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Male delivery: not so much with TV news


This just in: Women watch a lot more TV news than men.

Men aren't big news eaters. That's what the November "sweeps" ratings tell us about D-FW's 10 p.m. late shows.

Ergo, that's why you see so many stories on shopping, cosmetics and cosmetic treatments, particularly on the two leaders of the pack, NBC5 and Belo8.

It's not for nothing that NBC5 reporter Brian Curtis took viewers on so many infomercial-esque bargain hunts. Or that Belo8 anchor Gloria Campos teased, "It's no stretch to say women hate stretch marks. Many try without much luck to rub them away with creams, Vitamin E oil or cocoa butter. But finally stretch marks may have met their match."

Nielsen Media Research numbers lay out the viewing disparities. Let's look at the key advertiser target audience for news, 25-to-54-year-olds.

Women in that age group turned out in big numbers for the 10 p.m. newscasts on NBC5, Belo8, CBS11 and Fox4. The combined average audience per night -- 273, 446 women within the 25-to-54-year-old demographic. Among women 18-to-49 years of age, the number is 241,187.

Guys 25-to-54 don't exactly boycott the late news. But the disparity is striking. Nielsen says that an average of 177,907 men in that age group sat still for one of the local 10 p.m. newscasts. That's nearly 100,000 fewer Kens than Barbies. In the 18-to-49-year-old demo, 161,679 watched.

Sweeps breakdowns for area cable viewing aren't available, but it's a safe bet that lots of men are watching Sportscenter or a game in progress at 10 p.m. When alternatives are fewer, the gender gap lessens. The local stations' quartet of 6 to 7 a.m. news programs is a good example.

An average of 116,784 women aged 25-to-54 watched during the November sweeps, compared to 91,123 men in that demographic.

The 18-to-49-year-old numbers look like this: Women -- 106,855. Men -- 92,612.

There's a big gender gap in the morning on Belo8's Daybreak, which finished third in the November "sweeps" among all 25-to-54-year-olds. But Daybreak was the No. 1 draw with women in that group, edging NBC5's morning show. Daybreak barely registered with men, though, finishing a distant third and barely ahead of CBS11.

All in all, men just don't watch as much TV as women. An exception, though, is Jerry Springer. The 2 p.m. edition of his show on Ch. 33 draws more than twice as many males than females, say the D-FW Nielsens.

We know what we like.

NBC5, Belo8 and Fox4 with an asterisk take top news ratings prizes

(copyright unclebarky.com)

NBC5 extended its 10 p.m. "sweeps" winning streak, but not without a strong challenge from Belo8 in the just-concluded November ratings game.

The Peacock took the total homes battle by just two-tenths of a rating point (4,760 homes), averaging an 8.7 rating to Belo8's 8.5. The ABC station won Wednesday's climactic 10 p.m. "Arctic Blast" showdown by a solid two ratings points over NBC5. Had the cold weather frenzy kicked in a few nights earlier, Belo8 might well have caught the reigning champ, which hasn't lost at 10 p.m. since the November 20001 "sweeps." Counting the February and May competitions, that's 15 consecutive sweeps wins stretching over five years.

NBC5 won by a comparatively comfortable margin at 10 p.m. with 25-to-54-year-olds, which all four major local news stations say is the prime target audience for news programming. The Peacock also took the 6 a.m. ratings crowns in both audience measurements, defeating archrival Fox4.

Belo8 had an easy time winning the 5 p.m. news competition in total homes and with 25-to-54-year-olds. At 6 p.m., it turned back a strong challenge from CBS11 in total homes but ran second to Fox4 with 25-to-54-year-olds.

Fox4's 6 p.m. ratings in the latter measurement are inflated, though, by a huge lead-in audience from the Thanksgiving Day Dallas Cowboys-Tampa Bay Bucs game. That day's delayed 6 p.m. newscast had a gargantuan 13.2 rating in the 25-54 demo (373,164 persons). For the entire 20-day "sweeps" period, Fox4 averaged a 2.8 rating (79,156 persons) among 25-to-54-year-olds. Belo8 had been in a close three-way battle with Fox4 and NBC5 before the Cowboys boost kicked in.

In other D-FW sweeps results:

***Fox4's extended 7 to 9 a.m. portion of Good Day beat the three high-priced network morning shows among 25-to-54-year-olds. ABC's Good Morning America edged Good Day in total homes, though, with NBC's Today lagging in third and the CBS Early Show a very distant fourth.

***The syndicated Regis & Kelly on Fox4 narrowly outpointed a tough field at 9 a.m. in both homes and 18-to-49-year-olds, the target advertiser audience for non-news programming. Belo8's homegrown Good Morning Texas finished second in a grouping that also included Rachael Ray on CBS11, the last hour of NBC's Today and Jerry Springer (Ch. 33).

***Wheel of Fortune on CBS11 handily won in total homes at 6:30 p.m., but was nipped in the 18-to-49-year-old demo by Entertainment Tonight on Belo8.

***The Oprah Winfrey Show on Belo8 continued its reign at 4 p.m., easily beating runnerup Judge Judy on Fox4

***In her first sweeps test, Katie Couric's CBS Evening News ran third at 5:30 p.m in total homes, but was just six-tenths of a rating point (14,280 homes) behind Brian Williams' runnerup NBC Nightly News. ABC's World News, anchored by Charles Gibson won comfortably in homes, but was edged by both the NBC Nightly News and Fox4's local newscast among 25-to-54-year-olds. The CBS Evening News slipped to fourth place in that demographic.

Here are the complete results in the four major local newscast competitions:

10 p.m.
NBC5 -- 207,060
Belo8 -- 202,300
CBS11 -- 149,940
Fox4 -- 97,580
NBC5 -- 166,793
Belo8 -- 132,869
CBS11 -- 81,983
Fox4 -- 65,021

6 a.m.
NBC5 -- 114,240
Fox4 -- 102,340
Belo8 -- 83,300
CBS11 -- 42,840
NBC5 -- 67,848
Fox4 -- 62,194
Belo8 -- 50,886
CBS11 -- 25,443

5 p.m.
Belo8 -- 147,560
NBC5 -- 111,860
Fox4 -- 95,200
CBS11 -- 76,160
Belo8 -- 67,848
NBC5 -- 56,540
Fox4 -- 48,059
CBS11 -- 26,180

6 p.m.
Belo8 -- 147,560
CBS11 -- 138,040
NBC5 -- 114,240
Fox4 -- 107,100
Fox4 -- 79,156
Belo8 -- 65,021
NBC5 -- 59,367
CBS11 -- 50,886

This just in: a night in the lives of D-FW's 10 p.m. newscasts (Tues., Nov. 28)

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Oh, the weather outside is .... well, we'll soon see for ourselves.


D-FW weathercasters and anchors all took their chill pills Tuesday night, warning viewers to brace for that most wonderful time of the year -- an "Arctic Blast."

That's the universally accepted term now on all four major news stations, with a little "Wintry Mix" added for good measure.

Of course it' could get lots better for those yearning to see a shivering nightbeat reporter pull a Valerie Williams. She's the former Belo8 reporter who found herself barely able to talk while doing a frigid weather standup in the 1990s. Chortling anchors Tracy Rowlett and the late Chip Moody loved it, figuratively throwing snowballs at her by asking more questions after she tried to sign off.

Williams did a lot of award-winning work during her time at Belo8, but this is the one image that sticks. Records are made to be broken, though, so maybe Belo8's newest lady of the night, Chris Hawes, can give viewers something to remember if the temperatures indeed plunge to sub-freezing in the next few days.

Anchor Karen Borta got things off to a rousing start on CBS11's 10 p.m. newscast.

"You've got about one more day to get ready for the arctic blast," she warned viewers before reporter Joel Thomas reported in shirtsleeves from downtown Fort Worth. Appearances are misleading, though, because "the big one" is coming, promised a weather official.

NBC5 anchor Mike Snyder promised "a blast of icy arctic air" before yielding to calmer, cooler David Finfrock, who never has a blast with his weathercasts. Finfrock throttled down to "cold front" in preparing North Texans for a sharp drop in temps.

Belo8 anchor Gloria Campos tried "bitter blast" on for size. Meteorologist Pete Delkus, who was used to far worse in his previous venue, Cincinnati, played along in his weather segment.

"Look at this arctic blast sliding in," he said as his weather map magically showed an arctic blast sliding in. Delkus sprinkled in some "wintry mix," too, and even raised the spectre of a "hard freeze." But he also "covered my butt," as he put it, by advising that a change in the storm track could keep the area dry but still cold.

Fox4 weather guy Dan Henry had "Arctic Blast" plastered in big bold letters. He then warned of a possible "Triple Threat" -- namely arctic air, severe storms and heavy winds. Reporter Brandon Todd earlier ran down various cold weather preparations. Fire wood sales are up, de-icing trucks are ready and outdoor water faucets are being capped with insulators. In the North Country, it's known as a nice spring day.

Other news butted in on this penultimate night of the 20-day November "sweeps."

Fox4 veteran Shaun Rabb was the only reporter to do anything of note with the Rev. Jesse Jackson's call to ban the n-word under all circumstances. He visited Dallas on Tuesday to spread the word about his latest initiative.

Rabb followed up by interviewing young blacks who said they now were thinking twice about using the n-word after comedian Michael Richards' recent racial tirade at a Los Angeles comedy club. A white student at predominantly black Paul Quinn College told Rabb he's often called the n-word but doesn't respond in kind because it would be deemed racist coming from him.

On Belo8, newcomer Shelly Slater had a lengthy piece on the "Mean Girls" phenomenon. "Bullying is big," she told viewers, who then got the chance to see not one, not two, not three, but four Shellys simultaneously on-screen.

How so? Slater, standing before a still shot of high school hallway lockers, used herself to illustrate how one meanie had told all but one member of her clique to dress in white. While talking, she evolved into three Shellys in white and then a lone outcast Shelly in black. It actually worked pretty well, but once is enough.

Belo8 reporter Dan Ronan had far more new information than rival stations on the much-chronicled Albert Sterling "murder-for-hire" plot, in which he allegedly commissioned a hitman to kill his pregnant wife. The hitman instead squealed on Sterling, who is being extradited from New Mexico. But Sterling's attorney told Ronan that the guy in fact is a thief who invented a cover story after being caught. We'll see.

CBS11's Sarah Dodd, set to become Dallas police chief David Kunkle's fifth wife on Dec. 8, scored an exclusive one-on-one with incoming Dallas County district attorney Craig Watkins, a huge upset winner earlier this month. Watkins didn't say all that much, but it's a notch on the reporter's belt before her off-camera life changes dramatically.

NBC5 had a scoop, too, courtesy of dogged night creature Scott Gordon. Anchor Jane McGarry teased it with typical NBC5 understatement.

"An eerie story," she said. "Thieves forced a North Texas family from their home. Tonight we have an eerie crime alert from Frisco."

Did we mention the story was eerie?

Gordon played along, telling McGarry that "the plot is straight out of a horror movie."

