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Glass menagerie: Anchors at a loss in Daybreak's new Victory Park digs

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Looking fetchingly lonely in the pitch dark of another early Dallas morn, Belo8's shimmering new Victory Park studios entered Week 4 Monday.

Its resident glimmer twins, Justin Farmer and Jackie Hyland, seemed happily under glass, bantering with almost shocking ineptitude on a remixed Daybreak that actually looks as though it's going to be a ratings gamer during the fast-approaching February "sweeps."

Watching the full two hours, from 5 to 7 a.m., can leave one bothered and bewildered, but certainly not bewitched.

Holdover weatherman Greg Fields clearly has been ordered to serve himself sunny side up. He used to be acceptably agreeable, but now he's almost Tickle Me Elmo. Incumbent traffic stopper Alexa Conomos likewise is in heavy makeover mode, a Belo babe in the grand tradition of -- well, that didn't use to matter.

Both are capable, though, and neither is the problem. It's the relative newcomers, Farmer and Hyland, who make one wonder whether the show's new transparent surroundings are accentuating their glaring transparencies. Or maybe it's just a consultant telling them to dumb it down a bit 'cause that's what works in the age of YouTube and Kevin Federline Super Bowl commercials.

OK, it was just one day, although it seemed all too indicative of the two anchors' everyday approach. Early on came a story about brave Perky the female duck, who battled back from gunshot wounds and being pronounced dead.

"He's a cute little guy, too," opined Hyland, who at least might have been expected to get the gender right, but didn't. "Really cute little ducky."

She and Farmer were only warming up. Hyland dutifully touted all the Screen Actors Guild awards her home network, ABC, had won Sunday night, including an acting trophy for Chandra Wilson of Grey's Anatomy. She had the line of the night during her acceptance speech, telling the nation, "It's about those 10 cast members sittin' over there, and the one in rehab."

She referred to Grey's regular Isaiah Washington's "recent homophobic outburst," Hyland said a little too cheerily. Then Farmer plowed in with a very odd query that made him appear to be either brain-dead -- or brain-dead.

"So they keep mentioning this guy," he told Hyland. "Do you think that they're just trying to make fun of this show, that it's really not that big of a deal? Or are they sort of just putting him out there alone?"

Say what? Hyland, not the sharpest tack at her very best, responded with a studied, "I'm not sure."

"How do you read that?" Farmer pressed.

"I don't know. I really can't, I can't get a good grasp on that one."

Farmer tried to get a grip. "As long as people keep watching it, right?"

Hyland knew how to answer that one, all right. "Exactly," she said. "It's a great show, that's for sure."

The Daybreak show itself was very light on staff-generated reporting Monday. Cynthia Vega, the only correspondent out and about, reported live three times from the construction-hampered Wycliff toll plaza, where motorists will be allowed to drive through without a toll tag and be billed later.

Synergy also was in full swing, with six different references to Sunday's "exclusive" report on DISD credit card misuses in the Belo-owned Dallas Morning News. Shill better here.

A story on mandatory downtown parking lot beautification ended with Farmer twitting Hyland for being "excited" when she first heard about the project.

"Why not?" she lamely riffed back. "Ya know, it's nice to hang out in the parking lot. Are you . . .?"

While Hyland threw up her hands, Farmer ad libbed another wiffle ball. "No, I'm serious," he said. "You can't have a concrete town, can you, Leslie?"

Um, it's Alexa.

Former Daybreak co-anchor Debbie Denmon, bounced in favor of Hyland, then had a little smidgen of a story on longtime KKDA (104.5 FM) morning drive personality Nanette Lee, who "has been silenced about her departure -- until now," Farmer intoned.

Lee hardly spilled the beans, telling Denmon that KKDA had decided to go "in a different direction." Viewers then were told to get the rest of the story on Belo8's website.

(We pause briefly to note that Belo8 admonishing a station for not letting someone say goodbye is the height of hypocrisy at a corporation that squelched former DMN book critic Jerome Weeks' very civil, non-accusatory farewell column on grounds that were never explained. Many of us didn't bother trying, knowing that management wouldn't tolerate anything within shouting distance of the real truth.)

OK, back to the center ring attraction, where things really got screwy during Good Morning America co-host Robin Roberts' live promotional segment on Monday's stories. At the end of it, Farmer volunteered, "I had a dream recently. Jackie and I were in separate beds, of course. But we had our own beds in the newsroom. And our boss was saying, 'You guys can't be that comfortable. Get out of bed!' "

Roberts literally didn't know what to say, stammering for a good five seconds before Farmer added, "Don't turn it into something it's not."

