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Positively Texas subtracted from TXA21

Positively Texas host Iola Johnson

It hasn't exactly been a high-profile program. But TXA21's Positively Texas, hosted by Iola Johnson, is being dropped as part of a wave of layoffs and budget cuts.

Johnson, who in the 1970s made D-FW television history at WFAA8 as the market's first black woman anchor, had teamed from 2000-'02 with Tracy Rowlett on CBS11's 4 p.m. newcasts. They had been a star team at WFAA8 until Johnson left the station in 1985 over a contract dispute. Rowlett joined CBS11 in 1999.

Positively Texas, which aired at 6:30 a.m. Sundays, was Johnson's last link to either CBS11 or TXA21.
Ed Bark

Without A Trace: Subtract two more

Maria Arita is out of the picture at CBS11

The purge continues at CBS11/TXA21, and they can't remove them fast enough from the shrinking "News Team" Web page.

Anchor/reporter Maria Arita and sports reporter Chuck Fisher also were dropped Friday as part of a CBS corporate-mandated downsizing. As previously reported (scroll down), they join CBS11 reporters Robert Riggs and Kaushal Patel, and producer John Sparks.

A number of off-camera station personnel also have been laid off, and the total body count could reach 60, according to sources.

Arita, who joined CBS11 in Dec. 2003, will go down as at least a footnote in the station's history. She co-anchored the station's first high-definition newscast, teaming with Doug Dunbar at 4 p.m. on Sept. 24th of last year.

Fisher, for whom no picture was available, could be seen with former Dallas Maverick Derek Harper on TXA21 during Thursday's pre- and post-game shows for the Mavs-Denver Nuggets. Now he's gone after being hired by TXA21 in September, 2006.

OK, let me step out of the straight reporting box for a few minutes to note that being owned by a network pretty much sucks.

In CBS11's case, as with other stations in the chain of command, edicts come down from on high to cut personnel in order to pay for the sins of the people who supposedly know what they're doing.

The Katie Couric-led CBS Evening News remains in the ratings crapper while the terminally audience-starved early morning show has hired and quickly fired yet another executive producer. Tough economic times also contribute to that sinking feeling.

CBS chairman Leslie Moonves, who increasingly talks out of his ass, reacts by ordering further cuts into what used to be the marrow of the network's overall news operation. Station presidents at the local level, in this case CBS11's Steve Mauldin, assume the position and do the best they can under the circumstances. But it's an illusion to think they really run their ships anymore. Genuine autonomy has left the building. Don't kid yourself that it hasn't.

Once upon a time, network ownership seemed to mean unlimited resources being poured into those stations lucky enough to be under the big umbrella. Now the opposite is true. Assets are sucked away, slowly but surely. Local anchors and reporters mean nothing to the absentee bean counters. They're numbers, not names. Moonves wouldn't know a guy like the banished Riggs from the guy who shines his shoes.

It's a shame that stalwarts such as investigative reporter Riggs and producer John Sparks aren't able to retire with a degree of dignity. Instead they're abruptly cut loose. And chances of finding further gainful TV news employment at their advanced ages are slim to none. Minus slim.

At CBS11 Friday, veterans took the gas in league with younger colleagues whose initial great expectations were staggered. It's easy to dismiss all of this as the way of the world. Except when it becomes the way of your world. Good luck to all.

CBS11 lays off three newsroom staffers as part of latest downsizing (updated)

Reporters Robert Riggs and Kaushal Patel are out at CBS11.

Another round of CBS corporate-mandated layoffs has claimed three CBS11 news room staffers.

Longtime investigative reporter Robert Riggs and relative newcomer Kaushal Patel already have been removed from the station's "News Team" page at cbs11tv.com. Veteran producer John Sparks also is among the casualties.

Riggs and Sparks each have won broadcast journalism's highest honors for their investigative work.

