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Local Nielsen ratings snapshot (Thurs., Aug. 30)

Meaningless or not, Thursday night's final Dallas Cowboys pre-season game wasn't about to lose to a passel of reruns.

The team's disinterested loss to the Minnesota Vikings, with both teams mostly benching their starters, drew a dominating 343,420 homes from 7 to 10 p.m. on CBS11. The most-watched competing attraction, Fox4's local 9 p.m. newscast, managed 112,038 homes.

That's a wrap for the Cowboys' four pre-season games. Here's how the other three played out in D-FW:

Cowboys-Colts -- 486,601 homes
Cowboys-Broncos -- 361,760 homes
Cowboys-Texans -- 336,113 homes

CBS11's 10 p.m. newscast, delayed until 10:05 p.m. by a big block of commercials and a brief game wrapup, held off Belo8 to win in both total homes and with 25-to-54-year-olds, the main advertiser target audience for news programming.

Belo8, in a very rare occurrence, came within an eyelash of getting skunked in the four major local newscast competitions. It's only trip to the winner's circle was a first-place tie at 5 p.m. with NBC5 among 25-to-54-year-olds.

Fox4 easily beat all comers at 6 a.m. in total homes and the 25-to-54 demo. The 7 to 9 a.m. portion of its Good Day also returned to the practice of whipping the three network morning shows.

NBC5 won at 5 and 6 p.m. in total homes and also by an unusually large margin at 6 p.m. with 25-to-54-year-olds. Its 74,620 viewers in that age group came close to doubling the crowds for runnersup Fox4 and Belo8 (40,180 apiece).

Longstanding news director resigns from CW33

Nine years after launching Ch. 33's prime-time newscast, news director Anthony Maisel is opting to leave the building.

"Never bury the lead," Maisel said in a memo to station staffers before telling them he's resigning. His last day will be Sept. 21st.

"I'm leaving because it is time, and there are no other reasons," Maisel told unclebarky.com Thursday.

The Tribune Company currently owns the now CW33 and 25 other TV stations. But speculation abounds that news departments will be terminated at some of those stations after Chicago-based billionaire Sam Zell's purchase of the media giant is finalized sometime this fall. Zell plans to take his new company private. Tribune currently is traded on the New York Stock Exchange.

CW33's 9 p.m. news averaged 40,460 D-FW homes per weeknight during the May "sweeps" ratings period, according to Nielsen Media Research.

Maisel said he has no idea whether CW33's news operation has a longterm future. The station's original half-hour WB33 News At Nine debuted in 1998, with Maisel hiring its entire startup staff.

"I still have 15 people here from then," he said.

In his memo, Maisel said that he and his wife, Robin, "discussed this at length and finally realized this decision is the best one for me and my family. I have not decided what my next career will be, but I have a couple of options."

Maisel praised the CW33 news staff as devoted and loyal to both the station and their families.

"I love the news," he said. "But more importantly, I deeply care for all of you and the team we have built," he said.

The 9 p.m. newscast's executive producer, Mark Shepherd, will be in charge of news operations after he leaves, Maisel said.

Local Nielsen ratings snapshot (Fri.-Sun., Aug. 24-26)

There's still more than a passing interest in Dallas Cowboys pre-season games, even when they're throwing interceptions.

But Saturday's total homes numbers took another dip, although each D-FW Nielsen rating point is newly worth 24,365 homes instead of 23,800.

The Cowboy's loss to the Houston Texans drew a very nice-sized 336,113 homes on CBS11, down from 361,760 the previous Saturday against the Denver Broncos. Fox4 amassed 486,601 total homes for the team's Aug. 9th pre-season opener against the defending Super Bowl champ Indianapolis Colts.

CBS11 deployed its A-team news anchors, Doug Dunbar and Karen Borta, for Saturday's 10 p.m. news in hopes of gaining some much-needed visibility immediately after game's end. The station then managed a rarity, 10 p.m. victories in both total homes (194,848) and among 25-to-54-year-olds, the main target audience for news programming.