"No, no, no, no, no, no, no," Roberts managed. "But you need the nap. Or something."

Maybe a sedative.

We'll put this column to bed with Farmer's viewer advisory near show's end, when he touted free samples of "the Colonel's crispy 'streeps.' "

"Mmm, sounds good," Hyland chirped on cue before Farmer peeped, "Chicken strips, all right?"

Daybreak otherwise is served scrambled.

This just in: A night in the lives of D-FW's 10 p.m. newscasts (Fri., Feb. 23)

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Unclebarky.com is in the closing, terminal stages of sweeps fatigue. But you can see and feel the crackle-pop at Belo8.

The ABC station's 10 p.m. newscasts have their swagger back. Barring a near-miracle comeback by NBC5, those new Victory Park studios are going to be home to Belo8's first late night news ratings win since fall of 2001.

The verdict is still out among advertiser-coveted 25-to-54-year-olds. Still, a hard-fought win in total homes will be more than good enough for a station that used to win without breaking a sweat throughout most of the '80s and '90s.

Maybe Pete Delkus, the jaunty mountie of D-FW weathercasters, will light a victory stogie on the air. Or perhaps devil-may-care sports anchor Dale Hansen can pop a cold one at newscast's end when it becomes official Thursday. All hands were full of piss 'n' vinegar Friday night, and right from the opening bell.

"Good evening, and welcome to high-def Update," anchor Gloria Campos said. That's peppy anchor lingo for high-definition. And if by some miracle you haven't yet heard, Belo8 is the first D-FW broadcast station to give its local newscasts the ol' full monty.

Anchor John McCaa had a skip in his lip, too. He's not usually much of a happy-talker, but became a veritable Henny Youngman after Delkus got all revved up about "possible 'tornadic' activity" on the outskirts of the viewing area.

"The guns are loaded. We have a lot of moisture in the air, a very dynamic system," Pistol Pete enthused. McCaa then talked up footage of rats roaming free in a New York City KFC, a go-to video used by all four stations Friday.

"When rodents run wild," McCaa teased before setting a little mousetrap for Delkus during a commercial break. Then he sprung it: "All right, what's the last thing you want to see at a restaurant, other than Pete Delkus behind the grill?"

Campos bathed him in one of her party hearty cackles, which must have felt pretty good. The suddenly madcap McCaa is even going to be a guest Thursday night on the Belo-produced Gordon Keith Show on Ch. 52. At least that's what the renegade host announced last week, although we'll have to see to believe. Maybe some knock-knock jokes?

Hansen of course wasn't going to let all this frivolity pass him by, especially while wearing his casual Friday Roy Rogers checked shirt.

"Speaking of rats, Sammy Sosa is with the Rangers," Hansen cracked, prompting a Gloria groan.

"Oh sure," he riposted. "Boo me now."

Frankly, though, they're cookin' right now, eatin' good in the new Victory Park neighborhood. Fred, Ethel, Ricky and Ricky Bobby, and on some nights the male roles are interchangeable. Oh, but we kid the Belo8 team. It's invigorating to be top o' the heap, and you can sorta tell that's not where NBC5's at these days.

The Peacock's cheap, peep show format seems to be pooped. On Friday's 10 p.m. newscast, the station almost seemed to be throwing in the towel by giving two of its Four Horsepeople of the Apocalypse -- Scott Gordon and Scott Friedman -- the night off.

Substitute night owl Brett Johnson gamely tried to pick up the slack with a prominently played story on a mini-prostitute ring in Sansom Park. Police earlier "swarmed" a dumpy looking sugar shack and "did arrest a man behind this operation, the pimp if you will," Johnson reported. The pimp if you will?

Mistress of the Dark Susan Risdon reported on the proposed multi-billion dollar buyout of TXU. She did so while standing outside in the dark, of course, although there was no good reason to do so. That's the way the Mistress rolls, though. Has anyone ever sighted her indoors? Please email unclebarky.com with any such "Breaking News."

Anchors Mike Snyder and Jane McGarry still speed-race through NBC5's 30-plus stories a night, not counting weather and sports. McGarry in particular talks at an accelerated pace, particularly when fighting her way through the painful health and beauty segments. The heart can be a lonely hunter when you have to say, "Blast 10 pounds of fat each year without dieting."

Sooner or later they're going to have to blow this format up. Belo8's 10 p.m. newscast now looks like the new sheriff in town and CBS11 likely will be making vast changes when the station's latest news director, Regent Ducas, arrives in March.

