out those cities' electronic court systems. Collin County is preparing to spend $20 million on one.

The Florida excursion cost $20,000, and a subsequent "technology tour" in Las Vegas weighed in at $10 grand. Using public records, Cunningham detailed the spending of taxpayer money on luxury cars, opulent meals, plush hotel rooms, etc. And he had a quotable naysayer in Michael Q. Sullivan, president of Texans for Fiscal Responsibility.

"They do these things with the presumption that nobody's going to find out," Sullivan said.

"But we did," added Cunningham, who also talked on-camera to the judge who heads the Collin County Commissioners Court. He defended the trips and also confirmed that, unlike all other North Texas counties, Collin has no caps on travel expenditures.

Cunningham has toned down his presentations to the point where they're much more effective and convincing. Investigations of high-living public officials may be typical sweeps period fodder. But they still resonate when you've got the goods.

"They are purporting to benefit the taxpayer, and it's nothing more than an additional paid vacation," said Sullivan. You could feel viewers nodding in unison and saying, "He's got that right."

Over on NBC5, reporter Scott Friedman got an almost shockingly long time -- more than three-and-half-minutes -- to personalize the thousands of layoffs that resulted from North Texas-based American Airlines' merger with TWA.

The standard reporter-driven story on fast-moving NBC5 is supposed to clock in at 90 seconds or less. Friedman not only doubled that, but was allowed to travel to Kansas City. Holy steak and lobster, which Friedman probably had to pass up. He did a solid job on the story, interviewing several former AA employees scrapping to make ends meet. Two of them finally are being hired back, Friedman noted at story's end. And he made it feel good to hear that.

WFAA8's Steve Stoler likewise had an interesting story on what seemed to be totalitarian Home Owners Association restrictions in a Frisco neighborhood. A couple that bought a colorful playhouse for their children had still pictures of it being lifted from their yard by a crane. A Vietnamese man who painted his fence an unobtrusive light green also has been ordered to re-color it in the mandated earth tones.

"That's just like a Communist country," he said, referring to the country he'd fled for that reason.

Stoler noted that state law allows Home Owners Associations to be forced on owners without their consent. These particular owners seem to have every reason to protest such big-footing.

Moving on to Fox4, veteran Richard Ray revisited the alleged UFO sightings in Stephenville without making an idiot of himself. Much explaining still needs to be done, he said. And Ray made that case in restrained and convincing fashion before noting that The History Channel hopes to capitalize by bringing its UFO Hunters series to the community.

"This story's not going away," he told anchor Heather Hays. "It's really got legs." Maybe even little green ones.

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Fox4's Steve Eagar and WFAA8's Cynthia Izaguirre

And In Other News . . .
Fox4 sports anchor Mike Doocy returned to the living on Wednesday's 9 p.m. newscast after being dealt out of the previous two nights' shows. It was a big sports day, though, with both the Dallas Mavericks' attempted trade for Jason Kidd and the steroids standoff in Washington between pitcher Roger Clemens and former trainer Brian McNamee.

"News time gets tight with expanded special reports during sweeps," Doocy said in an email Thursday to unclebarky.com. "We in sports quite often pay the price. It can be frustrating to a hard-working sports department, but I'm afraid it's an industry-wide trend. We'll try to do the best with the time we have."

***Contrastingly, WFAA8 sports anchor Dale Hansen got additional time Wednesday night, at the expense of Pete Delkus' weathercast and attendant happy-talk.

"No time for chit-chat tonight. Hansen's got good stuff, I'm told," Delkus good-humoredly told news anchor John McCaa. After his abbreviated forecast, he jabbed, "That fast enough for ya tonight, big fella?"

"Actually, I kind of like it when you don't talk to me," Hansen retorted. "I could learn to love this."

Hansen got the extra time to go "Unplugged" on the day's steroids testimony before Congress. Athletes indeed are role models for kids,, he said, noting that he imitated Arnold Palmer as lil' Dale by smoking while playing golf.

He even got around to quoting Helen Keller, who once said, "I cannot do everything. But I must do something."

That's basically how he feels about the steroids scandal. And also about lying as a way of life among many athletes, coaches and owners.

"The lying in professional sports drives me nuts," Hansen proclaimed. "I never lie in my professional life. I lie about everything else a lot."

***WFAA8 continues to promote its Daybreak program both during the newscast and in commercial breaks. NBC5 is doing likewise of late in hopes of gaining ground in that key early morning race, which finds WFAA8 holding a narrow lead over defending champ Good Day on Fox 4.

The ABC station understandably is showcasing Daybreak newcomer Cynthia Izaguirre in its promotional spots. She does all the talking while a silent male anchor partner fleetingly is shown grinning in profile. WFAA8 management insists this is lame duck Justin Farmer, who recently informed the station he'll be leaving for a news job at WSB-TV in Atlanta. But his contract doesn't expire until July, so he's still on board in the mornings.

I've looked at this promo a number of times. And that sure doesn't look like Farmer laughing it up with Izaguirre. In fact it looks more like Mr. Generic Actor Anchorman. But whether I'm right or wrong, the point is being made. He's now a mute non-person in WFAA8's grand scheme of things.

***Finally, Fox4 anchor Steve Eagar continues to have a nice skip in his lip. During Wednesday night's "News Edge" segment, he noted that a Princeton University study has determined that biofuels in fact have twice as many green gas emissions as fossil fuels.

"That's what you get when you rely on polls instead of evidence," he said.

Eagar was just warming up. In the closing "Viewers' Voice" feature, an aggrieved area jeweler bitched about consumer reporter Steve Noviello's Tuesday night trumpeting of an on-line jeweler with cheaper prices.

"I will never advertise on your station again," said the man, who claimed to have spent "tens of thousands" previously. But Eagar said he checked with Fox4's sales department, and learned that the jeweler bought just one ad two years ago and hasn't returned since.

"Of course, thank you for that," Eagar sniped. "But if you had never advertised or did so every day for tens of thousands of dollars, the news isn't for sale."

Well, that would make for a very interesting test case. Anyone want to pony up?

This just in: a night in the lives of D-FW's late night newscasts (Tues., Feb. 12)

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Get used to 'em.

Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama began showing their spots Tuesday on D-FW's late night newscasts, where they'll likely be taking up residence all the way to Texas' possibly pivotal March 4th primary.

Obama so far is running the same 30-second health care ad on Fox4, NBC5, WFAA8 and CBS11. "To fix health care, we have to fix Washington," says he.

Clinton has two approaches. Running more often is an ad that touts her "lifetime of standing up for people." But you can't just "snap your fingers" and make the country's boo-boos go away, she emphasizes.

Her other 30-second commercial cites Clinton's long-time efforts to make universal health care a reality. "If you believe health care is America's moral obligation, join her," says a narrator.

Republicans John McCain and Mike Huckabee aren't buying it -- ad time that is. They've yet to gift D-FW stations with any campaign contributions, but it's still early.

All four stations paid attention to the presidential campaign Tuesday night. Frankly, they've already covered it just about as much as last year's spirited Dallas mayoral race, which went virtually ignored.

WFAA8 had a brief live report from El Paso, where Clinton kicked off her Texas campaign Tuesday night in hopes of carrying a top-heavy share of the city's Hispanic vote. The candidate got a "rock star welcome," said the correspondent, identified by WFAA8 anchor Gloria Campos as "Channel 8's" Angela Kocherga.

More accurately, she used to work for Ch. 8 as a producer and correspondent on the recently canceled La Vida. Kocherga now is a Mexico City bureau chief who primarily works for KHOU-TV in Houston, which like WFAA8 is owned by the Belo Corp. So it 's really not a giant deal, but Kocherga isn't a new hire by WFAA8 or anything.

The station also touted anchor John McCaa's interview with Obama. But on the 10 p.m. news, it was just a 10-second or so snippet from McCaa's earlier satellite talk with the candidate.

CBS11 sent reporter Jay Gormley to Tuesday night's Obama "Watch Party" at Gilley's in Dallas, where he billed Texas as "a key to the final outcome" of the still too-close-to-call Democratic presidential contest.