On Sunday, Fox's two-hour Teen Choice Awards, in which surfboards serve as trophies, sunk to fourth place from 7 to 9 p.m. with just 65,761 homes. But did the show win with D-FW teens? Yes and no. It ran second with 12-to-17-year-olds from 7 to 8 p.m. opposite a repeat of ABC's Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. But the second hour of Teen Choice had the biggest teen haul of the day (23,345 of 'em).

At the other end of the viewing teeter-totter, Teen Choice overall averaged just 9,600 viewers 55 years and older. Dagnabbit, the competing Texas Rangers-Seattle Mariners game on MY27 drew 83,680 of 'em.

Over on ESPN, Sunday afternoon's Little League World Series championship game, won by Georgia over Japan with a walk-off homer, lured a comparatively pint-sized 24,356 total homes. Still, it was Sunday's most-watched ESPN attraction.

In Friday's local news derby, Belo8 won at 10 p.m. in total homes, but CBS11 tallied a win with 25-to-54-year-olds coming off a league-leading lead-in from the Patriots-Panthers pre-season game. The lead-in disparity wasn't huge, though, and CBS11 actually improved on it.

It was back to the outhouse at 6 a.m., though, where CBS11 endured "hashmarks" (no measurable audience) for the third time in the last four weekdays.

Fox4 again won handily in both measurements at that early hour, with Belo8 pulling into second place ahead of NBC5.

Belo8 placed first at 6 p.m. across the board and also was tops at 5 p.m. in total homes. Fox4 won at 5 p.m. with 25-to-54-year-olds.

Local Nielsen ratings snapshot (Fri.-Sun., Aug. 17-19)

The Dallas Cowboys of course were the weekend's big draw, although Saturday's numbers weren't up to the previous week's pre-season opener.

Cowboys-Broncos on CBS11 averaged 361,760 homes, down from the 486,601 that watched the Aug. 9th Cowboys-Colts game on Fox4. Still, nothing else came remotely close to Saturday's Dallas win. The competing Texas Rangers-Minnesota Twins game on MY27 drew just 33,320 faithful hardball homes.

On Friday night, The Disney Channel's premiere of High School Musical 2 easily outdrew all competing D-FW broadcast and cable programming. From 7 to 9 p.m., HSM2 amassed 168,980 homes and had a giant-sized 35 percent share of 12-to-17-year-olds watching TV at those hours. All told, HSM2 lured an average of 56,260 teens in the D-FW viewing area.

In Friday's local news derby, Belo8 notched wins at 10 p.m. in total homes and among 25-to-54-year-olds, the main advertiser target audience for news programming.

Fox4 continued its dominance at 6 a.m., winning in both ratings measurements. The 7 to 9 a.m. portion of Good Day also again beat the three network morning shows across the board.

Fox4 had an unusually good day at 6 p.m., too, registering twin wins. Belo8 did likewise at 5 p.m.

Long-term forecast: Whatever the weather, Pete Delkus won't be cooling it


No longer green: Belo8's Pete Delkus has that well-weathered look. Photos: Ed Bark

Belo8 chief meteorologist Pete Delkus came right out and man-hugged sports anchor Dale Hansen last week upon his return from Cowboys training camp.

Their on-air embrace definitely wouldn't have been Troy Dungan's style. But the bow-tied weather legend, who retired on July 18th, already seems like ancient history at the station that first brought him to prominence 31 years ago. Delkus quickly has put his own stamp on North Texas maps, whether intensely taking viewers though severe weather or lobbing little broadsides at Hansen during what one observer has termed "Pete 'n' Dale's Playhouse."

"I think Delkus is one of the best hires 8 has ever made," Hansen says via email. "He's a little crazy, and as most people probably know, I like those kinds of guys. Dungan will always be one of the best people I've ever worked with. But Delkus is gonna get there."

He arrived in June 2005, jumping from the 33rd to 6th largest TV market after turning down a lifetime contract offer from WCPO-TV in Cincinnati, where he spent nine years. In an earlier life he had been a highly regarded minor league pitcher in the Minnesota Twins organization. But an elbow injury permanently ended that career and sent Delkus on the path to a "totally out of nowhere career."

