This just in: a night in the lives of D-FW's late night local newscasts (Mon., Nov. 15)
11/16/10 01:47 PM
By ED BARK
Beware: children at play.
For starters Monday night, WFAA8's Pete Delkus leaned into the camera for one of his prime-time weather teases, but then threw a curveball during a break from ABC's Dancing with the Stars.
"Did Hansen finally get suspended?" he asked with a completely serious face. "The answer tonight, at 10." The same tease popped up later during respites from the night's other ABC programming.
The reference, to WFAA8's ever voluble and opinionated sports anchor, Dale Hansen, might well have puzzled a good number of the 491,725 D-FW viewers that Nielsen Media Research says were watching ABC's most popular program.
Whatever the impact, WFAA8's "suspension"-fused 10 p.m. newscast just happened to handily beat arch rival CBS11 in both total viewers and 25-to-54-year-olds, the main advertiser target audience for news programming. The two stations remain locked in another airtight race for late night news ratings supremacy after CBS11 narrowly won the May ratings "sweeps" in both measurements for the first time in its history. A total of seven weeknights now remain in the November sweeps.
Delkus returned to the Hansen festivities after Monday night's weathercast, priming the pump by saying, "This guy right over here, after all of these years of just totally looking the other way at anything that management says -- it's finally caught up with you, hasn't it?"
It should be noted that Hansen's latest foot-in-mouth ad lib came Friday night, after Delkus reminded him that it was wife Chris Hansen's birthday. Hansen joked that she had just turned 21. "Now she's legal, and I don't have to lie to the bartenders anymore."
But no, an unfortunate joke about under-age drinking didn't get him in any trouble -- at least on the WFAA8 homefront. Instead the Monday night gambit was tied to Hansen's ragging on interim Dallas Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett, whose new rules require players and coaches to wear coats and ties on flights to and from games.
But for the victorious trip home from New York, running back and co-team captain Marion Barber wore a shirt that was not tucked in, no tie, jeans and sneakers with no socks. He reportedly was fined, but Garrett told reporters Monday that such matters will be kept in-house. Hansen apparently still wants his pound of flesh anyway.
"Cell phone cameras," he told Delkus and news anchors John McCaa and Gloria Campos. "When you tend to violate the rules like I do from time to time, I mean you get caught."
Viewers were treated to the above picture of Hansen, dressed semi-Marion Barber-style, while he continued to carry on in rather discombobulated fashion at the anchor desk. Verbatim, here's what he said: "You see what happens here?" I might be in a little trouble. I violated the Channel 8 dress code yesterday. And just like Cowboys running back Marion Barber did this week -- now just like the Cowboys -- management won't confirm or deny that. It's handled in-house, like all good organizations do. But there's a price to pay. And I'll pay it next in sports."
After a commercial break, reporter and substitute anchor Joe Trahan manned Hansen's spot for a few seconds before he returned and said, "OK, I had to sit out the first line (of the sports segment intro.) But I'm in for the second. This discipline thing is really hard. But I've learned my lesson."
That's a l-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-ng way to go for a really lame joke. And the infraction was compounded Monday night by management allowing Delkus to raise the question of Hansen's suspension as a viewer fake-out during a closely contested sweeps ratings race.
WFAA8 news director Michael Valentine declined to comment in any way on the record Tuesday. But really, does a station that's been much-honored for its news reporting -- and very willing to put itself above its rivals in an ongoing promotional campaign -- really need to resort to this kind of stuff in hopes of eking out a ratings sweeps win?
As noted many times here, Hansen is one of a kind -- and far more often than not that's a good thing in this market. His candor is a breath of hot air, with Hansen's occasional "Unplugged" commentaries regularly serving as collectors' items. WFAA8 went too far this time, though. And in so doing, at least briefly forfeited the right to be so sanctimonious -- if not outright arrogant -- about how superior its content is compared to that of Fox4, NBC5 or CBS11.
Yeah, it's OK to have a little fun during a newscast. Anyone who calls his website unclebarky.com fully realizes that. But WFAA8's Monday 10 p.m. newscast, preceded by those phony, bait-and-switch prime-time teases, was just too much of a three-ring circus. You've got to know when to send out the clowns.
IN OTHER DEVELOPMENTS . . .
On the surface it sounded kind of penny ante. But CBS11 investigator Ginger Allen's look at unwarranted sales taxes on certain snacks and drinks added up to an interesting report.