None of D-FW's four major TV news providers has a piece of the previously announced Feb. 21 debate in Austin between Obama and Clinton. It will be carried on CNN and Univision from 7 to 8:30 p.m.

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And in other news . . .
NBC5's Newy Scruggs gets scant time for his weeknight, two-part sports segments, which are divided by a longer commercial break. But he's one-up on Mike "The Deuce" Doocy (above left), who lately is being dealt out of Fox4's 9 p.m. newscasts and replaced by a closing "Viewers' Voice" segment.

The veteran Fox4 sports anchor, who couldn't immediately be reached for comment Wednesday, wasn't a part of either Monday's or Tuesday's newscasts. He also got chop-blocked out of last week's "Super Tuesday"-loaded edition, which was understandable.

***Fox4's Shaun Rabb (above right) nabbed an exclusive interview with surviving Dallas firefighter Reginald Cuington, whose friend, fellow firefighter Charles Whitaker, was killed by a drive-by shooter last week outside an Arizona sports bar after they watched Super Bowl XLII.

His right leg still bandaged, Cuington said the shooter "let the window down real slow" before opening fire. He wore a "security guard hat" and was dressed all in black, said Cuington, who ran for his life after his partner was felled.

Rabb also asked about police allegations that the two had been busted for selling counterfeit NFL jerseys earlier in Super Bowl week. Two other men with Cuington and Whitaker at the time were charged with possession of marijuana. Rabb addressed that area, too, during Tuesday's on-air report, but his unedited interview with Cuington on Fox4's Web site gives a much more complete picture. Forgive Rabb for saying "Wow" three times during the course of it. He otherwise does ask the right questions.

As previously noted in this space, CBS11 reporter J.D. Miles had an exclusive interview with Whitaker's widow on Monday's 10 p.m. newscast.

***NBC5 whipped through 16 stories before the first commercial break, which actually is a slower pace than usual. The station basically hasn't changed its crime blotter approach, but isn't doing as many miracle diet or wrinkle-removing stories of late. On Tuesday, reporter Kristi Nelson's piece on "commuter back pain" actually turned out to be pretty useful.

***WFAA8's Craig Civale easily had the most in-depth report on the sudden closing of the 90-bed medical center in Lancaster. Rival stations basically blew it off with briefs, but Civale had a live dispatch and interviews with staffers who were "blindsided" by the shutdown.

***Fox4 reporter Brandon Todd was a night late to a story on Internet porn viewing at public libraries and new attempts to crack down on it. WFAA8's Brad Hawkins had that one on Monday night's 10 p.m. newscast.

Todd did, however, mention a previous study of the situation by The Dallas Morning News, which like WFAA8 is owned by Belo. Hawkins didn't do the synergistic Tango, and who can blame him.

WFAA8 management didn't appreciate it when the DMN recently failed to credit reporter David Schechter's investigation of fraudulent Hollywood memorabilia that ended up being sold by a prestigious Dallas auction house. The newspaper posted the story a day later on its Web site, but with no mention of WFAA8's efforts. A subsequent posting on the Dallas Observer's Unfair Park blog then credited the DMN with breaking the story. Which in fact it didn't.

***CBS11's Maria Arita, saddled with a silly "Butt-u-Tiful" cellulite-fighting story in the November sweeps, made a nice recovery with a balanced and informative piece on "Medical Tourism" to other countries with much lower costs for operations. Also on the health/medical beat, WFAA8's Janet St. James had viewers drinking in another of her supposedly therapeutic "Crazy Water" stories. And Fox4's John Hammarley detailed a "Body Balance" exercise regimen that enabled at least one woman to play tennis again after doctors said she couldn't after tearing her rotator cuff.

No one seems all that interested in finding a cure for chronic TV critic fatigue, brought on by full-immersion into late night D-FW newscasts during ratings sweeps periods. Only 11 more weeknights to go, though. Clunk.

This just in: a night in the lives of D-FW's late night newscasts (Mon., Feb. 11)

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Fox4's Paul Adrian got a ton of time for "Cop and the Call Girl."

It stretched to epic proportions, at least when compared to standard news story lengths.

Fox4 investigator Paul Adrian's "The Cop and the Call Girl" ate up a super jumbo-sized 10 minutes and 34 seconds of the station's Monday 9 p.m. newscast -- and in two parts no less. A typical reporter-generated story on NBC5, which has no investigative unit, runs no more than 90 seconds.

But was Adrian's expose worth your time and Fox4's investment? It was well-told from a narrative standpoint and suitably salacious for a ratings "sweeps" period. But in the end, it also came off as way too much time spent with a prostitute/nursing student whose face was blurred and whose Fox4 cover name was "Chloe."

Busted for prostitution in 2004 by former Dallas vice cop Charles Avery, she allegedly continued to provide him with "a little somethin', somethin' " in her words. Often he came calling during on-duty hours. In return Avery supposedly sat on evidence that could have had her prosecuted. Their assignations lasted for three years, and Chloe taped the two's phone conversations as protection. Avery eventually resigned from the force in January, before an internal investigation had been completed.

Adrian duly interviewed Dallas police chief David Kunkle, who told him on-camera, "Whether you argue there was special consideration given to her or she was a victim of official oppression, either part of this situation is obviously unacceptable." That's police-speak for, "This smells bad."

Two other cops, one with the Carrollton force, the other with Irving's, also allegedly were involved with Chloe, who supposedly taped them, too. They've likewise handed in their badges under duress, although the latter officer continues to work for the Argyle, Texas police department. None would talk to Fox4.

Adrian noted, almost in passing, that Chloe's audio tapes haven't been "tested for accuracy." Maybe they should have been beforehand?

They did sound realistic, though, and were sometimes plenty juicy. As when Chloe spoke of "blushing" in Avery's presence.

"Well, you got undressed pretty quick," the man on the tape responded.

"You've seen me naked before, so why not?" she said.

"Not that much up-close."

Adrian didn't have to wipe any drool from his mouth when narrating this story. Whatever the material, he can be relied on to present it without histrionics or over-the-top voice inflections.

This arguably was overkill, though. Cheap crime novels can be fun to read, but news stories of this length should serve a greater good. Adrian did just that during the November sweeps with his painstaking reports on questionable use of "red light cameras" at some intersections.

Chloe now lives out of state, but will be returning at some point to face unrelated charges involving a fight over alleged mistreatment of her dog at a grooming clinic.

"And by the way, Adrian concluded, "she says her days working as a prostitute are all long behind her."

Not that she still isn't very much a drama queen.

And In Other News . . .
CBS11 led Monday's 10 p.m. newscast with reporter J.D. Miles' exclusive interview with the widow of Dallas firefighter Charles Whitaker. He died of gunshot wounds received outside a bar in a Phoenix suburb after watching Super Bowl XLII with fellow city firefighter Reginald Cuington, who was wounded.

Ericka Whitaker contends that Arizona police are looking for an "easy solution" to the shootings by implying they could be linked to the two firefighters' earlier bust for allegedly selling counterfeit NFL jerseys for $100 apiece. Police reported confiscating 175 of them while also charging two other men with possession of marijuana. All four supposedly were working together at the time.

"They were replica jerseys, but they were not counterfeit," Mrs. Whitaker told Miles. She later declared, "I'm not going to allow anybody to slander his name."

Miles never asked about the other two men accompanying the firefighters, one of whom has a previous criminal record. And in fact, Arizona police publicly haven't made any links between the still at-large shooters and the attempted jersey sales. One certainly can sympathize with Mrs. Whitaker, whose husband is scheduled to be buried on Friday. But reflexively blaming the police without having been there isn't serving his memory well.

WFAA8 briefly reported on Whitaker's funeral arrangements Monday night. But it's still the only D-FW station that's yet to make any mention -- at least on late night newscasts -- of his earlier brush with Phoenix police.

