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Peacock's new plumage


As some astute unclebarky.com readers have noted, NBC5 has a new set. It was unveiled on the station's March 26th 4 p.m. newscast. And anchor Jane McGarry, for one, really likes it.
Ed Bark

A little change of pace

Former WFAA8 weatherman Jim Littleton, who's now Jan, can be briefly seen in this introduction to a 1986 weekend newscast.

Littleton, who has been open about his 1988 gender change -- he left D-FW in 1987 -- wore a transparently obvious toupee on the air for most of his time at WFAA8. But he discarded it shortly before leaving. Here's the way he was before becoming what he wanted to be.
Ed Bark

Local Nielsen ratings snapshot (Thurs., March 27)

WFAA8's four major local newscasts rounded the bases twice Thursday, hitting their first double grand slam since Jan. 30th.

The ABC station muscled up big-time at 10 p.m. Its 328,806 D-FW homes were the most in recent memory, although the NCAA basketball tournament on CBS cut the field to three competitors.

WFAA8 also had a comfortable late night win among 25-to-54-year-olds, the main advertiser target audience for news programming. And it finished first in both measurements at 6 a.m. and at 5 and 6 p.m.

Fox4's Good Day ran second at 6 a.m. and also had its long winning streak snapped from 7 to 9 a.m. Good Day had beaten the three competing network morning shows for 18 straight weekdays in both total homes and with 25-to-54-year-olds. But Thursday's Nielsens showed ABC's Good Morning America taking the top spot in homes while tying Fox4 in the 25-to-54 demo.

Also of note in the early morning, CBS11's slowly gaining 6 a.m. show slipped ahead of last place NBC5 among 25-to-54-year-olds and fell just 4,871 homes shy of the Peacock.

In prime-time, the Dallas Mavericks' latest exasperating loss to a winning team -- on the road to the Denver Nuggets this time -- drew 109,602 total homes on TXA21 and added another 31,623 for the TNT telecast.

The two-hour season finale of NBC's Celebrity Apprentice bulked up to 170,492 homes to win the 8 to 10 p.m. slot overall. It also ran first among 18-to-49-year-olds, the key advertiser target for entertainment programming.

Fox's Don't Forget the Lyrics! had Thursday's biggest prime-time audience, though, with 175,363 homes opposite the first half of Apprentice.

Reporter Jeff Crilley decides to call it a night at Fox4

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Fox4 mainstay Jeff Crilley, whose reports regularly lead the station's 9 and 10 p.m. newscasts, has decided he's had enough.

Crilley confirmed Thursday that he'll be leaving after his contract expires in May to launch what he hopes will be a "new breed of public relations firm."

A majority of PR companies are "trying to sell snake oil most of the time," he said. "So my vision is to start a firm staffed exclusively with former journalists. The mission will be that we don't pitch B.S. It will be an alliance of former journalists practicing journalism in the PR world."

Crilley, 44, joined Fox4 in fall 1992. He's also moonlighted as an author and seminar speaker whose Free Publicity book instructs prospective newsmakers in the arts of writing "killer" press releases and holding press conferences "the media will love." Videos of Crilley working his audiences into a veritable frenzy are readily available on youtube.

Crilley said he doesn't get paid for his public appearances, but does use them as fertile ground to sell his book. His on-air reporting style long has been notably understated, contrasting with his live-wire off-camera presentations.

"I'm ready to try something new," he said. "I don't want to be 60 or 65 and hang up the hat and say, 'What did I do with my life?' "

"Maybe I'm Polyanna here," he added. "But I don't think there's ever been credibility in the public relations industry . . . I hope we will change how these things are done by holding up this gold standard of practicing journalism with a PR firm composed solely of former practicing journalists."

Crilley said he hopes to start his new venture in June and already has talked to several former local TV reporters who might be interested in joining him.

Forever Young at KERA? He's still got his eyes on the programming ball


Bill Young: Longtime star player at KERA-TV. Photos: Ed Bark

His sheer number of PBS pledge drives -- now in the neighborhood of 100 -- qualify Bill Young for an endurance medal that's yet to be minted.

He laughs about those but is too unassuming to mention that he's won two national PBS Programmer of the Year awards during nearly three decades at Dallas-based KERA-TV (Channel 13).

Young rarely calls attention to himself, is shy about having his picture taken and actually seems to mean it when saying, "If you're going to be in television, you want to be in something that's going to make a difference. It's still unbelievably gratifying to hear people say the next day how much a program meant to them. You usually don't get that with an episode of Home Improvement."

His tastes aren't all rarefied, though. He seldom misses an episode of Fox's Family Guy, owns a talking/dancing Mark Cuban doll proudly displayed in his office and is a co-producer of Historic Pubs of Dublin, which aired earlier this month during pledge drive. And perhaps his proudest possessions are No. 5 Young jerseys from three baseball fantasy camps.

"It's the only thing I ever found that I could do for a week and never think about television," he says from a workplace crowded with TV kitsch and sports memorabilia, including a well-worn grandstand seat from Chicago's old Comiskey Park.

Young, 53, grew up in Dallas, graduated from W.T. White High School and received a B.S. in advertising from the University of Texas at Austin before making his way from Wichita Falls' CBS affiliate to KERA in late 1978.

He began as a "traffic director," which could have but didn't include parking cars.

Young instead lugged around bulky two-inch programming tapes, typed out programming logs and eventually got a chance to mastermind KERA's midnight to 8 a.m. programming bloc. He became the station's full-time programming director in 1988 and got the requisite vice president title to go with it in October 2000.