Post-baseball, he planned on being a sportscaster after majoring in TV and radio communications at Southern Illinois University. But an executive at an Orlando, Florida TV station forecast a much brighter future for Delkus as a weatherman.

Delkus balked, and this time not from a pitcher's mound.

"My first response was, 'Man, I don't want to do weather. Those guys are a bunch of geeks,' " Delkus recalls from his perch at Belo8's weather center. "But here I am and I absolutely love it. I can't imagine chasing down athletes to get interviews."

Delkus, 41, took masters level meteorology courses at Mississippi State University. He prepped as a forecaster for WFTV-TV in Orlando before moving to Cincinnati in 1996. He had talked to friends about moving to TV's big leagues, with Chicago and Dallas-Fort Worth on his radar. But Delkus also figured that "they've got a guy in Dallas who's never gonna retire."

Then came the call from Dungan, who indeed was getting ready to call it quits and had hand-picked Delkus as his successor. So no cold fronts, just a warm breeze.

"I was very concerned about coming here and replacing Troy because I didn't want people to think I was the guy kicking him out," Delkus says.

For a while they tried a two-headed weatherman approach, often appearing together to divvy up highs and lows. It was all part of the "anointing" process, but Dungan says their five months as on-air teammates often felt a "bit awkward."

"That was not our favorite thing," Dungan said in an earlier interview. "We didn't mind working together, but every night at 6:30 we said, 'What the heck are we going to do tonight?' "


Delkus does some homework in Belo 8's downtown weather center.

Meanwhile, the station was readying a major promotional push with the tagline "Delkus Delivers." The saturation ad campaign, launched earlier this year, blanketedd the D-FW viewing area with billboards, bus signs and six tongue-in-cheek TV commercials that portrayed the newcomer as omniscient in all matters of weather forecasting.

"Rather than go with a typical chest-beating approach, we just did the opposite of that," says Jim Glass, Belo8's director of creative services. "We wanted to have some fun with him, and also play up credibility."

NBC5 president and general manager Tom O'Brien says he still has the hammer in veteran David Finfrock, now the "inarguable dean" of D-FW temperature takers.

"If you're trying to compete against that, that's a fairly significant uphill battle, because David is so good," O'Brien says.

Finfrock has never received this kind of star treatment, though. Some of the Delkus spots, currently being rested, co-star his real-life children, Emily and Peter. In one they encourage Dad to "do it again." He responds by parroting, "72 degrees, 32 percent humidity, Southwest wind at 10."

Another commercial has a garishly dressed golfer striding up to Delkus' house.

"Petie," he implores before Delkus gives him a look that says bad weather is on the way. The poor sap tosses his clubs as Delkus says, "Thunderstorms."

The timing proved fortuitous, says Glass. "We had one of our biggest talent switches ever. And here we hit the wettest May, June and July in history."

Delkus admittedly is sometimes overly earnest during severe storms, but says that bad weather has never floated his boat.

"If we never had ice storms or tornadoes or flooding, I'd be the happiest guy in town," he says. "Because I go out to these situations and see where people have lost everything they've worked their whole lives to have. So the only time I'm serious and not screwing around is when we have bad weather. Otherwise if it's sunny and 100, let's have a little fun."

Night in, night out, Delkus' principal foil is the always opinionated Hansen.

"I'm kind of like Eddie Haskell," he says, a reference to Leave It to Beaver's resident sandbagger.

Delkus says he initially watched Hansen in wonderment. "Oh my gosh," he thought. "He's so outrageous."

But he later convinced himself that Hansen is "really a big teddy bear. So I decided to give him a hard time one night and see how far I could push him. He comes over to me after the news and says, 'Hey, that's pretty funny. You know, nobody gives me crap here.' "

"Does that bother you?" Delkus says he asked. "And Hansen's like, 'No, not at all.' "

It's pretty much been open season ever since, with Delkus jabbing Hansen about his lack of hair, ample girth and Bobble-head doll likeness among other things. Hansen in turn has ridiculed Delkus' pitching prowess and close-cropped "Chia Pet" hairstyle.