Basically, a man on a business trip had his car stolen at the airport after leaving his keys in it. An undercover police officer then learned that the thief intended to use the keys to burglarize the man's home, where his wife and three young daughters also resided. They were relocated to a neighbor's house, and police later arrested the culprit, who headed a luxury car theft ring known as "Operation Dough Boy."

Belo8's Hawes reported on the same theft ring, but Gordon had the personal touches that literally brought the story home.

Tuesday night's howler came from a reliable provider, NBC5 reporter Brian Curtis. His "Filthy Feet" story got a creepy buildup from anchor Snyder, who said, "You know, many of us take off our shoes to go through the airport security. Some of us even go b-a-a-arefoot. But as we are about to learn, that barefoot stuff is a health hazard."

A doctor agreed, telling Curtis that the "disgusting" practice can spread athlete's foot, nail fungus, etc. As an alternative, passengers should either keep their socks on or wear disposable foot covers provided by most airports. Curtis then laid it on real thick.

"Mom always told you to wear clean underwear," he said. "Now there's something else you should add to the list."

Oh shaddup.

Epilogue: NBC5 sports anchor Newy Scruggs, who gets a far shorter segment than Dale Hansen, Mike Doocy or Babe Laufenberg, received an extra 30 seconds beyond his usual skimpy two minutes Tuesday night. That still left him about 45 seconds shy of his rivals. But Scruggs did get a chance to throw in a brief commentary on how high school football players are getting "way too polished" in their media interviews. He also got to use one of his starved-for-air sports reporters, Cash Sirois.

Was it coincidental that Scruggs got the additional time on the same day unclebarky.com detailed his unhappiness with the situation? It would be pretty to think so.

Unlike Monday night, Scruggs ended his sportscast with a big smile. But his small gain left NBC5 without enough time to do the usual brief "kicker" story before giving way to the Tonight Show.

Instead, McGarry quickly blurted, "For all of us at NBC5, thanks for being with us."

Snyder, who usually gets the last word, instead could be seen biting his lip. He looked almost as unhappy as Scruggs did the night before.

This just in: a night in the lives of D-FW's 10 p.m. newscasts (Mon., Nov. 27)

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D-FW's top sports anchors all look happy enough. One of them isn't.

Dallas-Fort Worth is sports-crazed, right? We can't get enough of the Cowboys, Mavericks, etc.

One big-time local TV sports anchor is losing that argument -- big-time. And every now and then Newy Scruggs of NBC5 goes a bit public with the fact that his three rivals all get lots more time at 10 p.m. than he does. The disparity has been noted previously in these columns, with Scruggs responding via email, "Thanks. Finally somebody said it for me."

He doesn't want to go any further, and there's no intent here to put him out on a limb. But Scruggs did go ahead and make a point on Monday's 10 p.m. newscast. He did so with a simple statement of fact that spoke volumes. "That's my two minutes of sports," he told viewers. "We'll be right back with more news."

"New Dawg," as he's sometimes called, had a hangdog look on his face. And there was no joy in Mudville when he somberly sat to the left of anchor Mike Snyder after the nightly light "kicker" story put the newscast to bed.

Let's look at precisely what Scruggs is up against while also noting that NBC5 is still clinging to the overall No. 1 spot at 10 p.m. in the face of a closing charge by Belo8, which won handily in Monday night's Nielsens.

Here's what a stopwatch shows. Scruggs, the only anchor to have his sports segment split in two, got 59 seconds in the first half. Make that one minute, four seconds if you count the tease he had to read for the Dallas Stars game footage in his second half.

Then came 3 minutes, 36 seconds worth of commercials and promotions, allowing Scruggs ample time to take a run around the station building if he chose. He then got 59 more seconds to mop up, excluding the three seconds it took for him to flog "more news" at the butt-end of his segment. What was that news? A quick hit on a Dallas hotel selling off its old fixtures during a major renovation.

Unlike his peers, Scruggs doesn't get any time to banter with his fellow anchors. Not that you'd really want to when Snyder's pretty much your only recourse. But byplay can be a big part of the sports segments on Fox4, Belo8 and CBS11. It makes the athletic supporters feel included and important, not that Belo8's Dale Hansen would ever fear otherwise.

Over on CBS11, sports anchor Babe Laufenberg basked in a league-leading 3 minute, 23 second sports spot. It gives him a chance to flesh things out, have a little fun and actually use his reporters in the field. Scruggs, who has a vibrant personality, just doesn't have enough time to do any of that. If he clears his throat, he loses about one-twentieth of his segment.

Hansen got three minutes, 20 seconds. That provided enough time for reporter George Riba's interesting story on the adversity overcome by Allen's injury-wracked high school football team, which is still in the playoffs. We're not even including anchor Gloria Campos' pre-game warmup, in which she asked, "Are you a Romosexual?" This supposedly is a new urbandictionary.com word for infatuation with Cowboys QB Tony Romo.

Fox4's Mike Doocy had three minutes, 15 seconds to show and tell, even though his station's 10 p.m. newscast is five minutes shorter than the others. In a happy talk close that flowed naturally, he asked anchor Clarice Tinsley how to pronounce "Poinsettia" after noting that TCU's football team is going to a bowl game of that name.

She gave him a quick My Fair Lady lesson, prompting Doocy to acknowledge that he'd just managed to say it wrong in two different ways. These are the kinds of natural unscripted moments that actually work to the benefit of a newscast. But Scruggs wouldn't know because he's not allowed to come out and play. Simply put, the station is wasting him.

NBC5 otherwise found time Monday night to sprint through 36 "stories," including of course, a purse snatching. Crime, tragedy and ridiculous health or consumer reports suck up virtually all of this air. Do viewers watch simply to get a good laugh? Otherwise, how to explain?

Two NBC5 health reports vied for the biggest hoo-hahs Monday night. Kristi Nelson solemnly told viewers about "Desk Rage," which can occur when people are frustrated with their jobs.

"It can lead to poor productivity," she said before turning to the wisdom of Dr. Mauricio Papini. All in all, "Specialists say anger is normal," Nelson concluded. "But don't let it ruin you."

Anchor Jane McGarry then might have brought your house down with her tease of Meredith Land's probing report on protruding stomachs. Here it is, verbatim: "Well, battling belly budge, er, bulge, means staying away from the bar and picking up the barbells. But a new pill is promising to beat bloat and tighten your tummy."

A nice selection of sculpted women in bikinis then interceded before Land clued viewers to a new "Flat Stomach pill" that of course isn't yet approved by the FDA. Cue another bikini shot. That's a wrap.

Belo8 anchor Gloria Campos weighed in with her own slip of the tongue while introducing Debbie Denmon's hard-hitting piece on ... well ... let her try to tell it.

"They are embarrassing, unslightly (sic), and it's no stretch to say women hate stretch marks," Campos informed viewers. "Many try without much luck to rub them away with creams, Vitamin E oil or cocoa butter. But finally stretch marks might have met their match."

Denmon then reported on two different outpatient techniques that cost between $175 to $600 a pop.

"Sounds like about 10 sessions for you and I, Pete," anchor John McCaa quipped to weathercaster Pete Delkus.

CBS11's Shannon Hori got caught in this net, too, with a story on how eating heart-healthy foods such as beans can both unclog arteries and make you "feel more frisky" in the ol' sackeroo.

Hori looked more than frisky during her standup at a grocery store. In fact she looked alluringly ready for a Victoria's Secret runway walk in heavy makeup and a cute 'n' flimsy negligee top. A little horn music and candlelight imagery helped her bring the story on home. "If you can shake it up in the kitchen, perhaps you can stir it up in the bedroom, too," she deduced.

Two nights to go before turning out the lights on the November "sweeps." Maybe I need a bean salad.

This just in: A night in the lives of D-FW's 10 p.m. newscasts (Tues., Nov. 21)

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Ladies of the night unite: NBC5's Susan Risdon, Belo8's Chris Hawes

A lone woman pushes a shopping card in a vacant, darkened parking lot. Its only cargo is an uncooked chicken in a clear plastic bag. You're going "LIVE" with intrepid NBC5 reporter Susan Risdon.

Simultaneously on Belo8, a lone woman shines a flashlight into the front seat of an unoccupied parked car at the Grapevine Mills Mall. Gadzooks, she spots an alluring shopping bag. Reporter Chris Hawes is on the prowl, too. Don't play chicken with her.

Night 14 of the 20-day November "sweeps" found the two stations' featured ladies of the night squaring off at the top of their respective 10 p.m. newscasts. NBC5 and Belo8 remain in a tight ratings fight for the No. 1 spot at that hour. So let's get crackin' with a couple of show-and-tellers brought to you by some of late night's prettiest faces. It's tougher to put a good face on the stories they told.

Risdon took over after anchor Jane McGarry trilled about an "emerging strain" of salmonella "that's making people sick." This cued the shopping cart gambit for a story that otherwise had no wheels. Basically, viewers were told they can get sick from eating undercooked chicken. You also need to wash your hands after handling raw poultry. And be sure to clean any surfaces that come in contact with a bird in hand. Yes, this was NBC5's lead story Tuesday night. Risdon handled it with her usual grim determination, though.

Hawes had her table set by anchor John McCaa, who trumpeted this: "It happens in a flash. And it could happen to any of us at any time. But during the holidays, what you leave in your car could be a feast for thieves."

Well, we've heard this many times before, usually on NBC5's purse-snatching, package-pilfering newscasts. But Hawes gave it a game try anyway after anchor Gloria Campos told viewers that car break-ins were on the rise in North Texas.

The reporter's other hook was grainy video of a brazen thief who had posted his crimes on the Internet after setting them to music. Hawes then got some tips from a police officer. Basically, lock your car and keep packages out of easy view. But then you already knew that.

Hawes ended her story by basically discounting its reason for being. Police statistics say the Grapevine Mills Mall had zero car break-ins last holiday season, she told viewers. So in a sense, never mind. Not that those facts got in the way of Belo8's big chill of a come-on.

Rival stations led their newscasts with actual news. CBS11 sent Sarah Dodd to the site of a Plano apartment blaze that left dozens of residents homeless. Fox4's Shaun Rabb, landed the first interview with suspended Dallas police officer Jose Cabrera, who had dodged reporters since he and his wife were charged earlier this month with falsifying their passports. They're also suspected of selling drugs out of their home.

Cabrera denied all, but said that his Colombia birthplace will be held against him anyway. People will think, "He's from Colombia. He's got to be a drug dealer," the 11-year police veteran told Raab.

Fox4 regularly out-reports rival stations on local news of import. It keeps story counts under control and picks its spots rather than racing at a NASCAR pace, as NBC5 and Belo8 increasingly do.

A notable exception is longtime Belo8 gumshoe Byron Harris, who followed up on Tuesday night with a second lengthy and telling look at fatigued airline pilots. The station's main medical reporter, Janet St. James, also had an interesting story on ear damage caused by iPods, and a new way of preventing it.

Belo8 anchor McCaa earlier stepped into a trap laid by his TelePrompTer. Noting the death of film director Robert Altman, he called him "the man behind the hit TV comedy M*A*S*H." McCaa later rebooted, telling viewers that, of course, "we know that Robert Altman took care of the movie M*A*S*H, not the TV show M*A*S*H."