"I grew up watching all the TV stations in town," he says. "It's still a difficult market to get a read on what people will watch."

He's seldom erred on the side of timidity, repeatedly testing D-FW's tolerance -- or intolerance -- for boundary-pushing programming.

Early in his tenure, KERA aired an unedited version of the 1990 documentary Tongues Untied under public television's P.O.V. series banner. Artist Marlon Riggs, a gay black man from Fort Worth, told his story directly to the cameras, using a grand total of 41 f-words in the process.

Many PBS stations ran either a heavily edited version or ran away from the film entirely.

"But there was never a question of whether we should run that show here," says Young. "And without the language, you'd lose the whole point of the show."

KERA received between 3,000 and 4,000 phone calls on Tongues Untied, he recalls, with a good percentage of them supporting the station's decision to show the program au natural.

Over the years, KERA also has aired unedited versions of Tales From the City, Moll Flanders, profanity-pocked World War II documentaries and a 2003 PBS production of The Gin Game, in which stars Mary Tyler Moore and Dick Van Dyke used the Pulitzer Prize-winning play's oft-graphic language to its fullest.

Before Young arrived, KERA went all the way with a 1973 production of Steambath. And the station was the first in the U.S. to broadcast Monty Python's Flying Circus, whose reliably adult humor hit D-FW in May 1975 via a bold decision by then vice president of programming Ron Devillier. He had an ally in KERA president Bob Wilson, father of actors Luke and Owen Wilson.

It's a lot tougher now. The Federal Communications Commission, in its crackdown on so-called "indecency," has given stations little guidance on what's acceptable and what isn't during the "safe harbor" hours of 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. (central).

Tales of the City received "no complaints at all" from viewers when KERA first showed it in prime-time 15 years ago, Young recalls. But it "would be very difficult to rebroadcast today prior to 10 p.m.," he says. "You just don't know beforehand whether it will be 'objectionable.' All it takes is one complaint (to the FCC). And the fines right now are anywhere between $300,000 to $500,000 per offense. So you sit here as a programming person and ask, 'Do I want to risk that fine?' "


Simulating pledge drive mode: there are now four per year.

In any era, though, most public television programming doesn't need a content cop. And KERA has had its share of quality local productions over the years, its trailblazing Newsroom program with Jim Lehrer and the With Ossie and Ruby anthology drama series from 1980-82.

Conceived by husband and wife actors Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee, the series premiered just after Young joined the station. KERA studios also were home base for the subsequent Here's To Your Health series, hosted in part by the esteemed John Houseman.

The station later played a major role in co-producing the acclaimed 1991 LBJ biography for PBS' American Experience series. And it painstakingly raised funds throughout much of the 1990s before finally mounting the four-hour nationally televised production of U.S.-Mexican War in 1998.

Fundraising seems to be a steeper uphill climb each year, though, prompting KERA to double its number of annual pledge drives from two to four during Young's tenure. Its productions now tend to be appreciably more local in scope, including the ongoing weekly "topic-driven interview program" Think with Krys Boyd, and specials such as A Conversation with Bill Clements (the former Texas governor) and 2003's JFK: Breaking the News.

"It's become increasingly difficult to get younger people to give you money," Young says. "We've gone from a generation that gave to public television because it was the thing to do to a generation of 'What am I gonna get in return?' "

Pledge drives in turn have become "more transactional" over the years, with companion DVDs, CDs, books and concert tickets offered to new and renewing station members.

Sometimes you have to swallow hard. Lawrence Welk specials were popular for years, even though the champagne music maker didn't seem like an optimum fit for public television. An Osmond family reunion made the cut during KERA's latest pledge drive. Multiple Riverdance and doo-wop outings also have proven to be very potent fundraisers. And most latter day pledge drives have included at least one showing of A Black and White Night, the star-studded Roy Orbison tribute concert that premiered in 1988 on the Cinemax cable network.

"I think we've run the course of every band that's either still playing together or getting back together, other than Led Zeppelin," Young says. "I'm still trying to get that. We pretty much have to reinvent the wheel with each pledge drive."

Over the years, Young also has become an acknowledged go-to expert on British comedies. He's co-produced five specials on the genre in partnership with former KERA executive Mike Seymour and Iowa Public Television. Recent efforts include Fawlty Towers Revisited and The Funny Ladies of British Comedy.

Young has had offers from rival PBS stations, but seems entrenched both at KERA and in his birthplace. Yet he's still young enough in mind and body to keep playing softball and to go Irish pub crawling with famed author Frank McCourt in the service of that aforementioned pledge special.

"Of course that was all for the viewers," he says of his first brushes with Guinness the way it's meant to be.

No one's likely to begrudge him.

When Pete takes his coat off . . .

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Garland kitty Snickers Bark and nemesis weatherman Pete Delkus.

By SNICKERS BARK, as told to one of her keepers, Ed Bark
When Pete takes his coat off
For bad weather teases,
I go into hiding
And pray to my Jesus.

He sounds an alarm
With just one shirtsleeve.
My little heart races.
Pete's this pet's pet peeve.

It's gotten lots worse
In high-definition
His crystal clear forecasts
Are roads to perdition.

Pete seems to be coming
Right into our house.
I slink and I shiver.
And feel like a mouse.

I wish that my keepers
Would keep Pete at bay.
But he keeps breaking into
Their programs, they say.

So there I'm all snuggled
And purring so cutely.
Then Pete takes his coat off
And talks resolutely.

It sends me right into
A panic attack.
I go underground
And I cannot come back.

That guy with the mustache
Takes his coat off, too.
Add Big Dan and Larry
It's what they all do.