Whether fair weather or foul, this is Pete's Playhouse.

Belo8 executive news director Michael Valentine says the Pete 'n' Dale sideshow is now officially incorporated into 10 p.m. newscasts as a vehicle to keep second-half ratings from sagging.

"It gives some life to the end of the show," he says. "it's not the identity of who we are, but in Dale and Pete you have two very dominating personalities. I don't think there's anything wrong with watching a newscast and at some point laughing during it. I think we go too far sometimes, but that's life. They miss each other when they're not together."

The banter between them is "not contrived," Valentine adds. "They don't work out any of their skits beforehand. It's as spontaneous as it can be. They like to give each other grief. You really love Dale or you really don't love Dale. And now we've got somebody in there who can kind of mix it up with him and keep him on his toes. It just provides something that you don't see elsewhere in the market right now. We have the luxury of those big personalities."

Delkus, a fitness buff who lifts weights and runs with his bird dogs five days a week, says he understands when Hansen occasionally exercises the option to lay out on him.

"Some nights it's better for Dale not to say anything. Because he may say something that gets both of us in trouble. But from what he tells me, he's having a great time."

As is Delkus. And if he wasn't . . .

"If I can't have fun at work, I'd want to go a place where I could," he says. "But I can have fun here. I don't want to imagine working anywhere else."

Local Nielsen ratings snapshot (Thurs., Aug. 9)

A big dose of the Dallas Cowboys put Fox4 in a dominant position Thursday night.

The opening pre-season game against Indianapolis, which ran from 7 to 9:43 p.m., drew an overall average of 486,601 D-FW homes. That's slightly more than triple the crowd for the most-watched competing program. A CBS repeat of Without A Trace drew 161,840 homes from 9 to 10 p.m.

Fox4 also rode the Cowboys to a rare 10 p.m. newscast win in both total homes and with 25-to-54-year-olds, the main advertiser target audience for news programming. The station again the controlled the 6 a.m. news ratings and won at 6 p.m. as well in both ratings measurements. And the 7 to 9 a.m. portion of its Good Day whipped the three network morning shows.

Belo8 broke through with twin wins at 5 p.m. to keep Fox4 from achieving a rare double grand slam in the daily local news competitions.

Belo8 news veteran switches sides to side with new mayor

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Soon to be allies: Mayor Tom Leppert, reporter Chris Heinbaugh

Veteran Belo8 reporter Chris Heinbaugh will be changing uniforms later this month, moving from covering City Hall to playing on the same team.

Heinbaugh confirmed late Thursday afternoon that he'll become new mayor Tom Leppert's chief of staff on Aug. 27th. The story was first reported by metro reporter Dave Levinthal of The Dallas Morning News, which like Belo8 is owned by Belo Corp. Heinbaugh also had periodically written columns for the newspaper.

"It really was not even on my radar," Heinbaugh said in a telephone interview with unclebarky.com. "It wasn't something I was seeking out."

Heinbaugh, 47, had however been contemplating a career change when the mayor's office contacted him last week to gauge his interest in becoming Leppert's right-hand man.

"I met with the mayor and we had a great conversation," Heinbaugh said. "He's smart as hell, he's enthusiastic and he knows where he wants to go. In a way I see part of my role as a facilitator. This mayor does not need a mouthpiece. He's fully capable of formulating a message and delivering it. I can help him navigate the press and make him aware of what they're looking for. I also can help him navigate City Hall."

Heinbaugh, who joined Belo8 in November 2000, said he informed station management on Monday of his interest in the mayoral job after "tiptoeing around doing any City Hall stories so there wouldn't be any conflict of interest." Leppert and Heinbaugh then sealed the deal over breakfast at La Madeleine.

The two never discussed any such appointment during the campaign, said Heinbaugh, who had "been looking at other things" beyond Belo8 after Leppert was elected.