Sparks' work with WFAA8's Dale Hansen on the 1987 SMU football recruiting scandal, which resulted in the school receiving an NCAA-imposed "death penalty," won both a George Foster Peabody Award and an Alfred I. duPont-Columbia award. He has worked in all four of D-FW's major TV newsrooms during a distinguished career.

Riggs, who joined CBS11 in October 2002, has received three duPont-Columbia awards and a Peabody for his investigations. He also previously worked at WFAA8.

Riggs' departure leaves "The Investigators" unit at CBS11 down to a lone reporter, Bennett Cunningham. Ginger Allen, the other member of what had been an investigative trio, primarily co-anchors the stations early morning newscasts and does what lately have been fluffy features aimed at women viewers.

Patel had been in the Dallas-Fort Worth market since summer 2006. She began at sister station TXA21 but lately had figured more prominently in CBS11's news coverage.

CBS11 is owned and operated by the CBS network. D-FW is the country's fifth-largest TV market, behind only New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Philadelphia.

Picky Picky (Vol.8)

Mickey Mouth Club: Dobbs, Matthews, O'Reilly and Olbermann

There's a heard mentality on the cable news networks, many of whose top personalities love nothing more than the sounds of their own yappers.

It's tough boiling it down to the four largest loudmouths, but here's my best effort. Your printed words -- can't hear you! -- will help pick cable's heavyweight gasbag from among:

A. CNN's Lou Dobbs
B. MSNBC's Chris Matthews
C. Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly
D. MSNBC's Keith Olbermann

And the bandwidth wouldn't play on (for a night at least)

Apologies to all for the unclebarky.com shutdown Thursday night. Instead, prospective visitors got the dreaded "Bandwidth Exceeded" message from our web server, Macdock.

We're now back up and running. It has to do with an ad that's eating up lots of our monthly allotted "space." Near the end of the month that can cause problems. But we're working on reducing its megabytes appetite. So it'll all work out.

Also, the site's growing traffic -- keep it coming! -- sometimes stretches us to the max. But no worries, we'll find ways to better serve you, so to speak. We're still a very low overhead operation and we appreciate your patience.
Ed Bark

Picky Picky (Vol. 7)

Central characters from Law & Order, Boston Legal, The Unit.

Reckoning time is nearing for three veteran network dramas that find themselves "on the bubble" in the closing two months of the 2007-08 TV season.

NBC's Law & Order, ABC's Boston Legal and CBS' The Unit haven't officially been asked back yet for next fall.

The Unit and star Dennis Haysbert (right) seem to be in the most jeopardy. No new post-strike episodes are scheduled for this season.

Boston Legal, with William Shatner (middle), is scheduled to return on April 8th with the first of six new episodes. So its future looks less iffy.

Law & Order, in its 18th season on NBC, continues with new episodes on Wednesdays at 9 p.m. (central). But will the show and star Sam Waterston (left) get another reprieve?

Which series' departure would be the toughest to take? Your comments will help pick a fan favorite from among:

A. Law & Order
B. Boston Legal
C. The Unit

No longer a Young gun, but still KERA-TV's best shot

KERA-TV programming head Bill Young plays ball, too. Photo: Ed Bark

Dallas native Bill Young is nearing 30 years at KERA-TV (Channel 13), the last 20 as the station's programming chief. Man, that's a lot of pledge drives.
Ed Bark

Owen's sausage making

Those with a continued interest in the ups and downs of Dallas-born actor Owen Wilson can go here to read all about his new role as a dog-loving newspaper columnist.

The Drillbit Taylor star is fronting Marley & Me, drawn from the 2005 bestseller by former South Florida Sun-Sentinel columnist John Grogan. The book is about his bonding with an adopted, unruly Labrador retriever.

A film crew invaded the Sun-Sentinel newsroom Monday, with some staffers emerging less than star-struck.

"I came into the office today and my computer screen wasn't working," said one reporter. "Turned out, it had been unplugged by someone charging their cell phone."

The newsroom invasion is scheduled to end on Thursday. A Christmas Day release is planned.
Ed Bark

Clean Break to L.A.