But none do it better.
Or should I say worse
Than Delkus delivering
For me it's a curse.

So next time you're warning
Of thunder and rain
Remember the kittys
They're Abel, you're Cain.

Just ease up a little
Try purring instead.
Yours truly, signed Snickers
From under the bed.

Take 5 -- circa weekends, 1990

KXAS-TV's 1990 weekend team featured current-day WFAA8 reporter Jim Douglas in the Captain's chair, with co-anchor Ramona Logan, weatherman Scott Chesner and sports guy Scott Murray rounding out the cast. Enjoy the old-school buildup.
Ed Bark

Picky Picky (Vol. 5)

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Scott Sams and Mike Snyder bookend another nagging question.

Some questions just gnaw at you. Maybe they're unanswerable, but it doesn't make them any less vexing or perplexing.

For our latest "Picky Picky," we're asking you to debate some of the biggest puzzlements in D-FW television.

The high-definition situation is one of them. Local newscasts on pathfinding WFAA8 have been in HD since Feb. 2nd of last year. NBC5 joined in, although very clumsily, on Sept. 7. But its out-of-studio pictures from the field are still in the old format. CBS11 then seamlessly transitioned to HD on Sept. 24th.

That leaves Fox4 in the dark ages. HD supposedly is in the budget for sometime this year. But the last official word, from station GM Kathy Saunders, was typically cryptic.

"When we do it, we'll do it right," she told unclebarky.com early last fall. Nike has a better approach: "Just do it."

Over at NBC5, the newscast ratings were stinko in the February sweeps. The Peacock suffered substantial year-to-year audience losses in all four major local news battlegrounds (6 a.m. and 5, 6 and 10 p.m.). It raises the question of 6 and 10 p.m. anchor Mike Snyder's longevity. He's been NBC5's man of the house since the early 1990s. Still, I've yet to find anyone who thinks he's good at what he does. If you're out there, here's your chance. Or is it just time for him to go -- not necessarily from the station, but to a less prominent role?

Meanwhile, CBS11 remains last in the increasingly important early morning race, but has made some headway in the past year. But was former WFAA8 anchor Scott Sams the right hire? Does he have enough of a following -- and can he build on it -- to take CBS11 to the promised land? In the near future at least, a mere third place finish would be semi-miraculous after years in the desert.

So there you have them -- three of D-FW television's bigger unanswered questions. We welcome your comments on which is the biggest:

A. Fox4's continued foot-dragging on the HD front
B. NBC5 anchor Mike Snyder's longevity as the station's point man
C. Scott Sams' ability to pull CBS11 out of last place in the early mornings

TV news as soft-serve ice cream

Nearly three decades ago we lived in a land where Little League kids in uniform happily watched local newscasts while safe at home and stacking freshly dried dinner plates. Or at least that's one of the Leave It to Beaver-esque images in this jingle-sugared 1979 promo for WFAA8's weekend team. Your desk jockeys are John Criswell, timeless George Riba and weatherman Steve Newman.
Ed Bark

Picky Picky (Vol. 4)

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So could it be true that D-FW television's very best sharp-dressed men are all flaunting their fashion senses at one station?

Well, yeah, it is true, at least in the eyes of this discerning slob. WFAA8 definitely has three dapper dandies in anchor John McCaa and weathermen Greg Fields and Pete Delkus.

Fields perhaps deserves extra credit for making himself a show horse in the ungodly early mornings. Still, McCaa's the ever-crisp, longstanding Pierre Cardin of this field and Delkus is seldom less than super-natty.

But who's the Sultan of Sartorial Splendor? The Wizard of Wardrobes? The Fauntleroy of Fine? The Gentleman Caller? The Bridegroom of Wedding Cakes? The Kingpin of Color Combos? The Viceroy of . . .

Oh shaddup. It's time to vote with your comments for:

A. John McCaa
B. Greg Fields
C. Pete Delkus

Rebecca Miller: Back in D-FW and grateful for all the support

Fresh from a therapeutic week in Florida, former NBC5 early morning meteorologist Rebecca Miller has opened a new email account for anyone who wants to contact her. She'd also like to thank the hundreds of viewers who have commented on this Web site about her abrupt termination from NBC5 after a 17-year tenure.

"I just continue to be floored -- and incredibly grateful and touched -- by all the email you continue to receive regarding my situation," Miller says. "In the meantime, it's going to be so weird not going to work Monday. Everything feels so off-balance!"
Ed Bark

CBS11 no longer having a Ball

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Reporter Kimberly Ball has resigned from CBS11, the station confirmed Friday.

The former public school English teacher and Dallas Cowboys cheerleader joined CBS11 several years ago after stints in Los Angeles at E! and KCBS-TV. Ball also anchored at KEYE-TV in Austin and KETK-TV in Tyler.

The Baltimore native was raised in Dallas and is a graduate of Bishop Dunne High School. She was a Cowboys cheerleader during the team's Super Bowl XXXVIII victory over Buffalo.

CBS11 had no information on Ball's future plans. Her bio already has been removed from the station's Web site.

Picky Picky (Vol. 3)

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More than 85 years of pavement-pounding: NBC5's Scott Gordon; Fox4's Fil Alvarado, CBS11's Bud Gillett and WFAA8's Jim Douglas

For now at least, D-FW's four major TV news providers retain at least a few well-traveled road warriors with odometers that somehow keep on ticking.

Given today's harsh, budget-slashing climate, though, any or all could be replaced any minute by a lower-salaried, toothsome vacant stare whom we'll call Stu "Not a Clue" Suckup. Before that happens, Picky Picky's latest interactive survey asks you to name the workaday reporter you'd most trust to tell your story correctly and intelligently.

