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WFAA8's Daybreak: Cynthia, Greg and the man with no name

WFAA8's Daybreak is still trying to find itself -- both identity-wise and in the ratings.

The May "sweeps" Nielsen numbers, which became official Thursday, showed the Dallas-based station's early riser continuing to run a still pretty distant third in total viewers and 25-to-54-year-olds, the main advertiser target audience for news programming. Front-running NBC5 is very narrowly ahead of Fox4 in both measurements.

Whatever the problems with Daybreak, WFAA8 can't be accused of not promoting it. You can't watch the station for more than an hour without seeing something pop up. And as with most WFAA8 spots, those touting Daybreak are eye-catching and very well produced.

You may have noticed something, though. All of the current Daybreak spots are devoted to co-anchor Cynthia Izaguirre and weathercaster Greg Fields. In one of them they tease one another. In two others, they separately talk about their lives and jobs. Which prompts this question: What about co-anchor Chris Flanagan, who's seen but never identified in the Daybreak spots? He duly laughs it up with his early morning colleagues. But where's his stand-alone promo?

WFAA8 management says that no slight is intended. It's just that Flanagan is the newest member of the Daybreak team and hasn't yet resonated in audience surveys the way Izaguirre and Fields have. So they're getting the spotlight right now.

Flanagan joined Daybreak in early March of 2009, arriving from a Des Moines, Iowa TV station. Interim anchors Brad Hawkins and Jeff Brady, neither with WFAA8 anymore, had kept the Daybreak seat warm in the seven months after Justin Farmer's August 2008 departure to Atlanta.

That gives Flanagan more than a year on the job, which is more time than either Lauren Przybyl has spent on Fox4's Good Day or Scott Friedman on NBC's early morning edition.

Przybyl in particular is getting a more concerted promotional push from Fox4, which is trying to lighten her image and loosen her up. She had a very tough act to follow in Megan Henderson, but seems to be settling in after joining longtime incumbent Tim Ryan in September of last year.

If WFAA8 likewise wants Flanagan to shine -- management insists they're happy with him -- then hasn't the time come to give him a little promotional showcase of his own? So far, though, he's still just that seemingly congenial, nameless guy sitting off to the side.

Here are the three promos we're talking about. What's your take?

CBS11 sweeps 10 p.m. May news numbers for first time in any ratings "sweeps"


CBS11 swept a 10 p.m. "sweeps" for the first time ever. Photo: Ed Bark

Party hats were acceptable news room attire at CBS11 Thursday.

For the first time since launching a 10 p.m. newscast in 1995, the CBS-owned station won a weeknight "sweeps" ratings period in both total viewers and 25-to-54-year-olds, the main advertiser target audience for news programming. CBS11 also added a win in the largely outmoded total household ratings, which are considered largely irrelevant by national networks and most local stations.

CBS11 also was the only one of four stations to show any year-to-year audience increases, but only with its 5 and 6 p.m. editions. The four-week Nielsen May "sweeps" ran from April 29th to May 26th. CBS11 again enjoyed an overall lead-in advantage at 10 p.m. from CBS prime-time programming. But its 9:45 to 10 p.m. audience windfalls were down significantly from a year ago.

The May 2009 late night news champ, WFAA8, fell to second in total viewers and third with 25-to-54-year-olds, behind NBC5. In the November sweeps (February's were skewed by NBC's Olympics overruns), CBS11 beat WFAA8 by a paper thin margin in total viewers at 10 p.m. while WFAA8 retained its 25-to-54 ratings crown.

The May 2010 ratings races were very close at 10 p.m., and exceedingly close in some measurements at both 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. So much so that our final report will extend those numbers to three decimal points rather than rounding them off to the nearest one-tenth of a point.

Also winning May sweeps golds were NBC5 in both 6 a.m. measurements and WFAA8 in total viewers at 5 and 6 p.m. Fox4 topped both early evening newscast ratings among 25-to-54-year-olds.

Reflecting the overall air tight results, WFAA8 bested CBS11 by just 68 total viewers at 6 p.m. In Nielsen rating points, that's a score of 1.832 to 1.831. Which basically is a tie.

CBS11 president and general manager Gary Schneider, in a telephone interview Thursday, said he's "not aware of" a more competitive newscast ratings competition anywhere else in the country. The biggest "blowout" in any of the four principal time periods was Fox4's slightly more than four-tenths of a rating point win over WFAA8 in the 6 p.m. battle for 25-to-54-year-olds.

Sweeping the marquee 10 p.m. newscast ratings for the first time obviously is cause for celebration at CBS11.

"We'll come up with something for all the employees at the station," Schneider said. "There really are a lot of smiles here. I'll probably have a big smile on my face for quite a while. In the late '90s, most of the other stations in this market didn't even have us tuned in in their newsrooms."

Meanwhile, WFAA8 was shut out in the 25-to-54 demographic, which station management says is the only news audience that really matters to advertisers. Fox4 was the only station to win two newscast competitions in this demographic.

Also of note: the 25-to-54 victories cited are for English-speaking newscasts. Univision's local 5 and 10 p.m. Spanish language newscast, Noticias 23, topped the 25-to-54 ratings in both of those time periods. Univision does not have local newscasts scheduled at 6 a.m. and 6 p.m.

Here are the May sweeps local newscast results, with May 2010 to May 2009 increases and mostly decreases in parentheses. (The value of a single rating point has been adjusted upward during that time. In total viewers, the increase is from 66,430 to 67,863. In the 25-to-54 demographic, there's been a jump from 30,353 viewers in this age range to 30,690. That makes some of the sharp year-to-year decreases all the more alarming to station managers and news directors hoping to somehow stem the tide.)

10 P.M.

Total Viewers
CBS11 -- 195,242 (minus 43,906)
WFAA8 -- 190,695 (minus 68,382)
NBC5 -- 150,927 (minus 28,434)
Fox4 -- 106,409 (minus 33,094)

CBS11 -- 79,242 (minus 17,888)
NBC5 -- 76,081 (minus 11,943)
WFAA8 -- 74,147 (minus 47,265)
Fox4 -- 59,999 (minus 21,954)

6 A.M.

Total Viewers
NBC5 -- 105,663 (minus 47,126)
Fox4 -- 91,411 (minus 21,520)
WFAA8 -- 65,013 (minus 27,989)
CBS11 -- 47,301 (minus 12,486)

NBC5 -- 63,651 (minus 36,514)
Fox4 -- 62,393 (minus 13,490)
WFAA8 -- 39,744 (minus 17,927)
CBS11 -- 23,662 (minus 15,797)

Note: Interestingly, CBS11 had slightly more 25-to-54-year-old viewers than any rival station from 5 to 6 a.m. But its audience stayed flat from 6 to 7 a.m. while two stations -- Fox4 and NBC5 -- more than doubled their audience in this demographic. Schneider said that CBS11 tends to "skew a little bit more male" in the early mornings and needs to attract more women viewers to be competitive in the 6 a.m. hour.

6 P.M.

Total Viewers
WFAA8 -- 124,325 (minus 35,107)
CBS11 -- 124,257 (plus 17,969)
NBC5 -- 108,513 (minus 24,347)
Fox4 -- 102,270 (minus 10,661)

Fox4 -- 59,078 (minus 4,663)
WFAA8 -- 45,483 (minus 11,878)
CBS11 -- 40,419 (plus 10,066)
NBC5 -- 29,708 (minus 27,963)

5 P.M.

Total Viewers
WFAA8 -- 113,535 (minus 12,682)
NBC5 -- 101,999 (minus 17,574)
Fox4 -- 84,625 (minus 15,020)
CBS11 -- 70,578 (plus 4,148)

Fox4 -- 44,623 (minus 10,012)
WFAA8 -- 37,779 (minus 16,856)
NBC5 -- 26,700 (minus 30,971)
CBS11 -- 26,056 (plus 4,809)

In other May sweeps ratings results, Fox4's 9 p.m. newscast averaged 151,538 total viewers, a drop from 179,361 the previous May. CW33 had 32,981 viewers, down a bit from the 33,215 it averaged in May 2009.

TXA21's 7 and 8 p.m. local newscasts were barely visible, with just 13,369 and 10,722 viewers respectively. Those are also drops from a year ago.

Local Nielsen ratings snapshot (Wed., May 26) -- Idol finale scores big, CBS11 clinches first-ever across-the-board 10 p.m. newscast win


Fox4's giddy Fiona Gorostiza makes a "sandwich," as she put it, between North Texas' two American Idol Top 10ers, Tim Urban and Casey James, during the station's 9 p.m. newscast. Photo: Ed Bark

Bleeding seven minutes past 9 p.m., the Season 9 finale of Fox's American Idol dominated as expected Wednesday night.

Including the seven-minute runover, Idol averaged 549,690 D-FW viewers while also calling the tune among advertiser-coveted 18-to-49-year-olds.

Fox4's abbreviated 9 p.m. newscast, in large part a hard-to-take celebratory Idol post mortem, then lost viewers in each 15-minute increment. Overall it drew 217,162 total viewers, finishing second to the season finale of CBS' CSI: NY (271,452 viewers).

Fox4's Idol onslaught included reporter Fiona Gorostiza's borderline hysterical live red carpet reports from outside L.A.'s Nokia Theatre. She was joined by fashion critic "Stylin' Steve," who for some reason is still an occasional part of Fox4's fluff 'n' puff stuff.

SS said "amazing" enough times for the word to cower in a fetal position and demand to be put out of its misery. Gorostiza, who brought a guitar to be autographed, displayed some of the signatures she'd gathered before going ape in the company of North Texas Idol contenders Casey James of Cool and Tim Urban of Duncanville.

Fox4 can't be entirely blamed for ramping up its Idol coverage on the show's annual big night. But a little of this goes a long way -- and a lot of this is virtually unwatchable let alone embarrassing.

Back at the station's downtown Dallas studios, co-anchor Heather Hays called on the expertise of Arlington's Todrick Hall (one of this season's 12 male semi-finalists) and Celena Rae, still milking her distant also-ran status from Season 4. All three pretty much agreed that everything had been great this season. Fox4 devoted three segments to their largely redundant "analysis." One would have been more than enough.

Meanwhile, CBS11 ran the table at 10 p.m. on the last night of the May "sweeps" ratings period. Its wins in total viewers and with 25-to-54-year-olds (main advertiser target audience for news programming) clinched the station's first-ever across-the-board golds in a ratings sweeps period. (We'll have a complete sweeps results report a bit later.)

NBC5 swept Wednesday's 6 a.m. news competitions while CBS11 did likewise at both 5 and 6 p.m.

WFAA8 ended the sweeps without a Wednesday win in any of the four major news competitions. That's still hard to believe.

Local Nielsen ratings snapshot (Tues., May 25) -- Idol and Dancing dominate while CBS11 closes in on historic 10 p.m. "sweeps" doubleplay


Winning Dancing duo of Derek Hough/Nicole Scherzinger. ABC photo

American Idol's final sing-off between Crystal Bowersox and Lee DeWyze powered Fox to a runaway victory in Tuesday's opening prime-time hour before ABC's Dancing with the Stars won in total viewers but not with advertiser-coveted 18-to-49-year-olds.

Idol drew 488,614 D-FW viewers in thumping CBS' runner-up season finale of NCIS (278,238 viewers). The 18-to-49 crown also went to Idol, with the first hour of NBC's Biggest Loser closer sliding into second place ahead of NCIS.

Based on Tuesday night's performance, Bowersox should be Idol's Season 9 champ when Wednesday's verdict comes in. She blew away DeWyze, who looked cowed and throughly defeated in the end. But their two support camps might already be set in cement. In that case, DeWyze gets a prize he doesn't deserve -- and knows it.

Dancing, which crowned Pussycat Doll Nicole Scherzinger and pro partner Derek Hough, won the 8 to 10 p.m. slot in total viewers with 373,247. But the hoof/puff extravaganza bombed in its opening hour with 18-to-49-year-olds.

From 8 to 9 p.m., Dancing ran fourth in this key demographic behind NBC's pace-setting Biggest Loser, Fox's Glee and CBS' NCIS: Los Angeles. The concluding 9 to 10 p.m. hour of Dancing then vaulted into the top spot with 18-to-49-year-olds, besting NBC's second place Parenthood, CBS' The Good Wife and Fox4's local newscast.

In local news derby results, WFAA8's 10 p.m. edition badly needed a big number after coming off a major lead-in advantage from the final 15 minutes of Dancing. It didn't get it.

WFAA8 instead lost a big hunk of its inherited audience while barely beating CBS11 in total viewers. The score was 244,307 to 230,734.

Among 25-to-54-year-olds -- the main advertiser target audience for news programming -- WFAA8 fell to second place behind CBS11. That score was 113,553 to 92,070.

With just Wednesday night remaining in the 20-weeknight May "sweeps," CBS11 is solidly positioned to take the golds in both ratings measurements for the first time in its history. It leads WFAA8 by one-tenth of a point in total viewers and by two-tenths of a point among 25-to-54-year-olds, where WFAA8 also trails NBC5. A likely strong lead-in from Wednesday's season finale of CSI: NY obviously won't hurt CBS11's chances. WFAA8 will have to sink or swim with ABC's three-hour presentation of the well-worn Transformers movie while NBC punts on closing night of the sweeps with a Law & Order: SVU repeat.

At 6 a.m., NBC5 leads Fox4 by one-tenth of a point in both ratings measurements at the 19-day mark. So it's looking pretty good for the Peacock, which won in both ratings measurements on Tuesday.

The 5 and 6 p.m. golds among 25-to-54-year-olds will go to Fox4. That's a considerable sweeps achievement in time slots that WFAA8 used to dominate. Fox4 won at 5 p.m. Tuesday, with CBS11 on top at 6 p.m. But Fox4 already is safely home, particularly at the later hour.

WFAA8 has the 5 p.m. total viewers race locked up, and leads CBS11 by one-tenth of a point at 6 p.m. CBS11 won by a fairly commanding margin at 6 p.m. Tuesday, and has been closing in fast by winning three consecutive weekdays. So it may not be quite over yet.

Also of note: No single station is dominating any of the four principal newscast races. In fact the biggest lead in any time slot belongs to Fox4, which leads WFAA8 at 6 p.m. by four-tenths of a rating point (just 12,276 viewers) in the key 25-to-54 demographic.

WFAA8 likely will end the May "sweeps" with no wins among 25-to-54-year-olds. WFAA8 management issued a statement after the November sweeps saying that this is the only audience demographic that matters to any station. WFAA8 won November in the 25-to-54 measurement at both 6 p.m. and 10 p.m.

Sex the latest Rx for struggling CW33 news


New in HD: CW33 anchors Walt Maciborski and Amanda Salinas. New marching orders: keep teasing those sex stories. Photos: Ed Bark

Shocking but true: CW33's newscasts finally are in HD after an unannounced weekend conversion.

Amazing but irrefutable: The pictures are crisper, but the content is even worse. News director David Duitch's latest gambit to spike ratings is sex-drenched newscasts and a website to match. On Monday's first weekday 9 p.m. edition in HD, anchors Walt Maciborski and Amanda Salinas presided over a veritable carnival of carnality spiked by repeated promos for "The G-Shot for Your G-Spot."

Maciborski described it as "the interesting alternative to getting 'The Big O' " while miraculously keeping his jaw set firm. Other jaws might have dropped just seconds before excitable CW33 correspondent Nic Lively's story hit home screens midway through the newscast.

As a further appetizer, the station showed video of an unidentified male anchor from an out-of-town newscast remarking, "So she's enjoying penis a little bit more, is she?" Debased anew, Maciborski and Salinas acted as though they'd heard nothing. This clearly is the newscast for parents who'd like to accelerate Little Jimmy's march toward puberty.

(Note to readers: the p-word anchor in question is Michael Hill, formerly of WFAA8 and CBS11 in Dallas and now of ABC affiliate WGNO-TV in New Orleans. He was reacting to his station's G-shot story, and so far remains employed.)