***WFAA8's Monday newscast was uncharacteristically non-descript. Stuffed with a variety of anchor-recited briefs, it came and went with no standout, reporter-driven stories. Shelly Slater's "Mommy Mixer" dispatch, in which prospective babysitters are gathered for a $100 fee, fell short of being even a thumb-sucker.

***NBC5's Brian Curtis, co-anchoring in place of Mike Snyder, also presided over a heavily promoted "Dry Cleaning Disasters" story. Actually it was mostly just one, with a young woman "sharing" a less-than-poignant "dry cleaning horror story" that left some of her husband's golf shirts in semi-disrepair.

"You give your clothes to somebody and you're trusting them to take care of them for you," said the aggrieved customer.

Oh shaddup.

***CBS11's Jack Fink is the best transportation reporter in local TV. On Monday he had another interesting piece, this one on the proposed high-speed train that would rocket passengers from D-FW to San Antonio, with a few stops in between.

The station's Chris Salcedo also had a worthwhile report on Web sites such as myspace.com, and the wealth of personal information detailed by some of their young patrons. It can make them easy prey for predators, as Salcedo showed with help from a Tarrant County assistant D.A. They visited some parents to prove that point.

***Fox4 co-anchor Steve Eagar had a nice 'n' snarky aside during a "News Edge" dollop on the extremely poor box office for Paris Hilton's just-released The Hottie and the Nottie feature film.

"Now you know where to go to find some solitude," he said of the near-empty theaters.

***Earlier, reporter Jeff Crilley told Fox4 viewers about a new Fobes magazine survey that says Dallas is the top city in the country for unmarried couples who want to live together. Or as Crilley later put it in his typically dulcet tones, "It ranks Dallas as the best city for shacking up."

Imagine how NBC5's Snyder might have articulated that. But as previously noted, he was a no-show Monday. Damn.

Local Nielsen ratings snapshot (Fri.-Sun., Feb. 8-10)

Sunday's Grammys, featuring Amy Winehouse's seemingly clean 'n' sober performance from London, lured the lion's share of prime-time viewers to CBS.

The three-and-a-half-hour telecast averaged 275,223 total D-FW homes while also carrying the ball among advertiser-craved 18-to-49-year-olds. ABC's competing two-hour edition of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition was no slouch, though. It drew 224,075 homes from 7 to 9 p.m., and actually beat the Grammys in its closing 15 minutes -- 282,530 homes to 275,223.

Fox's Pro Bowl telecast fared well during mostly daytime hours, pulling in 228,946 homes.

On Friday, what could be the last episode of NBC's Austin-made Friday Night Lights ran a dispiriting fourth from 8 to 9 p.m. with just 65,761 D-FW homes. It perked up with 18-to-49-year-olds, though, tying CBS' Moonlight for second behind The CW's WWE Smackdown!, which will be vacating that network at the end of this season.

The seventh weekday of the 20-day February "sweeps" brought another dominating performance by WFAA's local newscasts. The ABC station scored a double grand slam by sweeping the 6 a.m. and 5, 6 and 10 p.m. competitions in both total homes and with 25-to-54-year-olds, the main advertiser target audience for news programming.

Fox4's Good Day, now officially in a sweeps-long slump, ran third behind NBC5 in total homes and tied the Peacock for second among 25-to-54-year-olds.

After winning both the November and May sweeps, Good Day could be hard-pressed to hold off NBC5 for second place. First place is looking more and more like Daybreak's domain, even with co-anchor Justin Farmer a lame duck who will be leaving WFAA8 for Atlanta when his contract expires in July.

This just in: a night in the lives of D-FW's late night newscasts (Fri., Feb. 8)

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Dale Hansen couldn't resist going to bat for Debbie Clemens.

Dale Hansen has lost ample weight of late, which still doesn't stop him from acting like a fathead.

The always opinionated WFAA8 sports anchor has been applauded in these spaces for being unafraid to speak his mind. But he's out of bounds when he makes his wife fair game for a boorish, sexist comment that he then laughs off while the station's co-anchors play along.

On Friday's 10 p.m. newscast, Hansen reported another ugly turn in the battle between Roger Clemens and former trainer Brian McNamee. The latter now contends that he also injected Clemens' wife, Debbie, with steroids before she posed with the fabled pitcher in Sports Illustrated's 2003 swimsuit issue.

Hansen gave viewers an eyeful of the above photo before making one of the more ill-considered comments of his long and colorful career.

"Looking at this picture makes me think I need to call McNamee and see if he can meet with the lovely Mrs. Hansen," he told viewers. "Because she doesn't look like this."

News anchor Gloria Campos mustered an "Ooh" before Hansen made a mischievous face while weatherman Pete Delkus guffawed.

"See, Pete gave me that line," Hansen joked.

"It's OK. You just love sleeping on the couch, don't you?" Campos rejoined jovially.

"Gloria," said Hansen, "I've been doing this for 27 years. Every guy out there was thinkin' it. I'm the only one dumb enough to say it."

Anchor John McCaa, always the least comfortable in these situations, said his thought were that Hansen "is going to be in a whole lot of trouble." This prompted another round of chortling.

McCaa repeated that line in the newscast's closing seconds. Hansen of course could have cared less.

"I'll sleep on the recliner like I usually do," he said.

Sorry, but making your wife the butt of a steroids joke should be beneath both Hansen and the No. 1-rated newscast he regularly spikes with provocative "Unplugged" commentaries. There's no problem when they're confined to sports. But as someone who usually appreciates his candor, this was a damned dumb thing for Hansen to say. He shouldn't feel smug or good about it.

And in other news . . .
*** The Fox network's Friday night ratings performance has been dismal for years. Unfortunately, Fox4 regularly chooses to mail in that night's 9 p.m. local newscast. It did so again, so let's just respond in kind and move on.

***NBC5's Brian Curtis trilled about a Web site that supposedly pays off with thrilling savings at the grocery store in return for a relatively small fee. A lone shopper used as evidence knocked her grocery bill from $178.30 to $97.37, he reported. Again, this seemed much more like an infomercial than a news story. As do too many of Curtis' reports.

***On CBS11, Katherine Blake had an interesting story on the surprising amounts of alcohol found in energy drinks that have become increasingly popular with teens. And reporter Joel Thomas managed to pull off a UFO story tied to the recent saucer-mania in Stephensville. He took viewers back to a series of pre-airplane sightings in 1897, with newspapers of the day chronicling what seemed to be strange doings up in the otherwise virginal skies.

***WFAA8 investigator Byron Harris laid into the Iverson Business School, with three former students and an ex-school administrator proclaiming it a fraud. The school, of course, declined to answer any questions. But Harris seemed to make a solid case.

Gary Reaves, another WFAA8 vet, later had a worthy look at the Blue Shoe Project, which is dedicated to keeping both blues music and its history alive for new generations.

It's far better to invest time in these types of stories than to keeping ripping and reading from the police blotter. Night in, night out, WFAA8 is virtually alone in bypassing most of D-FW's daily dose of violent crime. This is a very big viewing area. Lots more goes on.

This just in: a night in the lives of D-FW's late night newscasts (Thurs., Feb. 7)

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And the hard-charging investigations just keep on comin' from veterans Brett Shipp of WFAA8 and Robert Riggs of CBS11.

Which TV gumshoe is hated more in this town -- Brett Shipp by the DISD or Robert Riggs by the UT-Southwestern Medical Center?

It's a tossup, with both reporters continuing to pour it on during Thursday's 10 p.m. newscasts.

Shipp topped WFAA8's menu with another dig into alleged grade-fixing at a DISD high school. His earlier efforts have resulted in the forfeiture of a state basketball title by South Oak Cliff and a teacher revolt at Roosevelt. Now Shipp has Skyline in his sights, with an aggrieved teacher coming forward to say he's been suspended with pay for the past eight months for refusing to go along with higher-ups.

Media tech teacher John Stine told Shipp that failing grades for four of his students were "rounded up" to passing 75s at the order of Skyline administrators. And athletes again were involved, Shipp said.