We've limited the first batch of choices to four in the interest of a sharper-focused dialogue. But a future Picky Picky can always submit four more stalwarts if response to this one turns out to be more than a trickle.

Remember, none of the above are flashy special investigators or aspiring anchors. They're just out there doing what they do best -- spot news from all over North Texas. Here are your choices, with comments encouraged:

A. Scott Gordon (NBC5) -- The Peacock's resident Night Ranger has been hitting the streets for his station since 1994.

B. Fil Alvarado (Fox4) -- He's been in the saddle for almost 23 years at his current address.

C. Bud Gillett (CBS11) -- Worked 20 years at KDFW before being deemed expendable. CBS11 has been his home since 2000.

D. Jim Douglas (WFAA8) -- Spent 10 years at KXAS before joining WFAA8's news team in 1995.

Without A Trace: Local TV news stations leave viewers out when dumping personnel

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Goners: former D-FW news team members Clif Caldwell (CBS11); Rebecca Aguilar (Fox4); Jim Fry (WFAA8) and Rebecca Miller (NBC5)

Where's the humanity, let alone any consideration of viewers who wonder about the whereabouts of local TV's suddenly missing persons?

Thousands of people get laid off or fired daily, and television's news team members aren't above that. It happens.

But these also are people in the public eye. Sometimes they've spent close to a generation in the D-FW market. When their time is up, though, no one is more close-mouthed than your basic media outlet. You know, the ones that otherwise are in the faces of alleged wrongdoers, particularly during sweeps periods. The ones that wonder why a person of interest won't talk to them because, after all, "We're just trying to get your side." The ones that try to lure you into their lair with slogans such as "Where You Matter."

Except that you really don't. Because these same purveyors of truth, justice and the American way of profitable Nielsen ratings aren't about to let you into their own inner sanctums. When they fire someone it's suddenly nobody's business but their own. Today's promotable personality is tomorrow's pariah. Don't ask, don't tell. Period. End of story.

Recent events have reinforced my feelings about this odd form of behavior. And the number of reader comments posted on unclebarky.com -- almost 450 at this writing -- indicate that you're more than a little interested in the hows and whys that led to last Wednesday's terminations of Fox4 reporter Rebecca Aguilar and NBC5 meteorologist Rebecca Miller.

Aguilar, a reporter at Fox4 for 14 years, found a pink slip from Fox corporate under her doormat after being on paid suspension since Oct. 16th. No one at Fox4 is talking. My source was the reporter herself.

Miller, who joined KXAS-TV in 1991 before NBC bought the station, was informed after Wednesday's early morning shift that her contract hadn't been renewed. No one in NBC5 management is talking, other than to confirm she's no longer at NBC5. My source was a tipster at a rival station.

Earlier this year, reporter/anchor Clif Caldwell took the gas. He'd been a reporter/anchor at CBS11 since 2001. Before that he was a featured street beat guy for five years at NBC5. No one in CBS11 management would talk about it, other than to confirm he was out. My source was one of his colleagues at CBS11.

Reporter Jim Fry had spent 24 years at WFAA8 before being let go in December of 2006. His picture and bio simply vanished from the station's Web site. No one in WFAA8 management had anything to say. My source was a former WFAA8 employee.

I understand the various sensitivities of "personnel matters." But couldn't stations at least voluntarily put out the word to various media outlets that _______ has left the building? They're not shy about sending press releases on how great their sweeps ratings were. Or about the impressive new hires they've just made. But it's almost invariably a vanishing act when someone is let go. And that's usually when viewers care the most.

Surely NBC5 could have done better than this terse memo from vice president of content development Susan Tully to station staffers, which was leaked to unclebarky.com. It went like this: "I want to inform everyone that today (March 5) was Rebecca Miller's last day with NBC5. If you get any phone calls or emails inquiring about Rebecca, forward them to me. I will respond to viewers. We are now conducting a nationwide search for a morning meteorologist."

Missing were any well-wishes or thanks for 17 years at the station, most of it spent on the very demanding early morning shift. Trash gets taken out with more compassion.

That's the way most media companies are, though. The 110 employes who took a buyout in September 2006 from The Dallas Morning News were given this sub-bloodless sendoff from longtime Belo chairman, president and CEO Robert W. Decherd: "Belo is intensely focused on the right allocation of resources enterprise-wide, building up necessary competitive capabilities, and maintaining marketing and new product investments, while reducing costs wherever possible. Thus far in 2006, Belo has eliminated more than 200 positions Company-wide, with approximately 30 of these reallocated to more Internet-centric roles. We've reduced overall employment and other operating expenses by more than $21 million on an annualized basis, including The Morning News' projected savings related to the voluntary severance program."

No one expects a wet kiss and a garland when the downsizing ax swings or other factors kick in. But media companies are supposed to be different because they sell themselves as public trusts.

In the TV world, though, escalating network ownership of local stations -- including of Fox4, NBC5 and CBS11 in D-FW -- means more dictates from on high and far less autonomy. The Aguilar matter, for one, has been handled almost entirely at the corporate level. It basically reduced her to a bothersome bug to be swatted when the timing was right.

Over at NBC5, the total complement of anchors and reporters is now down to 25, according to the "Meet the News Team" section of NBC5i.com. That's a dozen less than the comparative staffs at Fox4, WFAA8 and CBS11. It doesn't include part-time freelancers, which all four stations utilize on occasion. But how low can NBC5 go while still billing itself as your all-inclusive destination for news, weather, sports and HD that in fact still really isn't whenever the cameras hit the streets?