DSCN1751 DSCN1757

Although she doesn't like needles, CW33's Nic Lively gave "this little shot of gold" a perfect 10 "on the Nic-tastic scale of fantastic."

In her penetrating report, Lively informed viewers that "there are a staggering number of women out there who can't achieve an orgasm. The G-shot is supposed to be the 'O'-so-good cure."

Not that she's tried it. And Lively also has a stated aversion to needles. Still, "this little shot of gold gets a 10 on the Nic-tastic scale of fantastic," she trilled.

We're just getting warmed up.

Earlier in Monday's newscast, veteran reporter Shana Franklin remained neck-deep in the sex beat with a story on ijustmadelove.com.

Earlier in the May "sweeps," Franklin assumed the position for what was supposed to be a "30 Days of Sex Challenge" starring a young, willing and able Granbury couple. But the series abruptly ended -- and all attendant CW website videos and blogs were removed -- after the couple said their two-year-old son's life was threatened in connection with the sex challenge series. Until that point, they had happily shared descriptions of their daily activities with CW33, including a "Day 7" notation that read: "Too much tequila and now bedside lamp is broken and lost bra. Great night I think."


Reporter Shana Franklin was affixed with a set of horns, with accompanying flames, while declaring, "And if your head isn't already ready to explode, there's more -- hard numbers."

Franklin's latest look at libidos, titled "Sex In Your City," got the requisite buildup from co-anchor Salinas, who teased, "Sometimes getting frisky is all about being spontaneous. Like how about getting it on in a coat closet?"

The story made the aforementioned web site seem a bit icky, but duly promoted it as a place where joiners can tweet about out-of-bedroom sex, where they had it, how they did it, etc.

Franklin's foreplay included this observation: "Getting more action than the dog park apparently is the area around Dallas's Lakewood Country Club, where the golf course has been home to many holes in one."

After the deed, Salinas dutifully referred viewers to "more between the sheets stories" on the CW33 website.

Monday's masterpiece also included several peeks at a provocative outfit worn by tennis star Venus Williams. Maciborski said it was made "with a material that seemed to be see-through and bottomless."

Then came reporter Roni Proter's "White Worn Right" dispatch, with Salinas priming the pump by asking, "Do you have the perfect white skirt but maybe not the perfect undergarments to wear underneath?"


The marketer of a new bra got excited while demonstrating it. "And then we -- gather the girls!" she told CW33's impressed Roni Proter.

Proter visited a trendy clothing shop that sold both white outfits for the summer and undergarments designed to eliminate unsightly bulges or bra/panty lines.

"What she's wearing is 'Smooth Outs' which are nipple concealers," a marketer nearly gurgled to Proter before showing how to "gather the girls" for just the right bustline -- or something.

Salinas later chimed, "And we have a picture gallery for this story."

Monday night was by no means an aberration. CW33's latest strategy is to sell sex as its principle newscast commodity, whether cooing over various cheerleader tryouts, concocting sometimes ill-fated viewer participation gambits or sending Franklin into the breech as part of what she calls "a beat you won't see at many TV stations." Her Monday night "Sex in Your City" piece followed recent efforts such as:

***"Sex-starved: 20 million American couples going 'without' "
***"Newlywed infidelity: More Dallas brides are turning to cheating webites"
***Erotic Capital: The rich combination of social, sexual and physical appeal"
*** "The Sex Diet: Getting in shape to look better naked"
***"Porn and Chicken Club: Running 'afowl' at UNT"
***Women getting tattoos to feel sexier"

Virtually lost in Monday night's sexcapade was Franklin's capable followup story on 16-year-old golf sensation Jordan Spieth of Jesuit College Preparatory School of Dallas, who improbably placed in the top 20 at the Byron Nelson championship.

The old cougar didn't even purr seductively at him or suggestively ask about holes in one. She'll probably be reprimanded for that.

And since you might have to see it to believe it, here's Nic Lively's G-Shot report:


Local Nielsen ratings snapshot (Fri.-Sun., May 21-23) -- it's Lost from start to stop

A two-hour recap and two-and-a-half-hour Lost capper put ABC in complete ratings control Sunday night.

The denouement averaged 400,392 D-FW viewers from 8 to 10:30 p.m., peaking at 468,255 from 10 to 10:15 before the closing 15 minutes descended a bit to 447,896.

The preceding Lost refresher course -- 6 to 8 p.m. -- weighed in at 264,666 viewers.

CBS had the second biggest audience haul for a 7 to 9 p.m. Brooks & Dunn farewell special, which drew 244,307 viewers.

It likewise was no contest among advertiser-favored 18-to-49-year-olds, where the two-and-a-half-hour finale more than tripled the audience for any competing program. Specifically, 251,143 viewers in this key demographic were in attendance for Lost.

Saturday night's recap of the two-hour Lost pilot fared poorly, however, with just 74,649 total viewers. That's a bit better than the showing for Sunday's midnight presentation of Jimmy Kimmel Live's "Aloha to Lost" special, which had 67,763 viewers.

In Friday's local news derby results, NBC5 swept the 10 p.m. Nielsens in both total viewers and 25-to-54-year-olds, the main advertiser target audience for news programming.

The Peacock also controlled the 6 a.m. ratings in both measurements while adding a 5 p.m. win in total viewers and running first at 6 p.m. with 25-to-54-year-olds.

CBS11 won at 6 p.m. in total viewers while WFAA8 managed its only gold of the day with a 5 p.m. victory among 25-to-54-year-olds. Fox4, usually potent in the early evening with 25-to-54-year-olds, went winless across the board.

NOTE TO READERS: Due to the heavy volume of big series and season finales through Wednesday of this week, we are bagging out of the last four days of our "Night in the Lives" look at the late night newscasts on Fox4, NBC5, WFAA8 and CBS11.

Sixteen of 20 nights was more than enough, thank you. But we'll have all the local news ratings results on Thursday of this week after the May sweeps end on the previous night. All four battlegrounds remain closely contested down the homestretch.

WFAA8 anchor Gloria Campos mulls her options while getting ready to relinquish "Wednesday's Child"


WFAA8 anchor Gloria Campos on a recent newscast. Photo: Ed Bark

Longstanding WFAA8 anchor Gloria Campos, who has helmed the Dallas-based station's weekly "Wednesday's Child" segments since 1989, will be relinquishing them in September, likely to colleague Cynthia Izaguirre.

In a candid email exchange with unclebarky.com, Campos also says she has had a "couple of conversations" with news director Mike Valentine about scaling back her hours -- and accepting a requisite pay cut -- either before or when her current contract expires at the end of 2012.

"I've been told by many that I'm the 'Queen Bee' and very valuable to our news department," she says. "However, I am already laying the groundwork for my next step and/or career . . . It is my hope to end my broadcast career here, but one never knows, considering the economy and changing nature of our business."

NBC5 in recent months ended the long 10 p.m. run of veteran anchors Mike Snyder and Jane McGarry, re-assigning them to the 5 and 6 p.m. newscasts while requiring both to take substantial pay cuts. Stations around the country have either been cutting or demoting longtime, high-priced anchors in favor of cheaper, younger labor. In other cases, anchor duos have been downsized to solo acts.

Campos joined WFAA8 in 1984, becoming the ABC affiliate's first Hispanic anchor. She has been co-anchoring WFAA8's 6 and 10 p.m. weekday newcasts with John McCaa since August 2002.

Campos emphasizes she has "no immediate plans to scale back." But she has grown weary of regularly anchoring the 5 p.m. news, as well as the 6 and 10 p.m. editions.

"It will be two years in August when Macie Jepson was laid off," Campos notes. "I did the 5, 6 and 10 p.m. for six months. Then Jeff Brady left and management decided to alternate me and John at 5. You do the math. Last I asked, there are no immediate plans to hire a new 5 p.m. male anchor to work with Shelly Slater. Considering my active schedule as mother, wife and community volunteer, it's become a sometimes grueling schedule and I wonder how long realistically I can keep it up without starting to slip. I have seen other anchors 'PHONE IT IN.' (her emphasis). I have too much pride in what I do to EVER DO THAT . . . My job is definitely more than the 2:30 to 10:35 p.m. shift I physically put in."

Campos and her husband, freelance writer/broadcaster Lance Brown, have twin sons who are now teenagers.

Valentine, in an email response, said, "I have no comments on any of this and would never comment on rumors." He said that WFAA8 president and general manager Mike Devlin was out of town until Monday (May 17th) and "I would suggest at least waiting to see if he has any comments."

Two emails sent to Devlin, one on the day of his return and the other at mid-week, have not been returned. Both asked him if he wanted to comment on Campos' remarks.

Campos says she eventually would like to make a "gradual transition" at WFAA8, "sort of like Troy did (retired weathercaster Troy Dungan). Who knows how it will really pan out?"

She would reconsider scaling back if WFAA8 ever hires a permanent 5 p.m. co-anchor, Campos says. "But that said, my husband might shoot me! He wants me home more."

The dean of D-FW anchors, Fox4's Clarice Tinsley, currently solo anchors at 5 and 10 p.m. after management declined to renew co-anchor Baron James' contract. Pure economics were part of the reason he was let go.

"As far as Clarice goes, she said publicly at a luncheon honoring her, me and Jane (McGarry) that she wants to work until she is 70," Campos recalls. "I DO NOT!"

In the current May "sweeps" ratings period, which ends next Wednesday, WFAA8 and CBS11 are locked in an airtight battle for first place at 10 p.m. in total viewers. And among advertiser-favored 25-to-54-year-olds, it's a very close three-way contest among NBC5, WFAA8 and CBS11.

WFAA8 likely will narrowly win in total viewers at both 5 and 6 p.m. But among 25-to-54-year-olds, Fox4 is in a strong position to sweep at those hours.

Devlin, in a pointed statement last December on the value of the total viewers measurement, said that "others may count children as part of a 'victory'; however, the fact is all local stations make a living on adults between 25 and 54."

McCaa turned 56 in February and Campos is right in that ballpark. Their appeal in the only audience demographic WFAA8 really cares about may be waning while rival stations for the most part all have younger anchor teams in their key newscast slots. Namely Heather Hays and Steve Eagar at Fox4; Brian Curtis and Meredith Land at NBC5; and Doug Dunbar and Karen Borta at CBS11.

It's another way of saying that WFAA8 management may be perfectly willing to cut back Campos' anchoring hours as well as her pay when contract negotiations begin in earnest. In times of dwindling newscast audiences and problematic economics, few veteran anchors have the bargaining leverage they once did.

For now, though, it's still a bit "premature," as Campos says. But it all bears watching.

This just in: A night in the lives of D-FW's late night newscasts (Thurs., May 20)

Nothing prompts a bigger onslaught of "amateur" videos and stills than just about any form of severe storm.

But NBC5 clearly had D-FW's Best of Show Thursday. It's the above video of a funnel cloud being seen through a front windshield while an eye witness exclaims, "Dude, that is a flippin' tornado starting right in front of our eyes!"

That sounds like a great sequel to Hot Tub Time Machine. And NBC5 wasn't about to let the day or night pass without showing it again and again.

Co-anchor Brian Curtis set the 10 p.m. table by noting, "NBC5 viewers turned storm trackers today, sending us more than 150 images of the severe weather as it moved across North Texas. Here are just a few of our favorites."

Actually it was more than a few. Curtis presented 12 still pictures, naming the viewer behind each of them, before getting to the money shot.

"But by far our favorite viewer video of the day came from two guys who were on the road when they spotted the twister," he said.

The two guys were Brian Abbott and Brian Massey. Their now fairly famous short film was shot via videophone while they motored through Midlothian, the only site of a confirmed tornado touchdown Thursday.

Reporter Omar Villafranca interviewed Abbott, who described Massey's perfectly executed "dude" declamation as "totally unscripted, but it was very sincere. He's an actor and writer so (it was) very dramatic, which showed on the video."

Abbott, a filmmaker, told Villafranca that his only regret was not having better equipment with him. But in fact that might have ruined the overall unvarnished effect.

After Villafranca finished, Curtis deadpanned, "All right, thanks, dude." He no doubt had been saving that one up. But it worked.

Rival stations likewise loaded up on viewer pictures and videos, with WFAA8 displaying its opening collection to the tune of chainsaw rock. But none of them could touch what NBC5 had. The Peacock also presented the night's only footage of a drenched reporter, via videotape of Grant Stinchfield in Corsicana. He also reported live and dry from a becalmed Midlothian.

There was other news, too.

Fox4's dogged Becky Oliver, who's having her strongest sweeps month in recent memory, weighed in with her third lengthy investigation. This time she looked at an oft-costly, taxpayer-funded "No Child Left Behind" tutoring program, in which private companies charge between $75 and $92 an hour for questionable services.

In return, middle and high school students get workbooks, computers and in some cases some very elementary lessons. Such as learning the definitions of "nice" and "chair."

"What infuriates the state's teachers' union is that it's a time when teaching jobs and salaries are being cut while the feds to continue to pour billions into tutoring," Oliver told viewers.

Tutors With Computers defended its service, which includes incentives such as iphones, in a series of statements. Oliver said at the end of her report that she had sought an on-camera interview for the past 10 days, and finally was promised one for next Thursday.

Officials at DFW Airport likewise wouldn't talk to WFAA8 reporter Brett Shipp for his third sweeps report on allegedly outdated locks that could make it easy for a would-be terrorist to gain access to a plane. Airport spokesman David Magana did talk to him previously, with Shipp then telling viewers that some changes were made as a result of his investigation.

His go-to source is an anonymous "top security official" whose voice is being disguised. In Shipp's two previous reports he sounded like Alvin the Chipmunk. For Thursday's installment, he was affixed with a deep baritone.

The airport's printed rebuttal, which Shipp read, said that "DFW employs multiple layers of security and collaborates with multiple federal agencies in protecting the airport. Any discussion of the particulars . . . only serves to degrade public safety."

That last sentence makes for a pretty strong argument. Generally I'd take Shipp over any other local TV investigator. But all three of Oliver's stories this month have been stronger than Shipp's by now rather redundant efforts to portray DFW Airport as lamentably lax on security.

CBS11 also had a featured investigation, with reporter Jack Fink looking at a supposed increase in cell phone spying. His principal expert was Los Angeles-based computer forensics expert Eric Robi, although there was no visual evidence that Fink actually made a trip to interview him.

A similar story on cell phone spying, with Robi again a featured player, popped up a year ago during the May 2009 sweeps on Fox11 in Los Angeles. Much more recently, CBS-owned WFOR-TV in Miami had a cell phone spying story during the first week of the ongoing May sweeps. But WFOR didn't include Robi in its lengthy story. Coincidentally or not, new CBS11 news director Adrienne Roark joined the station in March from WFOR-TV.

Fink did localize his story, interviewing an anonymous spying victim named Jamie and a UT Dallas professor who teaches a cyber security class. But unlike the efforts by Oliver and Shipp, this was a topic that already has made the rounds.

Later in the newscast, sports anchor Babe Laufenberg dished out another tasty tidbit from his face-to-face interview with Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, who seldom does sit-downs.

"I want to run naked with the (NBA championship) trophy and give Commissioner (David) Stern a smack on the lips," Cuban said.

Laufenberg wondered just how he meant that.

"I'll let you decide if it's tongue or knuckles," Cuban said, laughing. The full interview will air on Laufenberg's The Score program Sunday night.

NBC5 sports anchor Newy Scruggs also dropped Cuban's name, wondering aloud if he might be fined for a CNN website interview in which he talked about the possibility of LeBron James coming to Dallas. The NBA might consider that a violation of its "tampering" policy, Scruggs said.

Cuban said much the same thing to Laufenberg in a Wednesday night morsel from their interview. But Scruggs isn't about to mention a rival station by name. They're all like that, as WFAA8 anchor Dale Hansen more or less joked after Pete Delkus' Thursday night weather segment.