Also as usual, no one in a position of authority would talk on-camera. But the school released a statement saying that Stine had agreed with the grade-changing. He strongly disputes that, and his long-term suspension seems to speak volumes on his behalf.

"In all three cases," Shipp concluded, "no principal has been disciplined."

He's going to win some national reporting awards for these investigations, not that his trophy case isn't already full enough. This is valuable work by Shipp, who continues to uncover scandalous misconduct on the part of people who are supposed to be setting high standards for the students under their trust.

Over on CBS11, Riggs threw some more grenades at UT-Southwestern, which he's been depicting as a haven for misuse of funds and special treatment of the privileged.

This time he charged that the hospital had grossly misused a memorial fund of $390,000 bequeathed by former hospital auditor Jesse Brittain. According to a written directive by Brittain, the money was to be used "for the sole purpose of enhancing the business operation of UT-Southwestern, giving priority to the professional development of personnel in the business operation, including training courses, books, seminars" and so on.

Instead a CBS11 undercover camera showed black-and-white footage of a hospital Christmas party thrown for a "select group of the university's business administrators," in Riggs' words. More than $5 grand of Brittain's money went to pay for an open bar, herb-crusted sirloin, risotto crab cakes and -- gasp -- artichoke hearts filled with goat cheese, said Riggs.

In another instance, more than $2,700 of the memorial fund was spent on an outing to a Texas Rangers game -- talk about your colossal waste of money -- that included a buffet in the team's Diamond Club restaurant.

Riggs found a willing naysayer in Brittain's nephew, Ron, whom he interviewed near Uncle Jesse's grave marker. Asked for his response, Ron said he wanted the hospital to, "Stop. Look at what you're doing. Change your habits."

The investigator also confronted memorial fund controller John Roan outside a local restaurant.

"Why would you spend the man's money that way?" he asked as Roan closed his car door and got out of Dodge.

The hospital's official written statement said that all of the aforementioned expenditures -- and several other questionable ones -- were well within the guidelines set by Brittain.

That's obviously a stretch on UT-Southwestern's part. But Riggs sometimes applies too much relish to his reporting, which can make him look like a hot dog. Hearing him talk about "chocolate-dipped" strawberries and "pricey cookies" almost makes it seem as though UT-Southwestern officials have sacrificed their first-borns in exchange.

Still, Riggs also seemed to have Texas Governor Rick Perry on his side. Or maybe it was just politics as usual when Perry encouraged complainants to take their concerns about Brittain's memorial fund to the state attorney-general's office. We'll see if anything comes of it.

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CBS11's Babe Laufenberg threw a brushback pitch at Nolan Ryan.

And In Other News . . .
***CBS11's usually collegial Babe Laufenberg unplugged himself in response to the Texas Rangers' hiring of Nolan Ryan as their new team president.

"I know that I'm in the minority. And I also know that it is blasphemous to say anything negative about Nolan Ryan," Laufenberg began. "But is he really the answer for what ails the Texas Rangers?"

He then quoted the 61-year-old Ryan telling reporters, "It's going to be something entirely new for me, but I'm looking forward to it."

"Does that really make you feel like the organization is heading in the right direction?" Laufenberg asked. "PR man, yes. But a president, and a part-time one at that? No. Hello, loss column."

News anchor Karen Borta later distanced herself, urging viewers to "send all email to Babe Laufenberg."

"Send 'em all," he retorted. Bring 'em on."

Laufenberg's spiked punch is welcome. WFAA8's Dale Hansen has been venturing strong opinions for years, but can always use some competition. For the record, I'm with the Babe on this one, even if Ryan could still break my nose just by glaring at it.

As a postscript to this, a contributor to Fox4's newscast-ending "Viewers' Voice" segment got all indignant about Good Day anchor Tim Ryan making fun of Ryan's at times agonizingly slow way of speaking. Team meetings are going to drag on a while, Ryan had joked.

"It is totally inappropriate for a news station to air their own feelings and to make fun about someone's mental or physical abilities," said James (no last name given) of North Richland Hills.

News anchor Steve Eagar then got in James' face, telling him that Ryan merely was making fun of the other Ryan's slo-mo Texas drawl.

For the record, I'm with Fox4's Ryan on this one even if the other Ryan could crack a few of my ribs just by glaring at them.

***WFAA8 had a night marked by interesting enterprise stories and one very puzzling omission from its story lineup.

Veteran reporter Brad Watson's piece, which his station titled "The Art of Wasteful Spending?", questioned whether some public arts projects are a defensible use of taxpayer money. The city requires that "certain city projects" earmark 1.5 percent of their construction costs to homegrown art. In the past three years, more than $3 million has been spent in compliance, but some of the art designs aren't functioning properly and others are well-hidden from public view.

Watson looked at both sides of the issue without getting snarky about it. Interviewees included Dallas mayor Tom Leppert, who told him, "It's a world class city. You want to have arts."

In some cases, though, "it may not be appropriate," Leppert agreed. Whatever the case, city taxes went up again last year, Watson said.

WFAA's Rebecca Lopez reported on a band of women bandits who seduce victims at places like the pricey Ghost Bar and then possibly drug them. Instead of thanking the women in the morning, the men find some of their valuables missing. The story was sketchy on further details, but did perk interest.

Oddly, though, the station had nothing on one of the day's big talkers, a sharp twist in the case of two Dallas firefighters who were shot outside an Arizona bar after Sunday's Super Bowl. One of the men later died of his wounds. But it turns out that both of them were cited on Saturday for trying to sell a cache of counterfeit pro football jerseys to an undercover officer. They also were in the company of two men who were charged with possession of marijuana.

The story led the late night newscasts on Fox4 and NBC5, and was the second story on CBS11. But WFAA8 ignored it entirely, at least on its 10 p.m. newscast. That's just bad news judgment.

***What's gotten into CBS11's Ginger Allen, still billed as one of the station's three "Investigators?" On Monday night she nonsensically dug into "lucid dreaming." Thursday brought a story on "gravity training." It's supposedly a new breakthrough in workouts, even if looked a lot like one of those old contraptions that used to be marketed by Chuck Norris and Christie Brinkley.

Viewers were treated, though, to a shapely blonde with a nipple erection under her workout top. Maybe that's what this was all about.

***NBC5 lapsed back into load-of-crap syndrome after putting on some halfway respectable newscasts of late.

Anchor Mike Snyder told viewers that rats were "running rampant" in parts of Mockingbird Lane. And they're "leaving a pricey path of destruction behind," added rat patroller Meredith Land.

She did find a vehicle owner whose under-the-hood wiring had been chewed up by rats seeking warmth from the recent cold weather. But it didn't seem to be anything close to an out-and-out assault by the buggers.

NBC5 anchor Jane McGarry later teased a "hand-washing revelation just ahead." That turned out to be station sales department workers being used as guinea pigs by reporter Lindsay Wilcox. They were duped into putting some goop on their hands before washing them. But aha, this instead was a ploy to see how many germs remained. And boy, there were lots of 'em.

A doctor then said that self-respecting hand-washers should rub their paws together "long enough to sing 'Happy Birthday' twice." Ideally, though, they should scrub for three minutes a pop. Oh, get outta here.

Snyder also warned viewers of "new concerns about diet soda pop," which could prompt "metabolic syndrome" even though studies are inconclusive.

NBC5 anchors lately have taken to gabbing just a wee bit more at the end of newscasts, with sports anchor Newy Scruggs of course a non-participant whose fixed smile seems to be saying, "On the whole, I'd rather be having a cyst removed." Snyder tried to get cute on Thursday after an end-of-the-newscast kicker about efforts to provide healthier school lunch choices, including a "pickle popsicle."

"Football players drinking the pickle juice, the kids can eat the pickle sicle," he said.

"Makes you pucker up," giggled McGarry.

***Obviously, the "happy talk" pros are all gathered at WFAA8, although sports anchor Dale Hansen sure would have some easy meat were he bouncing one-liners off of the easily lampooned Snyder.