One primary objective of unclebarky.com is to keep readers/viewers informed on all four D-FW stations' comings and goings. As demonstrated by the response to Rebeccas Miller and Aguilar, you're more than a little interested in what happens to TV news people that you've grown to like or dislike.

Don't expect the stations themselves to cooperate, though. Serving the public comes to a screeching halt -- now more than ever -- when "personnel matters" are at issue. That's when you don't matter -- not in the least.

Local Nielsen ratings snapshot (Fri.-Sun., March 7-9)

Friday's early morning newscasts drew droves of foul weather friends.

So much so that the wake-up editions on Fox4 and NBC5 had more viewers than any of their stations' early evening and late night newscasts. And on WFAA8, only the mighty 10 p.m. news had a bigger crowd.

Prospects of snow-induced school closings and skid-prone roadways always make for toasty ratings. But Friday's Nielsens were real eye-openers.

Fox4 led at 6 a.m. with 175,363 total homes, way up from its February "sweeps" average of 98,642.

WFAA8 and NBC5 tied for second with 168,056 homes. In the sweeps, their respective averages were 98,398 and 75,034.

CBS11 ran a distant fourth Friday with 63,326 homes. Still, that was up a few notches from its sweeps average of 43,841 homes.

Fox4 also led at 6 a.m. among 25-to-54-year-olds, the main advertiser target audience for news programming. In fact it drew more of them -- 150,170 -- than for any of its other news and entertainment programming Friday. The Peacock ran second, followed by WFAA8 and CBS11.

WFAA8 took the 10 p.m. golds Friday in both ratings measurements, and did likewise at 5 p.m. The 6 p.m. spoils were split by WFAA8, which won in homes, and Fox4, in first place among 25-to-54-year-olds.

In prime-time network competition, CBS' Price Is Right special won at 7 p.m. with 177,799 homes. NBC's completely forgettable Amnesia game show barely registered with 41,405 homes.

Saturday's Dallas Mavericks' win over New Jersey, in which Dirk Nowitzki became the team's all-time leading scorer, drew a decent-sized 104,731 homes on TXA21.

On Sunday night, the second episode of ABC's Oprah's Big Give was the day's most-watched program with 226,511 homes. Here Come the Newlyweds then fell to 136,394 homes, running third in that measurement but still managing a time slot win among advertiser-craved 18-to-49-year-olds.

Local Nielsen ratings snapshot (Thurs., March 6)

Threatening weather invariably warms the hearts of TV news directors and station sales departments.

Add the prospect of North Texas snow and even their libidos bubble to a boil. Is that a double-digit Nielsen rating in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?

WFAA8 benefited most from Thursday's veritable White Christmas. In the total homes Nielsens, it rose to 10 or better ratings for its 5, 6 and 10 p.m. newscasts. Fox4 also ran much stronger than usual in the early evening and beat all competing network entertainment programming with its 9 p.m. newscast.

WFAA8 amassed 294,708 D-FW homes at 10 p.m. to shrug off runnerup CBS11 (170,492 homes). At 5 p.m., the ABC station had an uncommonly big haul of 243,560 homes, turning back a game Fox4 (207,026 homes). WFAA8 upped its total to 277,658 homes at 6 p.m., with Fox4 again taking the silver (197,284).

WFAA8 also took first place at 5, 6 and 10 p.m. among 25-to-54-year-olds, the main advertiser target audience for news programming. But the margins over silver medalist Fox4 were only marginal at 5 and 6 p.m. Fox4 also took the runnerup spot at 10 p.m., although WFAA8 had ample breathing room at that hour.

At 6 a.m., with weather not a big factor yet, NBC5 edged WFAA8 in the total homes battle. The Peacock slipped to second, behind Fox4, in the 25-to-54 demo.

Rain, shine or snow, Fox's American Idol (433,537 homes) again squished all programs in its 7 p.m. path. The second episode of Fox's New Amsterdam held onto 180,234 homes in running a competitive second to ABC's Lost (216,768 homes). But Lost cleaned up among advertiser-craved 18-to-49-year-olds (the prime target audience for entertainment programming). New Amsterdam faded to third in that measurement, behind NBC's Celebrity Apprentice.

The Dallas Mavericks' stinko, Dirk-less effort against Houston drew 133,958 homes on TXA21 and added another 56,019 for TNT's less forgiving national telecast. That includes Mavs fans who shut their eyes while the Rockets blasted off in the second half and left the home team looking like the Flint Tropics.

Saying goodbye: Rebecca Miller gets some well-deserved last words

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By ED BARK (on behalf of Rebecca Miller)
Pardon Rebecca Miller for having quite a bit on her mind of late -- as well as a previous commitment that says a lot about her character and class under duress.

But she at last found time Thursday night to write her own goodbye to the many who have watched and relied on her early morning forecasts for NBC5. Miller joined the station in 1991, and clearly is ending her career on a higher note than those who fired her. This email to unclebarky.com arrived at 9:14 p.m. and appears here in its entirety:

"I sincerely apologize for not getting to you until now. Yesterday, I found out the station had decided not to renew my contract. Today, I met with Human Resources.

"But long ago, I had promised a friend I would help him today create a giant birthday cake for his daughter. We started shortly after noon, and we just finished at 8:15 p.m. I couldn't tell him, 'Let's do this another day.' How many birthdays do you get when you're 8? Anyway, I'm free and clear now, so I just sat down to catch up. My computer keyboard is covered with icing, but it smells good.