The funnel clouds shown in viewer videos and still shots "look like the V ship from The Visitors," Hansen said. "That is an ABC show, isn't it? We don't ever talk about it unless it's on ABC."

Yes, it's an ABC show.

WFAA8 also offered the sweeps' first miracle diet story, with Debbie Denmon reporting on the Sadkhin treatment after co-anchor John McCaa teased, "Can these tiny balls help with your bulge?"

Hmm. Anyway, the tiny balls are silver. And they're taped to the skin at various "hunger points" to supposedly curb appetites.

Denmon talked to a highly enthusiastic hairstylist who'd dropped 50 or so pounds. But maybe this has more to do with the eating regimen than with where those balls wind up. The companion diet is fruit, vegetables and lots of milk. Nothing else.

"Yeah, whatever works," McCaa said at story's end. "I guess, you know, that's a good thing."

Not really. But let's just leave it at that.

Four nights to go.

This just in: A night in the lives of D-FW's late night newscasts (Wed., May 19)

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Fox4's Natalie Solis/Heather Hays and WFAA8's Gary Reaves

This latest late news compendium is being written while all four of D-FW's major TV dispensers gut Thursday's mid-to-late afternoon programming to bring non-stop coverage of tornado warnings in Ellis and Navarro Counties.

Casualties include The Oprah Winfrey Show, Ellen and Judge Judy. NBC5 and CBS11 both have regularly scheduled local newscasts at 4 p.m., mitigating the damage on those stations.

In reality, they probably have little choice here. You don't want to mess around with this stuff, even though the weather in Dallas and immediate surroundings remains sunny and not expected to dramatically change.

The only problem is that these same stations by and large have milked the "severe" weather" motif to the point of absurdity during recent late night newscasts. In the end, though, virtually nothing has materialized in their principle and most populated viewing areas. And one gets the distinct impression that all of this worst case scenario foul weather reporting is tied to stations' beliefs that it's the easiest path to a ratings bump.

After way too much of this, no sane viewer can be faulted for not taking them entirely seriously. Are they just crying wolf again? Those kinds of questions are justified under the circumstances. And they cast a pall over Thursday's coverage, which indeed seem warranted even as it became almost numbingly repetitive.

That said, let's move on with a few comments about Wednesday's late night newscasts, all of which were topped by news of more tornado touchdowns in Oklahoma before weathercasters quickly turned to the business of forecasting possibilities of rain on Thursday in North Texas.

WFAA8 weathercaster Pete Delkus was almost comical in his response to co-anchor Gloria Campos, who asked at the start of the newscast, "Well, Pete, it looks like North Texas dodged the brunt of the storms. Are we in the clear now?"

"Well, no, we're not in the clear now," a shirt-sleeved Pete began. "But yes, Gloria, we have at this point, as of this moment, we've dodged it."

Fox4 also had American Idol on the brain, of course. Casey James of Cool, TX had just been eliminated from the show, and co-anchor Heather Hays thought she had his talkative mother, Debra, on the phone.

"Hey, Debra, you've gotta be so proud of Casey and all that he has accomplished," Hays said. No answer. She tried a second time to no avail before ending with a hearty "Way to go, Casey."

That wasn't the end of it. Hays made live contact with Debra in the second half of the newscast. It wasn't so much an interview as Hays making pronouncements and Debra filling in the blanks.

"You actually got to sing onstage with him (during Friday's North Texas homecoming). What a moment for ya'll," Hays declared before mom readily agreed. And so on.

During the nightly "Viewers' Voice" segment, co-anchor Steve Eagar read an email from a woman who said she changes the channel every time Fox4 news does an Idol segment. Eagar replied that there's nothing wrong with folding a little entertainment news into the serious events of the day.

True enough. Except that when it comes to television, it's only deemed to be news if a program airs on a local station's respective network. Fox4 flogs Idol and touts the local filming of Fox's new The Good Guys series while WFAA8 dutifully keeps up with the latest developments on ABC's Dancing with the Stars and Extreme Makeover: Home Edition (when a North Texas family is involved).

During the ongoing May "sweeps," the only exception I've seen to this inviolable rule is when CBS11 sports anchor Babe Laufenberg showed a brief clip of Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo's recent guest appearance on NBC's The Biggest Loser. Frankly, that was a shocker. Then again, it was the Cowboys, who get almost as much coverage as the threat of a rainstorm.

Fox4's most interesting story Wednesday came from Natalie Solis, who visited the Lewisville warehouse storing artifacts destined for the eventual George W. Bush presidential library on the SMU campus. Among the items is the bullhorn Bush used at "Ground Zero" in NYC after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and the ball he threw for a perfect strike during that fall's Game 3 of the World Series at Yankee Stadium. It was a nice little talker, and no other station had it.

NBC5 continued to deploy Scott Gordon in Washington, D.C., where talks continue between a strike-threatening flight attendants union and American Airlines. Co-anchor Brian Curtis later noted that NBC5 is the only D-FW station with a reporter on the scene, which is true.

The Peacock also had the only reporter in Oklahoma Thursday night, with Omar Villafranca live in Purcel, which escaped any damage. But at least they seem to be trying.

WFAA8 used some of its time away from weathercaster Delkus for two decent human interest reports from Jim Douglas and Gary Reaves.

Douglas interviewed a woman whose husband is deployed as an Army captain in Iraq. She recently got a jolt after encountering a youtube video -- posted by the U.S. Army -- that showed her husband leading a raid on enemy quarters.

"Keep in mind, when she started watching, she didn't know how it would end," Douglas said. But it ended well.

Reaves talked to the parents whose daughter, Taylor Storch, recently died in a skiing accident. Her donated organs so far have helped five people. And Taylor's father recently quit his job to start a website in her name that encourages others to be donors.

On CBS11, sports anchor Laufenberg had a rare face-to-face interview with Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, who communicates almost exclusively through email. Laufenberg wanted to know what chance the Mavs might have to land free agent LeBron James. Cuban gave himself a "one percent" chance, but also said, "We're going to throw every option at him."

We'll close as we began -- on the subject of weather. Delkus, increasingly the face of WFAA8 news, felt compelled to unburden himself to anchors Campos and John McCaa before launching into another very earnest look at the possibility of some viewers getting wet on Thursday. Here it is verbatim and without further comment:

"As a meteorologist here in North Texas, it's been a very frustrating night, because we had anticipated some thunderstorms firing up here," Delkus said. "Thankfully that hasn't happened. But you know, when you're looking at forecasts, what you're in essence doing is you're trying to figure out what is happening throughout the entire atmosphere. So you make some educated assumptions. Sometimes if one or two of those assumptions are wrong, you have a forecast like tonight. I'd rather err on this side. That's all part of the job that we do. But let me show you what's happening out there right now."

Just five nights to go. But that still seems like an eternity.

Last standing Texan gets Idol boot (but you'll hear more from Casey James)


Casey James moments after his Idol "journey" ended. Photo: Ed Bark

It's official -- and no surprise.

Crystal "Mama Sox" Bowersox and Lee "Charisma Chip Missing" DeWyze will square off next week in hopes of becoming American Idol's ninth season champ during the swan song for signature judge Simon Cowell.

That leaves 27-year-old Casey James of Cool, TX out of the picture. The guitar-slinging Adonis was voted off Wednesday night just five days after Idol cameras captured his triumphant North Texas homecoming.

Two less than memorable performances Wednesday night sealed the deal for James on Idol but certainly won't hurt his future prospects. You don't have to win anymore to use the show as a launch pad for stardom. Also-rans Jennifer Hudson, Chris Daughtry and, lately, Adam Lambert, are ample evidence of that. Among the first eight Idol champs, only Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood are still gainfully churning out hits.

The prediction here -- and it's been made several times now -- is that James will have the longest lasting career among this season's overall lackluster crop of contestants. He's got the looks, the stage presence and certainly the talent to be touring with Underwood sometime in the not too distant future. If I'm him, I go country. But today's country also is no stranger to rock/blues. So it's wide open for him.

Cowell's departure next Wednesday should help boost the ratings for what's been a downtrodden season. Don't be surprised if Paula Abdul shows up to help kiss him goodbye.

Further speculation from these quarters: Ellen DeGeneres will bow out after one season, and Idol's producers won't be sorry to see her go. Occasional clever quips aside, she just hasn't been a good fit.

Potential candidates to replace Cowell include Elton John, Jamie Foxx and Harry Connick Jr. I'd go with Sir Elton and a return to the three-judge format if he's truly willing to make a season-long commitment.

Meanwhile, bank on James to make it big. All he needs is the right song. Everything else is in place.

This just in: A night in the lives of D-FW's late night newscasts (Tues., May 18)

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NBC5's Kevin Cokely and CBS11's Tracy Kornet

Let's start with the two D-FW stations that didn't start their late night newscasts with more of those overblown weather alerts.

Those would be CBS11 and NBC5, which respectively ranked first and second in Tuesday night's Nielsen ratings for both total viewers and advertiser-favored 25-to-54-year-olds. Maybe that was purely coincidental. Or in a refreshingly perfect world, maybe viewers finally are getting sick of weathermen gone wild.

NBC5 began with a decent package of airplane pieces. The station had to fly reporter Scott Gordon to Washington, D.C. for one of them. He's on "Strike Watch" while American Airlines management and flight attendants dicker over a new contract.

To his credit, Gordon didn't fan any flames, noting that the sides remain far apart, but that a possible strike authorization vote doesn't mean any walkout is imminent.

"If a strike happens -- and it's a big if at this point -- it would be sometime later this summer," he told viewers.

As is typical in these cases, the flight attendants' union head was happy to talk with Gordon while management brushed him off while he walked alongside an American Airlines VP. Too busy, lotta work to do, said a grinning but firm Mark Burdette.

NBC5 followed with a story by Kevin Cokely on a conference in Dallas aimed at finding ways to curb "wildlife strikes" that continue to jeopardize flights. He was talking about flocks of birds. One North Texas company has sold some airports on the idea of bird-resistant artificial grass implants alongside airport runways. DFW Airport spokesman David Magana, ever cordial on camera even when WFAA8 gumshoe Brett Shipp upbraids him, told Cokely that "if it's a worthy idea . . . we'll certainly look into it."

CBS11 led with reporter Carol Cavazos' story on a man who was severely injured 10 months ago in a multi-vehicle North Texas freeway accident. He's still partially disabled and is yet to receive any sort of settlement.

The story didn't quite jell, mainly because it's still unclear if the complainant, David Horn, actually merits a big payday. Bu the piece nonetheless was affecting. "Broken and broke," as Cavazos described him, Horn works 600 miles from home at a friend's kiteboarding shop in South Padre. It's the only work he can do, she said. But Horn's wife, who talks to him via Skype, said tearfully, "I mean, this is not even a quality marriage for us anymore."

Later in the newscast, anchor/reporter Tracy Kornet had a more easily digested piece on a North Texas couple that spends 10-12 hours a week entering various sweepstakes. People like them are known as "Sweepers." And over the past 22 years, their efforts have paid off with winnings of four new vehicles, 90 free trips, etc. etc.

"It's a high. And it never goes away," said Gwen Beauchamp, who also noted that she never lets a loss get her down.

This turned out to be a winning human interest piece on a night when ho-hum stories were easy to come by. So much so that Fox4's 9 p.m. newscast piggybacked onto two stories previously told by rival stations.

Reporter Sophia Reza had a jailhouse interview with the now contrite subhuman who ran down a 17-year-old bicyclist and left him for dead on a rural road. CBS11's Jane Slater interviewed Donald Lewis Cassell III on her station's Monday night newscast. Convicted of a previous DWI, he admitted drinking on the night of the fatality, but said he thought he'd merely hit some livestock.

Later on Fox4, Matt Grubs reported on a McKinney elementary school's banning of Silly Bandz, the latest little kid craze. He put his usual inventive spin on the piece, but NBC5's Ellen Goldberg first told the Silly Bandz tale on Monday night.

Fox4 again spent ample time on American Idol finalist Casey James of Cool, TX, who took another beating from judges for his opening song choice Tuesday night. Brandon Todd, seasoned veteran of area Idol "watch parties," talked to the 27-year-old James' mother and brother this time. His jackpot likely will be a trip to next week's Idol finale in L.A. if James somehow survives Wednesday's penultimate vote-off.

WFAA8 again got all lathered up about the possibilities of inclement weather in outlying areas, with co-anchor Gloria Campos telling viewers up top, "Severe storms are possible tomorrow," with a chance of hail and strong winds.

A shirtsleeved Pete Delkus then predicted a "two-day event," with those living in areas between Wichita Falls and Texarkana the most susceptible.

Later, during his regularly scheduled weather segment, Delkus offered an almost apologetic discourse on how he's "getting a lot of confusion in our computer models." He then elaborated at length in a manner that made even the Lost storyline seem easy as pie. Campos and colleague John McCaa were on the receiving end, and perhaps deserve Lone Star Emmy acting awards for seeming to actually pay attention.

Delkus means well, but damn.

McCaa also all but scolded that small group of high schoolers seen sloshing through standing water in Seagoville on Monday's 10 p.m. newscast. The water was "so high" that the road was closed to traffic, he told viewers. "It is unclear if they had an alternate route or had to walk through the water to get home."

For the record, WFAA8's first report on Washington crossing the Delaware said that the water was only 12 to 15 inches deep. But you can't be a kid anymore -- at least not when WFAA8 is watching.

None of the station's non-weather stories made much of an impact. The newscast cried out for an enterprising story by David Schechter or Jim Douglas. Or a worthy investigation by the aforementioned Shipp or Byron Harris. But none of them were contributors Tuesday night.

Meanwhile, the weather remains sunny but a bit windy at unclebarky.com world headquarters in Garland on an early Wednesday evening.

Six nights to go.

This just in: A night in the lives of D-FW's late night newscasts (Mon., May 17)


Brian Curtis and Meredith Land became Fort Worth-based NBC5's lead anchor team during Winter Olympics telecasts. Photo: Ed Bark

They weren't and still aren't heavy lifters when it comes to their reporting and story choices.

Still, NBC5's Brian Curtis and Meredith Land at least merit credit for getting out there and doing something on a regular basis. Can any other D-FW station's featured late night news anchors say as much? Nope.

On Monday's 10 p.m. newscast, Land visited the North Texas-based Frito Lay plant for a story on how some of their snacks lately are being regionalized to suit area tastes. Tangy Carolina BBQ chips, for instance. Or Balsamic Sweet Onion. You've gotta keep strategizing in the ongoing snack food wars.

During Friday's late nighter, Curtis donned a hard hat and bright orange work vest to report on the ongoing rebuilding of the signature Texas Giant roller coaster at Six Flags.

Earlier in the ongoing May "sweeps" ratings period, Land interviewed Neiman Marcus' new CEO, company veteran and Dallas native Karen Katz. And Curtis spent a day at Arlington's General Motors plant for a story on the car maker's remarkable resurgence in the past year.

Each of these stories had the faint whiff of an infomercial. But a lot of stuff does these days. Above all, they were interesting topics that in fact made better use of the station's news time than more breathless reports about shootings, sexual assaults or heavy rainfall. The "Glimmer Twins," as they were once dubbed in these spaces, also are doing something more than merely sitting prettily and reading the news.

Most contemporary news anchors get "out in the field" only to accept accolades from various groups or act as emcees. Curtis and Land aren't likely to get all gritty on us. But they deserve a back-pat for at least trying to show viewers more than their latest outfits and suits.

Elsewhere Monday, rain and hail in Seagoville topped three of the four late night newscasts, with only CBS11 initially resisting by doing a jailhouse interview with a sorry excuse for humanity who ran over and killed a 17-year-old bicyclist on a country road before fleeing the scene.

Reporter Jane Slater interviewed Donald Lewis Cassell III, who has a previous DWI conviction and admitted to drinking that night. His excuse: he thought he had hit some livestock in the dark, and later sent a friend to investigate while he looked to see if his vehicle was damaged.