Talkative weatherman Pete Delkus keeps punching, though, even if the poor guy sometimes feels punched out. After Thursday's preliminary bout with the maps, he offered this lament: "You know, earlier tonight, Dale made fun of me. And it did hurt my feelings. But I want you to know I know it makes you feel better to hurt my feelings, so I'm here for you."

Hansen had interjected "Yes, it does" somewhere in there. "And you sound so much better," he added, "unlike (at) 6, with a microphone."

Sorry, but I didn't catch that particular newscast. Gotta conserve the remaining brain cells with just six weeknights of February "sweeps" newscasts in the books -- and 14 more to go. Even primal screaming doesn't help much anymore.

This just in: a night in the lives of D-FW's late night newscasts (Wed., Feb. 6)

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Flamboyant Fox4 consumer reporter Steve Noviello clearly and dearly yearns to be a big-time national TV star.

His portal might be Noviello's recurring "Deal or Dud" series, an amusement park ride that would be perfect for a weekly series.

On Wednesday's 9 p.m. newscast, Noviello faced off against Mighty Putty, his most-requested target ever according to station promos.

Resembling a gangrene-infested Tootsie Roll, the "super-powered epoxy" is supposed to have an iron grip. Its P.T. Barnum, bearded Billy Mays, has been selling it all over the place. Says he: "It has the muscle to support up to 350 pounds!" And get this. Mighty Putty also is capable of pulling a "fully loaded" 80,000-pound tractor-trailer.

Noviello and two handymen found Mighty Putty to be a 90-pound weakling that couldn't even hold a coffee cup handle in place after its miracle five-minute drying time.

Nor could it perform any of the other amazing feats shown in commercials, including holding a hefty cinder block aloft. It did plug a hole in a glass, as demonstrated by Mays. But Noviello noted that you're then not supposed to drink from a Mighty Putty-repaired receptacle.

Noviello and his two assistants didn't try to pull a semi-truck, but easily had enough evidence to proclaim Mighty Putty a big "Dud."

"We reached out to the parent company of Mighty Putty, and have yet to hear back from them," Noviello then told viewers.

The "Deal or Dud" segments arguably are a newscast's equivalent of "Stupid Pet Tricks." But damned if they aren't fun to watch. Consumers also get an entertaining heads-up, which in Mighty Putty's case is also a kick in the head. Noviello takes great glee in presenting "Deal or Dud," which really should go national. Look no further than the struggling MyNetworkTV. They sure could use a crowd-pleaser, even if Mighty Putty probably is one of their advertisers.

And in other news . . .
***NBC5 led its Wednesday 10 p.m. newscast with a "Danger in the HOV" story by Grant Stinchfield. He told viewers about the lack of exit and entry points on a stretch of Central Expressway north of 635. Stinchfield apparently took a tricycle to get to this story, because CBS11's Jack Fink had it two nights earlier at the top of his station's late night newscast.

***The Peacock acted faster in sending veteran Night Ranger Scott Gordon to Atkins, Arkansas along with the station's "Storm Tracker H3." He found some homes devastated by this week's round of tornadoes and interviewed some of the afflicted. Rival stations didn't bother, recapping the damages via video clips.

***CBS11 investigator Bennett Cunningham messed around with a "Chocolate Surprise!" expose in which he bought an armload of potential Valentine's Day booty and had it tested in a lab for contaminents. Minuscule evidence of cat hair, insect parts and clothing fiber was uncovered. Cunningham then treated some women to his findings. Ewww.

"I don't think I'll be going in there and ordering my chocolate latte now. Thank you," a woman told him sardonically.

"Sorry," said Cunningham -- which of course he wasn't.

He later noted that the "hard to see" unwanted ingredients were below allowable FDA limits, and that it's virtually impossible to keep food free of such stuff.

"It's the gross-out factor that seems to bother some people," he concluded. That's exactly what CBS11 was counting on. But the station should be above this, and the accomplished Cunningham also knows better.

Anchor Karen Borta played along, saying it's better to stick with jewelry on Valentine's Day. "If it's got a hair on it, that's just fine," she said.

***CBS11's Nerissa Knight, a reporter who genuinely seems to care about people, had a touching story on efforts to help four-year-old Haley Hart of Mansfield. She has a rare form of kidney cancer that 's now spread to her lungs. Nine bands, including one composed of Mansfield firefighters, will be holding a benefit concert, starting at noon Saturday, in Fort Worth.

***WFAA8's Shelly Slater had a revealing story on increases in human trafficking, which amounts to slavery. And reporter Gary Reaves tracked the North Texas "Money Trail" for presidential candidates invading Texas in coming weeks to campaign for the state's unusually important March 4th primary.

***Fox4's resourceful Jason Overstreet again found a story of considerable worth. He reported live from an SPCA animal shelter in McKinney, which had a record 428 new arrivals in just one week. That's because of a dog-fighting bust in East Texas and rescues of pets from several filthy residences that were overrun with them.

An SPCA representative said that people increasingly are more willing to report animal abuse, which escalates populations at shelters. At the McKinney rescue site you can even adopt a chicken if you'd like.

***Wednesday night's Pete 'n' Dale hijinks on WFAA8 are brought to you by Uncle Barky brand squirting lapel flowers, which welcome any "Deal or Dud" scrutiny because sales have slumped.

Forecaster Pete Delkus said that a Duncanville viewer who regularly sends him weather pictures also couldn't help asking, "Is it just me, or is (sports anchor) Dale Hansen losing more hair?"

Hansen, who has lost 30-plus pounds in recent months, blamed any follicle shortage on "the stress of working with Delkus."

News anchor Gloria Campos later joined in, asking colleague John McCaa if he'd be giving up anything for Lent.

McCaa said he wouldn't, but how about Pete?

"Smoking," he said. "You don't smoke," said Campos, who added that she'd be laying off chocolate for Lent. In any weak moments, she can just dial up Cunningham's story.

This just in: a night in the lives of D-FW's late night newscasts (Tues., Feb. 5)

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CBS11's Tracy Rowlett and WFAA8's David Schechter excelled.

An old sodbuster and a young dirt-digger showed how it's done on a night otherwise driven by "Super Tuesday" updates and the now possibly pivotal role of the March 4th Texas presidential primary.

CBS11's Tracy Rowlett, in his newly minted role as roving reporter, mentor and 5 p.m. news anchor, had an extended piece on a latter day West Texas oil boom driven by sky-high prices per barrel.

WFAA8's David Schechter, chided in these spaces last month for using Barbie Dolls as props, had a hard-charging, grownup investigation of a North Texas memorabilia auctioneer that's now offering refunds based on his findings.

It's amazing what you can do with ample time and encouragement from management. And a little substance goes a long way toward polishing a station's news rep.

Rowlett went to Midland to document a rebirth in the oil drilling game. Companies are scrambling both to strike it rich and hire enough employees to keep things humming, he said. The president of Dowdco, Inc. recalled making payrolls by running up his credit card a decade ago. He nearly went bust, but the thrill of big finds and richer payoffs again have his company drilling like crazy for untapped Texas tea.

The report ended with Rowlett standing at a gas station while noting that higher prices for oil also will mean more crude, rude awakenings at the pump. That certainly brings it all back home.

Schechter delved deep into the sometimes shady Hollywood memorabilia business, eventually shaming Dallas-based Heritage Auction Galleries.

"We are mortified and embarrassed about this," Heritage president Greg Rohan told him on-camera.

Primarily at issue were pricey items supposedly obtained from the private collection of deceased actress Ann Sothern. They included an Elvis Presley travel razor, a Humphrey Bogart cigarette case and an Errol Flynn whiskey flask. The latter item was purchased for $4,200 at a Heritage auction by Dallas collector Charles Heard.

Belatedly suspicious about the flask's authenticity, Heard contacted Sothern's daughter, Tisha Sterling, who sent him a letter saying that her mother neither collected nor sold Hollywood memorabilia.

Schechter then obtained detailed records of "all the things she (Sterling) did sell when her mother died." There were no mentions of the Flynn flask or any of the other aforementioned items in a so-called "Ann Sothern Collection" that Heritage later auctioned off on behalf of a Mississippi-based company called LA Prop and Wardrobe.