"I am incredibly touched by every single email, viewer response and reader response I have read on your site. The comments I read literally take my breath away. For several years now, my boss has told me that she simply doesn't understand the forecast when I'm on TV. To hear so, so many wonderful comments makes me realize maybe other people did understand my forecast after all.

"The horrible thing about having to leave so abruptly is not getting the chance to say goodbye to viewers or even to my co-workers. There were viewers who emailed me every single day that I will never get a chance to say 'thank you' to -- and that hurts.

"My co-workers know how much I loved working with them. Getting up at 2 a.m. is grueling. Working on the air non-stop from 4:30 a.m. until 10:30 a.m. or 11 a.m. without a breakfast break, without a bathroom break (you had to run in between commercials) is incredibly hard. But working with the morning crew made every day fun. We had a great time on the morning shift.

"The producers I worked with these last few years are simply fantastic. They made work fun for me, too, even though they are under immense pressure. Of course, I cannot say enough great things about Brendan (Higgins), Tammy (Dombeck) and Deborah (Ferguson). What a great team they are. We are all friends outside of work, so we will continue to see each other. From the people on the floor crew to the people behind the scenes, I will miss them all -- well, most of them.

"When TV stations decide on changes, the public never knows the real reasons behind the change. Most times, neither do we. What I know is that our morning ratings go up and down, and no one can really figure out why. A year ago we were doing well, and now we're not. My news director (Susan Tully) has decided I'm just not what she wants, and replacing me is one way to try and boost ratings. I've known it for some time now, and I've been planning for it. Things like this happen in TV all the time. A manager comes and wants her own team in place.

"I really loved working in TV, loved helping the public, loved doing stories on the zoo and the 'Going Green' stories I got to do. But if it's not in the cards to continue to serve the public through TV, I'll find something that makes me happy. I'm currently enrolled at Texas A&M's grad school studying Homeland Security. So maybe if TV doesn't work out, that will. Everything has a silver lining.

So, I have very, very fond memories of NBC, and I always will. I hope this will be the beginning of something new and better for me! Thanks for everything!


And now here's the frosting on the cake -- the cake that Rebecca Miller worked on virtually all day Thursday -- the day after she got fired. Sometimes pIctures really do say a thousand words. And by the way, "it's supposed to be all crooked," Miller says.


It's over at Fox4 for reporter Rebecca Aguilar


Rebecca Aguilar's 14-year career as a Fox4 reporter has officially ended via a letter from an attorney representing the station.

In a telephone interview Wednesday night, Aguilar, 49, said she was checking her mail at mid-afternoon that day when she noticed an envelope under her front door mat. It informed her that Fox4 was exercising an option to drop her at the halfway point of a two-year contract that began on March 6, 2007.

"No doorbell, no knock on the door," said Aguilar, who had been on paid suspension since Oct. 16th following her controversial interview with an elderly West Dallas salvage business owner who had shot and killed two alleged burglars within three weeks time.

The interview had been hotly debated in both Dallas and around the country. Some accused Aguilar of "ambushing" a feeble old man; others said she had been aggressive, but not unduly so, in getting a story that rival stations also wanted on their newscasts.

The suspension came less than two weeks after Aguilar had accepted the Broadcast Journalist of the Year award from the National Association of Hispanic Journalists. Three other Fox4 staffers connected with the story belatedly received suspensions lasting less than a week combined.

"I just think it's really sad that I gave this company 14 years and I did about 6,000 interviews," Aguilar said. "And now I'm out of a job because of one interview? It's like in one swoop it ruined my reputation. It ruined my name."

Fox4 management has a policy of not commenting on personnel matters. That also was NBC5's position Wednesday after confirming that veteran early morning meteorologist Rebecca Miller suddenly was out of a job after 17 years at the station. All in all, Wednesday was a bad day for local TV's Rebeccas.

Aguilar said she's well aware that some people feel there must be more to her suspension than just one story.

"I think a lot of people deal in rumors," she said. "Did the news director (Maria Barrs) and I go out to dinner or hang out together? No. But she was my boss and I respected her position . . . There definitely have been issues I can't elaborate on right now that I don't regret bringing to the attention of management. But if I was not a good employee and a solid reporter, there's no way a company would continue to renew my contract year after year. So people can talk all they want."

Aguilar said that most street reporters are expected to "go out there and ask the hard questions. As journalists, shouldn't we able to do the same thing on the inside? We shouldn't live in fear. Because once you put fear into a reporter, how can you expect that person to pursue the truth, pursue the facts? We cannot as reporters be Jekyll and Hyde, one person on the inside, another person on the outside. Those plantation days are over."

Aguilar, who hired an attorney after the suspension, declined to say whether she'd take any legal action against Fox4. "Let me just put it this way," she said. "I'm going to use any method I can to regain my reputation."

A number of her now former Fox4 colleagues, as well as reporters at rival stations, made efforts to stay in touch with her throughout the long suspension, Aguilar said. Others quickly washed their hands of her.

"I am so proud that many reporters, anchors and photographers have stuck by my side," she said. "They have called to ask how I was doing. They have boosted my morale. I definitely learned who my friends were at Fox4. And I'm disappointed that I also learned the truth about those who I thought were my friends."

Aguilar, whose husband still works at Fox4, contends that the station may have "ruined my career."

"I don't know what future opportunities I'll have," she said. "I'm going to be in google world until the day I'm dead. But I hope the decision that management made at Fox4 doesn't discourage other reporters around the country from doing their jobs for fear of retaliation or because they don't think managers have their back.

"Because I found out the hard way."