Campos then took a little shot at Belo8's latter day staff makeup. "Some of our writers are a little on the young side," she said. "Let's put it that way."

Delicately put, Campos hardly dressed the part of a news anchor Tuesday night. An oversized white pearl necklace, a low-cut top and a glaringly loud red-and-black jacket instead made her look ready-made for a parade float. Sorry, don't mean to be Mr. Blackwell, but what was she thinking?

Over on CBS11, reporters Jack Fink and J.D. Miles respectively had worthwhile stories on Dallas' nascent Urban Search and Rescue Team, and a proposed law that would raise the pay of preschool teachers while also requiring more training.

CBS11 sports anchor Babe Laufenberg handed his nightly man-crush on Cowboys QB Tony Romo off to reporter Steve Dennis, who harped on "Romo-mentum." Babe instead figuratively batted his eyes at Troy Aikman, who turned 40 on Tuesday.

"Troy may be gone but he won't be forgotten by us," Babe said as CBS11 flashed a doctored illustration of Aikman sporting a disheveled Nick Nolte mug shot look.

That takes us to another unsightly story on NBC5, where reporting of genuine import is all too rare. Instead, anchor McGarry had this in mind: "Tonight, the answer that can zap the zits right off your back."

Consumer reporter Brian Curtis later set forth with another infomercial, this time for a spa that won't be named here. Dreamy music played while a client had her back treated to the tune of $200.

"It's worth the money. Spend it," she said. "You work hard for it. Treat yourself."

Six more nights to go. This is hard work.

This just in: A night in the lives of D-FW's 10 p.m. newscasts (Mon., Nov. 20)

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More fun 'n' games with Belo8's Dale 'n' Pete. Meanwhile, CBS11's J.D. Miles had Monday night's most jarring story.

Visceral, jaw-dropping video is the siren song of television news. And it's all the better for any station making a "clean kill" with a bonafide exclusive.

CBS11 reporter J.D. Miles delivered the goods on Night 13 of the November "sweeps" with a top-of-the-10 p.m. newscast report on SWAT team raids of three illegal Dallas poker parlors. The brute force used in these raids -- smashing down doors, breaking windows, bellowing at terrified card players -- raised a big question about the strong-armed police tactics deployed to thwart non-violent crime. You can see for yourself here.

Miles responsibly reported both sides of what he called law enforcement's "less than delicate approach." Police contended that a "full SWAT approach" is necessary whenever weapons could be involved in busts of large groups of people. They also said the games can "bring problems" to a community.

Don't tell that to some of the players, though, particularly a traumatized woman who hid her face while saying, "It did scare me to death."

CBS11's cameras caught another man pleading, "I'm so scared, sir, please." He said he'd only been watching, not playing.

Miles was the only TV reporter along on the raids, which netted 20 arrests and 83 citations. Police lately have been cracking down on poker parlors, he said, with 152 tickets issued so far this year, and just eight last year.

Fox4 and Belo8 had no coverage at all. NBC5's Randy McIlwain did his best to put together a story from the outside looking in. He showed day-after damage to a SWAT-battered building and interviewed a "poker journalist" who said the raids were excessive and driving the games further underground.

NBC5 and Belo8, in a tightening race for the 10 p.m. ratings leadership, otherwise seemed to be in a bullet train race to win the night's highest story count honors. Excluding weather and sports, the Peacock zipped through 26 stories while its ABC competitor fired back with 23. CBS11 comparatively took its time with 17 stories. Fox4, whose 10 p.m. newscast is five minutes shorter than its competitors, chalked up 15.

Despite its fast and furious pace, NBC5's newscast omitted the day's two big talkers -- Fox's cancellation of its planned O.J. Simpson specials and former Seinfeld star Michael Richards' racially charged diatribe at a comedy club, for which he apologized that night on a pre-taped CBS' Late Show with David Letterman.

NBC5 also was the only station to ignore Emmitt Smith's recent win on ABC's Dancing with the Stars. The message is clear: TV stories tied to rival networks aren't deemed news on NBC-owned Channel 5, even if they're otherwise making headlines around the country.

Fox4 had major coverage of the Simpson controversy, noting in no small measure that criticism of the specials came from some of Fox's biggest stars, including Bill O'Reilly and Geraldo Rivera.

"It was a terrible idea to enrich this slob of a double-murderer," Rivera said in part, exhibiting his usual aplomb.

Interview "sound bites" are seldom stretched even that long on NBC5, whose reporters and editors have mastered the art of buzz-cutting to the bone. Consumer reporter Brian Curtis showed how it's done in a story on how check-bouncing can be bad for your credit. Here are some of the bitty bites that made it on-air:

"That's not good."
"Good to know, good to know."
"It hurts."
"Hopefully not, hopefully not."
"I've bounced a few."
"Probably. Probably."

Monday night's better work included:

***A thorough story by CBS11's Jay Gormley on MADD's push for mandatory breathalyzer installations in autos of convicted drunk drivers. The car can't be started until the driver first shows that he or she is sober. Gormley was the only reporter to interview a man who's been driving under such restrictions for several years.

***An interesting look at major renovations coming to the Fort Worth stockyards, with CBS11's Joel Thomas recovering nicely from his Friday night tripe on a goat-man monster.

***Steve Stoler's well-researched Belo8 report on whether Collin County's "red-light cameras" prevent or provoke more accidents.

***Fox4 reporter Jeff Crilley's followup on a fatal fuel truck wreck that police now think may have been caused by a hit-and-run driver.

***Belo8 reporter Chris Hawes' piece on latter day "bold bank robbers" who aren't even trying to conceal their identities from security cameras.

NBC5's Kristi Nelson receives an honorable mention for at last emerging from the dark of night to narrate a story on what to look for in food labels. Amazingly, she did the story from the warmth of the station's studios. For no apparent reason, Nelson previously has been sent into the moonlit outdoors to report live on silicone breast implants and about how two jelly donuts can have fewer calories than a cream cheese-slathered bagel.

Belo8 anchor Gloria Campos had the night's blooper of note, telling viewers that the Zip-ity Do Dolly can be a dangerous Christmas gift.

"Buttons can fall off," she said, "causing a shocking danger, er, choking danger."

The word "shocking" is an instrumental part of a news anchor's vocabulary, so Campos can be excused this once.

Belo8 sports anchor Dale Hansen and weatherman Pete Delkus got dicier during a little dustup near newscast's end. Delkus had been talking about a cold front coming in, but was still forecasting highs of 68 degrees. Hansen found this amusing.

"And there's the turkey for Dale," Delkus retorted, referring to a cartoon gobbler perched above the Thanksgiving Day forecast. "He's got a running commentary over there ... I don't know what he's thinking, but I can only imagine."

Hansen isn't one to let anyone imagine what he's thinking.

"I'm sittin' here thinking about this cold front," he told Delkus. "Sixty-eight degrees. Oh my goodness. He went to meteorology school to come up with that!"

Delkus gamely kept chuckling. One of these days, though ...

This just in: A night in the lives of D-FW's 10 p.m. newscasts (Fri., Nov. 17)

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CBS11's Joel Thomas and Jack Fink shouldn't be standing by their stories on a half-man, half-goat and a bad bottle of Yoo Hoo.

Sometimes a generally respectable newscast gives in to its evil twin. Or maybe young CBS11 reporters Joel Thomas and Jack Fink thought they were freelancing for Geraldo At Large on Night 12 of the ongoing November "sweeps."

How else to explain Thomas' Friday night report on the "Lake Worth monster," a half-man, half-goat that supposedly terrorized mere mortals back in the summer of '69? Meanwhile, Fink now has egg on his face after leading the previous night's 10 p.m. newscast with an unidentified mother's allegation that a bottle of Yoo Hoo soft drink had a human appendage in it. She had already hired an attorney, of course.

Thomas dredged up an old, tongue-in-check news story from The Fort Worth Star-Telegram, which otherwise has an on-air partnership with the more reliably tabloid-ish NBC5. He talked to a couple of locals who played along with the notion that a giant, hairy monster terrorized an earlier generation's beer drinkers and makeout artists.

Congenial Wayne Clark of the Fort Worth Nature Center took the intrepid correspondent on a traipse through the monster's old stomping grounds. Legend has it that goat/man once threw a tire at young revelers from more than 300 feet away. Or as Barbara Walters would say, "Wheely?!"

"Some say it was a surly neighbor tired of the parties," Thomas told viewers. He then wound up his report at the spot "where it all happened." A doubting Thomas he's not. This one probably will resurface as part of the station's Christmas party gag reel.

Earlier in Friday's newscast, CBS11 lamely acknowledged that Fink's "Mystery in a Bottle" story basically had come up empty. The station topped Thursday's show with what anchor Karen Borta teased as a "bizarre case in the town of Pantego." Her running mate, Tracy Rowlett, then warned viewers that some of the images in Fink's story could be "disturbing."

More troubling was CBS11's decision to make this its lead story rather than wait for police to complete their tests on exactly what was floating atop a Yoo Hoo chocolate drink. It was gross, all right, but looked more like a badly decomposed fried egg than a body part.

Fink quoted a Yoo Hoo spokesman who told him mold can form inside a bottle if there's a leak in the cap seal. That wouldn't be much of a big breaking news story. In fact it wouldn't be a story at all. So Fink and CBS11 downplayed that very real possibility. Alas, that's what the "mysterious object" turned out to be, police tests confirmed Friday. So yes, CBS11 was alone in breaking the mold, but that's about it.

Over on NBC5, anchor Mike Snyder initially bumbled his way through another of the station's stolen purse stories. He should have this particular lingo down by now. The station has brought viewers news of purse thievery or just plain "dirty purses" on six of its 12 "sweeps" newscasts so far. But big Mike was still slow on the draw. As in: "Police say a purse thief, or theft. Thief. It is thief, that's right, Mike."

An earlier story also put purses in play. Mistress of the dark Susan Risdon had another of her mean streets tales, this one about crooks who copy down gift card numbers in hopes of using them online.

"Well, Jane," she told anchor Jane McGarry in her preamble, "we always tell you to watch your purses and wallets during this holiday season."

Boy, do they ever. So much so that frustrated citizen Nikki Harris seemed to be reading a script when she lamented, "Watch your wallets, watch your credit cards, and now you have to watch your gift cards. It's getting ridiculous."

NBC5 otherwise has a fixation with Wal-Mart, which has made cameo appearances on eight of the 12 sweeps newscasts. Usually it's a short burst on what the retail giant is doing to save you money. On Friday, anchor McGarry alerted viewers to check out Wal-Mart's Web site on Thanksgiving for some unspecified "great deals." Smacks of product placement, but you make the call.

Nothing particularly good or bad stood out on Fox4 or Belo8 Friday night. Sometimes it can be better that way.

This just in: A night in the lives of D-FW's 10 p.m. newscasts (Thurs., Nov. 16)


Fear factor: NBC5 shoots and scores with high crime counts.

Some readers are saying it's a crime that NBC5's 10 p.m. newscasts again are topping the Nielsen ratings.