Schechter also interviewed LA Prop co-owner Billie Null on camera. You might say he squirmed while trying to wriggle off the reporter's hook. The company also marketed a highly questionable Johnny Carson microphone among other celebrity finds. Heritage eventually sold it for $2,600.

Heritage's Rohan says they should have done their own investigation of LA Prop instead of waiting for WFAA8 to come knocking.

"We would have stopped doing business with them immediately," he said.

That's known in the TV news biz as a clean kill. So much so that a humbled Heritage might be willing to swallow even harder and buy some of those Barbie Dolls used by Schechter during earlier WFAA8 reports. He'll perhaps even provide an unassailable letter of authenticity. One way or another, he needs to get rid of them.

Fox4, with an extra half-hour to fill, spent lots of time on Super Tuesday results and analysis. This brought accomplished veteran reporter/anchor Richard Ray to the 9 p.m. newscast for what seemed to be the first time in forever.

Ray and his laptop computer capably crunched data after anchor Heather Hays couldn't resist likening the day's 24 state primaries to a certain top-rated Fox talent show.

"Call it 'Super Tuesday' or even 'Political Idol," she said as the show's theme song kicked in for a second or two. Double sheesh.

***Fox4 reporter Jeff Crilley stood out in the breezy weather to review the day's sudden onset of heavy rain and in some cases, hail. He capped his live dispatch by brandishing a badly broken umbrella. This could mean he owes the station's prop department $5 bucks.

***NBC5 reporter Meredith Land had an affecting story on the latest North Texas military fatality in Iraq, Spc. Christopher J. West. His family in Arlington had kept their Christmas tree up while awaiting his return.

***Her hair whipping in the wind, WFAA8's Chris Hawes had a telling story on car burglars running amuck in a Fort Worth neighborhood made vulnerable by an "invisible presence" of police patrols. A lieutenant with the department said that's because they're nearly 100 officers short due to a recent "rash of retirements."

***Forecaster Pete Delkus left himself ripe for a crisp counter-punch by sports anchor Dale Hansen after telling him that Tuesday was "national weatherman's day."

"In your household, it is every day," Hansen jabbed.

"Yes, it is," Delkus delivered.

This just in: a night in the lives of D-FW's late night newscasts (Mon., Feb. 4)

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Volatile Bob Knight's abrupt resignation as Texas Tech basketball coach made for big news Monday on three of D-FW's four major late night news providers. NBC5's Newy Scruggs as usual got left out, but did manage to shoot a Super Bowl XLII ratings zinger at anchor Jane McGarry.

Following a severe weather update, Belo8 topped its 10 p.m. newscast with Knight's surprise sign-off at age 67 after signing a three-year contract extension in September. The all-time winningest college hoops coach supposedly had grown tired of the job. Anchor Dale Hansen saw an opening and pounced.

"Can you imagine what Bobby Knight would have said and done if one of his players quit in the middle of the season, saying he's tired?" Hansen asked rhetorically. "But Knight does it anyway."

Hansen later reiterated: "Knight quits on his team in the middle of the season."

OK, OK, we get it. But guess what? Coaches, sports anchors and even TV critics are entitled to suddenly get tired of it all as old age turns the head in other directions. So Hansen seemed too harsh on Knight, even if his storied temperament leaves him wide open for counter-punching.

CBS11 sports anchor Babe Laufenberg took a more even-handed approach.

"Knight will be remembered for his fiery temper, but also leaves with 902 career victories in his 42 years," he told viewers. CBS11 was the only station to air an interview with his son, Pat Knight, who's replacing the old man as Tech coach.

"You know, he's just tired. That's the bottom line," the younger Knight said. His dad had shown signs of this for the past year, Pat Knight said. "Today was the most relieved and peaceful I've seen him in a long time."

Over on Fox4, sports anchor Mike Doocy treated viewers to a collage of Knight's greatest hits, so to speak. The footage of course included footage of his famous chair-throw.

"He'll be remembered for the winning, and for the one thing he lost most often -- his temper," Doocy said. Well put.

NBC5 waited until Scruggs' ever-abbreviated, end-of-newscast sports segment to bring viewers a little dollop of Knight coverage. Scruggs also told viewers that Super Bowl XLII had more viewers Sunday than every TV telecast except CBS' M*A*S*H finale.

"I was too young for that one. Jane remembers it, though," he said.

Scruggs later wondered when the M*A*S*H finale had been telecast. The year was 1982, anchor Mike Snyder informed him (actually it was 1983). Scruggs said he was 11 years old at the time, and had to be in bed.

"Newy knows I can't say to him what I'd like to on the air," McGarry retorted with an edge in her voice. Who says that Belo8 anchors get to have all the fun during their nightly volleys at one another? Um, just how old is McGarry? Anyone out there know for sure? Let's set the over-under at 46.

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CBS11's Jack Fink, Fox4's Becky Oliver, NBC5's Grant Stinchfield

Monday also had a wealth of enterprise reporting, much of it laudable. But what was CBS11 thinking with its loopy "Dream World" story by Ginger Allen?

The almost supernaturally tanned investigator and early morning anchor seems to be working around the clock. Maybe she needs a rest after this amusement, featuring a cosmic-sounding School of Metaphysics guru named Damian Nordmann.

He tried to explain the concept of "lucid dreams" with help from a true-believing high school student who supposedly took a trip to the 9-11 attacks and witnessed people "screaming everywhere." Viewers also learned that a jogger with recurring dreams of killing a tiger in fact had symbolically killed his jogging routine. Dreamscape imagery also abounded, with Allen amazingly fighting off any laughing fits. But has Ginger snapped? Stay tuned.

CBS11 otherwise led its newscast on solid ground with reporter Jack Fink's in-depth look at "HOV Headaches" on I-75 north of 635. Motorists are befuddled by the lack of entrances and exits, and Fink did a fine job of giving viewers a road map. It was a story of considerable importance to many commuters and travelers.

The station's Brooke Richie was the only D-FW television reporter in Phoenix for a first-hand update on two Dallas firefighters who were wounded in a drive-by shooting after watching the Super Bowl at a sports bar. She interviewed the manager of the Moon Saloon, who said that neither man had caused any trouble before leaving just before 2 a.m. It remains a "very mysterious case," Richie said.

Also on CBS11, reporter Katherine Blake brought news of a Fort Worth man who's on a mission to confiscate illegal roadside "bandit signs" for a dating service. The money shot: he ceremoniously and sanctimoniously dumped a trash bag full of the signs, leaves and all, near the front desk of the dating service.

On Fox4, veteran gravel-voiced investigator Becky Oliver got back in the saddle with a telling look at state agencies that somehow have lost or misplaced more than 8,400 items worth $27.7 million in the past two years. They include TV sets, motor vehicles and computers.

"So," Oliver asked no one in particular, "do big-screen TVs just grow legs and simply walk away?"

Someone in the station's graphics department, or maybe the reporter herself, had the dim-bulb idea to underscore this point by putting legs on a TV and having it walk away to the accompaniment of a cartoon sound effect. Didn't need that.

Oliver seemed to have her facts well in order, though, with an additional boost from smarty-pants Dallas state rep. Dan Branch, who said, "There's neglect somewhere, which is the root word for negligence."

Fox4's Jason Overstreet, one of the station's brightest reporters, later had an intriguing story on a locally produced Super Bowl XLII ad starring deaf employees of Plano-based Pepsico. And intrepid Saul Garza remedied another wrong during his regular "What's Buggin' You?" segment.

This time Garza aided a married couple whose wedding pictures, taken on June 25, 2005, had gone undelivered by a photographer they'd paid up front. Even a successful small claims judgment hadn't helped. But Garza tracked down the shooter, and he finally put the picture discs in the mail.

"I'm so glad I called you," the bride gushed. "You're a miracle worker." Garza didn't disagree.

NBC5 ran its "scary" streak to three nights by deploying the reliable buzz word during reporter Randy McIlwain's story on a McKinney jogger who died Saturday of a heart attack and still hasn't been identified.