Fox will spring for a fourth season of Prison Break, the network announced Tuesday. But as previously reported first on unclebarky.com, the show will be filmed in Los Angeles after two seasons on location in North Texas.

The escapist drama had its third season finale on Feb. 11th. It currently ranks 74th among total viewers in the season-to-date national Nielsens, but a stronger 41st among advertiser-craved 18-to-49-year-olds.
Ed Bark

Garland kitty to weatherman Pete Delkus: You're not the cat's meow

Furry, purry Snickers Bark has learned to fear the sight of a coatless Pete Delkus. This is her story.
Ed Bark

Picky Picky (Vol. 6)

Hosts Jeff Probst, Tom Bergeron, Ryan Seacrest, Howie Mandel

Each of the Big Four broadcast networks has a franchise, money-raking reality series and a host who's been there from the start.

Jeff Probst of CBS' Survivor has withstood the likes of Richard Hatch and Johnny Fairplay.

Dancing with the Stars ringmaster Tom Bergeron often is quicker on his feet than the celebrity hoofers.

Ryan Seacrest keeps American Idol running smoothly while also trading jabs with Simon Cowell.

Deal Or No Deal maestro Howie Mandel won't shake hands but always states his case.

Which one is the most indispensable, though? Or are there any who make your teeth grate?

Your comments can either praise or bury:

A. Jeff Probst
B. Tom Bergeron
C. Ryan Seacrest
D. Howie Mandel

Happy Easter to all of unclebarky.com's peeps

Thanks for reading D-FW's only homegrown site for local and national TV news and reviews. Have an eggs-ellent holiday!
Ed Bark

No mo' Jericho

CBS again has canceled Jericho, and this time the network apparently means it.

The March 25th episode, which ends a seven-part arc, also will be the series finale, CBS entertainment president Nina Tassler announced on Good Friday.

"Without question there are passionate viewers watching this program; we simply wish there were more," Tassler said in a statement. "We thank an engaged and spirited fan base for keeping the show alive this long . . . We have no regrets bringing the show back for a second try. We listened to our viewers, gave the series an opportunity to grow, and the producers put a great story on the screen."

Jericho was resurrected last year after fans bombarded CBS' corporate offices with peanuts. But despite favorable reviews, its second coming didn't do any better in the ratings than the first.

Last week's episode had 5.8 million viewers to rank 58th in the weekly Nielsen ratings. Overall, Jericho has been averaging 6.8 million viewers since its Feb. 12th return. That ranks it 97th among all prime-time shows this season.

Mavs lose to another real team, and Gramps just ain't cuttin' it

Happy together? Maybe not for all that much longer.

No one expected Jason Kidd to be a scoring machine.

But three points in two home games against elite NBA teams? On one for 11 shooting from the field? With just one trip to the foul line?

That's not even horrid. After beating up on the league's dregs, the Dallas Mavericks absorbed another deflating close loss Thursday, this time to the Boston Celtics after Tuesday's second-half rally fell short against the Los Angeles Lakers.

Thursday's defeat, shown in HD on both TXA21 and TNT, likely amassed big ratings in D-FW. On display for many to see was an old man who seems incapable of driving to the hoop let alone sinking a jump shot from anywhere on the floor. He suddenly seems to have the penetrating skills of a 40-year-old virgin.

Yes, Kidd still makes a few nice passes. But so did the traded Devin Harris when he was a Maverick. And by the way, Harris scored 26 points and had nine assists Wednesday night in New Jersey's win over Atlanta despite playing on a sore ankle he re-injured the night before. How many games will it take Kidd to score 26 points? At the rate of three per every two games, the buzzer will sound on the Mavs' regular season before he gets there.

He's almost forcing Dallas to play four on five in a half-court offense. Teams can dare him to shoot from the outside because he'll clang at least two-thirds of his jumpers, assuming he even draws iron. Meanwhile, his quickness and ability to drive to the hoop seem to have missed the plane that brought him here.