NBC5 might say in turn, "It's the crime, stupid." The station is thriving on nightly onslaughts of bad things happening and maybe worse things yet to come. It's calculated and it's working like gangbusters. Viewers aren't about to shoot the messenger, though. They're too busy watching.

Night 11 of the ongoing November "sweeps" provided more evidence, and right from the opening bell.

"A shadowy figure in your hallway," anchor Mike Snyder intoned at the start of Thursday's 10 p.m. show. "Would you know what to do?"

Sinister music accompanied his tease before viewers were whisked to mistress of the dark Susan Risdon's story of a Frisco woman who verbally drove an intruder from her living room after taking a course at the Citizen's Police Academy. He then supposedly took a crack at a neighbor's house, but was foiled again.

"He had a bad night for a crook ... He was caught by every person that he tried to steal from," said resident Susan Blessing.

NBC5 reeled off a total of 11 crime stories Thursday, easily besting runnerup Fox4 (seven) and more than doubling the five crime stories apiece on Belo8 and CBS11.

"And here's another one," said anchor Snyder, speaking volumes after viewers were treated to a "smash and grab" at a supermarket.

The night's centerpiece was reporter Brian Curtis' heavily promoted chiller on North Texas' most dangerous shopping malls. Generic horror music kicked in as the station re-created what it must be like for a lone woman to walk through a dark, dank, covered parking ramp. Surely someone must be following her. And sure enough, viewers could catch a fleeting glimpse of a looming "crook" wearing a black stocking cap. Actually the crook was an extra or perhaps a hapless station intern deployed to dress the part. Or maybe it was Curtis himself. Gotta multi-task in times when ongoing NBC Universal layoffs reportedly have sent two news staffers packing.

Curtis, who usually sings the joys of bargain shopping, examined police records from last year's holiday season. A total of 12 malls went under the knife, and what the reporter found shouldn't shock anyone with a more than room temperature IQ.

The Parks shopping center in Arlington led all comers with 25 thefts from cars and eight assaults last November and December. North East mall chalked up five stolen vehicles to lead the league in that category.

Curtis and anchor Jane McGarry did note that millions upon millions of shoppers visit these malls annually, with The Parks having some of the heaviest traffic. What wasn't mentioned is that seven of the 12 malls surveyed by NBC5 had no reported physical robberies during the last holiday season. Eight had no assaults and eight also had fewer than 10 thefts from unoccupied cars. You can see for yourself on the nbc5i.com website.

Reporting that kind of information on the air doesn't set off any alarm bells, though. So NBC5 closed this particular case with more footage of a woman walking to her car while eerie music doomed her to a likely purse-snatching or beating.

Serious, solid reporting, some of it crime-related, also hit home screens Thursday. NBC5 somehow missed the day's most interesting crime story, which led the late night newscasts on both Fox4 and Belo8.

A northeast Dallas man wired his home with video cams after being previously burglarized. He then was startled to see someone robbing him again. But the victim had to watch from afar on his office computer, which had been programmed to alert him of any intruder. Police ultimately arrived too late to catch the thief, but video of the robber and robbery is posted here.

Fox4's Jeff Crilley out-reported Belo8's Bob Greene on this story by getting an extra detail that his competitor missed. The possessions taken from the victim's home include recent videotape of his engagement ceremony. "I need to get that back," he said. Crilley also began his story by putting himself in the lens of one of those in-home surveillance cams. Effective touch.

Fox4 likewise outpaced its rivals in detailing why so many people are camping out to buy the new PlayStation3. Many want to sell it on eBay and make a quick killing. CBS11's Tiani Jones noted this, but told viewers that the "older gamers just didn't want to talk about it, at least on camera."

Some of those older gamers did talk to Fox4's Lari Barager after she noted that only one person in line, a kid, planned to keep his PlayStation3. Not so Aaron Whitelock, who urged, "We'll list it tomorrow (on eBay). So watch."

CBS11's Ginger Allen checked in with another solid investigation, this time on identity thieves who hole up in area hotels with a new CD that can generate thousands of credit card numbers from a single card theft. Once a frenetic hand-talker, Allen has matured into one of the area's better gumshoes.

For laughs -- or gags -- viewers could go to Belo8, which increasingly is programming bursts of "happy talk" into the 10 p.m. news. Thursday's takeoff point was reporter David Schechter's throwaway piece on what lousy listeners men are. Anchor John McCaa helped to set it up by feigning not listening to partner Gloria Campos' introduction. Hoo-hah.

Weatherman Pete Delkus later joined in the merriment, saying that men can't win no matter what they say. Not to be outdone, McCaa laboriously tried this one on Delkus after a commercial break: "Well, we want to promise that we do listen, all the time. Right? What's your name?"

Only nine more nights to go.

This just in: A night in the lives of D-FW's 10 p.m. newscasts (Wed., Nov. 15)


NBC5's Newy Scruggs, Belo8's Brad Hawkins and CBS11's Jack Fink: The guy on the left needs to get in the game. The other two stood out Wednesday night by going the extra miles on toll road increases.

Ten down, 10 to go. We're at the halfway point of the November "sweeps," with these two watery eyes still trained on the four 10 p.m. news combatants. Your comments are always welcome at the end of these tomes. Let me know what you're seeing and feeling, too. Are the featured newscasts in the No. 6 TV market making your grade? Or are they too often insulting your intelligence?

From this view, I'd like to see more of NBC5 sports anchor Newy Scruggs. His nightly segments are chopped in two by a big load of commercials, making Scruggs the equivalent of a running back who can't get any momentum going because he's not getting enough carries. The second part of his sportscast ran for just 30 seconds Wednesday night before Scruggs said, "That's sports, and we'll be right back with more news." That's pretty much the way it is every night. Really, why even bother?

Here's a guy with an ebullient personality and surely some strong opinions, too. But NBC5 is pretty much wasting those attributes. Where's the sense of play? What did Scruggs think of the recent Bob Knight incident? How does he feel about the Cowboys' ups and downs? Dunno. Or at least he's not telling us on NBC5's most-watched newscast of the day.

Scruggs anchors his segments apart from the rest of NBC5's anchor team before barely joining Mike Snyder, Jane McGarry and David Finfrock for the last five seconds or so of the show. He can't be entirely blamed for wanting to keep his distance from Snyder and whatever drivel he has to impart. But Scruggs seems too divorced from the proceedings. He needs to play more to his obvious strengths, and NBC5 needs to let him do his sportscast in one piece. In short, free Newy.

OK, moving right along to a story that got heavy play on all four stations -- upcoming rate hikes on two North Texas toll roads. CBS11's Jack Fink had the most interesting enterprise effort. He tracked down the area's biggest tollway deadbeat, Blair Williams. The guy has rolled up 2,441 violations that add up to a total of $62,000 in back fees when a $25 administrative charge is added to each offense.

Fink talked to both Williams and his attorney, who conceded his client is at least partly at fault. North Texas Tollway Authority spokeswoman Donna Huerta sealed the deal by telling Fink, "We don't want to harass anyone. We want people to know we're serious, though."

Belo8's Brad Hawkins tried a different tack to see if taking the tollway is necessarily faster than going to the same destination for free. He and a producer journeyed separately from Belo8's downtown Dallas offices to a parking lot in Collin County. In this instance, it took Hawkins 54 minutes to make the trip on pay roads while his producer paid nothing to get there three minutes faster. Hawkins noted that it was only a snapshot, and that times could vary. Still, it wasn't a bad way to make a point.

Fox4's Jeff Crilley and NBC5's Kristi Nelson covered the same story, but without any extra effort. NBC5's 10 p.m. format doesn't give its reporters much room to grow, though. The highest story count in D-FW demands a get-in, get-out approach from nightbeat correspondents in the field.

Whatever the story, NBC5 regularly implores viewers to either stay tuned or pay dearly. Anchor McGarry took even this standard tack to extremes by trumpeting "The miracle pill every woman wants to know about. Call your family and friends. Nobody should miss this one."

Your family and friends would have been pissed if you did. The "miracle pill" turned out to be a contraceptive laced with a new ingredient that might calm some of those nasty PMS mood swings. One woman said it's been "a lot easier to roll with the punches" since taking it.

"Especially when you're not rolled up in pain," reporter Carol Wang added -- painfully.

NBC5 was the only station to ignore what for many had to be the night's biggest development. Former Dallas Cowboy Emmitt Smith's victory on ABC's Dancing With the Stars was witnessed by huge TV audiences nationally and locally. Even if it's not on your network it's a story, as both CBS11 and Fox4 understood. Not so NBC5, which did give viewers the scoop on a man arrested for alleged "overt sexual behavior" on a passenger flight and the latest dangers associated with sugary drinks.

Belo8, an ABC affiliate, of course made plenty of room for Emmitt's victory over Mario Lopez. Disheveled "Why Guy" Mike Castelluci reported live from Los Angeles for the third straight night. His wardrobe kept devolving, with Castelluci this time sporting a sub-nondescript western cut shirt that made him look like an outhouse on Rodeo Drive.

"And what have we learned here?" he asked anchor Gloria Campos. "We've learned that tough guys can dance. It's manly to do the mambo. Emmitt did it. Another MVP season."

Castelluci also learned that Emmitt lost 15 pounds during the 10-week competition. So clearly it was worth the trip.

This just in: A night in the lives of D-FW's 10 p.m. newscasts (Tues., Nov. 14)


Chin up: Bob Knight and player Michael Prince have a moment.

Night and day. There were notable differences in how Bob Knight's latest physical outburst played out on 10 p.m. newscasts Tuesday night.

CBS11 and NBC5 paid the least attention on Night 9 of the ongoing November "sweeps" ratings period. But Belo8 and Fox4 made the most of Knight's jab to the chin of player Michael Prince (shown above in an AP photo) during Monday night's Texas Tech-Gardner-Webb game.

Belo8 led this particular league in replays, showing Knight's not-so-greatest hit a total of 13 times. No, that's not a misprint. The ABC station teased it twice at the top of the newscast, showed it three more times during an "Assertive or Assault?" news brief, teased it once again after the Pete Delkus weather segment and then seven more times within sports anchor Dale Hansen's coverage. That's probably some kind of local news record, but there are no official stats kept on these things.

Anchor Gloria Campos primed the pump early in the newscast, asking viewers, "What does Dale Hansen think? Well, use your imagination."

Hansen spared Knight the rod he regularly uses on Terrell Owens, Bill Parcells or Mark Cuban.

"This really isn't in Bobby Knight's top 5," he said. "But it is amazing that a coach who demands some discipline from his players doesn't have any. Not so amazing that as long as you win, it doesn't matter."

Knight contended he had merely "flipped" the player's head up to get his attention. And Tech athletic director Gerald Myers already has said there'll be no disciplinary measures taken.

"I don't think it was that big a deal," Hansen reiterated. But anchor Campos wanted to bat it around some more.

"If you were that kid's dad, how would you react?" she asked him.

Hansen said he'd be "mad" because he doesn't want anyone else touching his kid.

"It hurts me as a mother to see that," Campos told him before Hansen again let his mouth pin him to the mat.

"My son's 35," he said. "And I'm still thinking about beating him up when I get home tonight. He's been trouble lately. But I don't want anyone else to do it."