"I think it just came down to feeling I'd done everything I could do in television," he said. "I'd rather make a decision now than when you're feeling beat up and tired and not in a good frame of mind. Opportunity knocked and it seemed like a good opportunity to stay in Dallas and contribute. When you end up covering City Hall for so long, you really become invested in it."

Belo8's new City Hall reporter will be veteran Brad Watson. Heinbaugh's tentative last day at the station is Aug. 22nd.

News commandment: Thou shalt not worship -- or even acknowledge -- a rival network's false Idol

idol-crowd-sky DSC00334.JPG

Thousands hit Texas Stadium Monday for American Idol auditions. Fox4's Megan Henderson sweated it out while rival stations were no-shows on their 10 p.m. newscasts. Photos from Fox4 Web site.

Does a tree falling in a forest make a sound if no one hears it?

Were Monday's jam-packed, traffic-stalling American Idol auditions at Texas Stadium a story if the show isn't on your network?

Somewhere there's a happy medium, which none of D-FW's four major TV news providers managed to locate.

NBC5, Belo8 and CBS11 acted as if nothing at all had happened. Their collective 10 p.m. newscasts made no mention of an event that drew an estimated 12,500 good, bad and ugly singers hoping to make some kind of mark on America's most popular TV show.

Fox4 in contrast covered the scene as though it were the second coming of Christ -- or at least a flying saucer landing. The station saturated Monday's Good Day with Idol live shots. And more than half of that night's 9 p.m. local newscast -- including the entire second half-hour -- fell prey to Idol piffle. As noted earlier on unclebarky.com, Fox4 both profited and lost with such coverage. Sometimes you just have to know when to stop. Or at least start.

NBC5, Belo8 and CBS11 all looked petty and penny ante in blanking Idol from their 10 p.m. shows. This was a legitimate huge event meriting at least a 15-second "kicker" at newscast's end. But Idol's on a rival network, so let's just pretend it doesn't exist.

Imagine, though, if one of the sweltering auditioners had died of heatstroke during summer's hottest day so far. Now we've got ourselves a story at the expense of a competitor. It's easy to envision Belo8 gumshoe Byron Harris, the scourge of Dateline's "To Catch a Predator" series, decrying how tender human flesh had been sacrificed on the altar of a soulless, profit-making television show. And that would be just the first of a six-part series.

It was a bit different back on November 15, when former Dallas Cowboys great Emmitt Smith won ABC's Dancing with the Stars. Belo8, an ABC affiliate, couldn't get enough of that one, dispatching "Why Guy" Mike Castelucci to Los Angeles to step in all the latest poop. But Fox4 and CBS11 at least reported Smith's triumph on their 10 p.m. newscasts that night. Not so NBC5, which steadfastly refused to play along even for a second. It did, however, have a story on the latest dangers posed by sugary drinks.

Whether going to extremes or in extreme denial, stations continue to look sophomoric in these instances. It's only news if our network makes it. Period. End of story.

This rationale led Fox4 to spill Idol all over itself, reporting with all the dexterity of a kid eating cake and ice cream on his or her first birthday. Among those in on the Idol action Monday were Megan Henderson, Maria Sotolongo, Dan Godwin, Steve Noviello, Brandon Todd, James Rose, Heather Hays, Celena Rae and even sports anchor Mike Doocy.

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Crooner Mike Doocy and come hither Heather Hays

The Deuce, reporting from Cowboys training camp in San Antonio, couldn't resist slapping on an Idol auditioner placard before performing his version of Frank Sinatra singing Stevie Wonder's "Isn't She Lovely?" Now if only Dale Hansen would do "I Am the Walrus."

Doocy did, however, seem to understand this was mostly a load of crap.

"Everybody here is talking about American Idol -- mostly because I'm asking 'em about it," he told a back-in-Dallas threesome of Hays, Sotolongo and Rae. He then goofed on "the Idol fever that has gripped muggy San Antonio." Hoo-hah.