Veteran meteorologist Rebecca Miller out at NBC5 (updated again)


Early morning NBC5 meteorologist Rebecca Miller abruptly has left the station and already has been removed from the nbc5i.com Web site.

Brian Hocker, director of programming and operations, confirmed Miller's departure Wednesday, but said the station would have no further comment because it's a personnel matter. However, several sources say that Miller's contract wasn't renewed, and that she wanted to stay at NBC5.

In a brief email to NBC5 employees Wednesday, vice president of content development Susan Tully (that's the latest term for news director), wrote, "I want to inform everyone that today was Rebecca Miller's last day with NBC5. If you get any phone calls or emails inquiring about Rebecca, forward them to me. I will respond to viewers. We are now conducting a nationwide search for a morning meteorologist."

Miller, who could not immediately be reached, joined KXAS-TV in 1991, long before it became one of NBC's owned-and-operated stations. She's a graduate of Texas A&M University, and previously worked for The Weather Channel and WXIA-TV in Atlanta.

A temporary replacement for Miller hasn't been named yet, Hocker said. Staff meteorologist James Aydelott filled in for her Thursday.

Local Nielsen ratings snapshot (Tues., March 4)

Viewers voted for WFAA8's and CNN's coverage of Tuesday's Texas-flavored presidential primaries, and no one's yet cried fraud or threatened to file a lawsuit.

The ABC station's uncharacteristically mistake-prone 9 p.m. election special drew 185,106 D-FW homes, edging NBC's Law & Order: SVU repeat (180,234 homes) and Fox4's 9 p.m. results show (168,056 homes). A new episode of CBS' Jericho barely registered with 75,504 homes.

SVU in turn topped the 9 p.m. field among 25-to-54-year-olds (the key news demographic) and 18-to-49-year-olds (the advertiser-preferred audience for entertainment programming). WFAA8 ran second in both measurements.

WFAA8's 10 p.m. newscast proceeded to thrash its three local rivals, amassing 253,302 homes against Fox4 (153,443), NBC5 (141,265) and CBS11 (90,117).
The ABC station also won handily among 25-to-54-year-olds, with NBC5 and Fox4 respectively taking the silver and bronze.

TXA21's two-hour election special, from 7 to 9 p.m., drew 31,662 homes in the first hour and 63,326 in the second.

The three-way cable battle went to CNN, which topped Fox News Channel and MSNBC in all prime-time hours and beyond.

CNN's audience peaked at 85,246 D-FW homes in the 8 p.m. hour. So did Fox News Channel's, with 63,326 homes. MSNBC drew its largest crowd -- 26,792 homes -- between 9 and 10 p.m.

Fox's American Idol again led all comers Tuesday, luring 326,370 homes for a sing-off among the remaining eight males, including a very well-received Jason Castro of Rockwall.

The premiere of Fox's New Amsterdam kept a nice-sized 194,848 homes to win in that measurement. But it somehow lost the 18-to-49-year-old battle to ABC's competing comedy combo of According to Jim and Carpoolers.

In the remaining local news competitions, Fox4 returned to the winner's circle at 6 a.m. in total homes (131,522), with NBC5 and WFAA8 tying for second (116,909 homes apiece). WFAA8 was tops among 25-to-54-year-olds, with Fox4 barely holding off the Peacock for second place.

WFAA8 had another fine time at 5 and 6 p.m., taking golds across the board.

When he's 64 . . . even if only for a few more days


Elder statesman: ABC World News anchor Charles Gibson is still wearing well as he nears a milestone birthday. Photos: Ed Bark

Here's a guy who knows how to act his age -- and figures it's a plus having more birthdays in the bag than his principal dinner hour news competitors.

"Being a little bit older than the baby boomers is probably not a bad position to be in," World News anchor Charles Gibson says after spending the top of Tuesday's 9 a.m. hour as a guest on WFAA8's Good Morning Texas. "You tend to look at slightly older people and pay a little more attention to them. So that probably works a little bit in my favor."

Ah, but a big one's coming up. Gibson turns 65 on Sunday (March 9), putting him 14 years ahead of CBS Evening News anchor Katie Couric and 17 up on NBC Nightly News standardbearer Brian Williams, with whom he's locked in an airtight week-to-week ratings battle.

"I haven't signed up for Medicare yet, but I'm going to," says Gibson, who's been World News' anchor since May 29, 2006.

That's something a regular guy would say. And he still seems to be very much just that while sipping a Diet Coke, navigating a sticky sweet roll and recalling how he got passed over the first time by ABC News president David Westin after telling him, "I think you're pretty well set up for an old male white fart like me."

The network thought otherwise, settling on the much younger duo of Bob Woodruff and Elizabeth Vargas as anchors heralding a ballyhooed new age at ABC News. But his tragic injuries while covering the Iraq war and her unplanned pregnancy put Gibson back in favor. And he's been a solid pro player ever since, catching Nightly News in the ratings while both programs continue to distance themselves from Couric in the national Nielsens.

In D-FW, though, Gibson's World News remains a runaway No.1 while Williams and Couric battle for second place. In the just-concluded February "sweeps," the ABC program averaged 151,007 homes per weeknight, with NBC at 99,560 and CBS with 90,117.

Still, Gibson talks informally, but hardly specifically, about the need for ABC to plan for a successor at some yet uncharted later date.

"I don't know how long I'll do this, but I'm still having a great time," he says. "It's not as hard as I expected it to be, and this is all like an added chapter that I thought I'd never have . . . But I think I'll know when the time comes. You don't want to stay as long as (David) Brinkley did. David stayed too long. He had a great career, and you've got to know when it's time to leave."