"It may be only a few cents here and there," she told viewers. "But those nickels and dimes add up."
The impetus for her extended report was an aggrieved man who seems to have made it his life's work lately to document some of the extra charges people are paying at convenience stores for cookies, chips, drinks and the like. His cause celebre was a pack of cookies that should cost just 79 cents. But many merchants unknowingly tack on a bogus sales tax, raising the price to 86 cents.
Allen visited a number of stores herself, and was repeatedly over-charged. She didn't go in with a sledge-hammer to demand justice. Instead she revisited some of the stores to politely inform them of their over-charges. Many clerks were confused as to what items are taxed by the state and which ones aren't. Allen noted as much by later displaying an array of drinks in the CBS11 studio before walking co-anchor Doug Dunbar through the minefield of state sales tax variations. It can be very "confusing," both acknowledged. And for that reason and more, her report was quite informative.
***WFAA8 gumshoe Brett Shipp had bigger bucks to fry in connection with a long-planned Las Colinas Entertainment Center set to open next year as the brainchild of Billy Bob Barnett of Billy Bob's Texas fame.
The city of Irving has heavily invested in the project, but taxpayer money is only supposed to be used for items "directly related to the construction costs" of the multi-million dollar complex. WFAA8's examination of expense records instead showed city money being spent on the likes of Barnett's chauffeur ($2,000), and pricey meals and hotel stays.
Irving Mayor Herb Gears talked on-camera to Shipp, as did project manager Brenda McDonald. But he said that Barnett and his partner were no-shows for an agreed-upon interview.
Shipp is nothing if not aggressive, but he could have used a lighter touch with McDonald, who seemed to be pretty candid in answering his questions as best she could.
"He's a driver for Billy Bob," Shipp told McDonald after he threw out the man's name and she couldn't identify him. "The city's paying his salary. You OK with that?"
"It would, honestly," she began before he cut her off.
"Are you OK with that?" Shipp demanded.
"As a general statement, that's probably not an appropriate expense," she acknowledged when allowed to finish.
Shipp's voice inflections were borderline sarcastic during this particular inquisition. Sometimes you just have to temper this stuff a bit in the interests of getting the information without seeming to be insufferable about it.
***On Fox4, investigator Becky Oliver led the 9 p.m. newscast with an up-close look at a solicitor who appeared to be violating state law by offering $100 to $150 payments to patients who signed up to pay for Medicare-funded home health care.
The woman, Ollie Futrell, kept walking away from Oliver when asked to explain herself. It made for "good television," but it was a tough story to sell in terms of why it should matter all that much one way or the other. In a subsequent live interview with anchor Heather Hays, a former special counsel for health care fraud said that kickbacks of this sort can raise health care costs for everyone. Oliver is a tough cookie who's done some eye-opening investigations in recent months. This one really didn't resonate, though.
***Later on Fox4, news anchor Steve Eagar again played sports reporter by sitting down with former Cowboys special teams coach Joe Avezzano (who used to be a regular on Hansen's Sunday night sports specials) and Fox4 reporter/substitute anchor Max Morgan. The subject, of course, was the Dallas Cowboys and the impact of new coach Garrett. It went on for a mighty long time, with Eagar orchestrating and Morgan largely a silent partner.
We'll say this again. Nielsen Media Research data says that women of the ages 25 to 54 are far bigger newscast watchers than men of that vintage. And they represent a prized demographic. So why devote another lengthy, mid-newscast segment to sports (on Friday it was the TCU football team) when research at any TV station says it's a topic that's largely a turnoff to women? Your friendly content provider doesn't mind the extra big helpings of sports blah-blah-blah. But I'm both outside the prime demographic and of a less desirable gender. Or to put it another way, most TV advertisers don't butter their bread with 62-year-old males. Even frisky ones.
***NBC5 co-anchor Meredith Land had an OK report on how the GPS devices on cell phones can help stalkers track you down. As evidence, Land showed viewers "how easy it is to track me." Let's hope that doesn't backfire on her.
***WFAA8 led its newscast with a story on a longtime Dallas Cowboys fan and state lottery player who was told he had won both admission to a "draft day party" with owner Jerry Jones and season tickets for next year. But the state lottery commission later said it had made an "unfortunate clerical error" in rewarding the season tickets. He'll still get to go to the party, though.
The problem with this story? Reporter Jason Whitely seemed far more aggrieved than the man who thought he had scored doubly big. He seemed more than happy enough with what he'd won, and remains a big Cowboys fan.