Everyone laughed it up at that one, including the righteous Campos. Just one big happy family.

Fox4 sports anchor Mike Doocy, whose station played Knight-Prince five times, had a more measured but still pointed response.

"I don't think Knight deserves to be reprimanded for this incident," he said. "But there will be another incident with Knight. There always is. It's a shame that a guy who's done so much good for so many kids cannot keep himself under control."

The station's subsequent "Fan on the Street" audio had a nice bite to it. One woman said Knight "is a God" and should never be disciplined. Another had a polar opposite view: "Bob Knight is a sad excuse for a basketball coach. He needs to be gone."

But Fox4 commendably saved the best for last, from an angry male caller. "His (Prince's) parents say it's not a problem," he said. "But to get ratings, you guys want to throw it out there like it is a problem. Knock it off!"

In a companion web poll, 42 percent said Knight should be disciplined, but 55 percent said he should not. The other three percent still weren't sure.

Over on CBS11 (three replays), sports anchor Babe Laufenberg didn't even mention the matter. He instead handed Knight off to the previous news segment, where the incident was briefly covered in tandem with video of a truly violent altercation at a Corpus Christi Pee Wee League football game.

Laufenberg again focused on the increasing popularity of Cowboys QB Tony Romo. His capper: an inventive bit in which Romo already was being named to the Ring of Honor, enshrined in the NFL's Hall of Fame, pictured on a new $9 bill and chiseled onto Mount Rushmore.

NBC5 sports anchor Newy Scruggs (three replays) likewise wasn't all that interested in Knight. The station's condensed coverage included an interview with the coach's former sports information director at Indiana, who thought Knight was just being Knight.

Tuesday night otherwise brought two standout stories.

CBS11's Robert Riggs took viewers to the Red River Army Depot near Texarkana, where thousands of "battle-scarred" vehicles from the Iraq war have been taken for repair. The pictures were strikingly different in this piece. They underscored the sheer magnitude of the war effort, and the casualties it's claimed.

Belo8's Brett Shipp revisited his previous story on illegal highway gambling joints in Hunt County. Many were busted and their machines confiscated last March. But now the places are back in business, said Shipp, who had the hidden camera pictures to prove it. Patrons of "modest means" looking to strike it rich are easy marks for the often rigged machines, Shipp reported.

In the recycled news bin file, CBS11's J.D. Miles and Fox4's Emily Lopez interviewed an angry David Lyles, who had called 911 three times in a fruitless effort to prevent a recent murder. It took Dallas police more than 20 minutes to respond, by which time it was too late. Belo 8's Rebecca Lopez had the same story on Monday's 10 p.m. newscast. Fox4 and CBS11 did have audio tapes of the 911 calls, which weren't being released at the time that Belo8 broke the story.

And oh yeah, the "Why Guy." Belo8's Mike Castelluci finally got his interview with Emmitt Smith Tuesday night after ABC's performance finale of Dancing with the Stars.

"It's been the best soap opera on TV," he said before telling Smith, "I've never heard any dirt on you. Do you have any dirt for me?"

Rather than stiff-arm him, Smith patiently replied, "No, we don't have any dirt. We don't believe in having dirt. We believe in working hard and trying to make our dancing and our routines the best."

Smith's upbeat wife, Patricia, then commiserated with Castelluci after he told he was "exhausted."

He did kind of look like a wreck on the air. But exhausted? After a ninth night of watching all this stuff. he'll get no sympathy here.

This just in: A night in the lives of D-FW's 10 p.m. newscasts (Mon., Nov. 13)

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CBS11's Jay Gormley, Belo8's Mike Castelluci, NBC5's Brian Curtis

What's the story with D-FW's 10 p.m. newscasts? Too often, it seems, there really isn't one.

Night 8 of the ongoing November "sweeps" offered plenty of material. As usual, NBC5 set the pace with its "Not Just What Happens, What Matters" mix of crime alerts, health alerts and scary what-might-have-beens.

The station's second story Monday night was on a four-year-old girl with scabs on her face who alarmed at least one passenger on a Southwest Airlines flight from El Paso to Dallas. Might she have had contagious chicken pox or something even worse? Reporting live from Love Field, Susan Risdon said the airline responded by checking her out and determining that the girl had been cleared for air travel by her doctor. The kid then took a second flight to Tulsa with her mother. Was that really the second most important story of the day? Was it a story at all?

Next came anchor Jane McGarry's reader about a five-year-old Denton girl who had been bitten in the face by a dog. Medics were on the scene, but "her injuries weren't as serious as first feared," McGarry told viewers. Was that the third most important story of the day in the country's sixth largest TV market?

McGarry later chimed in with a cheery tease before a commercial break. "There is a new risk for breast cancer," she said. "And it's likely on your dinner plate."

Boy, ain't that always the way it goes? The station later whisked through a brief on how heavy red meat eating could increase the risk of breast cancer, according to a Harvard University study.

"But this is only one of many causes of breast cancer," McGarry cautioned. It's another way of saying that NBC5 might clue you to the perils and pitfalls of peaches on another news night.

NBC5 reporter Brian Curtis later chipped in with another nightly bargain hunt. All well and good, except that his no-questions-asked air kisses of various product sellers amount to transparent infomercials. His latest beneficiary was a Web Site that promises lower airline fares than some of its better known online competitors. Yeah? So?

We'll cleanse the palate with a legitimately solid story before moving on to Belo8 "Why Guy" Mike Castelluci. CBS11 reporter Jay Gormley had a very intriguing piece on young men who are starving themselves thin. Most anorexics are women, but the male gender lately is going on something of a bender, too.

Gormley focused on a "thin is in" group of five young men whose average height and weight is 5 foot 11 and 130 pounds. He also interviewed recovering anorexic Kyle Erwin, a 5 foot 7 inch 23-year-old who once shrunk himself to 88 pounds. It was a revealing story from a different angle than we're used to seeing.

Over on Belo8, the puckish Castelluci was sent to Los Angeles for an up-close-and-personal look at Emmitt Smith's Tuesday night showdown with Mario Lopez on ABC's Dancing with the Stars performance finale. Anchor Gloria Campos first introduced him as the "Wise Guy" before correcting herself. But on second thought, "You are kind of a bit of a wise guy anyway," she told him.

"Well, thanks very much -- I think," said Castelluci, who'd already had a bad day. His efforts to interview Emmitt or watch his "top secret" rehearsal were rebuffed by his own ABC network, leaving Castelluci without a story unless he concocted one. So he did, visiting a Pink hot dog stand where Emmitt had eaten at least once.

"He was wolfing it down. He was very excited to get a Pink hot dog," said owner Gloria Pink in a "story" that Belo8 billed as "Food For a Champion."

Castelluci also interviewed a couple of people who had never heard of Dancing with the Stars (vengeance is his!) and treated viewers to a Hollywood Walk of Fame "street performance" from a guy dressed as Barney the dinosaur. A better idea would have been to let Castelluci call it a day and then ream out the ABC network behind closed doors for stiffing him.

All four stations -- haven't forgotten you, Fox4 -- gave prominent play to the stormy City Council meeting in Farmers Branch, where English was voted the city's official language and landlords were told they'll be held accountable for housing illegal immigrants. The pushing, shoving and shouting outside made for "good" TV pictures, but the stations presented the story responsibly. Belo8, the only station to send two reporters, had the overall best coverage.

In recycling bin news, Fox4's Brandon Todd told about the nine-year-old boy from Cleburne who steered his mother's car to safety and then calmly called 911 after she had passed out at the wheel. Belo8's Jim Douglas had the same story on last Thursday's 10 p.m. newscast.

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

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Belo8's Chris Hawes, Pete Delkus and Bob Greene: All had their moments on the station's teeter-tottering Friday 10 p.m. newscast.


Belo8's 10 p.m. newscast stood out Friday night -- sometimes like a sore thumb. The station that once set a national standard for local news coverage sometimes seems intent on sinking to within striking distance of a certain other D-FW station that has a Peacock for its mascot and a Ted Baxter knockoff in one of its anchor chairs.

Let's again go to the videotapes to review Night 7 of the November "sweeps" news wars.

Early in its 10 p.m. show, Belo8 played bait-and-switch with those heretofore "secret" plans for the new Cowboys stadium in Arlington. Last week the state attorney-general's office ruled that taxpayers had a right to see them since their money will be used to partly fund the team's new showplace. The Cowboys had argued that security issues were at stake, but that didn't wash.

Fox4, NBC5 and CBS11 all reported the attorney-general's ruling on their Wednesday 10 p.m. newscasts. Belo8 managed to miss that one entirely, but tried to come back with a vengeance Friday night.

"They didn't want you to see this," the station huffed. Then reporter Chris Hawes took over with a story that dropped the ball well before sports anchor Dale Hansen once again ripped Terrell Owens for doing the same. Hawes reported live from Friday night's DeSoto-Arlington high school football game, where she said from the stands that the Cowboys had threatened legal action if stations displayed any stadium blueprints on-camera.

"But the city said we can do with them what we like," she said. "So now you're about to see them."

Well, not quite yet. Viewers instead saw two excited members of the DeSoto high school color guard. "Tonight they fantasized about performing before five times as many people" at the new Cowboys stadium, said Hawes.

One girl said she'd be "so nervous." And the other: "I'd be excited to perform there because you'd have to look way up and just perform your heart out."

Brief glimpses of three stadium blueprints proved to be sub-revealing. But Belo8 did have ample, not-so-secret footage of the girls marching and fantasizing. Hawes then closed the report by disclosing that the new football palace will "have glazed aluminum wall panels and some limestone veneer." Wow, start spreadin' the news.

Hawes' embarrassingly silly approach might have played OK in Dinkytown. But for a down-to-earth real story, the place to be was Fox4. Reporter Brandon Todd calmly flipped through the stacks of blueprints at Arlington City Hall and interviewed people who actually had something to do with them. That included Arlington mayor Bob Cluck, who said that some parts of the stadium plans will and must be kept private for security reasons.

Todd also talked to elderly Evelyn Wray, the last Arlington homeowner to be displaced before construction began.

"It just still makes me angry," she said, even though Todd pointed out that she had received $2.7 million to vacate.

CBS11's Joel Thomas capably reported on the hardly riveting piles of stadium blueprints while NBC5 gave the story only passing mention via a brief read-through by anchor Mike Snyder.

The veteran NBC5 desk man still has a knack for injecting the creepy-crawlies into some of his offhand remarks. Savoring a crisp fall night after unseasonably warm temperatures, he told forecaster David Finfrock, "Ah, you sleep so good with a light blanket on. It's gonna be g-o-o-od tonight." Cringe.

Over on Belo8, overtly amiable weatherman Pete Delkus had a full-blown "happy talk" coming out party. The subject was a Massachusetts judge's ruling that a burrito isn't a sandwich. Anchors John McCaa and Gloria Campos both came down on the other side of this pressing issue, insisting that a burrito certainly is a sandwich. But Delkus wasn't so sure, telling McCaa just before a commercial break, "It's gotta have the old-fashioned bread, John."