"It was a pretty scary moment," said a fellow jogger who watched CPR performed on the man.

The Peacock's Grant Stinchfield, a reliably savvy veteran, reported on the abrupt closing of the Silver State Helicopters training school, which left students in the lurch and their tuition money in limbo. NBC5's heavily promoted "Tale of Two Weddings" story by Lindsay Wilcox was more than a little over-produced, but still affecting. Basically, the mother of a bride-to-be suddenly took very ill, prompting her daughter to get married both in mom's hospital room and at a church.

Belo8 medical reporter Janet St. James had an interesting story on fasting as a time-honored means of both losing weight and staying healthy. And the station's Craig Civale gave viewers the most through look at the unforeseen closing of Dallas' Lynacre Academy Charter School, which had amassed $750,000 in debts with no warning to students or their parents.

"Doesn't it almost sound criminal to you?" Civale asked a school representative who to her credit took questions from both the reporter and those who had been traumatized by the sudden closing.

"Yes, it does," she said after pausing to gather herself.

In keeping with Monday's news, it's time to suddenly end this latest dispatch -- but without announcing any retirement just yet.

This just in: a night in the lives of D-FW's late night newscasts (Fri., Feb. 1)

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Belo8's Janet St. James and CBS11's Bennett Cunningham

So who really forced the Food and Drug Administration's hand on the anti-smoking pill, Chantix?

Both Belo8 and CBS11 again took credit on Friday's 10 p.m. newscasts after the FDA issued an advisory saying there may be an association between the drug and "serous neuropsychiatric symptoms."

"The FDA began looking into the popular prescription after a News 8 investigation brought attention to unexplained psychotic thoughts and behaviors in patients taking the pills," anchor Gloria Campos told viewers. She referred to earlier reports by the station's Janet St. James.

"You may remember CBS11's Bennett Cunningham first reported in September on adverse effects of the drug," CBS11 anchor Karen Borta said.

Chantix came to national prominence after Dallas musician Carter Albrecht was shot and killed early Labor Day morning after yelling and pounding on a neighbor's door, and refusing to leave. He had been taking Chantix for a week in hopes of quitting smoking and preserving his singing voice.

Internet research of both Belo8's and CBS11's reporting on the incident show that St. James definitely had the first interview with Albrecht's girlfriend, Ryann Rathbone, who had been taking Chantix with him. Her story ran on Sept. 17th, with St. James then traveling to New York to talk about it with Good Morning America co-anchor Diane Sawyer on the Sept. 19th edition of the ABC program.

St. James' story also noted that some bloggers had started expressing their concerns about Chantix months before Albrecht's death.

Cunningham also had a story on Rathbone, but not until a week after St. James interviewed her. But Cunningham did stay on the case, reporting on Oct. 25th that Chantix's manufacturer, Pfizer, knew about possible side effects but may have been "using the population as guinea pigs."

The FDA eventually launched a safety investigation into Chantix last November in an effort to document whether the drug might lead to erratic or violent behavior. In a subsequent Dec. 13th report on problems with the drug in the United Kingdom (where it's marketed as Champix), Cunningham said the FDA began investigating "after a series of CBS11 exclusive investigative reports."

Both St. James and Cunningham have worked hard on this story. But who actually got there first? She did. Cunningham's followups were valuable, too, though. And viewers have been served in both cases.

***Belo8 gumshoe Brett Shipp led Friday's newscast with Part 2 of his overblown reporting on the Dallas Cowboys' still under-construction Arlington palace and its potential to line the pockets of owner Jerry Jones at taxpayers' expense.

But Arlington mayor Robert Cluck said the Cowboys in turn are giving the city exactly what they promised. And that includes the 2011 Super Bowl.

Shipp ended the piece by telling anchors Campos and John McCaa that the Cowboys now tell him they've sold half of the stadium's ultra high-priced 15,000 club seats. The team initially gave him a figure of 1,800, he said. A dozen of the seats have been purchased by "our sales department," Shipp then noted.

"And that part is not unusual," Campos quickly added, toting a little corporate water. "Other stations do that, too. That's the way it works."

"Oh, absolutely," Shipp agreed. "It's a corporate deal. That's what those club seats are for, is for the corporations. And that's why people (some season ticket holders) are saying, 'Adios.' "

Sports anchor Dale Hansen later took a shot at Jones' new pricing structure after reporting that the Buffalo Bills will play a regular season game in nearby Toronto next year. Ticket prices will go from an average of $49 a seat in Buffalo's stadium to $250 in Toronto, Hansen said. "They're using the Jerry Jones price-gouging manual."

It was all cookies and cream on CBS11, where reporter Kimberly Ball rhapsodized about the upcoming Super Bowl in Arlington and an exploratory visit to Phoenix last week by Dallas mayor Tom Leppert and the mayors of Arlington and Fort Worth.

Oddly enough, CBS11's Babe Laufenberg was the only D-FW sports anchor reporting from the site of Super Bowl XLII, even though his network didn't carry the game. Fox4, which had the telecast, didn't send anybody.

***NBC5 reporter Grant Stinchfield had an intriguing story on dog napping in North Texas. Reporting live from his driveway, he used his yellow lab, Bella, as a prop. She obligingly sniffed the camera lens for openers. Stinchfield then closed his report with this advisory: "A warning to thieves out there. If anyone tries to get at Bella, they gotta go through me."

***The Peacock was barren of Wal-Mart mentions for a second straight sweeps newscast. But it did lean on its old reliable, "scary," for the second night running. This time it was the parent of students attending an elementary school with a possible bacteria problem. "That's scary," said dad.

***CBS11 led its newscast with reporter Katherine Blake's exclusive interview of the widower and son of 68-year-old Mary Ann Wilkinson, who was shot on her doorstep last month. The station's Nerissa Knight also had the most detailed on-the-scene report of Friday night's fatal stabbing in Arlington during a brawl among teenagers. Knight was a bit shaky with her live narrative, though, at one point telling viewers, "We talked to one young man who knew him, as he was killed tonight."

***For the second straight night, Fox4 had a largely lackluster 9 p.m. newscast. The station was a day late on SMU's tentative plans to have an on-campus pub and allow chaperoned drinking in frat houses to possibly reduce student drinking and driving. CBS11's Jay Gormley led Thursday's 10 p.m. newscast with that report. Fox4's James Rose did a decent job with the followup, though, and also raised a pertinent question being asked by some students. Namely, "If you're of drinking age and living off-campus, why would you want to come on campus to drink?"

***Belo8's Campos apparently had a bad hair day. Or at least Hansen thought so, asking her after his sports segment, "What the heck did you do to your hair?"

"I stuck my finger in a socket," she riffed before promising that her coif would be "back the way it normally is on Monday." Belo8 weatherman Pete Delkus fretted about his hair on Thursday's 10 p.m. news.

Hansen later let it be known that the Beatles' "Across the Universe," to be beamed into deep space by NASA, has absolutely no resonance with him.

"Never heard of it," he said. Obla di, Obla da.

Local Nielsen ratings snapshot (Fri.-Sun., Feb. 1-3)

Peaking at a mammoth 1,283,561 D-FW homes in its closing minutes, Super Bowl XLII on Fox of course crushed the life out of all competing attractions Sunday.

Running from 5:30 to 9:03 p.m., the New York Giants' stunning last-minute win over the New England Patriots averaged an overall 1,126,384 homes. In comparison, a Sunday afternoon Dallas Mavericks-Detroit Pistons appetizer on ABC drew 90,117 homes.

Opposite the Super Bowl, a CBS repeat of Shark from 8 to 9 p.m. was the biggest draw with 85,246 homes. Post-Super Bowl, Fox's late-starting new episode of House (9:38 to 10:38 p.m.) held on to 475,551 homes.

Super Bowl XLII also was smasheroo among advertiser-craved 18-to-49-year-olds, drawing 1,064,167 of 'em. Imagine what a Cowboys-Pats game might have done in D-FW.