Fox4's 10 p.m. newscast for now isn't much of a factor, mainly because the station pours most of its resources and promotion into the hot 9 p.m. show.

It's all the more reason for The Peacock to act now, and give its reporters a chance to dig and delve rather than shovel manure every night. Instead the station is still in bait-and-switch mode, which lately is a great way to lose momentum and credibility.

Here's Friday's record low violent crime story count, with the 17-night running totals in parentheses:

NBC5 -- 1 (62)
Fox4 -- 0 (35)
CBS11 -- 0 (29)
Belo8 -- 0 (22)

Gordo's ready for his closeups. How 'bout you?

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Rico Suave or Nacho Libre? Nobody knows the real Gordon Keith.

Comes the news, first reported on FrontBurner, that The Ticket's own Gordon Keith will be getting his own show next month on KFWD-TV (Channel 52).

Last seen panhandling in El Paso, Keith will be teaming with fun-loving Belo Corp., which has a "strategic alliance" with Ch. 52 and also owns WFAA-TV (Channel 8), The Dallas Morning News and Quick, for which he writes a weekly column.

Otherwise heard on The Ticket's (1310 AM) Dunham and Miller morning drive show, Keith can be seen at the midnight hour on Thursdays, beginning Feb. 15. Or so he says here.

Earlier in his pathetic, er, peripatetic career, Keith was a featured attraction on Dallas Maverick owner Mark Cuban's wild-eyed latenight TV show. There the veteran funnyman became best known for the tagline, "You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll kiss your brains goodbye." Actually he stole that one from Howard Hesseman, who made that observation while introducing the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders on a vintage People's Choice Awards show. True story.

Keith, whose observational humor has been compared to the disease Ricketts, can be relied on to bring a light Gallagher touch to his new TV endeavor. As a longtime admirer of his work, Uncle Barky says, "Break a leg -- and make it a compound fracture!"

But we kid Gordon Keith, also known as the Red Buttons of D-FW. In reality he's long been too big for this town. But then so was Colby Donaldson.

Hansen style: "Unplugged" anchor kisses off Big Bill as Oz's Wicked Witch

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He's neck-tieing himself now, in deference to Belo8 management. Sports anchor Dale Hansen will never wear a choke collar, though. He proved it again on Monday's 10 p.m. newscast with a withering Wizard of Oz sendup that sent Bill Parcells off to the tune of "Ding dong, the Wicked Witch is dead."

"Well, I do some of these to amuse myself. And I'm amused right now," said Hansen after the piece ended with a tight shot of a glowering Parcells. At its best, "Hansen Unplugged" is a shock to the system. This one had enough voltage to power an electric chair.

Hansen at first lit a few lightbulbs.

Successful head coaches have varying temperaments, he said. Tom Landry was stoic and outwardly unemotional while Jimmy Johnson "would scream and yell at everybody." But both won Super Bowls with the Dallas Cowboys after surrounding themselves with quality staffs working for a boss "they liked and respected."

Not so Parcells, said Hansen. "Most if not all of his assistants hated working for the man . . . The Cowboys and their fans deserve better than that."

That set the stage for the Wizard of Oz footage, with Hansen depicting Valley Ranch as Emerald City.

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"We have an owner who doesn't have a brain," Hansen said. "Too many in the organization don't have the courage anymore to speak out (Cowardly Lions). A $10 million dollar receiver who doesn't have a heart (the Tin Man). At least his heart wasn't in it. But at least Bill Parcells is gone. And if it is going to get better, that's a good place to start."

Those fighting last words came as "Ding dong the Wicked Witch is dead" played Big Bill off the Cowboys' grand stage. Fair? Not entirely. But it sure was fun to watch and it definitely will be all over D-FW talk radio Tuesday morning and afternoon.

"That is a great movie and a great analogy," Belo8 anchor Gloria Campos chimed in.

It's also "a very good decision to get Parcells out of Valley Ranch now," Hansen said.

Anchor John McCaa could only shake his head and tightly smile. "He never fails," he said of Hansen as the station shifted to Nightline.

You now can see the video on the Above the Fold Blog page. Except that the closing anchor comments have been snipped off.

Local Nielsen ratings snapshot (Mon., Jan. 8)

Florida's surprising domination of Ohio State didn't stop the BCS championship game from dominating the D-FW ratings Monday night.

The 41-14 rout had an overall 16.7 Nielsen rating (397,460 homes) in handily beating all competing programming. It also lured a throng of advertiser-craved 18-to-49-year-olds (333,000), assuring Fox a prosperous beginning to a New Year that will kick into overdrive next week with the season premieres of 24 and American Idol.