That wasn't nearly the end of it. McCaa tried to steer Delkus toward a weather topic when they returned. But the heir to Troy Dungan went right back to burrito-ville.

"I'll eat whatever ya put in front of me," he declared. "I don't care if it's a burrito, pita bread, whatever it is, Gloria, I'll eat it. A sandwich is a sandwich is a burrito. Whatever."

Another new face at Belo8, Bob Greene, did a nice job reporting on the 60 new "red light cameras" being installed at various busy Dallas intersections. Street reporter Greene has been criticized in these columns for lack of legwork. This time he thoroughly covered his bases with a good cross-section of interviews.

Nightbeat veteran Scott Gordon of NBC5 had a decent opening piece on a Fort Worth fire station that took in a two-month old baby whose mother had disappeared. Texas' "Baby Moses" law allows such dropoffs with no questions asked, Gordon said.

CBS11's Jack Fink brought viewers a heartwarmer on the surprise reunion in Wylie between a soldier returning from Iraq and his wife, who didn't expect him home for her 30th birthday. The station's Robbie Owens had a heartbreaker about the many kids whose only good meals of the day are at their schools. One wrote in a survey, "Sometimes we don't have any food on the weekends, so I eat grass because it's just like salad."

The Texas Food Bank's Food4Kids program is trying to stop this from happening, Owens said. Viewers can donate via a link on CBS11TV.com.

This just in: A night in the lives of D-FW's 10 p.m. newscasts (Thurs., Nov.9)

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CBS11's Ginger Allen, Belo8's Jim Douglas and Fox4's Shaun Rabb

Night 6 of the November "sweeps" found all four stations playing up the rapid release of a young mother who drowned her two young daughters just over three years ago. Let's look at the caliber of the reporting after first outlining the basics.

Lisa Ann Diaz of Plano was hospitalized in August 2004 after being found not guilty by reason of insanity. She had been charged with murdering her three- and -five-year-old daughters by submerging them in the family bathtub. A state district judge ruled on Thursday that Diaz was now fit to be released.

Fox4 veteran Shaun Rabb excelled in thoroughly detailing the story without hyping up any attendant community outrage. He gave viewers a timeline of the case and interviewed both the prosecutor and Diaz's defense attorney. Rabb also talked to a clinical psychologist who said a complete cure under these circumstances is "very difficult." And he was the only reporter to specify the conditions of Diaz's release. She must meet regularly with her caseworker, undergo mandated blood tests and live with her mother, he told viewers.

In contrast, young Belo8 reporter Bob Greene touched very few of these basic bases. He didn't interview anybody on camera, even though anchor Gloria Campos had primed the pump by saying, "Bob, this comes as a big shock, I bet, to a lot of people."

Greene's narration of the case's particulars mirrored his reporting earlier this month on a sexual assault in Garland. Again, there were no on-camera interviews, just a recitation of the facts illustrated by some earlier video. You've got to do more than that. And if any interviews were cut from his stories, then Greene was ill-served by station producers and editors.

NBC5, where crime is king, went heavy on community outrage after reporter Scott Gordon whetted appetites by telling viewers that Diaz already was "home eating dinner with her relatives."

An indignant Plano resident then declared, "Once you're crazy, you're crazy."

The battle-scarred Gordon, long a member of NBC5's night team, is regularly sent where the yellow police tape roams. He's a tenacious survivor in a tough game, but the toll on him shows. Why not give him a nice, puffy little feature now and then?

Reporter Jack Fink of CBS11 had a solid report on Diaz, but nonetheless fell short of the ringwise Raab's work.

CBS11 led Thursday's 10 p.m. newscast with an interesting report from plucky investigator Ginger Allen on sizable increases in mailbox thefts. Allen focused on a woman who watched through a living room front window while her mail was being pilfered. She then chased the thief, got her mail back and took down his license plate, resulting in his arrest.

Those events were reprised in black-and-white video, with CBS11 erring in not labeling it a re-creation. But the station could have done without anchor Karen Borta's over-the-top tease. "All North Texans need to be on the alert tonight," she declared. Well, no, not really.

Over on Belo8, reporter Jim Douglas offered a palate-cleansing. pleasant little story that had nothing to do with all hell breaking loose.

Douglas interviewed a cute-as-a-button nine-year-old boy who acted fast when his mother blacked out while driving the family car. The second-grader managed to steer the auto to safety, put on the parking brake and then call 911 to direct paramedics to the scene. It later was determined that his now smiling mom had experienced "an extremely severe panic attack."

Amazingly, Douglas didn't set up the story while standing outdoors in the dark. There's an awful lot of that going around, often to the point of absurdity.

NBC5's Kristi Nelson, for instance, was sent out into the night to do a live report on an Internet trivia quiz about calorie counts of various foods. Did you know that two jelly donuts have fewer calories than a sesame bagel with cream cheese? Now you do, but it's still a mystery why Nelson had to hit the road for her live standup. There wasn't even an illustrative donut shop backdrop or anything.

Belo8 led its newscast with reporter Chris Hawes' "exclusive" interview with two women who claimed they were sexually assaulted by a "cosmetics procedures" technician. The accused, Jimmy Adams, "locked us out of the clinic" when asked to do an interview, Hawes said. However, on the day before, Hawes said she did "talk with one patient who told us he (Adams) had just finished treating her."

Anchor Campos either wasn't listening or rigidly following her script. "So Chris, the question tonight is, 'Is Adams still practicing?' " she asked.

"Well, yes, he is," Hawes restated. "But the prosecutor tells us he's not had any contact with any of the alleged victims."

Anchor John McCaa and weatherman Pete Delkus later combined for the night's most laborious segue.

"Now, more and more not-so-thin North Texans are slicing off the fat," said McCaa.

"Well, John, we're going to start to trim some of the heat" from the forecast, rejoined Delkus.

Belo8 sports anchor Dale Hansen took a break from beating up on Mark Cuban and Terrell Owens. Which means it was Cowboys coach Bill Parcells' turn again in a piece titled, "Big Bill Blames Media."

Hansen told viewers that Parcells is "talking like it's them against the world right now." As evidence he presented this hardly damning excerpt from a Parcells press conference: "I really believe we can do it. Now I know that's not an opinion that probably has a lot of credence around here right now, particularly in the media and maybe among the fans. But I believe we can do it."

A smirking Hansen then added, "Yeah, well, it must be me."

His sportscast also included a nice piece by Erin Hawksworth on a resurgent SMU football team that might make it to a bowl game for the first time in more than two decades. But Hansen was the only one to miss Thursday night's big college football upset, with Rutgers knocking off unbeaten, No. 3 Louisville with a last-second field goal.

CBS11's Babe Laufenberg, who hosts a weekly Sunday Cowboys show, got Parcells to open up a bit on his relationship with Owens.

"I'm doing my very best to try to make it work . . . We'll see how it goes from here," he said. "I think there's a possibility it can, but I'm not sure it will."

Hansen already has shown, night after night, that he's rooting strongly against the both of them.

This just in: A night in the lives of D-FW's 10 p.m. newscasts (Wed., Nov. 8)

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Belo8's Dale Hansen and Fox4's Mike Doocy played offense and defense on the Dallas Cowboys and Terrell Owens.

Terrell Owens is fair game in this town. He's seen to that. But is Belo8's Dale Hansen being even remotely fair to him?

Sports reporting took center stage on Night 5 of the November "sweeps," with all four D-FW newscasts devoting considerable time to the T.O. Cowboys. Hansen's choice words for Owens and his choice of locker room interview snippets were an out-of-bounds contrast to what the other three stations reported. Hansen is entitled to his freewheeling opinions. They're his "unplugged" trademark. What he's doing to Owens, though, seems more like a vendetta.

Viewers who watched the 10 p.m. sports reports on Fox4, NBC5 or CBS11 saw Owens take full responsibility for a big pass drop that contributed heavily to last Sunday's stomach-turning defeat in Washington.

"That's a play that I should make and I didn't make it, and, you know, I feel bad," he told a gaggle of reporters. "I honestly feel like I let the team down and this loss is really on my shoulders."

That's a side of Owens that's not shown very often. On Fox4, sports anchor Mike Doocy followed up with what he termed the "surprising" results of a station web poll. Sixty-nine percent of respondents said that signing Owens was a good idea. Doocy then said he shared that opinion, but didn't think the poll would be so overwhelmingly in favor of Owens.

NBC5 and CBS11 also played portions of Owens' apologia, with the latter station's Steve Dennis telling viewers that Owens "has become the popular scapegoat for this team's disappointment" despite his 44 catches and six touchdowns in eight games.

Belo8's Cowboys story, by Joe Trahan, was titled "CSI: Search for Identity." Hansen set it up by saying, "Cowboys need to figure out who and what they are, and a win this week won't do it."

Owens' blame-taking didn't make Trahan's story. Instead the receiver was used to reinforce its theme. "Right now we're kinda all over the board," Owens said after Coach Bill Parcells declined to talk about any team identity crisis.

Then Hansen lowered the boom.

"Cowboys receiver Terrell Owens stuns me almost every time he opens his mouth," Hansen told viewers. "Just when I think he can't possibly say anything dumber than he already has, he does."

The station next played a clip of Owens pledging to "have fun" at games. He also said he didn't know that fake-sleeping in the end zone while using a football as a pillow would be flagged for an automatic 15-yard penalty.

Hansen of course had a rejoinder: "Owens says he didn't know it was a penalty? Now he's either lying about that and daring the Cowboys to do something about it, or the Cowboys coaches are incredibly incompetent not to have told him about the rules. It's one or the other. Pick one. They bring refs to training camp for just that reason. But maybe Owens slept through that meeting."

This prompted the now prototypical, off-camera hee-haw from anchor Gloria Campos. But is this really a laughing matter? Maybe Hansen should be flagged on occasion for ignoring other elements of a story. Owens in fact blamed himself for the Cowboys loss, an admission that obviously doesn't come easily for a man with his ego. In fairness, Belo8 at least should have put those comments in play before Hansen clotheslined him. But no. You had to watch a rival station's 10 p.m. newscast to get that side of the Owens story. Hansen's agenda demanded it.

In other news, Fox4 was the only station to give any full, detailed attention to the Democrats' stunning sweep of contested Dallas County judicial races. Reporter James Rose also noted that many of the losing Republican judges didn't show up in court Wednesday morning, leaving citizens in the lurch.

Just one station -- CBS11 -- led with the Democrats' complete recapturing of Congress after the down-to-the-wire Virginia Senate race went to Democrat Jim Webb, according to the Associated Press. The station followed with the day's other stunner, defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld's resignation and President Bush's decision to replace him with Texas A&M president Robert Gates.

NBC5 brushed those stories off as largely inconsequential, waiting until 10:07 p.m. to reel off two news briefs read by anchor Mike Snyder. Deemed more important in the night's pecking order were accounts of a Euless ice cream store robbery, three apartment burglaries and an array of other crime stories that have become NBC5's stock in trade.

The station made a huge deal of two would-be bank robbers who ran through a Plano neighborhood before being caught.

"And sirens and police cars everywhere, and everything was gettin' all taped," said an elderly woman, referring to one of NBC5's money shots -- yellow police tape.