In Friday's local news derby, Day 2 of the Feb. "sweeps" ratings period found Belo8 again cleaning up with wins at 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. in both total homes and with 25-to-54-year-olds, the main advertiser target audience for news programming.

Fox4's faltering Good Day ran second in both measurements at 6 a.m. But the 7 to 9 a.m. portion of the program rebounded to run the table against the three network morning shows.

Belo8 also had twin wins at 6 p.m. and took the 5 p.m. competition in the 25-to-54 demo. Fox4 finished first at 5 p.m. in total homes.

This just in: a night in the lives of D-FW's late night newscasts (Thurs., Jan. 31)

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Smells like "sweeps" spirit, doesn't it?

D-FW television's four major news providers all had their featured anchors and reporters on duty Thursday as the bell rang for another four-week period of heightened competition and promotion.

CBS11 impressively pounded the pavement with more exclusive and fleshed-out stories than its rivals while gumshoe Brett Shipp led No.1-rated Belo8 into battle by taking on Jerry Jones and the Dallas Cowboys.

NBC5 threw out much of the usual piffle, topping its 10 p.m. newscast with the story of an alleged pellet gun-shooting granny whose now remorseful great grandson says he was the one shooting dinky plastic ammo at parked cars before heading off to school. At least its newscast had some entertainment value, though. Fox4 in contrast had a surprisingly forgettable 9 p.m. outing with scant crackle, pop or eye-catching reporter initiative.

The dogged Shipp's grade-fixing expose last November resulted in South Oak Cliff High School being stripped of its 2006 state basketball title last week. His tackling of the Cowboys' high-priced club seats and companion "Personal Seat License" surcharges didn't resonate with nearly as much force or importance.

Basically, well-heeled season ticket holders are being asked to pay small fortunes to stake their claims to VIP views at the Cowboys' new and still under-construction stadium in Arlington. "The fees and the fury," co-anchor Gloria Campos called it before Shipp told viewers that sales apparently have been sluggish so far.

A jewelry store owner, for one, says he won't be renewing his season tickets after a 15-year run. Shipp also went to Illinois to interview a "sports economist" who not surprisingly raised his eyebrows.

Buried in Shipp's story was the fact that prices haven't been disclosed yet for 65,000 seats set aside for commoners. Until that announcement, do many people care all that much about Jones' "courting the wealthy?" What else is new?

The owner wouldn't talk to Shipp, but vp of marketing Greg McElroy contended, "So far we haven't seen a negative reaction."

Shipp plans to report Friday on questions being raised about deals made between Jones and the city of Arlington. That might be of more interest . But the high prices and attendant costs for stadium club seats were publicized last year. On Thursday's report, Shipp basically recycled that information while adding that the Cowboys might be facing resistance from some longtime loyal customers. Even so, there no doubt are other upper-crusters waiting in line while the little guys bide their time.

CBS11 led with reporter Jay Gormley's interesting exclusive on SMU's proposed efforts to curb drinking and drug abuse by some students. The university is considering opening an on-campus pub, Gormley said. Also, fraternities might be allowed to serve alcohol at in-house parties, provided that a campus cop is present. It's all meant to keep students safer and on campus rather than in outlying bars.

NBC5's Randy McIlvaine gunned his station's engine with the opening tale of a granny arrested for hitting a parking lot passerby with a pellet.

"I feel real bad, 'cause it's kinda like my fault," said her great grandson, who apparently had been acting like an idiot with his new air rifle. This perhaps is a "talker," but does it merit the top spot in a viewing area this size?

Fox4 led with a live dispatch by Brandon Todd from a public hearing on a new grade-changing scandal at Roosevelt High School in Dallas. But Belo8's Shipp broke that story on the previous night.

The station's Lari Barager then joined fellow reporters at NBC5 and CBS11 in recapping a Mesquite woman's apparently made-up claim that she'd been assaulted with a "stun baton" by a man posing as a police officer.

The woman's husband, Keith Knight, "didn't want to go on camera and do an interview," Barager told viewers.

He did, however, talk on camera to NBC5's Grant Stinchfield and to an unattributed reporter on CBS11. Belo8 chose to ignore the story on its 10 p.m. newscast.

All four stations had stories on a "groper" suspected of sexually assaulting at least six women in Plano. CBS11 reporter Jack Fink and Fox4's Lynn Kawano both landed interviews with one of his victims. Her interviewee opted to be identified on-camera; Fink's unidentified victim was in silhouette.

NBC5 regularly deploys the word "scary" in such cases. This time it came from a Plano woman who said, "I think it's very scary . . . We're not safe anywhere, unfortunately, anymore." Belo8 reporter Shelly Slater didn't talk to anyone, either live or on tape, during her brief standup from Plano.

CBS11's Thursday late nighter also featured solid enterprise stories by J.D. Miles and Stephanie Lucero.

Miles reported on the "shock probation" release, after just five months in jail, of a man who helped the infamous "Texas 7" escape from a South Central Texas prison seven years ago. Their victims included an Irving police offer whose widow understandably is outraged. Dallas County district attorney Craig Watkins added, "I think our justice system has been slapped in the face."

Lucero's story detailed an alleged multi-million dollar scam by the Farmers Branch-based Unique Performance company, commissioned to make pricey "muscle cars" from scratch by the likes of baseball star Jason Giambi and former Secret Service agent James Bartee, whom Lucero interviewed on camera.

It turns out that some of the cars were being less than professionally built by inmates in East Texas prisons. Bartee, among others, has never received either his car or the $106 grand he paid for it. But an attorney representing the owner of Unique Performance contended in a statement that authorities are engaged in a "witch hunt.

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NBC5's Brian Curtis, Fox4's Heather Hays and Belo8's Pete Delkus

***NBC5 brandished another of its "Weight Loss Wonder" stories by Brian Curtis, who reported on a "hot new diet book" that says, among other things, that a quarter pound burger without cheese actually has fewer calories than a chicken club sandwich. Curtis quizzed predictably surprised consumers at a shopping mall food court before his story ended with a below-the-waist closeup of a big fat ass in motion.

***Fox4 reporter Jeff Crilley had an interesting piece on the fifth anniversary of the Space Shuttle Columbia tragedy over Nacogdoches County, in which seven astronauts died.

***Heather Hays, co-anchor of Fox4's 9 p.m. news, had an extended story on the dangers of obesity in children. But it also served as a borderline infomercial for a plus-size clothes store touted by both Hays and a plump teen named Marisol. The station also plugged a link to the store on its web site.

***Both Belo8's Chris Hawes and Fox4's Fil Alvarado reported capably on a retired brigadier general whose American flag on his Bedford front porch has been stolen nine times by a punk or punks shown on his surveillance camera. His front window also was smashed during the last theft, but no one's been caught yet.

***Belo8's chatty duo of weatherman Pete Delkus and sports anchor Dale Hansen both got their licks in on opening night of the sweeps. Oft-reticent news anchor John McCaa got the ball rolling for Delkus. "You're lovin' this, though," he said of the area's persistent high winds.

"Look at this hair," Delkus retorted. "I'm not lovin' this, John. It's terrible for me. The only thing worse would be a lot of humidity."

But Big Pete's close-cropped coif looked immovable as usual.

Hansen looked notably trimmer, even dapper in a dark pin-stripped suit. In fact, a brief piece on Nolan Ryan, who might become president of the Texas Rangers baseball team, showed the Hall of Fame pitcher now looking puffier than Hansen -- and with less hair, too.

He otherwise weighed in after brief closing video of a frozen waterfall in Minneapolis, on which someone had spray-painted "WOW."

"I got fired up there," Hansen reminisced. "It was the fifth of my eight firings."

He signed a long-term contract extension with Belo8 last year. So this time he's not going anywhere.

AND FINALLY . . . Delkus noted that "the boss had major surgery" Wednesday after ripping the bicep muscle of his left arm off the bone.

That's a reference to news director Mike Valentine, who suffered the injury while playing basketball. It's hoped he has a speedy recovery.