Kidd's starting to look a lot like Drew Bledsoe in his final half-season as the Dallas Cowboys QB. He seems a bit gun-shy and a lot used up. Except that there's no young gun Tony Romo to step in. Harris was the Mavericks' Romo, but now he's history in these parts.

Even a mere TV critic -- who used to be a sportswriter way back when -- can see that Kidd's just not going to be the answer this year. Not unless every superior team in the West -- and East -- loses its star player for the rest of the season. Impose his will? Kidd's obviously trying hard, but it's the opposition that has the will and the ways to take advantage of him. That is, unless he suddenly becomes Devin Harris.

It seems way too late for that to happen. But please let me be wrong.

Giving journalism a black eye

Former KXAS-TV talk show host Charlie Rose didn't look quite himself earlier this week on PBS' Charlie Rose show. Salon.com has the intriguing behind-the-scenes story of how this happened and why Rose chose to break a fall with his face rather than with a new techno-toy he recently bought.
Ed Bark

What a drag: dueling El Paso news vans get their motors running

Anderson Cooper's "What Were They Thinking" segment on CNN recently got all huffy about two drag-racing news vans in El Paso.

"Stay classy, El Paso," he jabbed while sharing the segment with bimbo-ish anchor-ette Erica Hill. Remember, this is from the news purist who used to host The Mole on ABC. And who still occasionally subs for Regis Philbin on Live with Regis & Kelly.

It turns out that an anchor was driving one of the El Paso news vehicles during their drag strip duel. And actually, it'd be pretty cool to see NBC5's Mike Snyder gunning it in a race with CBS11's Scott Sams during a Texas Motor Speedway showdown between D-FW's resident Ted Baxters.

OK, that wasn't very nice to say, especially from someone whose alter ego is Uncle Barky. Here's the clip:
Ed Bark

Episode 4 of The Uncle Barky Show will soon go to print

Fresh from premiering their documentary at the 2008 AFI Dallas Film Festival, the producers of Stop the Presses: The American Newspaper in Peril will meet their next deadline on The Uncle Barky Show.

Our fourth free admission episode, scheduled for Saturday, April 12th, 4 p.m. at Stratos Greek Taverna (2907 W. Northwest Hwy.), will feature an extended screening of never-before-seen footage with a special emphasis on former Dallas Morning News staffers who were interviewed for the film but didn't make the final cut. We'll also have a few excerpts from the 80-minute film, which will be screened in its entirety three times at AFI early next month (dates and times below).

Filmmakers Mark Birnbaum and Manny Mendoza, previously an entertainment writer/critic for The News, will be on hand for an interview with your generally congenial host followed by questions from the audience. The film's financier, AMS Production Group CEO Andy Streitfeld, also will be in the house. And as always, a very generous contribution will be made by Stratos to our guests' designated charity. A grand total of $2,000 has been donated to date.

Birnbaum and Mendoza ranged through Dallas and beyond to do more than 100 interviews for Stop the Presses, which went into production immediately after 110 DMN staffers, including yours truly, left the paper in fall 2006 after accepting buyout offers.

The documentary has its AFI world premiere on April 2nd, 7 p.m. at the Magnolia Theatre, 3699 McKinney Ave. Screenings also are scheduled on April 3rd, 4 p.m. and April 5th, 1 p.m. at the Angelika Theatre, 5321 E. Mockingbird Lane.
Ed Bark

Picky picky (Vol. 2)

Celebrity head cases Gary Busey, Jeff Conaway, Danny Bonaduce

Their non-stop cares and woes just keep coming on TMZ and celebrity rag mags Entertainment Tonight, Extra and Access Hollywood.

Gary Busey, Jeff Conaway and Danny Bonaduce also have been star attractions on various low-end reality shows, where their self-destructive bents are milked for today's brand of entertainment value.