Fox4 also reported on Cassell's alleged hit and run, but only displayed his mug shot on its 9 p.m. newscast. On CBS11, he told Slater how sorry he was, but succeeded only in showing how sorry he is -- as a human being. So in this view, the interview served a purpose. Sometimes we need to see dirt bags in all their glory.

CBS11's Stephanie Lucero later had an interesting story on how breakthroughs in digital sketching are helping to bring more criminals to justice. Exhibit A was a 2005 rape victim whose attacker had remained at large until "the next frontier in identifying a criminal" helped to apprehend the so-called "Blue Bandana Rapist."

WFAA8 had solid enterprise stories from reporters Chris Hawes and Janet St. James.

Hawes looked closely and tellingly at allegations that a minister is bilking an elderly couple who trusted him to pay the monthly rent for living in their Fort Worth home while they relocated to the Hill Country. That hasn't happened. Instead their old home is a mess and the minister is suspected of setting himself up as a landlord who is collecting money from tenants living on the property. Hawes got the goods and then interviewed Pastor Cornelius Hudson, whose constant denials seemed palpably false.

St. James later profiled former Dallas Cowboys offensive lineman Nate Newton, who had become so "super-obese" that he couldn't even play catch with his son.

"When he left pro football, he called french fries his best friend," said St. James before Newton added, "That and a quart of Schlitz Malt Liquor Bull."

But Newton has lost 71 pounds in a month -- he's now down to 330 -- after a relatively new surgical procedure called a "vertical sleeve gastrectomy. He hopes to drop 100 more. For now, Newton "still huffs after a bit of exercise," says St. James, but is able to toss a football with his kid for the first time in over a year.

Fox4's featured story was from veteran reporter Shaun Rabb, who had amateur video of uniformed off-duty Garland cops creating a major stir during a May 2nd Sunday service at the Dallas Ethiopian Orthodox Church.

Police reportedly were called in to arrest "an unruly disruptive person" who objected to both new church leadership and changes in the worship service. But a woman who in the end wasn't charged with anything brandished bruises she says were inflicted by undue police activity. She has hired an attorney, of course, whom Rabb interviewed in addition to getting comment from a police spokesman who said an internal investigation is still in progress.

The video was pretty arresting, so to speak. Whether this story merited such extended and prominent play is another matter.

We'll close with a few notes on Monday night's weather coverage, which brought visions of a little accumulated hail in Seagoville plus some broken windows in a few homes.

WFAA8 reporter Jason Whitely was all over it in that sometimes aggravating way of his after anchor Gloria Campos chirped, "Hail and high water" before colleague John McCaa added, "Storms hit North Texas and it's just a taste of what's to come this week."

Whitely interviewed two Seagoville residents billed as "storm victims" while also trumpeting video of high school kids exiting a bus and then sloshing through standing water on their way home.

The intrepid reporter noted that he had warned the kids not to brave "rushing" water that he said was 12-to-15 inches deep. They ignored him, but "fortunately they made it with only wet legs and feet," Whitely said. Yes, he actually said that.

Meanwhile, Fox4 let viewers marvel at the earlier downpour at Rangers Ballpark after co-anchor Heather Hays asked hopefully, "Could more bad weather be in our future?"

"Some Rangers fans were nervous about the status of the game," Fox4's Brandon Todd reported from the scene. But the opening pitch was only delayed for 15 minutes.

Finally, on NBC5, anchor Curtis rhapsodized in the opening seconds about "Chopper 5 with an incredible view of today's storms."

Frankly, it wasn't that incredible. And again, neither were the storms.

Seven nights to go.

This just in: A night in the lives of D-FW's late night newscasts (Fri., May 14)

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A bright, sunny, humid but rainless Sunday imposed itself on Dallas and immediate surrounding areas such as unclebarky.com world headquarters in Garland.

How dare Sunday do that after all those local TV news rain-dancers -- anchors and weathercasters alike -- virtually guaranteed a sopping wet weekend?

We try to be reasonable in these compendiums, pointing out good work whenever possible and trying not to harp on the same topic too much. But damn, there they were again, leading off Friday's late night newscasts with dire warnings of rain, rain, rain, rain. Even if all of this ended up amounting to little more than a drop in the bucket in the four stations' most populous viewing areas. Particularly Dallas.

Fox4, NBC5, WFAA8 and CBS11 all did the same thing on Wednesday night before Friday's rerun. Why wait until the regular weather segment when maybe you can hook 'em right at the top with all that hyperbole about storms dashing your hopes for picnics, garage sales, festivals, etc.

"Call it a soaking, call it a deluge or a good old-fashioned gully washer," CBS11 co-anchor Karen Borta said for openers Friday night. "The rain came hard and fast today, and some folks were caught off guard, like the driver of this car in Fort Worth."

First, it's hard to believe that anyone could be caught "off guard." Your local TV alarmists had been preaching weekend rain incessantly. Second, thank God for that driver in Fort Worth, whose red vehicle was captured on all four late night newscasts after it failed to navigate high water. What ever would they have done without that show 'n' tell vehicle? I hope the motorist got a royalty.

CBS11 meteorologist Larry Mowry later predicted that Sunday would be the rainiest day of the weekend, with "real high coverage on the showers and thunderstorms again." Nuh-uh.

Over on NBC5, co-anchor Brian Curtis began the big 10 p.m. show by proclaiming, "Wave after wave of wet weather this weekend. David (Finfrock) warned us."

Finfrock, dean of D-FW temperature-takers, didn't seem all that excited when Curtis threw it to him. "It's mostly just a light to moderate rain," with no lightning, he said. Or to put it another way, all of this could have waited until the regularly scheduled weather segment. But no.

NBC's subsequent "Team Coverage" found reporter Ken Kalthoff stationed alongside Northwest Highway, where anti-flooding repairs remain in progress. Frankly, Kalthoff didn't have much to do, because there weren't any problems.

Correspondent Omar Villafranca chipped in with a few still pictures he took at DFW Airport, where some flights had been delayed. Co-anchor Ashanti Blaize, sitting in for Meredith Land, then informed one and all that "nearly all of North Texas saw rain at some point today. And NBC5 viewers had their cameras out capturing the storms."

Wow, we saw a knocked-down fence, some cloudy skies and a shot of a blue jay supposedly taking shelter between tree branches. Sensational.

WFAA8 co-anchor Gloria Campos told viewers to expect "a very wet weekend" before weatherman Pete "I'll tell you when -- at 10" Delkus flashed his shirtsleeves again.

Fox4 likewise led its newscast with full-blown fears of weekend rain. The station otherwise saturated its 9 p.m. newscast with coverage of American Idol finalist Casey James' return to North Texas. The Cool, Texas native began his whirlwind tour on Fox4's Good Day before later doing two concerts in Fort Worth and visiting a hospital whose doctors and staff repaired him after he had a serious motorcyle accident six years ago that threatened to compromise his guitar skills.

Fox4's Brandon Todd and Fiona Gorostiza were all over the 27-year-old James' various appearances while rival stations found inventive ways to studiously ignore his relationship with American Idol.

Actually, NBC5 ignored him all together. Meanwhile, both WFAA8 and CBS11 covered James without actually doing so.

On WFAA8, a pair of brief live shots from Richardson's Wildflower Festival showed James onstage. But co-anchor John McCaa never said who it was. During the second live look-in, McCaa marveled at how many people were at Wildflower despite all that rain that was supposed to pour down.

CBS11 reporter Melissa Newton, in her report from Wildflower, told viewers that "the last minute addition of Fort Worth's latest rock star, Casey James" may have helped boost attendance. But she never mentioned his Idol connection. Nor did the station show James onstage.

Borta set the stage for Newton's story by telling viewers, "This was slated to be an action-packed weekend around North Texas. But now, not so much."

But the best she could come up with was the weather-related cancelation of the Wild About Flower Mound Festival. Any port in the storm.

Co-anchor Doug Dunbar then jokingly blamed Mowry for the lousy weekend that in fact never really was. Yeah, it rained some. But in many parts of the viewing area, it barely rained at all. Even Chicken Little might have cried foul.

Local Nielsen ratings snapshot (Fri.-Sun., May 14-16) -- Volley of ABC season finales and Survivor fight to finish Sunday night


Casey at the bat during Friday's Good Day. Photo: Ed Bark

CBS' three-hour Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains extravaganza traded punches Sunday night with ABC's trio of season finales. It was a split decision.

ABC's Extreme Makeover: Home Edition took the 7 p.m. hour with 230,734 D-FW viewers while former Dallasite Colby Donaldson finally was counted out in the first hour of Survivor (190,016 viewers). But Survivor prevailed among advertiser-coveted 18-to-49-year-olds.

The season's last episode of Desperate Housewives then amassed the night's most total viewers in thumping the second hour of Survivor by a score of 359,647 to 223,948. Still, Survivor managed a first-place tie with DH among 18-to-49-year-olds.

The announcement of Survivor's victor, which spilled into the early minutes of a very lively live reunion hour, yielded the long-running reality competition show 203,589 total viewers at 9 p.m. That fell short of Brothers & Sisters 223,948 viewers, but Survivor won handily in the 18-to-49 demographic. For the record, the winner -- for a second time -- was Sandra Diaz-Twine.

Over on NBC, Donald Trump's annual Miss USA pageant skimped and limped to a very modest total of 101,795 viewers in Sunday's 6 to 8 p.m. slot.

Sunday afternoon's Game 1 of the Boston Celtics-Orlando Magic Eastern Conference Finals on ABC averaged 135,726 viewers in easily besting all competing programming.

Saturday's running of the Preakness on NBC, which started between 5:15 and 5:30 p.m., had 149,299 viewers during that 15-minute increment. The Peacock's season finale of Saturday Night Live was the day's most-watched attraction with 196,803 viewers.

In Friday's prime-time numbers, NBC's made-in-Austin Friday Night Lights fared reasonably well in the 7 p.m. hour with 122,153 total viewers. That made it a close second to CBS' competing Ghost Whisperer (135,726 viewers). Lights tied ABC's Wife Swap and The CW's Smallville for second among 18-to-49-year-olds. TXA21's Texas Rangers-Toronto Blue Jays game took the gold in that key measurement.

In local news derby results, WFAA8 won at 10 p.m. in total viewers while Fox4 ran first with 25-to-54-year-olds, the main advertiser target audience for news programming.

At 6 a.m., Fox4's buildup of American Idol finalist Casey James' appearance (he arrived near the end of the hour and then stayed awhile) wasn't quite enough to outdraw NBC5's competing waker upper. The Peacock edged Fox4 from 6 to 7 a.m. in total viewers while the two stations tied for first with 25-to-54-year-olds.

Despite James' appearance, Fox4 ran second from 7 to 8 a.m. to NBC's Today.

WFAA8 had a big Friday in the early evening news competitions, running the table at both 5 and 6 p.m.

TXA21 ending weekend newscasts, dropping Chris Salcedo


TXA21 is dropping its weekend prime-time newscasts and also dealing out anchor/reporter Chris Salcedo, whose last day was Friday.

The changes were confirmed Friday, with the weekend "First In Prime" shows ending after this weekend's editions.

Salcedo, whose picture and bio already have been removed from the CBS11/TXA21 "News Team" page, originally was hired in September 2006 from a San Diego station to join an inaugural "First In Prime" anchor quartet of Tracy Kornet, Kenneth Taylor and Kaushal Patel. Only Kornet remains.

Salcedo had been anchoring TXA21's weekday editions with Kornet after Taylor was dropped. But he was sent to weekends last November after Keith Garvin joined the station from WRC-TV in Washington, D.C.

Both the weekday and weekend TXA21 newscasts, which air from 7 to 9 p.m., have been struggling in the ratings. Last Sunday's edition averaged just 20,359 D-FW viewers, according to Nielsen Media Research.

This just in: A night in the lives of D-FW's late night newscasts (Thurs., May 13)

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Fox4's Becky Oliver, WFAA8's David Schechter and CBS11's Carol Cavazos all excelled during Thursday's D-FW late night newscasts.

A trio of extended enterprise stories stood out during the course of Thursday's late night D-FW newscasts.

Let's get right to them after first briefly noting that Fox4 and NBC5 again couldn't resist leading off with yet more details on how it's going to rain on and off this weekend. But WFAA8 and CBS11 commendably resisted this urge and waited until their regular weather segments. So they get official unclebarky.com t-shirts that also can double as dart boards when the worm turns.

Fox4 investigator Becky Oliver has been really good lately. Her earlier May "sweeps" report detailed how easy it can be for accused criminals to eventually get their charges dropped because authorities can't find them. Even though some are "hiding" in plain sight.

Thursday's unrelated story centered on 68-year-old Henry Hardin of South Dallas, who's on Medicare but prides himself on his ability to get around under his own power.

"I can run, I can walk, I can squat," he told Oliver.

Hardin therefore was surprised to come home one day to find a newly delivered $6,000 wheelchair. He later was billed $882.28 for his portion of the payment while Medicare covered the rest.

But Hardin said he never asked for a wheelchair and wanted it returned immediately. Oliver then set out to find who delivered it and why. She encountered the usual batch of officious or uncommunicative suspects, including a guy named "Prince" who barked, "I don't know what your problem is."

"We're just trying to get some answers to some questions, sir. That's all," Oliver said in a manner that made her seem more like Little Bo Beep than Honey West. The jerk then told her, "When I am through with this, I am going to come after you. And when I am finished with you, you back off."

She kept at it, eventually landing at the offices of a seemingly shady doctor who otherwise couldn't be found. That's as far as she could get for the moment, but a followup likely is in the cards at some point.

Oliver ended her report with the big picture proviso that more than 4.5 million Medicare claims are filed daily and "roughly 130,000 are false," according to the Inspector General's office. All in all, this was an interesting, informative piece populated with the sort of colorful characters that reporters love to spotlight. Nothing wrong with that. And feisty Henry Hardin did end up not having to pay for a wheelchair he never wanted.

On WFAA8, reporter David Schechter had an intriguing "Paintings With a Past" story that starred dogged Robert Edsel, director of the Monument Men's Foundation. Edsel travels the world striving to right the wrongs of Adolf Hitler's Nazi underlings; he specializes in the recovery of paintings that were stolen from their original Jewish owners.

Two such paintings are displayed in SMU's Meadows Museum, which bought them at an auction. Edsel, who lives in North Texas, deduced this after seeing old pictures of the paintings while he did research for a book he's writing.

"The truth behind the paintings was found -- behind the paintings," Schechter said. Their identifying marks, often faded, are the Nazi code used to inventory stolen art.

Yet unresolved is whether the French government first returned the two paintings to their rightful owners before Meadows bought them. That's still being investigated. But the Meadows Museum has found that another of its paintings stolen by the Nazis in fact was returned to its Jewish owners before the purchase was made. The proof is in an accompanying receipt.

Schechter clearly and concisely told this decidedly out-of-the-ordinary detective story. He can be a little over-the-top at times. But not this time.

CBS11's Carol Cavazos had an eye-opening report on the dangers faced by tow truck drivers, particularly when they're removing illegally parked vehicles. One young operator, Jerry Splawn Jr., was shot five times three years ago. He didn't regain consciousness until three weeks later. Bullet scars still dot and bisect his body.

Cavazos also spotlighted Southwest Auto Tow, which lately has outfitted its nine trucks with $50,000 worth of camera equipment in order to document any violent altercations. The videos, some of which were played, showed the sometimes very risky side of a profession that heretofore seemed pretty cut and dried.

NBC5's most prominently played story, after the opening "Storm Watch" segment, came from the redoubtable Scott Gordon. This time he pounded the ever-fertile school dress code beat, with seventh grader Chyanna Stanton's pink-tinted hair at issue. The 13-year-old was sent home for non-compliance, but claim to be making a statement on behalf her grandmother (who died of breast cancer) and her cousin, who had cancer surgery the day Chyanna was sent packing.