Reporter Scott Gordon waited until the end of his story to tell viewers that, oh yeah, the men were carrying fake guns. On Fox4, which downplayed the story, anchor Clarice Tinsley said right up top that the weapons were fake.

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Veteran reporters Fil Alvarado, Byron Harris and Robert Riggs

Wednesday night also marked the first "sweeps" appearances of three old time religion warhorses whose reports invariably are on solid ground.

Belo8 investigative reporter Byron Harris had an eye-opening story on the increased frequency with which airline pilots are dead tired enough to fall asleep in flight.

CBS11's Robert Riggs, formerly of Belo8, reported on the long road in Iraq from the perspective of Navy Admiral Patrick Walsh, a Jesuit High School graduate who had a speaking engagement in Dallas that other stations ignored on their 10 p.m. news.

And Fox4's Fil Alvarado talked to soldiers arriving at D-FW Airport for a couple of week leave before returning to combat in Iraq.

These aren't sexy, sensational or crime-infused topics. But they are stories of import and substance. Contrast all three with NBC5's breathless lead story of a Coppell teenager who had fallen off a car trunk and then was rushed to Parkland Memorial Hospital. Reporter Scott Friedman said the patient had been stabilized, but had no further information.

Anchor Jane McGarry termed it one of "three big stories we're working on tonight," the others being those would-be robbers with fake guns and the area's unseasonably warm weather.

But NBC5 still holds the top spot in the 10 p.m. Nielsen ratings. So whadda I know?

This just in: A night in the lives of D-FW's 10 p.m. newscasts (Tues., Nov. 7)

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Hello, we must be going: These NBC5 reporters introduced themselves and then vanished from Tuesday's election coverage.

Election nights are litmus tests of technology, reporting skills and overall organization. It's a delicate juggling act from start to finish. Mistakes happen. You just don't want to make any major ones.

In that context, Belo8 made a huge, night-long gaffe while NBC5 played bait and switch with its principal reporters in the field. That left the laurels to Fox4 and CBS11, both of which were rock-solid. The edge, however, goes to Fox4, which had the night's most extensive, comprehensive coverage.

NBC5's 10 p.m. show offered the least election news, although viewers were led to expect much more at the very top of the program. Above-pictured reporters Brett Johnson, Ken Kalthoff, Susan Risdon and Grant Stinchfield introduced themselves from the "watch party" headquarters of the four principal gubernatorial candidates. Then they were neither seen nor heard from again. Nor were losing candidates Chris Bell, Carole Keeton Strayhorn and Kinky Friedman. NBC5 carried only the live victory speech of Republican governor Rick Perry before soon turning to business as usual -- a collection of crime stories.

In the station's defense, it did have a three-hour, prime-time election webcast anchored by Kevin Cokely. But in reality, how many people watched that? The big tuna in this market is still the 10 p.m. newscast. So unless you really mean it, don't tell viewers you're going to have reporters "fanning out" all over Texas. On election night at least, perhaps NBC5 could have dispensed with the "Purse Ploy" story by Scott Friedman or the "Copper crooks" piece by Nigel Wheeler. Or even reporter Meredith Land's dispatch on a Dallas sandwich shop's inconsequential "Penny Ban." Another night, another infomercial.

At least NBC5 got the gubernatorial returns right. With 38 percent of precincts reporting at 10 p.m., Perry had 39 percent of the vote, followed by Bell (30 percent), Strayhorn (18 percent) and Friedman (12 percent).

CBS11 and Fox4 also executed this elementary election night exercise. But Belo8 inexplicably screwed it up from start to finish despite using the same percentage of precincts reporting. The station's graphic gave Perry 49 percent of the vote, a level he never came close to attaining. Bell was listed at 36 percent, Strayhorn, 14 percent and Friedman, 1 percent. Belo8 never audibly or visually corrected those numbers. It also put up a graphic that had candidates for attorney-general receiving 0 percent of the vote. But anchors John McCaa and Gloria Campos quickly caught that one, noting that Republican incumbent Greg Abbott easily had won that race.

Belo8 did make an all-out effort with its election night correspondents, who capably reported live from eight locations. But the station self-destructed when it came to dispensing bottom-line factual information on the state's biggest race.

CBS11 covered most of the election night bases and had knowledgeable analysis from veteran John Weekley. The station also made good use of "sister station" (KTXA/Ch. 21) reporters Chris Salcedo and Kaushal Patel, who respectively outlined Texas congressional results and various ballot propositions.

Two victorious candidates, Perry and Abbott, were still running campaign commercials during the CBS11 newscast. That's either piling on or worth a refund. It also was the only station to make room for a sports segment, although anchor Babe Laufenberg really needn't have bothered. An old clip of a rambling Don Meredith talking about being elected governor "in my drinking days" preceded a lame CBS11 web poll on which former Dallas Cowboys QB should be the state's chief executive. Roger Staubach had 75 percent of the vote in early returns.

Fox4 stayed with election coverage for its entire newscast. It was the only station to fully capture audio and video of Perry's wife, Anita, who had a crazed Howard Dean moment while introducing her husband to a cheering crowd in Austin.

"Ladies and gentlemen, it is a great night to be a Republican in Texas!" she screamed while gyrating full-tilt. It belongs somewhere on YouTube.

Fox4 also had some very lively analysis from the political odd couple of Mark Davis and John Wiley Price.

The Democratic gains nationally mark "a return to sanity and some centrality," Price declared.

Davis countered that Nancy Pelosi will make a terrible Speaker of the House and that the new Democratic leadership will fail with "whatever impeachment pipe dream they might have."

Later, Fox4 landed the only live interview with Dallas County district attorney candidate Craig Watkins, who was poised to pull what turned out to be a mega-upset over incumbent Republican Toby Shook. Reporter Lynn Kawano was more than a bit too giddy in Watkins' presence, but at least she had a coup.

Minutes before the 10 p.m. newscast, Fox4 lived dangerously with a live broadcast of candidate Friedman's remarks to supporters in Austin. The Kinkster began by saying, "Allegations that I had sex with a male masseuse are entirely false."

The station then thought better of staying the course, with anchor Steve Eagar telling viewers, "I think we worried about what he was gonna do there."

We've heard considerably worse -- on various Fox entertainment shows.

A good guy lands on his feet


Michael Rey, formerly of TXCN and Belo8, has been hired full-time at KDAF-TV (Ch. 33), where he's a reporter and part-time anchor. He replaces Jennifer Dodd, who relocated to San Antonio to be near her family. Rey previously had been freelancing for several months at Ch. 33.
Ed Bark

This just in: A night in the lives of D-FW's 10 p.m. newscasts (Mon., Nov. 6)


Belo8's Dale Hansen and Gloria Campos: Both had their moments on the 3rd night of the November "sweeps."

An election eve presidential visit to Dallas doesn't necessarily have to lead the 10 p.m. newscast. But you really should have something substantial if it doesn't. Here's who did what Monday on Night 3 of the November "sweeps."

CBS11 and Fox4 made President Bush's stop at Reunion Arena their top story. Each station had reporters on the scene to cover both the campaign event and a protest rally that attracted roughly 200 to 300 people. CBS11 reporter Jack Fink noted that the Republican Party's local get-out-the-vote phone banks were shut down during the rally.

Dallas County GOP chairman Kenn George agreed that this might seem counterproductive. Still, "You can see the crowd," he enthused. "They're gonna get infectious."

He probably didn't mean to say it quite that way.

Belo8 instead led with a story on a Dateline NBC sting operation that triggered the suicide of former Kaufman County district attorney Louis "Bill" Conradt Jr. He shot himself in his home while police tried to serve an arrest warrant for soliciting sex with a minor. Conradt had responded to an online solicitation from a decoy posing as a 13-year-old. It's all part of the NBC program's "To Catch a Predator" segments, in which offenders are lured to a hidden camera-equipped "bait house" to be confronted by correspondent Chris Hansen.

Some residents of Murphy, where the bait house was set up, were angered that their neighborhood had been used as a magnet for child molesters during the course of a four-day sting. Channel 8 reporter Dan Ronan asked Murphy Mayor Brett Baldwin whether they deserved an apology. Yes, he thought they did.

This is a story of no small import, and it's defensible to lead with it. Would Belo8 have been as aggressive, though, had an ABC news program such as 20/20 been been behind the bait house?

NBC5 not surprisingly downplayed the Dateline NBC aspect in its considerably less detailed report. The station's top story, accompanied by chilling Bride of Chucky-esque music, concerned a North Texas mother who mistakenly received another woman's prescription at a pharmacy. She noticed the mistake in time, so no one was harmed. That didn't stop NBC5 from stationing reporter Susan Risdon live outside the offending pharmacy chain.

Anchor Mike Snyder noted that the aggrieved woman had contacted the station through its website. He encouraged other viewers to do likewise if they have a news story to tell. Be forewarned. NBC5's next top-of-the-newscast shocker could be about a consumer who almost bit into a health-threatening brown spot on a banana.

As for President Bush, NBC5 waited until 10:09 p.m. to note his visit in a brief reader by anchor Jane McGarry. The accompanying protest was dismissed in less than five seconds. NBC5 gave far more time to reporter Kristi Nelson's hard-hitting report on area residents who put up their Christmas lights early.

Belo8 got around to Bush about four minutes earlier, after reporter Rebecca Lopez's story on a middle-aged woman who had been "living in filth" and hadn't been fed in days. The woman's caregiver, her daughter, said she was depressed and unable to work. As proof, the daughter talked to Lopez while laying in bed and poking her head out from the covers. It's a sorry situation, all right. But is it really a bigger story than a presidential visit? And lest we forget, this is the country's sixth-largest TV market, not Smallville..

Meanwhile, Belo8 anchor Gloria Campos seemed over-caffeinated again. She yelled out this tease to viewers: "Women, are you looking to reignite your love life?! Men have Viagra. What about us!"

The subsequent "story," which ran for 20 seconds or so, said that 43 percent of women report "some type of libido issue." But alas, the only FDA-approved product available to them is something called Estratest.

CBS11 hit the libido issue harder via reporter Shannon Hori's extended piece on a "passion patch" called Scentuelle. You put it on your wrist for that lovin' feelin'. Or as user Jennifer Parks put it, "I felt just generally really good. And just more sexy."

Fox4 has become positively sedate in comparison. Anchors Clarice Tinsley and Baron James present the news cooly and calmly, as do most of the station's reporters. Oh what a relief it is.

Leave it to Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, though, to lather things up. He's in a spat with former Mavs coach Don Nelson, who claims that Cuban owes him several million dollars in back pay. Fox4 had the only interview with Cuban, who was sweating like a dog as part of his pre-game ritual of riding an exercise bike. What he said made sense only on Planet Cuban: "Nellie's just a drama queen. You know, he's got a crazy drama. If he's willing to put his money on the table, I'll sit down and go drink for drink, and have a great time."

Belo8 sports anchor Dale Hansen continues to twit both Cuban and Dallas Cowboys coach Bill Parcells. So he enjoyed Nelson's Monday night win over the Mavericks as the new coach of the Golden State Warriors.