Fox4's specially decorated "Idol Insider" studio included a poster subtly emblazoned with "The Dream Is Back." Hays, Sotolongo and Rae, the now very tiresome Idol finalist from Season 4, sat in swivel chairs and spread it thick for a full half-hour.

"It was so hot," said Rae. "I can't believe they were just crowded together like that."

Rae also described the throngs as kind of "somber." For some reason, she said, "there were very few people singing unless we came up with a camera."

Oh really.

Anyway, it's done for now. Take it from correspondent Brandon Todd, who was sentenced to Texas Stadium for much of Monday. At 9:32 p.m. that night he pronounced, "I can officially tell you the American Idol auditions for Dallas are over."

Oh happy day.

Local Nielsen ratings snapshot (Mon., Aug. 6)

For a while it worked. Then viewers obviously got sick of it.

Fox4's live, task force coverage of Monday's American Idol auditions at Texas Stadium clearly helped the station to dominate the 6 a.m. ratings, where it crunched rival morning shows in both total homes and among 25-to-54-year-olds, the main advertiser target audience for news programming.

But Fox4's usually formidable 9 p.m. local newscast clearly paid a price by continuing to worship Idol. Auditions were prominently featured in the first half-hour before the entire second half-hour originated from the station's specially decorated "Idol Central." Ratings slid in both audience measurements, knocking Fox4 to an unaccustomed distant fourth place with just 78,540 homes and 60,270 viewers in the 25-to-54 demo.

A repeat of CBS' CSI: Miami led at 9 p.m. in total homes (183,260) while Dateline NBC drew the most 25-to-54-year-olds (129,150).

An 8 p.m. battle of first-run reality competitions went to Fox's penultimate episode of Hell's Kitchen with 138,040 homes. ABC's premiere of Fat March managed 116,620 homes while the finale of NBC's Age of Love limped in with 104,720 homes. The overall time slot winner, however, was CBS' rerun combo of Two and a Half Men (178,500 homes) and Rules of Engagement (140,420 homes).

Among advertiser-craved 18-to-49-year-olds, Hell's Kitchen nipped the CBS sitcoms to place an overall first from 8 to 9 p.m.

In the other main local news faceoffs, NBC5 won at 10 p.m. in both total homes and with 25-to-54-year-olds. Belo8 did likewise at 6 p.m.

The 5 p.m. spoils were divided between Belo8 (first in total homes) and Fox4 (tops with 25-to-54-year-olds).

Sarah Dodd: Happiness is a new pup and (for now) a respite from TV news


Reading between the lines: Ex-CBS11 reporter Sarah Dodd doesn't have to speak volumes in a Q&A at a Dallas bookstore. Photo: Ed Bark

Resignations always happen for a reason, and Sarah Dodd is too good a reporter to pretend otherwise.

"Life is too short to be in a place where you're not completely satisfied and fulfilled," she says in her first face-to-face interview since leaving CBS11. "And you're the only person who can change that. So if you don't like what's going on, you have to leave . . . That was the bottom line. I wasn't happy anymore. I'm young enough to go do something else."

Her abrupt departure, effective July 14 but not officially announced until 12 days later, gave the clearest signal yet that all is not well under the "run 'n' gun" regime of new vice president of news Regent Ducas.

Dodd, who turns 33 next week, also is careful to praise CBS11 for the opportunities given her during a mostly gainful seven-year stay.

She was embedded with U.S. Army troops during the march into Iraq. Her six years of City Hall reporting were both distinguished and dogged. She went to Guantanamo Bay, South Korea and China on CBS11 assignments. And from 2005 until D-Day, she anchored the station's first weekend morning program.

"My whole life was my job," Dodd says. "And I loved it."

She then made news herself by marrying Dallas police chief David Kunkle in December, becoming his fifth wife. Tongues wagged, and Dodd left the City Hall beat because, in her words, "I didn't ever want there to be a perception of anything that was inappropriate."