It's time to separate the chaff from the chaff, though. Who's the biggest train wreck of them all? Your comments will decide the "winner" in our second magical installment of "Picky Picky." Carefully weigh the respective downsides and let's hear what you think about:

A. Gary Busey (I'm With Busey)
B. Jeff Conaway (Celebrity Rehab)
C. Danny Bonaduce (Breaking Bonaduce)

Lights, cameras and two possibilities

AMS founder Andy Streitfeld hopes to play his cards right with a proposed new reality series on the lives and times of The Lodge.

Preliminary work is completed and a title's been chosen for a proposed new network reality series on The Lodge gentleman's club.

Andy Streitfeld, CEO of Dallas-based AMS Productions Group, says his company will be pitching a demo tape of Risque Business to a variety of potential cable customers, including Lifetime, A&E, Bravo, Oxygen, E!, The Learning Channel, WE and Showtime.

Looking behind the scenes of the Dallas-based showplace is a bit of a departure for AMS. Its previous original productions include Rising From the Rails; Race Car Driver; Bodacious Boots; Flying For Freedom: Untold Stories of the Tuskogee Airmen; and the just-completed Stop the Presses: The American Newspaper in Peril, which will be screened on April 2nd at the AFI-Dallas film festival.

***Preliminary discussions are underway for a possible locally produced morning news show at CW33, a source close to the station says. If a go-ahead is given, it would premiere next fall on the Dallas-based station.

Billionaire/real estate developer Sam Zell bought all of Tribune's properties, including CW33, as part of a deal that was finalized in December.

New management, which includes recently named Tribune Broadcasting president Ed Wilson, "is very high on doing local news and doing it well," a source says.

Wilson formerly worked in partnership with Belo Corp., owner of Dallas-based WFAA8, before moving on to management positions at CBS, NBC and most recently, Fox.

Coverups you can count on: D-FW's television news operations don't like talking about their exes

Your friendly local TV news providers invariably clam up when it comes to their own "personnel matters." Viewers deserve a better return on their investments. The latest D-FW Nielsen ratings also are in, with boffo numbers for the 6 a.m. news shows on a snow-blanketed Friday.
Ed Bark

I've got blisters on my bandwidth

It's been quite an eventful 24-hour news cycle for unclebarky.com. Thursday brought a record 18,730 visitors to the site, most of them no doubt lured by stories on Wednesday's twin terminations of two prominent TV Rebeccas -- reporter Aguilar of Fox4 and meteorologist Miller of NBC5.

A torrent of comments, unlike anything experienced before by this site, had reached a combined total of 315 by 1:45 p.m. Friday.

So it's time to towel off a bit while also alerting you to a review of Fox's new Canterbury's Law series, starring Julianna Margulies. It premieres Monday.

We'll leave you with a recent Baldo comic that seems to sum up the feelings of many about the state of local TV news. And look for a followup column Monday on the typically cavalier and close-mouthed treatment of prominent television news employees who suddenly are deemed expendable.
Ed Bark

Lights back on?

NBC reportedly is very close to sealing a deal that would mean a third season for Austin-made Friday Night Lights. The critically acclaimed series continued to struggle in the Nielsen ratings last season, but did rack up a George Foster Peabody Award. You can read all about it here.
Ed Bark

The Uncle Barky Show -- Episode 3 (The Sequel)

The third Uncle Barky Show, with guests Tim Ryan and Megan Henderson of Fox4's Good Day, is newly available in convenient clip form on pegasusnews.com. Thanks to all who attended -- it was our biggest crowd to date -- and an even bigger thanks to Stratos Greek Taverna for doubling up and contributing $1,000 to our guests' favorite charity, the Make-A-Wish Foundation. That makes $2,000 in donations, which means that unclebarky.com is at least good for something. We'll announce the next show soon.
Ed Bark

Ain't over 'til it's over

Restart your engines: Clinton in Columbus, Obama in San Antonio.

Viewers/voters still aren't over "The Hill."

Defying strikes, budget constraints and doom-saying pundits, TV's longest-running and costliest miniseries has been renewed for at least another seven weeks after Hillary Clinton again braked Barack Obama's momentum.