Gordon's report was Peabody material compared to Ellen Goldberg's subsequent bit on a guy who wants to share his car for "a small fee" but supposedly mainly in the interest of the environment. Otherwise he's planning to sell it. The guy hardly represents a movement, and said that so far no one had responded to his web site come-on. This is a story?

NBC5's best effort of the night came from Ashanti Blaize, who interviewed "retired journalist" Larry Roberts of Nevada, TX about an interview he did with The Beatles. It supposedly was the first time that John Lennon addressed the controversy over his remark that The Beatles had become bigger than Jesus. Roberts dug up his film and audio of the interview after a California auction house claimed to have the only copy.

"I hope to get $10,000 out of it," he told Blaize.

Fox4 and CBS11 both piggybacked onto a story that WFAA8's Chris Hawes broke on Wednesday night. It's the one about the guy, Raymond Smith, who drove his brother to a Grapevine hospital at speeds of more than 80 mph after he supposedly hard a heart attack. Police confronted him in the hospital parking lot and charged him with evading arrest and driving while intoxicated after he flunked a field sobriety test.

Police said he should have called 911 or stopped his car to tell them what was going on. Hawes never asked Smith, at least in her on-camera report, whether he in fact was drinking. Nor did Fox4's Peter Daut in his followup, which included Thursday's release of the police cam video.

CBS11 anchor Doug Dunbar, who narrated his station's brief story on the matter, told viewers that "when Smith finally got to the hospital, he admitted to police also that he had been drinking that evening."

But the station otherwise provided no on-camera evidence of Smith admitting to this. He certainly wasn't shy about doing interviews with the media after the incident. But a very basic question -- Were you in fact drinking? -- never made it into the on-air reports.

In blooper reel activity, CBS11 displayed an "H1N1" logo (a k a swine flu) next to its brief anchor reader on a police officer who had been reinstated after being accused of falsifying tickets.

And Fox4's Shaun Rabb noted in a taped dispatch that Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins had appeared on what he pronounced as Comedy Central's "The COAL-BERT Report."

Ya gotta get with it, Shaun. It's The Col-BEAR Re-POR. And it has been ever since the show premiered in October of 2005.

Nine nights to go.

Earlier wakeup call for CBS11 eye opener

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CBS11 early morning anchors Scott Sams and Ginger Allen

Make it two.

CBS11 will be joining Fox4 in launching its early morning newscast a half-hour earlier. The 4:30 a.m. start time will go into effect on June 14th, informed sources tell unclebarky.com.

As first reported in these spaces, Fox4's Good Day began rising at 4:30 a.m. in early April in hopes of getting viewers on board before rival stations kicked in at 5 a.m. At the 10-weekday halfway point of the May "sweeps" ratings period, NBC5 leads Fox4 in the 6 a.m. Nielsens by a razor-thin one-tenth of a point in total viewers. Fox4 has the same precarious advantage among 25-to-54-year-olds, the main advertiser target audience for news programming.

CBS11 currently is running fourth in total viewers at 6 a.m., but is just one-tenth of a point behind third-place WFAA8. The ABC station leads CBS11 by a comparatively solid half a rating point in the 25-to-54 demographic.

Each full rating point equals 67,863 total viewers and 30,690 in the 25-to-54 age range.

CBS11's early morning news is co-anchored by Scott Sams and Ginger Allen.

This just in: A night in the lives of D-FW's late night newscasts (Wed., May 12)

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Thursday dawned bright, rainless but (shudder) partly cloudy here at unclebarky.com central and remained that way throughout the morning.

But the sky fell Wednesday night at the start of all four major D-FW newscasts. They just can't help themselves.

Anchors marveled at the "lightning show" in parts of North Texas before weathercasters pounded home the fact that it very likely will rain this weekend. One wonders what people did in olden days -- oh, about five years ago -- when weather wasn't the hot commodity and sales tool it's become. Waiting all the way until the regularly scheduled weather segment must have been torturous. Now the threat of a shower qualifies as a top-of-the-newscast bulletin.

"A line of thunderstorms moving through North Texas isn't severe, but it is creating a lightning show out there," Fox4 anchor Heather Hays told viewers in the opening seconds of Wednesday's 9 p.m. edition.

"The storms are really just a preview of what's to come over the next few days," added co-anchor Steve Eagar before meteorologist Dan Henry stepped in to warn -- among other things -- that "an active period" of rain could befall parts of North Texas in the next few days.

NBC5 co-anchor Meredith Land gushed about "a real lightning show underway" before colleague Brian Curtis urged viewers to "take a look at this dramatic picture of lightning from one of our viewers."

Back to you, Meredith, who warned of "four volatile days of thunderstorms and heavy rain." Needless to say, "WE ARE on storm watch," proclaimed Curtis before turning it over to a relatively becalmed David Finfrock. North Texas is facing some "potentially" heavy rain, he said.

WFAA8 likewise led with the inclement weather warning, although anchors John McCaa and Gloria Campos failed to rhapsodize about it. Instead they quickly handed off to forecaster Pete Delkus, who of course was in full alert shirtsleeves. Our easily scared cat, Snickers, again cowered at this sight while her more sensible older sister, Cookie, gave a look that essentially said, "Don't worry, it's only Pete."

Delkus warned of "some turbulent weather in our forecast for the next four days."

On CBS11, co-anchor Doug Dunbar got pretty revved up.

"We have some strong storms moving through North Texas tonight," he told viewers at the start of the show. "Maybe you've heard some of them. Bolts of lightning lighting up the night sky in Fort Worth just a short time ago."

Weatherman Larry Mowry then moved in to talk about the "big lightning show from this storm that moved over Denton County." The viewing area likely will be "wet for a large portion of the weekend," he said.

Please resist the urge to stock up on canned goods or build an ark. Perhaps a hard rain's a gonna fall in due time. But we'll somehow all get through this together. Armageddon's not quite on the horizon yet. Honest.

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Meanwhile, other news eventually got into our pictures.

Wednesday's showcase piece came from longtime WFAA8 investigator Byron Harris, who tried hard to rain all over projections that next year's Super Bowl at Jerry's Palace in Arlington will do the area economy any good at all.

His principal naysayer was University of South Florida economist Philip Porter (the story incorrectly spelled his first name "Phillip"), who's studied the last 30 Super Bowls and determined that their overall value to a community is "negligible" at best.

"Even the strippers in the strip clubs come from out of the community during Super Bowl weekend to work," said Porter.

During a recent live interview with WFAA8 sports anchor Dale Hansen, Super Bowl Host Committee head Bill Lively projected $611 million in regional economic impact. But the study generating that figure came from Marketing Information Masters, Inc. of La Mesa, CA, whose listed address is a UPS store and whose suite number -- Suite 442 -- is a post office box, Harris discovered.

Its owner, Michael Casinelli, declined to be interviewed on camera and canceled a telephone interview, said Harris, who thereafter took obvious delight in referring to "Suite 442's predictions" -- which he shot down with corroborating quotes from USF's Porter.

In a brief interview with Lively, Harris asked the Super Bowl committee head if he knew that Information Masters' Casinelli isn't an economist.

"I know that, yes," he said.

Harris' report had some interesting information. But when all is said and done, isn't it still an overall plus to have the Super Bowl in North Texas? That aspect wasn't addressed at all. Maybe Hansen can go "Unplugged" anew and sound off on how he'd rather have the Super Bowl here than in economist Porter's home state of Florida.

Fox4's 9 p.m. newscast came and went without any stories of real import. Instead it was pockmarked with technical problems and uncommonly stuffed with basic rip 'n' read news briefs from around the country.

At the midway point, a commercial break ended with a long, silent picture of a map before anchor Eagar finally interjected to say, "A lot of lightning strikes moving across North Texas." More on that later, he added.

Later in the newscast, prolonged silent footage of cheerleaders jumping and tumbling led to consumer reporter Steve Noviello's "Deal or Dud" logo at the start of sports anchor Mike Doocy's segment. A light haw could be heard off-camera while Doocy imaginatively vamped, "In five days the Cowboys begin a series of organized team activities -- mini-camps essentially. Will they turn out to be deals or duds? That remains to be seen at this point. But in the meantime, some more fun on the golf course today as Jerry and the team host their annual golf tournament for Cowboys' sponsors."

Fox4 at least got the money quote -- from deservedly maligned wide receiver Roy Williams. The first round drafting of highly touted Dez Bryant is no threat at all because he'll still be the No. 1 guy, Williams said. NBC5 and CBS11 also showed Williams in the act of deluding himself. WFAA8's 10 p.m. newscast missed it, with sports reporter Joe Trahan instead concentrating on an assortment of lousy golf swings from Cowboys' players.

NBC5's lead story -- after the weather, of course -- came from night beat fixture Scott Gordon. He reported on the alleged sexual assault of a customer by the owner of Frisco's We Knead Bodies massage parlor.

The woman "told police she got a lot more than she wanted," said Gordon, who later noted that the unidentified complainant contacted NBC5 because she "wants everyone to hear her story. She says crimes like this will continue if women are too afraid to come forward."

The massage parlor owner's attorney is Peter A. Schulte, who's also representing former WFAA8 anchor Brad Hawkins after his recent arrest on charges of public lewdness in a Dallas park. In both cases, Schulte issued a statement saying that his clients are innocent until proven guilty and that the public should withhold opinion until "all the facts are known."

No other station reported the We Knead Bodies story Wednesday night and none have reported on Hawkins.

On CBS11, veteran reporter Joel Thomas made a rare late night appearance to tell an extended and interesting story on the "Future of Faith" among 18-to-29-year-olds. A recent study, by Lifeway Christian Resources, found that 72 percent of persons in this age group consider themselves "more spiritual than religious." In other words, most of them are not regular churchgoers.

An assortment of ministers find this troubling, of course. Thomas noted that "Generation X" wasn't very religious either. But organized religion became more important to them later in life, even though they were slower in this respect than any previous generation, he said.

We'll close with the comedy stylings of WFAA8's Hansen, who seemed to be awaiting a rim shot Wednesday night.

Hansen first noted that Houston Texans linebacker Brian Cushing retained his AP defensive rookie of the year status on a re-vote after being suspended for failing a drug test. One voter who didn't vote for him the first time supported Cushing the second time.

"Really?!" Hansen said, leaning into the camera to the tune of mild off-camera chortles.

Hansen tried again after his brief on a Texas high school basketball star who was arrested after it turned out he was 22 instead of 16.

"They could make a TV show about this," Hansen deadpanned. "Call it Friday Night Lies."

This one brought a more audible Glo Camp cackle. Atta girl.

Stay dry during the cataclysmic weather to come.

Ten nights to go.

Add Midland -- now Lone Star -- to list of Dallas-made network TV series

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New Dallas-made drama co-stars Adrianne Palicki and Jon Voight.

Pardon Dallas Film Commission head Janis Burklund for feeling a little pumped.

"The word is we are very busy and smiling over here big time!!!" she said in an email Wednesday. "Trying to juggle everything. Going to have LOTS of work for everyone!!"

Burklund had just received word that Fox has picked up the Dallas-made pilot Midland for next season. And better yet, the series also will be filmed in North Texas.

Made here in March and being retitled Lone Star, the so-called "subversive" soap opera stars Jon Voight as a two-timing con man who of course is involved in the Texas oil and power industries. The supporting cast includes Adrienne Palicki from Friday Night Lights, David Keith (The Class), Hannah Leigh Dworkin (The Suite Life of Zack & Cody), Bryce Johnson (Still Life) and Eloise Mumford (Crash).

Another made-in-Dallas pilot, Chase from hitmaker Jerry Bruckheimer (the CSI franchise), was picked up earlier this week by NBC. And Burklund is now certain that it, too, will shoot here as a series.

"I'm trying to help them secure office space, so it seems pretty definite," she said.

Add Fox's The Good Guys, which has been shooting in North Texas since late January and will have a May 19th sneak preview on the network. Thirteen episodes were ordered, but the series (starring Bradley Whitford and Colin Hanks) is "getting additional episodes even before it airs," Burklund said.

It's easily the busiest Dallas has been since -- Dallas. And with at least three prime-time series ready to roll, who really needs that on-again but mostly off-again feature film that initially had John Travolta on board as the new J.R. Ewing?

"I need to do a press release -- but no time!!" Burklund said. Understood.

This just in: A night in the lives of D-FW's late night newscasts (Tues., May 11)

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Fox4's Dan Henry, CBS11's Steve Pickett, WFAA8's Pete Delkus

Monday's devastating tornado touchdowns in Oklahoma continued to draw interest on D-FW's late night TV newsers, although the pecking orders differed significantly.

Fox4 and WFAA8 both topped their newscasts with extended followup coverage and live reports from the scene.

NBC5 and CBS11 relegated Oklahoma to the third spot on their 10 p.m. editions, instead leading with stories of a relatively picayune nature.

Let's look at the game plans.

Fox4 began with Sophia Reza's live report from Cleveland County, Okla., where she introduced her previous interviews of denizens whose homes had been flattened. A suddenly homeless woman spoke as people often do in these situations: "A house we can rebuild. We can't rebuild new people." It's become a cliche, but what else can one say?

Later in the newscast, meteorologist Dan Henry returned to the studio to give an interesting account of his previous day's adventures in Oklahoma with a "moving armada" of storm chasers. "They believe they're breaking new ground," he said of tech-savvy scientists aiming to understand how tornadoes develop so they "can issue better warnings."

As he noted during a telephone report Monday night, Henry and his team were unable to get up close to a tornado. But it wasn't for lack of trying.

WFAA8 weathercaster Pete Delkus didn't chase any storms Monday. But he was in Noble, OK Tuesday night to helm coverage that also included solid reporting from Jonathan Betz on the mobil home destruction that killed a Little Axe mother and critically injured her three children. Delkus proved to be capable in the field, dialing down his tendency to be overly earnest when stationed in front of studio weather maps.

NBC5 chose to lead its newscast with what were termed "startling new details" in the already much-reported case of a Colleyville man who sent his ex-wife a boxed bomb that failed to detonate. Reporter Omar Villafranca said the bomb was designed to kill not burn its would-be victim. But a tiny light filament broke during the packing of the bomb, rendering it inoperative. Interesting, but it could have waited until a little later.

A brief story on the discovery of a bagged grenade floating in Mountain Creek Lake also took precedence over tornado followup coverage. Scott Gordon then reported via videotape on Monday's destruction, telling viewers at story's end, "In a strange way, those who lost everything say they're grateful."

CBS11 went the Terrytown route with an opening pair of "only on CBS11" stories. Jane Slater reported on how chewing gum can be toxic for dogs. And Melissa Newton told how a children's clothing store thief caught on tape set a bad example for her two young children by possibly using them as shields while she stuffed items into a bag.

Somehow Oklahoma seemed like a much bigger story. Then again, fish are caught with minnows, and it was the station's view that more viewers might bite on stuff like this. From this perspective that's classically bad news judgment. But it's also increasingly the way things are done.

Coverage of the tornadoes' aftermath came from veteran reporter Steve Pickett, stationed live in Little Axe. His videotaped package turned out to be the night's best -- tightly written and well-photographed.

CBS11 later made room for Arezow Doost's story on a bumpy railroad crossing in Carrollton that motorists understandably want repaired. One woman claimed it damaged her SUV. Another said she doesn't want the same to happen to her vehicle. A city official said DART approval is needed first. OK, fine, but hundreds if not thousands of such crossings exist in the North Texas viewing area. Doost probably could bank an entire year's worth of reports by highlighting a new one each night.

The station was on stronger footing with Tracy Kornet's dispatch on how women often pay considerably more than men for the same cosmetic products. The only difference is their label -- for men or for women. The women's version of Degree deodorant, for instance, is $1 more expensive than the men's despite having identical ingredients.

SMU marketing professor Dan Howard, featured in Doost's Monday night story on children's toy regulations, again got a chance to wax indignant.