On the news front, the debut of Belo8's high-priced Victory Park studios had no immediate payoff. The ABC station's principal showcase in the new digs, Daybreak, placed third in total homes behind frontrunner Fox4 and runnerup NBC5. Daybreak did score a thin, one-tenth of a rating point victory among 25-to-54-year-olds, the principal advertiser target for news programming. But it had been doing well with that demo anyway.

NBC5 otherwise notched twin victories at 10 p.m., although the BCS championship game was drawing more than twice as many viewers at that hour. The Peacock also won at 6 p.m. in both ratings measurements.

At 5 p.m. NBC5 notched a total homes win and tied in the 25-to-54-year-old chase with Belo8.

Local Nielsen ratings snapshot (Fri.-Sat., Jan. 5-7)

Misery loves company, and the Dallas Cowboys had plenty of it Saturday night on NBC.

The team's super-deflating playoff loss to the Seattle Seahawks averaged a mammoth 36.3 rating (863,940 homes) in D-FW, ballooning to a 42 rating (999,600 homes) in the jaw-dropping final 15 minutes. Yes, that's essentially one million living room witnesses to QB Tony Romo's ultimate agony of defeat.

Sunday night's Dallas Mavericks loss to the Los Angeles Lakers, which snapped a 13-game winning streak, averaged 192,780 homes locally. The Ch. 21 telecast beat all competing programming from 10 to 11 p.m., with 235,620 homes tuned in.

Friday's Mavs-San Antonio Spurs game on Ch. 21, also shown on cable, averaged just 99,095 homes for the broadcast version. Those numbers increased as the game went on.

On the entertainment front, Sunday night's twin premieres of NBC's Grease: You're the one That I Want and The Apprentice got off to sluggish starts in D-FW. One That I Want pulled in 154,700 homes in finishing third from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Donald Trump's latest "You're fired" sale, originating from L.A., drooped to 121,380 homes, placing fourth in its concluding hour behind ABC, CBS and Fox4's local 9 p.m. newscast.

Friday's local news wars again were dominated by NBC5 and Belo8.

In total homes, Belo8 won at 10 p.m., 6 p.m. and 5 p.m., with the Peacock taking the 6 a.m. contest.

Among 25-to-54-year-olds, the target advertiser audience for news programming, NBC5 took first at 10 p.m. and 6 p.m. while tying Belo8 at 5 p.m.

Fox4 broke through to take the 6 a.m. battle.

It will be interesting to see if Belo8's glassy, glossy Victory Park digs have any impact on the tightening morning race. The ABC station unveiled its new studios on Monday. Daybreak and the noon and 5 p.m. newscasts will be originating from what otherwise is still mostly a construction site awaiting further developments.

Exit signs at three D-FW news departments

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Left to right: Greg Easterly, Carol Wang and Natasha Curry

CBS11 has resumed its hunt for a news director after Greg Easterly from Cleveland's Fox-owned WJW-TV decided over the holidays that he'd rather not relocate to Dallas.

Easterly, who also would have run TXA21's news department, decided to rethink the move after attending the stations' Christmas party, CBS11/TXA21 president and general manager Steve Mauldin said Tuesday.

"This was strictly a personal situation," Mauldin said, noting that the Easterlys have a 15-year-old daughter who did not want to be uprooted. "It was very traumatic for them."

Mauldin said he got the news from Easterly on Friday. He was scheduled to join the D-FW stations in mid-January, replacing previous news director Tom Doerr, who returned to Miami. Easterly has Texas ties. He was raised in Stephenville and has a bachelor's degree in communications from Abilene Christian University.

There's no timetable for hiring Easterly's replacement, but "it could be soon," Mauldin said.

CBS11 also confirmed that reporter Eileen Gonzalez has been let go after joining the station in 2003. Mauldin declined to comment further.

Over at NBC5, medical reporter/anchor Carol Wang is leaving after six years at the station. She'll be joining the news department of an Omaha, Neb. TV station. And Natasha Curry has been dropped by Fox4, where she had reported and co-anchored the 5 to 6 a.m. portion of the station's Good Day.

Midway through the November "sweeps," Fox4 moved anchors Tim Ryan and Megan Henderson up an hour in hopes of offsetting NBC5's fast starts in the local Nielsen ratings. But the Peacock's early morning show comfortably won the increasingly important early morning race.

Also at Fox4, the station has hired Natalie Solis from Miami as a new weekend co-anchor.