That all happened before the earth began shaking in the CBS11 newsroom. Ratings had gone stagnant despite the critical praise the station had earned. Once close to the top spot at 10 p.m., CBS11 had dropped back to a distant third. Ducas arrived from the CBS station in Kansas City with the firm belief that news viewers were the same everywhere. And what they want, in his view, is a "more topical approach" that prizes news of the moment over "packages" that sometimes take weeks to report and prepare.

"It does make me sad to watch some of the things that pass for news right now," Dodd says. "There's no depth or substance."

The May "sweeps" ratings period brought an onrush of quick-hit, tragedy-spiked, mini-reporting on CBS11, with the 10 p.m. newscast's "First Five Minutes" segment designed to hook viewers on the feeling they're getting something piping hot and "urgent."

"It's all about the here and now of news," Ducas explained in an April interview with unclebarky.com. "That's one of the changes you'll feel, sense and hear on the air. A bit more urgency. Not so much the way it's been."

Or to put it another way, CBS11 seemed newly intent on becoming NBC5, where a like-minded approach had ruled the 10 p.m. Nielsen numbers for five years. Belo8 finally broke through by winning the prized 25-to-54-year-old ratings race in May.

Dodd and a number of her colleagues were privately appalled. But she's the first one to leave the building under her own power. Since then, "more than a dozen" station staffers have called with their congratulations.

"They've told me how happy they were for me, how I was the hero of the newsroom," Dodd says, laughing. "Some I know very well. Some I don't know well at all."

During her time at CBS11, Dodd regularly filled in on the evening and morning newscasts, but never anchored with the recently arrived Scott Sams. Colleague Ginger Allen recently got that job permanently after Shannon Hori left the station in June for an anchoring position in Miami. Dodd says she never applied or auditioned for the spot opposite Sams.

"My leaving had nothing to do with that. I'm very happy for Ginger," she says. "I don't want to work those strange hours anymore. I want to have a more normal life that meshes with my husband's."

Dodd joined CBS11 in 2000 after first discussing a position at Belo8. It would have made her a 38-hour-a-week reporter on the early morning shift, with Tuesdays and Wednesdays off and without any health benefits.

Instead she initially freelanced for CBS11, jumping at the chance to work with anchor Tracy Rowlett, who recently had left Belo8 after a quarter-century at the station.

"He epitomized to me what a real journalist is," she says, calling Rowlett both an icon and a mentor.

"There was so much pride in our newsroom at that time," Dodd says. "We had three consecutive ratings books where we were on fire."

But Rowlett abdicated his 10 p.m. news anchor slot earlier this year and plans to retire from CBS11 next summer if not sooner. The Ducas approach now is in full flower, even if the ratings still aren't.

"People come up to me and ask, 'What's going on with local news?' " Dodd says. " 'It's difficult to watch. Car crashes, petty crime. Everything's a 911 call or a surveillance video.' I don't disagree with them at all. If I do stay in television, I want to be at a place where they're ethical, they value in-depth reporting and they value enterprise reporting.

"For the first time in my life, I have the luxury of sitting back and finding the exact right job. Maybe that will be in television. Maybe it won't."

She agrees that this basically narrows the Dallas field to Belo8 or Fox4.

"Anybody called yet?" she's asked.

Dodd laughs, prompting her interviewer to interpret, "That's a yes."

She laughs again. Confirmed.

Furthermore, "Channel 8 is my favorite newscast to watch at 10 o'clock," Dodd says. "I don't think anybody is perfect, but certainly they are doing good work."

Soon to be a Dodd/Kunkle named Bella

Her immediate priority is finalizing the adoption of a three-month-old "pound puppy" who's a mix between a German Shepherd and a husky. It will be Dodd's first dog and she'll be naming it Bella.

"I hold her like a baby doll, so we'll have a little family," she says. Human offspring are "something we've talked about," Dodd says. "We haven't ruled it out, but we haven't decided yet either."

Her future career plans likely will be firmed up after she and her husband return in mid-August from a week's vacation.

Since high school, "this is the longest I've ever been without a job," Dodd says. "But for me personally, this was the best decision I ever made."