"It is outrageous!" he exclaimed before later noting that companies "charge women more because they know that women are willing to pay more."

Credit Howard, though, for being co-anchor Doug Dunbar's straight man. The professor urged women to "shop like a guy. Buy the man brand." Dunbar then riposted, "I know what Karen's (co-anchor Karen Borta) getting for Christmas -- a big bottle of Old Spice." Let me add my two scents: That's a great line.

Elsewhere Tuesday night, NBC5's reliably strong Randy McIlwain had another good story -- this one on a steady influx of Burmese immigrants to Lewisville after fleeing from religious persecution in their home country.

The station's Kristi Nelson later reported at length on the perils of Vitamin D deficiency, which one doctor said is "epidemic." Maybe so, maybe not. But Nelson's story at least was instructive.

WFAA8 investigator Brett Shipp continued his dogged investigation of faulty gas couplings that have led to home explosions. His latest subject, Irving widow Peggy Mantheiy, lost her husband in January after their home blew up with him in it.

Shipp has been on this case for three years, as he usually points out. It's very valuable work, although Shipp might want to step back just a bit and keep his emotions more in check. His voice seemed to be on the verge of breaking Tuesday night as he narrated closing video of the Mantheiys' home being scraped away.

"Machines can't plow away the pain nor eliminate a widow's pledge to unearth the truth about why another life was lost," Shipp told viewers. A little less drama might be in order next time.

WFAA8 also had an exclusive report on the sorry spat between the divorced parents of the so-called "Wylie's Angel," deceased six-year-old Gerren Joseph Isgrigg. The station's Steve Stoler said that his mother wants him cremated while his father wants a "Christian funeral and burial."

Gerren, who was blind, deaf and also suffered from other afflictions, was found dead near a Collin County pond after allegedly being abandoned by his maternal grandmother. He remains in a funeral home while his parents -- neither of whom had seen him in years -- fight over his final resting place.

Eleven nights to go.

This just in: A night in the lives of D-FW's late night newscasts (Mon., May 10)

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WFAA8's Jason Whitely and NBC5's Scott Gordon respectively reported live from Noble and Norman Monday night after twisters caused death and heavy damage in Oklahoma. Photos: Ed Bark

CBS11 had surprisingly cursory coverage while Fox4, NBC5 and WFAA8 news staffers made their way to Oklahoma Monday night to report on the death and destruction from tornado touchdowns.

NBC5's Scott Gordon and WFAA8's Jason Whitely both had live reports from the ground while Fox4 chief meteorologist Dan Henry filed a telephone report after joining a team of storm chasers.

CBS11 restricted its coverage to snippets of video and an in-studio weather update from meteorologist Larry Mowry before quickly moving to a story by reporter J.D. Miles that obviously was meant to trump competitor Brett Shipp on WFAA8. More on that later.

Gordon did his standup from Norman after a downed power line blocked highway traffic and prevented him from getting any further, he said. He mostly made do with video footage from Oklahoma City's KFOR-TV, the market's NBC affiliate.

Whitely reported from a Noble mobile home park that sustained damage. He was able to show some downed tree limbs but not much else under the circumstances.

WFAA8 and Fox4 both used video that had a number of identical images. Fox4 co-anchor Heather Hays told viewers that a "news helicopter caught it in action," meaning the tornado. But she didn't reveal the chopper's affiliation. Whitely also remained mum about whose footage was being used during his report. That made Gordon the only reporter to specifically credit an Oklahoma station.

Fox4's Henry, reporting by phone from Ada, seemed more concerned about a "very difficult chase day" in which his team came up empty. But he noted "one crew that did have a direct hit by a tornado with one of their specially designed tornado pods that's equipped with HD cameras and with weather sensors." Well, good for them.

Back in Fox4's Dallas studios, backup meteorologist Ron Jackson handled the weather updates.

While rivals continued to report from Oklahoma, CBS11 quickly dashed to Miles' "Explosive Situation" story tied to the Texas Railroad Commission's fingering of Atmos energy for numerous faulty gas line couplings.

Miles interviewed Kristi Samons of Mesquite, who was in her home six months ago when it exploded due to an apparent faulty coupling. Miles noted that the Samons family is moving into a new home while still awaiting an apology from Atmos. Their new residence is being paid for by family money and proceeds from an insurance settlement.

WFAA8 waited until later in its newscast for Shipp's latest in a series of reports on faulty gas couplings and the explosions they've caused over the years. He's won prestigious national awards for these investigations, which began three years ago.

Shipp also interviewed Samons, but made only scant mention of her family's new home. He instead concentrated on the demolishment of their former residence while also again coming up empty in his efforts to get answers from the three-member Moe, Larry and Curly railroad commission.

"Why won't you stop and talk to us?" he asked commission member Victor Carillo while walking alongside him.

"Because I'm late to a meeting," Carillo replied, drawing his umbrella closer to his head.

Shipp made more headway with Texas state representative Robert Miklos of Mesquite, who wants all questionable couplings removed. There are an estimated three million of them, Shipp said.

Shipp clearly has been the lead dog in this area. But CBS11 obviously was intent on blunting his latest report with more prominent play for the capable Miles' dispatch.

Later in WFAA8's Monday newscast, co-anchor John McCaa made the dubious claim that "News 8 has learned exclusively that there was a second safe stolen from the Sixth Floor Museum last week."

Tell that to Fox4's Matt Grubs, who earlier reported basically the same story on the station's 9 p.m. newscast.

Both reports noted that a security guard employed by the museum had been arrested in connection with the attempted theft of one safe and the successful stealing of another. But WFAA8's Rebecca Lopez said that the second safe, found in a Southeast Dallas park, may have contained JFK documents as well jewelry that may have been connected in some way to Jacqueline Kennedy.

Lopez also talked to the guard charged with the crime, who said he didn't do it. McCaa then encouraged readers to check out Tuesday's Dallas Morning News story on safe-gate. It again made one wonder whether Lopez's "exclusive" in reality amounted to another joint effort with corporate cousin DMN's police reporters.

All four stations reported on former principal Dallas Mavericks owner Ross Perot Jr.'s lawsuit against current owner Mark Cuban, who allegedly has lost hundreds of millions running the team and therefore is unable to pay operating costs. Perot still owns a small piece of the team.

"Cuban isn't talking tonight," said WFAA8 sports anchor Dale Hansen.

"So far there has been no response from Cuban and the Mavericks," said NBC5 sports anchor Todd Barrie.

Maybe they should have tried a little harder. Both Fox4 and CBS 11 aired email replies from Cuban.

Fox4 sports anchor Mike Doocy quoted Cuban as saying that the Mavericks are "just fine." Cuban also said, "The biggest mistake I have made with the Mavs was keeping Perot as a partner."

CBS11, the only station to carry the Perot-Cuban spat outside of its sports segment, quoted Cuban as saying, "I have either personally guaranteed or provided funding myself. So he (Perot) is saying I can't pay back the money to me."

Co-anchor Doug Dunbar then cued viewers to the CBS11 website for more of what Cuban told the station. He teased it this way: "That's not all Cuban had to say."

Let me say -- and you won't have to go anywhere else to read this -- that I hate it when stations pull this crap rather than give viewers the fuller account they deserve. Do they actually want to condition prospective viewers to hit on their low revenue-producing websites rather than watch the featured newscast of the day? How do the sales departments feel about that?

In this case, CBS11 chose not to air some of Cuban's juicier comments, which included, "He knew I was going to run the team to win. Which has been fine with all the partners but Perot. I can only guess that he is still hurting from the failure of Victory (Park) and the blowing up of his hedge funds." It's moronic to leave those kinds of quotes on the table, particularly when two rival stations came up empty on the Cuban front.

Meanwhile, the night's most interesting enterprise story came from Fox4's Lynn Kawano. She told viewers about a new city ordinance that requires all of Dallas' 717 convenience stores to upgrade their surveillance equipment with high resolution cameras that must record in color. Outmoded VHS equipment often results in unusable footage when it comes to identifying robbers, Kawano said, illustrating her report with several examples. Fine work all around.

WFAA8's David Schechter had a good story, too, on diesel-powered vehicles that are all but exempt from mandatory emissions testing despite being "the largest source of ozone-producing pollution on the road in North Texas."

But Schechter unfortunately began his lengthy piece with shots of a kid with asthma coughing heavily. Then he laid it on too thick: "As kids with asthma wheeze and puff their way through the North Texas ozone, diesel cars, trucks and semis belch out the ozone-producing fumes that make kids sick."

He ended the report with a shot of the same kid coughing anew. My head still has a welt from being hit with Schechter's heavy-handed two-by-four. Subtlety may be largely a lost art in TV news, but try it some time.

The night's basic non-story, heavily touted all weekend, came from CBS11 reporter Arezow Doost. "You might be surprised by what we found," co-anchor Karen Borta told viewers Monday night, resurrecting a cliche that had been all but buried in the past year or so.

Doost, who's also done some good work for the station, went "undercover" to see if various sellers of kids' toys had certificates saying that they'd been tested for lead and other possibly harmful additives. The Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act requires such testing, and stores supposedly must have these certificates on hand in case anyone ever asks. Not that anyone ever would ask -- other than a reporter during a ratings sweeps period.

SMU marketing professor Dan Howard was called on to express surprise -- and a little indignation -- that some stores knew nothing about such certificates. But Doost basically undermined her own story at the end by noting that the Consumer Products Safety Commission had issued a "stay of enforcement" in most cases. Still, stores are supposed to have compliance certificates available for cribs, kids jewelry and pacifiers, Doost said. Ho hum.

Finally, WFAA8's Hansen joined his fellow sports anchors in reporting on Tiger Woods' latest woe -- a neck injury that prompted him to withdraw Sunday from the PGA's Players Championship.

"At least I didn't make the mistake the Golf Channel did," said Hansen, declining to elaborate. So what was he talking about?

Well, one of the Golf Channel's correspondents, Win McMurry, inadvertently told viewers that Woods had a "bulging dick." You're welcome.

Twelve nights to go.

Local Nielsen ratings snapshot (Fri.-Sun., May 7-9) -- White brightens SNL scorecard

Betty White's much-hyped hosting of NBC's Saturday Night Live nearly made it the entire weekend's most-watched attraction.

Assisted by musical guest Jay-Z and a reunion of top women cast members, SNL drew 278,238 D-FW viewers. Only ABC's new Sunday night episode of Desperate Housewives made a bigger haul, with 346,101 viewers. DH also had more advertiser-craved 18-to-49-year-olds than White's runner-upSNL.

CBS' latest Jesse Stone movie, with another strong performance by sturdy Tom Selleck, had 230,734 total viewers from 8 to 10 p.m. Sunday. That was a slight dip from the network's preceding Amazing Race 16 finale, which had 237,521 to win its time slot while Stone ran second overall. Race also topped the 18-to-49 numbers at 7 p.m., but Stone dropped to fourth in that key demographic.

On Friday night, NBC's season premiere of Austin-made Friday Night Lights (which first ran on DirecTV) drew 115,367 total viewers to finish second at 7 p.m. behind CBS' Ghost Whisperer (142,512). Lights nipped Ghost Whisperer among 18-to-49-year-olds, but both ran behind the first hour of TXA21's Texas Rangers Friday night game of the week. That's an impressive demographic showing by the first-place Rangers, who swept their four-game home series against Kansas City.

In local news derby results, WFAA8 prevailed in total viewers at 10 p.m., but again lost out among 25-to-54-year-olds, the main advertiser target audience for news programming. NBC5 took the gold with that age group.

At 6 a.m., Fox4 made it a second straight doubleheader win over NBC5, which had been dominating at that hour.

The Peacock won at 6 p.m. in total viewers, but Fox4 dominated in the 25-to-54 measurement.

The 5 p.m. golds went to WFAA8 in total viewers and NBC5 among 25-to-54-year-olds by a hair over Fox4.

This just in: A night in the lives of D-FW's late night newscasts (Fri., May 7)


Three of D-FW's major TV news providers went the small town news route at the start of Friday's late night editions. CBS11 was alone in taking a bigger approach more befitting a North Texas viewing area of 6.8 million.

Fox4 topped its 9 p.m. news with Lynn Kawano's report on a McKinney couple whose first child arrived prematurely in their spotless garage. Jade Holiday, who weighed just one pound, is now doing fine in a neo-natal intensive care unit.

"Always keep a clean garage," mom Jasmine said, laughing. WFAA8 had a briefer account of the same story toward the middle of its newscast. It didn't make the cut on either NBC5 or CBS11.

NBC5 instead led at 10 p.m. with Scott Gordon's dispatch on an alleged scammer who solicited donations for the Boys and Girls Clubs of America at two small Dallas hair care emporiums. Police have been notified. Rival stations didn't bother with the story.

WFAA8 began its late night edition with Monika Diaz's "Pews and Parking" spat between the Highland Park Presbyterian Church and a group of "Preserve Our Neighborhood" resistors. The church wants to help resolve its parking problem by building a 145-space lot that would require the removal of three homes that it already owns. Nonetheless the city council must grant a permit. A resident with an air of entitlement about him told Diaz, "It'll be a nice parking lot. It's still a parking lot." There was no coverage on Fox4, NBC5 or CBS11.

All of the above may or may not have their places somewhere within a station's newscast. But at the very top? Perhaps on the Mayberry Action News.

CBS11 led more wisely with a Jay Gormley report titled "Running On Empty." The Texas Department of Transportation says it will be out of money to start new highway projects in 2012 unless revenues are significantly increased, Gormley said. Funds will only be available for maintenance of existing roads, said TXDOT spokesperson Cynthia Northrop White.

One revenue-raiser, increasing gasoline taxes, hasn't been tried since 1991, Gormley noted. And it's likely a non-starter with the State Legislature.

The area's increasingly clogged freeways seem to always be in need of expansion or re-routing, making Gormley's story of import and interest to just about every viewer. Ideally, this should be standard operating procedure at the start of any newscast. Instead, relatively penny ante stories increasingly are the norm. They tend to be easier to promote during prime-time programming, even if viewers often are short-changed.

Friday's newscasts otherwise weren't much to write home about -- let alone fill these spaces.

On Fox4, Fil Alvarado had a nice little story on a teenage girl's run for the lone available Arlington City Council seat. Eighteen-year-old Lila Friedlander spent $1,000 on her campaign, using money she earned as a lifeguard. But in the end she lost by a 61 to 39 percent margin to the incumbent.

Fox4 reporter Matt Grubs reorted live from the opening of the luxury Gold Class Cinema in Fairview, where a moviegoing couple easily can drop $100 for the privilege of sitting in comfy recliners and munching on gourmet food. But WFAA8's Gary Cogill had this story all the way back on April 29th, the first weeknight of the ongoing May "sweeps" ratings period. On Friday night, Cogill had moved on to the City Arts Festival at Fair Park, where he filed a live report while enthusing that it's all free over the weekend.

Fox 4 and NBC5 both had footage of George W. Bush's unscheduled appearance at a luncheon where his former secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, otherwise was the featured speaker. NBC5 noted that its 5 and 6 p.m. co-anchor, Jane McGarry, emceed the event.

At least that's truth in packaging. In its coverage of a recent retirement party for Dallas Police Chief David Kunkle, WFAA8 made no mention that co-anchor Gloria Campos was its host. Nor were viewers told that the station also produced the party's official laudatory retrospective on Kunkle's career, which was narrated by WFAA8 police reporter Rebecca Lopez.

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Villafranca kings himself; Jackson shows off assets. Photos: Ed Bark

Finally, NBC5 reporter Omar Villafranca felt compelled to don a cardboard prom king crown at the close of his piece on Grand Prairie High School's pricey prom at Cowboys Stadium. And Fox4 co-anchor Steve Eagar couldn't resist showing viewers footage of weathercaster Ron Jackson's off-camera dance recital during a commercial break.

"As you can see, when Ron wants to measure wind speed, he doesn't stick his finger in the air," Eagar noted after Jackson's performance ended with his North Texas-sized behind facing the camera.