Gibson, who's anchoring Tuesday's World News from Dallas and also contributing to a WFAA8 prime-time election special, is now using some of the senior elixirs that dominate advertising on all three network newscasts. But no, he says when asked, 65 is definitely not the new 55.

"Sixty-five is the new 65. There's no way you can sugar-coat it. I was on the treadmill the other day, and was very cognizant of the fact that I'm not 55 anymore. Indeed I've gravitated more to using the stationery bike because my knees can't take the treadmill. And I ain't losin' any weight when I'm on the treadmill anyway. I've gotta lose some weight.

"The golf club doesn't go as far back as it used to. I don't ski as fast as I used to. I forget names faster, and I fight more for words. It's dreadful. My brother-in-law used to say, 'When you're 50 and you wake up and nothing hurts, you're dead.' And I think that's probably true."

There's that tangible common touch again. But Gibson still has an aversion to chumming it up with late night talk show hosts -- and certainly to hosting Saturday Night Live.


Taking viewer questions with GMT's Brenda Teele and Gary Cogill.

Brian did a terrific job at it," Gibson says, referring to Williams' stint last fall on the last SNL before the writers' strike. "It's just not my cup of tea. It's not something I feel comfortable doing. I'd be terrible at it, and I'm from the older school probably.

"I also haven't said yes to Jon Stewart (and The Daily Show) yet. I have this sort of basic gut instinct that the focus needs to be on the reporting. I understand that an anchor is one of the reasons you watch or don't watch a news program. But the idea of an anchor as a personality is somewhat anathema to me."

It's no longer a novelty for presidential candidates to laugh it up with late night comics. Hillary Clinton, for one, guested on Late Show with David Letterman on the eve of Super Tuesday, made a surprise SNL appearance Saturday and joined Stewart via satellite from Austin during the night before the pivotal Texas and Ohio primaries.

"It's a humanizing thing, and I think it's fine as long as you don't do anything to demean yourself or in any way compromise your dignity," Gibson says. "People don't distinguish anymore between World News and NBC Nightly News and Oprah. It's all information. If you can go on these programs and project a more winning personality, I don't think there's anything wrong with it."

He's had it with the current run-up to the presidency, though. Loving politics is one thing, and Gibson savors the possibility of Democrats Clinton and Barack Obama battling all the way to the April 22nd Pennsylvania primary and perhaps beyond.

He otherwise champions a new regimen of four regional primaries that would go to the front or back of the line on a rotating basis.

"What you do with Iowa and New Hampshire, I don't know," Gibson says. "But I've come to believe that this is a crazy system we're in. It's sort of a crap shoot as to what states are going to be important, and I hate the idea of them all jockeying for position.

"Then there's terrible, terrible situation the Democrats have with Michigan and Florida (and how or whether to seat the states' convention delegates). Howard Dean (The Democratic national chairman) desperately wants this thing to be over before they get to the convention because he doesn't want to have to face the mistake he's made."

However it all pans out, Gibson will be leading his network's news division all the way to election day. And it doesn't get any sweeter than that for a guy who once simply aspired to be "a reporter on a network television news show."

"And I got there," he says. "Everything else after that has been gravy. There are still only three jobs like I have in all of network television. How cool is that?"

Won't it make her brown eyes blue, too?


Reporting from the shivery cold Monday on WFAA8's 6 p.m. newscast, veteran Debbie Denmon fretted about getting too numb to talk coherently.

"My little brown nose here is turnin' red," she then told anchors John McCaa and Gloria Campos before quickly signing off.

Hmm. Consider the double entendre possibilities as we again revisit the station's still famed big chill of Nov. 24, 1992. It was the night when reporter Valeri Williams found her lips in eclipse near Amarillo while anchors Tracy Rowlett and Chip Moody laughed it up.

Denmon's mild discomfort at least serves as a warmup act. But no D-FW reporter before or since has put on a better ice show.

Ed Bark

The Missing Link

Former KXAS anchor Randall Carlisle

He arrived from KSTP-TV in Minnesota, and briefly bridged the long reigns of anchors Brad Wright and Mike Snyder at NBC5.

But just who was that unmasked man in the October 1990 promo seen below? And where is he now?

The name is Randall Carlisle, and he's still staying alive in the news biz as the 5 and 5:30 p.m. anchor at Salt Lake City's ABC affiliate, KTVX-TV.

Carlisle lasted until 1991 at NBC5, teaming with Jane McGarry. The perplexing Snyder era then took hold and continues to run in place.
Ed Bark

Tipping allowed? Reporter Jeff Crilley's side business offers how-to guidance on how to make news

Hungry for exposure? Want to reel in a TV reporter hook, line and sinker? Fox4 reporter Jeff Crilley may have a Horse Whisperer's delivery on the air. But he's otherwise a pumped-up traveling carnival barker whose paid seminars have attendees blowing bubbles and going cuh-razy for him.

Basically put, Crilley schools PR types in the art of orchestrating the news. A companion Web site flogs a Crilley-authored book billed as "a start-to-finish guide to making yourself a media darling while raking in a fortune in free publicity."

Below is Crilley's very own testimonial video, one of many he's been posting on youtube for the past year or so. Still, it's the first I've seen or heard of them, so my bad.

You be the judge of whether Crilley should be straddling both sides while still an almost nightly presence on Fox4's featured newscasts. Seems like a clear violation to me, and especially disappointing from a guy who's on-air work is generally air-tight. But we live in times when ethical questions prompt yawns from lots of viewers and shrugs from many who run today's TV news rooms. The bar's already low enough for limbo.
Ed Bark