"Don Nelson's happy, Mark Cuban's not. And I'm happy now," said Hansen.

And as for Parcells' penalty-prone Cowboys, "The Teflon coach is finally getting some of the blame for this," Hansen said.

We'll close with a bit of Christmas poetry from Belo8 reporter Brad Hawkins, who said that holiday shopping at some major malls will be safer because of police "skywatch towers" in parking lots.

"Officers up above roof tops, much higher than a sleigh," he told viewers. "On four wheels and two, on horseback and a few undercover, too."

Three newscast nights out of the way, 17 more still in play.

This just in: A night in the lives of D-FW's 10 p.m. newscasts (Fri., Nov. 3)

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Belo8's Gloria Campos, CBS11's Tracy Rowlett, Fox4's Clarice Tinsley. All had their moments on the 2nd night of the November "sweeps."

This never would have happened in the glory years. But it's a new day at Belo8, which increasingly is inclined to follow the tone and agenda of tabloid-infused, No.1-rated NBC5.

Friday's 10 p.m. Belo8 newscast ripped another page from its rival's playbook. The ABC station's top-of-the-newscast promo regurgitated an alleged story that NBC5 trumpeted on the previous night. It was all about that nefarious "sexy sign" for a Lewisville eat-drink-and-be-merry joint, with reporter Steve Stoler in the saddle.

It should be noted that Stoler is a capable veteran who's simply going where he's assigned. Increasingly, though, asinined ideas carry the day, in this case requiring Stoler to troll for outrage over a billboard showcasing two servers in tight tops and short shorts. Otherwise the come-on is "Beer-Burgers-Babes."

"As a woman I feel that it sets us back," said a denizen who really didn't seem to have her heart in her indignation. "You can see almost everything, and it doesn't leave very much to the imagination."

Belo8 of course provided a loving closeup, in which the two women almost looked like nuns compared to your basic Dallas Cowboys cheerleader.

"Sex sells, and that's the facts," a woman customer of the place told Stoler. "So they're just taking advantage of a marketing tool. You can't blame 'em for that."

What she's saying is resoundingly true -- about both Belo8 and NBC5. But you can blame 'em for that. This is the country's sixth-largest TV market. Aren't there matters of greater import?

Later in the diminished Belo8 newscast, co-anchor Gloria Campos got sophomorically suggestive with the weather.

"Well, I heard a four-letter word mentioned for the weekend -- RAIN," she told forecaster Pete Delkus.

Campos also asked, "Ladies, do have bat wings?" Viewers then were treated to brief footage of sagging underarm flesh, which can be stretched back into shape by a new surgical procedure or something.

Belo8 sports anchor Dale Hansen capped things off by being synergistically tardy with his reference to a Dallas Morning News report that receiver Terrell Owens was falling asleep at some team meetings. His Fox4 counterpart, Mike Doocy, had linked Owens and the DMN story a night earlier. At least Hansen has his priorities straight. To his credit and probably to his eventual downfall, he's never been a corporate man.

Over at NBC5, it was business as usual -- a fast-paced passel of crime stories. They included anchor Mike Snyder's dramatic reading of a wanted man who's been exposing himself before asking, "Have you seen this?"

Then anchor Jane McGarry asked, "Do you feel safe at home?" as a tease to reporter Carol Wang's piece on a new home security system. Anyone watching a typical NBC5 newscast can be forgiven for assuming that D-FW is almost unfit for human habitation. Then again, those daring enough to venture outside closed doors can always shop the bargains. In that realm, the station presented a thinly disguised infomercial on behalf of a Fort Worth woman who supposedly sells home furnishings at fabulous prices.

"$500 for this bed? That's crazy," reporter Brian Curtis dutifully marveled.

D-FW's two anchoring mainstays, CBS11's Tracy Rowlett and Fox4's Clarice Tinsley, closed their respective newscasts on intriguing notes.

Tinsley clearly wasn't thrilled with a kicker about an inebriated couple that strode nude into a Nashville greasy spoon. The displeased look on her face spoke volumes. Suggested caption: "Of all the stories in this wide, wide world, is that the best we could do as a sign-off?"

Rowlett watched closing footage of a "raging bull" running rampant in Newark, NJ before being subdued and hauled off. He noted that the creature was sedated, not euthanized.

"I get nervous, too. I hope they don't do that to me," he then told co-anchor Karen Borta.

"You never know," she said, laughing.

"Well, you would," Rowlett rejoined.

Translation: Rowlett might know whereof he speaks. His extended contract with CBS11 runs until July 2008. But there's speculation that he may be taken off the 10 p.m. newscasts, whose ratings still are falling well short of the popular "lead-in" programming provided on most nights by the CBS network. In this view it would be a mistake to confine Rowlett to the station's early evening newscasts. He remains a topflight anchor and the reigning Walter Cronkite of D-FW news. Still, it's rumored that a change could be made sometime next year.

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NBC5's Derek Castillo, Belo8's Shelly Slater and Fox4's Brandon Todd had solid reports on Friday's 10 p.m. newscasts.

There was some good work, too, including the following:

***NBC5's Derek Castillo is the market's most underappreciated sports reporter. His weekly showcase is the station's "Big Game Friday Night" high school football report, clearly the best in the market. Castillo's enthusiasm is contagious, not off-putting. He's a strong communicator, whether in the field or occasionally behind the anchor desk.

***Shelly Slater, up-and-coming newcomer at Belo8, had a sobering report on Salvia, a hallucinogenic herb that's been banned in some states but can still be purchased legally and cheaply in Texas. She did so, buying a bag for $20 at an herb shop. The springboard for the story was a teenager who committed suicide while on Salvia. Supposedly one hit is the equivalent of drinking six beers at once.

***In the same vein, CBS11's Ginger Allen reported on the legal prescription drug Ambien, which is supposed to be a sleeping aid. Instead some teens are getting high on what they call "Zombie pills."

***All four stations reported on the Arlington man who shot and wounded an intruder that had broken into his home. But Fox4's Brandon Todd went the extra mile, obtaining a tape of a frantic 911 call to police from the shooter's wife. It vividly brought the story home.

This just in: A night in the lives of D-FW's 10 p.m. newscasts (Thurs., Nov. 2)

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NBC5's Mike Snyder, CBS11's Tracy Rowlett and Belo8's Dale Hansen. All had their moments on the first night of the November "sweeps."

Car porn, "dirty purses" and an allegedly naughty "Beer-Burgers-Babes" billboard for an area watering hole.

It smells like a ratings "sweeps" period, and it is. The four-week November shootout started Thursday night, with D-FW's 10 p.m. weeknight newscasts the main repositories for showy stories that might "shock" or "surprise" you. It sounds like a job for unclebarky.com, which will be tracking all the non-weather related lows and highs in the country's sixth-largest TV market. We begin with Thursday night, Nov. 2, when all four stations led with chilly weather forecasts before things heated up.

CBS11 and NBC5 must have gotten their station consultants tangled. Both had ludicrous and lengthy stories on the health dangers posed by women's handbags.

"Did you ever stop to think where your purse goes during the day?" asked CBS11 anchor Karen Borta, also the reporter on this pseudo-shocker. The station commissioned a microbiologist to test the ratty things for bacteria content. Turning up: E-coli, salmonella, and, in one case, "vomit and fecal matter." All can pose serious health risks, viewers were told. If so, imagine the horrors of men's wallets.

"OK, Karen," a grinning Tracy Rowlett responded after successfully suppressing a giggle fit. Mind-readers must have had a field day.

Over on NBC5, reporter Meredith Land handled the "Purse Alert" story. Setting out with 22 medical swabs from Baylor Medical Center, she vetted purses both inside and out. A pathology lab then made "several disgusting discoveries." But unlike CBS11, no fecal material showed up. It's tough getting scooped like that.

Belo8 countered with reporter Rebecca Lopez's prominently played "exclusive story" on a man who was ticketed for playing a porn movie in his car while driving. The alleged offender, Robert Nelson, said it would be really difficult for any other motorists to see much of anything. But Lopez found someone willing to take umbrage, which is a flimsy, dime-a-dozen staple of stories like these.

"Ruby Salazar says she would be offended if her four-year-old son, Gordon, saw something like that while driving down the road," Lopez told viewers.

Even more easily offended was Heather Duffie of Lewisville, a mother with two young children who complained to NBC5 about that aforementioned "Beer-Burgers-Babes" billboard that displays two servers in short shorts and form-fitting tops. This merited a thin-soup story by reporter Susan Risdon, even though the outfits were barely daring at best.

Television stations love to present the illusion of a scared or aggrieved citizenry, even it it's only one or two people who just want to be on TV. NBC5 reporter Scott Friedman's story on missing police badges, IDs and uniforms had some interesting information in it. But it was marred by those mike-in-the-face snippets from everyday people who seemingly are coached to say what the story demands.

"Me a single mother. Anything can happen," said one interviewee about the prospect of fake policemen running amuck.

"Oh, you're kidding me, really?" said another supposedly concerned citizen who might just as easily have been commenting on those nefarious dirty purses.

NBC5 continues to present a fast, furious and still No.1-rated newscast characterized by high story counts and a heavy emphasis on crime. Thursday's 10 p.m. program raced through 28 stories, not including the weather and sports segments. Also, if you go to NBC5's website, you can "hear what a whooping cough sounds like," advised anchor Mike Snyder.

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CBS11's Bennett Cunningham, Belo 8's Janet St. James and Fox4's Jeff Crilley had solid reports on Thursday's 10 p.m. newscasts.

There was some good work, too, including the following:

***Fox4 reporter Jeff Crilley had a sturdy, suitably understated report on a sensational topic -- a 14-year-old high school girl who admittedly made a mistake by posing nude for her boyfriend. Now her pictures are all over the Internet and on cell phones, causing the girl to switch schools to no avail.

***Belo8's Jim Douglas had a substantial story on sex offenders trying to rehabilitate themselves while others of their ilk run "rampant" through the community in one camouflaged offender's view.

***CBS11 consumer reporter Bennett Cunningham offered an interesting if overly gimmicky expose on companies that keep their complaining customers at bay with interminable phone waits. He has the direct lines for many of those companies, and they're available on the CBS11 website.

***And Belo8 medical reporter Janet St. James did a followup story on an intriguing "Before, During and After" diet regimen that requires copious water-drinking.

Old reliable Snyder had the blooper of the night after NBC5 reported on a study that said eating out too much can make you heavier. In fact, it can cause "1,200 pounds in weight gain every year," he told viewers before co-anchor Jane McGarry nudged him. Make that 12 pounds, Snyder amended.

Finally, Belo8 tried to milk Dallas Maverick owner Mark Cuban's mocking reference to sports anchor Dale Hansen. In a piece on the NBA's new conduct rules, Cuban told reporter Gary Reaves, "Dale, I'm sorry. Whatever you want me to do, please just tell me and I'll follow the Hansen code of conduct."

Anchor John McCaa encouraged viewers to stay tuned for Hansen's response. But it only amounted to this: "Mark Cuban deserves an Emmy, by the way, for acting like he listens to me or likes me."