Those who missed out can see it now, courtesy of the myfoxdfw website. Thirteen nights to go.

This just in: A night in the lives of D-FW's late night newscasts (Thurs., May 6)


Linda Self kept her purse but took a bullet Thursday. Photo: Ed Bark

A star is born -- at least for a day or two.

Station managers really don't care whether seniors watch their newscasts. It's not part of their business plans. They're instead intent on piling up as many advertiser-favored 25-to-54-year-olds as possible.

There are few things better, though, than a plucky oldster who stares down a would-be crook. Especially if they're quotable. Linda Self filled that bill Thursday, holding court from her in-home bed after taking a bullet rather than letting an assailant pilfer her purse during a series of thefts in downtown Dallas.

CBS11 led its 10 p.m. newscast with pictures of the bandaged grandma while Fox4, NBC5 and WFAA8 all played her story prominently.

"He said, 'I'll shoot you. And I just told him, 'Well, shoot me.' So he did!" Self said on CBS11.

Self was grazed in the head but still highly talkative. And the thief didn't get her purse. Viewers of all ages can relate to that.

"What makes them think they have the right to go around muggin' people?" Self asked rhetorically on WFAA8. Perfect.

Thursday also brought a calamitous day on Wall Street, where the Dow plunged nearly 1,000 points at one point before partially recovering.

Fox4 led its 9 p.m. newscast with an extended look at the turbulence. Reporter Matt Grubs is very good at narrating and explaining stories of both national and local import, even though he went over the top by taking a ride at Six Flags to illustrate the sharp drop.

Co-anchor Steve Eagar then interviewed Strategic Wealth Planning president Steve Blum, who added some interesting perspective.

NBC5 and WFAA8 spent more time on Linda Self than the Wall Street plunge. CBS11 localized matters by having reporter Melissa Newton interview D-FW women with 401K portfolios and a financial advisor.

It otherwise wasn't much of a news night, at least in terms of notable enterprise stories. Dare it be said that Thursday's best conversation-starter was a story on the slow but steady growth in the sales and popularity of boxed wines? NBC5's Ellen Goldberg set the stage with an apt and clever word play, telling viewers that some grape growers are "trying to get wine lovers to think inside the box."

WFAA8 led its newscast with a "Fast Cars and Mad Moms" story that amounted to four women in a River Oaks residential area brandishing signs and urging passing motorists to slow down. Jason Whitely reported, but this likely won't show up on any resume tapes.

Fox4's Natalie Solis had an interesting followup to Tuesday's coverage of the attempted robbery of a safe from the Sixth Floor Museum in downtown Dallas. She interviewed the male cop who disabled their getaway truck with gunshots and the female cop who tackled one of the would-be thieves and then chased him for four blocks before losing him. No one's been caught yet. The safe was left behind.

An extended "Unlicensed to Drill" story on WFAA8 had Monika Diaz reporting on assistant DA Raquel "Rocky" Jones' crusade to bring illegal dentists to justice.

Teeth-fillers and yankers operating without proper licenses supposedly prey on low-income patients, although an unidentified Spanish-speaking woman told Diaz that doing it "the right way" is often too expensive. Licensed dentists say that patients are "taking a huge risk" by entrusting their mouths to such practitioners. It was an OK story, but hardly a jaw-dropper.

CBS11 co-anchor Doug Dunbar ventured out of the studio for a nice little heart-warmer on parents whose daughter, Jessica, died of leukemia in 2004 at age 17. Before her passing, she wrote several songs with encouragement from a Children's Medical Center "music therapist." Those songs live on as inspirations to others, her parents say.

At the other end of the spectrum, a contributor to Fox4's nightly "Viewers' Voice" segment said she would pray for the salvation of the network after Wednesday's "absolutely appalling" performance by Lady Gaga on American Idol.

Anchor Eagar, who presides over "Viewers' Voice," read parts of her email with a sarcastic voice inflection. But he otherwise resisted mocking her. Gaga performed a sexually suggestive version of "Alejandro," during which she was accompanied by a bevy of gyrating, bare-chested male dancers. Fox reportedly edited roughly two minutes from the performance, prompting Gaga to tweet and link to the "real version."

This just in: A night in the lives of D-FW's late night newscasts (Wed., May 5)

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WFAA8's Byron Harris, NBC5's Brian Curtis, Fox4's Brandon Todd

At least investigator Byron Harris came to play. Otherwise where's the snap-crackle in WFAA8's 10 p.m. newscast, which used to hands-down be this market's best and brightest?

Wednesday night's edition just kind of lay there, as have the station's ratings of late. Amid a batch of news blips and quickly forgettable stories, only Harris' report on "crime by the truckload" landed with any impact at all. Energy, people, energy. Even weathercaster Pete Delkus' nightly jabs at sports anchor Dale Hansen are routinely falling flat.

Harris looked at the increase in stealing entire loads of semi-truck shipments. Even worse, this is often a mere probationary offense for first-timers, largely because weapons usually aren't used. Successful thefts of mass quantities jack up the prices consumers pay for a variety of goods, Harris reported.

It was an eye-opener on an otherwise thoroughly indistinguished newscast that included Craig Civale's recycled piece on the success of a city-run Fort Worth animal shelter relocated to a pet goods store. NBC's Scott Gordon had that story two nights earlier.

On Wednesday, Gordon joined WFAA8's Gary Reaves and Fox4's Sophia Reza in reporting on the arrest of a Colleyville man who sent an explosive device to his estranged wife while camouflaging it with salad bowls. Fox4 and WFAA8 led with it while the lately reforming Peacock topped its newscast with Scott Friedman's far more impactful piece on American Airlines' increasingly "intensive negotiations" with a variety of unions.

It "could still be a summer of discontent" for travelers if agreements aren't reached, said Friedman, whose specialty is air travel issues. He knows his stuff, so the report carried some weight. Union and airline representatives were interviewed on camera.

CBS11, which largely dismissed the package bomb story via a brief anchor reader, led its newscast with Jay Gormley's "Brotherly Shove" piece. It's debatable whether this "only on CBS11" story merited such prominent play. But it definitely was a talker, with 15-year-old Hunter Robinson expressing remorse for calling 911 on his 17-year-old brother, Trey, after they got into an in-home shoving match.

Police handcuffed and arrested Trey, who spent the night in jail and still faces charges of domestic violence. The Hunter family is trying to get the matter dismissed via a "non-prosecution affidavit" filed by Hunter. But it's still on the books.

For the third straight weeknight, Fox4's Brandon Todd was the only D-FW newser in Venice, Louisiana, where he continued to report on the threat posed to the area's fishing industry by the Gulf oil spill. Todd's dispatches have been informative and worth the station's investment. And after Wednesday's live report, he stood by for an extended and interesting Q&A with anchor Steve Eagar.

Fox4 also had another weekly "Deal or Dud" segment from consumer reporter Steve Noviello. Unlike most, this one was pretty weak and doubled as an infomercial for a local wine merchant. The product tested -- and judged a "Deal" -- was Wine Off, which is supposed to spotlessly remove red wine stains. The company also offers coffee- and urine-removing liquids, which Noviello passed on testing.

NBC5 not long ago used to limit all stories to two minutes or less. On Wednesday's 10 p.m edition it stretched out both Friedman's story and a later extended piece by co-anchor Brian Curtis.

It's rare to see any first-string D-FW anchor get out and about for the purposes of actually doing a little reporting rather than narrating canned footage. But Curtis did a good job with his look at the resurgence of General Motors' Arlington plant, which seemed to be firmly on the ropes a year ago but lately is thriving.

Fox4's Richard Ray also touched on GM's resurgence during a Monday night look on the rollout of the company's 75th anniversary "Diamond Edition" of the Chevy Suburban. Curtis spent more time detailing the automaker's dramatic upturn. It's still a shock to the system to see NBC5 operate in this manner. But keep it up.

Meanwhile at WFAA8, it lately seems to be regression rather than progression. Never thought I'd write that NBC5 had a better latenight newscast than D-FW's award-laden ABC affiliate. But from this perspective, the Peacock gets a gold star for Wednesday's edition while WFAA8 needs to get it together.

This just in: A night in the lives of D-FW's late night newscasts (Tues., May 4)

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CBS11 reporters Carol Cavazos and Melissa Newton

New CBS11 news director Adrienne Roark says her No. 1 priority is ramping up the station's investigative reporting.

All well and good. But Tuesday's investigation-happy 10 p.m. edition should be debated within the newsroom. Were two of the featured stories, one piggybacked off the tabloid newsmagazine, Inside Edition of any real value to viewers? Or were they trumped-up ratings "sweeps" misfires? Unclebarky.com re-investigates.

The generally solid Carol Cavazos led the newscast with a "Controversial Detention" story in which police descended on a largely Spanish-speaking outdoor market on West Davis St.

"They just went from dealer to dealer harassing people," contended Darrel Adams, identified as a nearby "property owner." A Latino auto dealer who said he's a U.S. citizen told Cavazos that police asked for his ID, which offended him.

Police said they were looking for an auto theft ring, Cavazos said. "The surprise operation captured a criminal but put scores of innocent people on the spot and swept up illegals who had nothing to do with it," she added.

Viewers also were told that it all came down during the Mega March in downtown Dallas, where an estimated 25,000 participants protested Arizona's controversial new immigration law.

"That's exactly what's going to happen in Arizona," said Accion America activist Carlos Quintanilla, a frequent presence on D-FW television screens.

Cavazos said that one of the six illegals taken into custody "had only come to the dealership to bring his wife lunch." His wife told Cavazos she's scared about what might happen to him. Cavazos added that some market customers now are "too frightened to come back."

Retired Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agent A.J. Irwin also weighed in, telling Cavazos, "Just to come along on something like this where they're sweeping through an area that is frequented by Mexican nationals, that is not an acceptable operation."

The report basically brushed over the basic fact that a "criminal" was caught and that six people in the country illegally were detained. It's hard not to come off as an ugly American -- or politically incorrect -- by questioning whether the ends in this case may have justified the means. But Cavazos never addressed that aspect. She instead seemed overly intent on portraying everyone as a victim of a humiliating police sweep.

Co-anchor Karen Borta tried to inject the law enforcement side of the story by asking, "So Carol, what did the DMV and ICE have to say about their roles in the operation?"

"Well, Karen, the DMV said they were conducting typical inspections," she replied. "And ICE said they had a very small role. They just had one agent here. But dealers think it had the largest impact."

Later in the newscast, reporter Melissa Newton mostly narrated what her station described as "another story you'll see only on CBS11." In fact it was an all-too-typical ratings "sweeps" expose by the reliably tawdry Inside Edition, which airs on CBS11. In short, you obtain a list of registered sex offenders, find where they work, accost them and then act like an avenging angel after they lose their jobs. Fox4 investigator Becky Oliver went this route during an earlier sweeps period.

Four convicted sex offenders working in the North Texas hotel industry were spotlighted by Inside Edition and basically upbraided for daring to work within proximity of human beings. One of them, a 60-year-old desk man at an area Holiday Inn, had been working there for four-and-a-half years, he said. Fifteen years ago he was convicted of indecency with a child. Another elderly hotel worker's offense dated to 1990.

In her only contribution to the investigation, Newton knocked on the door of the 60-year-old man's home with the lame proviso that "We would just like to give him a chance to tell his side of the story." The woman who answered the door said that he already had been outed and grilled on national television.

Inside Edition also went to "child safety advocate" Erin Runnion for a reaction. "Oh my gosh," she said with all due theatricality. "That's just frightening." Runnion then launched into a near-hysterical denunciation.

Newton said at story's end that two of the four men "highlighted" in the Inside Edition piece no longer worked for their respective hotels. She named both of them, but we won't. Instead some basic questions should be asked. Is society really better off when sex offenders are hunted down and thrown out of their jobs despite having spotless records as employees? What jobs should they be allowed to have? Or must they remain forever unemployed no matter how long ago their offenses occurred?

Inside Edition could care less. But they'll build a moat around themselves and roll up the drawbridge if any of their reporters or anchors is ever charged with wrongdoing. As will virtually any other media operation. The multi-part sex offender investigation in progress on Inside Edition is business as usual for TV "news" programs of its caliber. But CBS11's news department doesn't have to be a party to it. And in this case, it shouldn't have been.

Elsewhere on Tuesday's late night newscasts, both Fox4 and NBC5 led with sinister animal stories.

On Fox4, Sophia Reza reported on an alligator sighting in Arlington's Fish Creek. A resident has still pictures of the beast, but animal control officers so far have not been able to make an arrest.

NBC5 began with the tale of an Arlington man who experienced an "unnerving attack," in co-anchor Brian Curtis' words, from two neighborhood pit bulls who burst out of their owner's backyard. He's sustained cuts on his foot and hand. Scott Gordon did the story, during which NBC5 ballooned the picture of the arrested female owner to near full-screen size. She declined to be interviewed.

In contrast, WFAA8 topped its newscast with a comparatively sedate but far worthier story on a DISD "land spree" in which proposed sites for new public schools require the demolitions of local businesses and an historic Oak Cliff church. Jonathan Betz ably reported on some residents' displeasure with the plans while one man seemed more than happy to have the city purchase his ramshackle house.

The station also continued its depiction of DFW Airport as a haven for thieves and would-be terrorists. Jason Whitely picked up where investigator Brett Shipp left off, although their voices sound almost identical. The latest "troublesome trend" at the airport is an escalation in baggage thefts, Whitely reported after examining reports over the past five years.

Becalmed airport spokesman David Magana again appeared on camera, this time to say, "We have to get better." All in all it was an interesting story.

Tuesday's basically harmless show 'n' tell visuals were courtesy of NBC5's baritone-voiced Ellen Goldberg and hyper-energetic sports reporter Matt Barrie.

Goldberg first brandished a taco plate order from Dallas' Fuel City convenience store before noting that lottery tickets with mega-jackpots are selling almost as fast as the food.

Barrie, who will grow on you if you let him, posed happily with Grand Prairie AirHogs' mascot Ace Bacon. His accompanying story detailed some of the baseball team's efforts to entice fans with unusual promotions. Included are the "Twilight Saga Blood-Drive" and the "Lady Gaga Pre-Monster Ball."

Barrie also solicited suggestions from players, one of whom would like to see a "bathing suit day at the yard" night.

"Only Barrie," co-anchor Meredith Land lightly jabbed after his closing pose. That'll be our closer, too.


This just in: A night in the lives of D-FW's late night newscasts (Mon., May 3)


Brandon Todd reports first-hand on Gulf oil spill. Photo: Ed Bark

It's not a local story per se, but it's definitely a big one with obvious reverberations.

Fox4 has spent far more time than its rivals on the still unchecked Gulf oil spill. On Monday it went more extra miles by being the only D-FW station to send a reporter to a community that's directly feeling the spill's impact.

Brandon Todd ventured to Venice, Louisiana to interview fishermen and local business owners whose livelihoods are threatened. He then reported live from the scene at the top of Fox4's 9 p.m. newscast.

Was it time and resources well-spent? In this view, yes. This story isn't going away anytime soon, and Louisiana is close enough to home for a D-FW station to pay extra attention. Todd generally is a solid, resourceful reporter and a good person to have on the scene. And besides, he still needs a little "Journalism with a Capital J" therapy for agreeing to put on that ludicrous, dust-repelling full body suit and goggles during Fox4's coverage of the recent Texas Stadium implosion.

NBC5 also topped its 10 p.m. newscast with the latest developments on the Gulf oil spill. But there was a big difference. Co-anchor Brian Curtis began by narrating canned network videotape before going live to "NBC5's Jay Gray," who also was in Venice. Gray long has been with the NBC network, not NBC5, where he used to work as part of the station's night beat team. Or to put it another way, NBC5 didn't send anyone to Louisiana despite the inference by Curtis.

CBS11 offered an in-studio Gulf spill narrative by co-anchor Doug Dunbar, who then cued viewers to the station's web site for more information. WFAA8 barely touched on the story, with co-anchor Gloria Campos standing next to a decidedly generic-looking, scantly detailed gulf map. In days of yore, WFAA8 unquestionably would have been first on the scene. In the cost-efficient present, it barely paid attention.

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Fox4's Becky Oliver, WFAA8s Janet St. James, CBS11's Ginger Allen

Fox4 also scored Monday night with gravel-voiced gumshoe Becky Oliver's extended look at how accused offenders regularly have their cases dismissed if they can't be easily found.

"Fox4 learned if you just lay low long enough after the crime, you may never have to do the time," she said before diving in.

It was a genuine eye-opener, with Oliver deploying statistics that showed a total of 6,839 misdemeanor cases dismissed in the last 10 years "because of un-apprehended defendants or the passage of time." In 2008 alone, 3,315 were thrown out.

Oliver interviewed a woman who had been injured by a drunk driver and another woman whose car had been burglarized. The judges who eventually dismissed the cases declined to be interviewed, but Oliver did get an on-camera interview with Gordon Hikel, chief prosecutor of the Dallas district attorney's office. Hidek offered what seemed to be some fairly lame excuses, telling Oliver that a "cost benefit analysis" eventually is made if accused offenders can't be found over an extended period of time.

Oliver easily found some of them herself, including a man charged with assault in 2004. He'd been living at the same address listed on the original police report ever since, but his case was dismissed in 2008 because he supposedly couldn't be found. The man spoke openly -- and on-camera.

Oliver can be over-bearing at times, but not this time. She held her voice inflections to a minimum and delivered the goods after what appeared to be considerable homework and legwork. Fox4 can still afford the ample time it takes her to prepare these reports when she uncovers something of true value.

In contrast, CBS11 offered a lengthy "investigation" of 3D movie glasses germs by reporter/early morning co-anchor Ginger Allen. An independent tester found most of the glasses to be free of bacteria, but "colonies" of germs were discovered on at least one pair. Still, the tester said the amounts "are not alarming," but could cause a few problems for users with "weak immune systems."

Basically this was a nonsensical, non-story, with Allen suggesting at its merciful end that 3D moviegoers take anti-bacterial wipes with them as a precaution. Theater chain reps say that used glasses are either discarded or sanitized for re-use. The End.

Over on WFAA8, medical reporter Janet St. James piggybacked off ABC's recent Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution series. Playing an ad hoc veggie czar, she visited Dove Elementary School in Grapevine and hovered over second graders while they ate lunches brought from home. St. James wondered aloud whether the kids were eating healthier by avoiding the typical cafeteria junk food that Oliver fought against during his series.

"How many of you bring vegetables every day?" St. James asked. No one raised their hand.

She later chastised a little boy for eating his oatmeal cookie first.

"What do you think mom and dad would say about that?" St. James asked.

"I don't know," said the offender before the intrepid reporter gently branded him a fibber.

St. James did find one good little soldier in second-grader Maximillian Moyer, whose lunch included both a fresh vegetable and a fresh fruit. Overall, though, her report felt more than a little invasive. And it really proved nothing.

WFAA8 weathercaster Pete Delkus soon rained on St. James' nutrition parade by proclaiming, "Tater Tots'll set you free."

This prompted his nightly foil, beefy sports anchor Dale Hansen, to claim abject poverty as a kid. So much so that li'l Dale supposedly got only bread crusts for dinner.

"We dipped the crusts in water and called it a stew," said Hansen. "And you just blew up and weighed, like 300 pounds. Caused all my eating problems." Delkus contributed a prolonged mega-guffaw during Hansen's latest embellishment.

CBS11 sports anchor Babe Laufenberg also got a little crazy after showing footage of Texas Rangers manager Ron Washington being thrown out of that night's ongoing road game against Oakland.

"I've always wanted to know what was the one word that set that up," Laufenberg ad libbed. "Usually it starts with an F."

Anchors Dunbar and Karen Borta distanced themselves faster than Hansen can eat a personal pizza. "We're not going to go there," said Borta while an off-camera crew member allowed himself to laugh.

The night's other run-at-the-mouth moment came from Fox4 co-anchor Steve Eagar, who went off on self-exiled director Roman Polanski during the nightly "News Edge" segment.

Eagar very strongly objected to Polanski's "I can remain silent no longer" article for a French website. He's fighting extradition back to the U.S. in connection with his plea of guilty to having unlawful intercourse with a 13-year-old girl 33 years ago during a photo shoot. As part of a plea bargain, Polanski served 42 days in jail before fleeing the country while awaiting sentencing.

Fox4 slugged the news brief "Pity Party" while Eagar said of Polanski, "The United States is trying to get him back from Switzerland to go to prison. Yes, readers, not to pity his lot in life. Don't worry, not many outside the Hollywood crowd do, Mr. Polanski. In 1977 he drugged, raped and sodomized a 13-year-old girl. Thirteen! He says it was consensual. Thirteen. Don't pity him. Pity her."

A little context might help here. Polanski's victim, Samantha Geimer, long has said that the charges should be dismissed. She began saying this in 1995 and recently again said that she opposes Polanski's extradition. The attention brought to Geimer and her family in today's media vulture culture "is not pleasant to experience and is not worth maintaining over some irrelevant legal nicety, the continuation of the case," Geimer said.

Geimer also talked on camera in the 2008 independent documentary, Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired, which raised issues of serious judicial misconduct during the trial of Polanski.

None of this excuses Polanski's actions in 1977. Nor does it sanction anchor Eagar's ill-considered rant in the middle of a newscast. If he wants to be a commentator, too, then give him a clearly identified segment to unload his views. He also might want to note that the "pity her" woman in question would disagree with everything he said Monday night.

CW 33's Jim Grimes calling it a night (updated)


CW33 reporter and weekend anchor Jim Grimes, who joined the Dallas-based station in the momentous month of September 2001, will be leaving the station later this month.

Grimes is taking a public relations position with Clearwire of Dallas.

In an email response sent Monday evening, Grimes said that Sunday's May 23rd 9 p.m. newscast will mark his last appearance on the station.

"In a nutshell, I decided to try something new," he said. "And when the job at Clearwire came up, it seemed like the perfect fit. The best part -- no more working on weekends and holidays!"

Grimes said that CW33 has been "good to me and my family over the years. The people who work here are some of the best in the business, and I'll miss working with each of them."

Grimes is a 1988 graduate of Richland High School of North Richland Hills.

This just in: A night in the lives of D-FW's late night newscasts (Fri., April 30)

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A pair of Fox4 veterans and WFAA8 reporter David Schechter

The way they do the things they do remains a source of constant amazement. Latest Exhibit A: Fox4's 9 p.m. Friday newscast.

While rival stations for a change stifled their scare weather tactics, Fox4 decided that the night's top story was a "Chance of Storms."

"Don't put away that rain gear just yet," warned co-anchor Steve Eagar before temperature taker Dan Henry forecast "a slight risk of severe weather."

Brace for possible "pop up showers and thunderstorms," said Henry, who frankly might have been a bit embarrassed to be put in this position. We did learn, however, of a "high risk of severe weather in central Arkansas." Arkansas? Why not include the Dakotas, too?

As repeatedly noted in these spaces, weather is deemed a bigger selling point than ever by newscast consultant types. But how many times can you cry wolf with these top-of-the-newscast howlers? NBC5, WFAA8 and CBS11 at least waited until their appointed weather segments Friday night. Henry hit in the lead-off spot before Fox4 segued to reporter Lynn Kawano's extended report on a very disturbed 18-year-old who dug up a grave for the purpose of severing a corpse's foot and then putting it in his duffel bag.

Fox4 later was alone in fueling the flames of the immigration reform debate with a semi-breathless "Breaking News" story on the shooting of a deputy sheriff in Pinal County, Arizona. Anchor Eagar's initial summation said that a car with suspected illegals had been stopped for a traffic violation before the deputy was shot in the stomach with an AK 47. He described the deputy's condition as critical before quickly backing off and telling viewers, "His condition, excuse me, has not been released. The injury is said to be very serious."

He was wrong on both counts. Later in the newscast, Arizona-based Fox reporter Britt Moreno said the deputy is "supposed to be OK at this point" after being "grazed in the back by a bullet." While patrolling by himself, the deputy "encountered bales of marijuana and then he stumbled upon five suspected illegal immigrants," Moreno said rather clumsily. (He was released from the hospital after treatment Friday night.)

Technical difficulties further gummed things up after co-anchor Heather Hays asked Moreno how the shooting might affect an already "volatile situation" in Arizona and elsewhere. "I think it's going to fire people up on both sides," Hays told her.

"Well, I tell you, people have been fired up out here," Moreno readily agreed after first fighting a losing battle with her earpiece. "The air is certainly charged."

Fox4 certainly did its level best to stir the pot on the eve of Saturday's Mega March in downtown Dallas in protest of Arizona's new and controversial immigration reform law. It turned out to be a peaceful event that drew only about one-quarter of the 100,000 participants predicted by organizers.

The station also was alone in bothering to cover a Forney tanning salon customer's allegation that a worker had peeped at her through an air vent while she nakedly bronzed herself.

"I feel violated. I am distraught," the unidentified woman told Fox4 reporter Peter Daut. She later added, "(He) has taken something from me. He has taken my pride away." That seems a bit dramatic under the circumstances. But perfect for Fox4's purposes.

A tanning center spokeswoman said of the accused peeping Tom, "Under no circumstances do I believe he was looking at her." The man was arrested, charged with disorderly conduct and declined to be interviewed, viewers were told. Fox4 both identified him and showed his police mug shot.

In contrast, the night's best story came from WFAA8's David Schechter, who reported on efforts to help the homeless in times when they often are their own worst enemies. Outreach programs such as Dallas Crisis Intervention strive to get them back on their feet rather than burdening taxpayers with their constant visits to hospitals.

Schechter said that one man's recurring hospitalizations and releases are costing one hospital $600,000 a year. Another homeless woman who is both schizophrenic and a cocaine addict told Schechter she'd been to Parkland Hospital about 30 times in the past year. In better times she had been a fast food restaurant manager.

Winford Cross of Dallas Crisis Intervention nonetheless keeps offering a helping hand. And there are occasional success stories amid the constant setbacks.

"For financial and moral reasons, it's Winford's job not to give up on her," Schechter said at story's end after the aforementioned homeless woman again had fled to the streets. This was both a compassionate and an eye-opening story by one of local television's better enterprise reporters.

CBS11 led its 10 p.m. newscast with "team coverage" on the immigration reform debate, with veteran reporters Stephanie Lucero and Jay Gormley gamely trying to put things in perspective. Lucero's piece unfortunately was marred by a transposed "Border Over the Battle" tagline that took a while to correct to "Battle Over the Border."

Anchors Karen Borta and Doug Dunbar later rhapsodized over Carol Cavazos' piece on a World War II veteran and former German prisoner of war who was honored at a Denton Church.

"Wow, what a great story!" Borta exclaimed.

Dunbar readily agreed -- and then some. "Bless all of our veterans out there," he concluded.

WFAA8 anchors John McCaa and Gloria Campos also lapsed into preachment mode after Gary Cogill's story on an expensive new painting acquired by Fort Worth's Kimbell Art Museum.

"If you haven't been there . . . " McCaa began before Campos interjected, "Shame on you for one thing."

That's a great way to alienate a sizable chunk of viewers who no doubt lack her refinement.

Meanwhile on NBC5 it was casual Friday. Substitute anchors Kevin Cokely and Kristi Nelson stood in for first-teamers Brian Curtis and Meredith Land on the second night of the May sweeps. There also were no live reports from anyone, which frankly is no big loss on most nights. Standing alone in the dark for the sole purpose of being live often is a waste of resources.

NBC5's featured story, by Grant Stinchfield, was an unusually long taped piece on the one-year anniversary of the Dallas Cowboys' practice field collapse, in which two team assistants were seriously injured.

Time and again, a "KDAF-THE 33" bug was used for replays of the collapse. It only served to reinforce the fact that NBC5 had no one there at the time.

In fairness, though, NBC5's newscasts appear to be notably improved over the past year. Friday's 10 p.m. edition almost miraculously came and went without a single same-day crime story. Not a one. NBC5 for years had been the station where no wrongdoing was deemed too petty to report. The station used to routinely hit double-digits in a single newscast, with a few fires and car wrecks also thrown in.

The emphasis now is on "people" stories, such as Scott Gordon's harmless piece on more people doing their own home repairs with the intent to live in better surroundings rather than sell.

I'm not nearly sold on NBC5 yet. But there's a notable and welcome difference in story selection and presentation.

NBC reboots, NBC5 hopes to get a leg up

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NBC5 anchors Brian Curtis and Meredith Land are glad that Leno's back where he belongs -- as their 10 p.m. weeknight followup act.

Now comes the inverse of many Winter Olympics competitions -- NBC's steep uphill climb back to what it hopes will be renewed ratings respectability. It all starts Monday.

Fort Worth-based NBC5's 10 p.m. newscasts also potentially have much to gain. The station's new anchor duo of Brian Curtis and Meredith Land made their first appearance after the Games' opening ceremonies. And despite usually starting an hour or more later than their three rivals, they still drew more viewers than the 10 p.m. winner on most nights. It helps to have the Olympics as a feeding tube.

Curtis and Land will begin their regularly scheduled 10 p.m. shift without being bedeviled by The Jay Leno Show and its reliably low lead-in audiences. Instead they'll be preceded by a patchwork quilt of shows that are either new or notably long in the tooth.

The Monday-Friday 9 p.m. lineup, subject to change as winter yields to spring, will be Law & Order; the promising new drama series Parenthood; Law & Order: SVU; Jerry Seinfeld's comedy-panel show, The Marriage Ref and Dateline.

Leno, whose Olympics promotions were built around The Beatles' "Get Back," concurrently returns to The Tonight Show Monday armed with guests Lindsey Vonn, Jamie Foxx and Brad Paisley. His long-term goal is to regain the dominance he had over David Letterman's Late Show, which thumped Conan O'Brien's Tonight for much of their seven-month faceoff.

Letterman will counter Monday night with the reliably entertaining Bill Murray and Ludacris. On Tuesday, a pair of possible 2012 Republican presidential candidates square off, with Leno welcoming Sarah Palin and Letterman hosting Mitt Romney.

Letterman also has The Jay Leno Show's first guest, Jerry Seinfeld, on Wednesday, and O'Brien's last Tonightguest, Tom Hanks, on Thursday. Leno has Olympian Apolo Ono on Wednesday and Brett Favre on Thursday. They're obviously not messin' around.

NBC5's 10 p.m. newscasts ran third in the November sweeps with Leno as their nightly place-setter. Late night news ratings for the February sweeps, which end Wednesday night, are largely discounted because of the Olympics factor. That makes the May sweeps of more than usual interest -- particularly for NBC.

Can Leno heal the Tonight Show ratings after opening all those gaping ratings wounds at 9 p.m.? Will NBC be able to give its owned and affiliated stations a much-needed boost with its hastily assembled quintet of Leno replacements?

Leno's return to Tonight almost assuredly will boost the show's overall ratings. And the curiosity over Monday night's first do-over should provide him with a larger audience than Letterman on that night.

Despite NBC's manifest screwups, it's still possible that Leno in time will resume his reign as late night king. In fact it might not take that much time at all. If so, that would be a tough pill for Letterman to choke down. So he'll be going all out -- save for another sex scandal -- to stay on top of a guy he unmercifully ridiculed until making peace of sorts with their surprise Super Bowl XLIV commercial.

The Peacock's prime-time problems are far more deep-seated across the board, even if its new 9 p.m. lineup can't help but do better than Leno did. In the immediate future, NBC5 and its brethren across the land will take whatever extra table scraps they can get. For the first time since September, things actually are looking up. Then again, how could they not?