Networks waited until 11:47 p.m. Tuesday to put Texas in her win column, with MSNBC, Fox News Channel and CNN almost simultaneously making the night's last projections.

All of D-FW's players, save for WFAA8, had put their election coverage to bed by that time. But the ABC station, which earlier had a problem-plagued 9 p.m. special, signed off at 12:05 a.m. Wednesday without noting any of cable's calls.

TXA21, sister station of CBS11, had the broadcast coverage to itself from 7 to 9 p.m. Its all-out effort proved competent, although at times emblematic of what viewers don't like about media coverage of politics.

Shortly before 8 p.m., CBS11's generally solid Jack Fink (billed as the "only North Texas reporter" at Clinton's Ohio election night gathering), made a semi-fool of himself after buttonholing her campaign chairman, Terry McAuliffe.

"You're trailing 56 to 43 in Texas so far with one percent of the vote. What happened?" Fink asked him.

McAuliffe may be a spinmeister of the first order. But he was right in incredulously reacting to Fink while telling him that 99 percent of the vote remained at large.

"We're gonna win Texas," he told Fink, who also asked if Clinton might be dropping out. "It's a moot point," McAuliffe replied.

WFAA8's one-hour election special and Fox4's regularly scheduled newscast picked up the batons at 9 p.m. It was just in time to catch the last two minutes of John McCain's victorious nomination speech at the Fairmont Hotel in downtown Dallas. That's where the campaign color and action was, but only Fox4 immediately hit this sweet spot. A slow-on-the-draw WFAA8 initially ignored McCain and primed viewers for coming attractions before tardily catching the last 15 seconds or so of his speech. Not a good start or a good call on the part of a station that almost always has its act together on election nights.

WFAA8 eventually returned live to the Fairmont well after McCain finished his speech at 9:02 p.m. Reporter Macie Jepson needlessly ticked off highlights before going to videotape of the Republican nominee's address to supporters. But that crapped out after about five seconds, leaving a mute Jepson dangling for what seemed to be an eternity before anchors John McCaa and Gloria Campos briefly restored order.

Campos soon was complaining, however, about teeny vote results that were "really difficult for me to read." Then the numbers disappeared all together, again forcing the station to reboot. WFAA8 later inadvertently put up local election graphics while Campos talked about presidential primary results in Ohio.

Jepson eventually got a second chance at McCain headquarters, but badly stammered her way through a closing standup. It wasn't her night -- or the station's. But much is expected of D-FW's news leader, which generally excels in both the ratings and quality of coverage.

WFAA8 also had "our Angela Kocherga" with Clinton in Ohio. It's true that Belo, which owns the station and many others, pays her salary and also toted her trip to Columbus. But Kocherga otherwise isn't a WFAA staffer, so CBS11/TXA21's claims of exclusivity weren't entirely off-base. Most viewers probably could care less anyway.

A final problem cropped up after WFAA8 yielded to Nightline from 10:35 to 11:05 p.m. Obama began his speech from San Antonio shortly after Nightline started, but the program carried just a brief live excerpt before bailing out.

Fox4, CBS11 and NBC5 all stayed with Obama, with the latter station dumping NBC's ongoing Tonight Show to give its viewers a big drink of it. But WFAA8 remained with Nightline, ceding the Obama speech to its rivals.

ABC World News anchor Charles Gibson and This Week moderator George Stephanopoulos worked in concert with WFAA8 during their two-day stay in Dallas. But the duo's contributions were minor on Tuesday night -- they obviously had network responsibilities, too -- until the station returned after Nightline with an added hour of glitch-free, late night coverage.

Campos and McCaa, in the warmth of the Victory Park studios, talked at length to the ABC heavyweights, both stationed outdoors in topcoats. It was an interesting conversation, with Gibson at one point taking very pointed issue with the accuracy of exit poll data provided to networks.

"If I may be so bold this late in the evening, it really stank," Gibson said.

McCaa closed shop with his own sharp comment on problems with caucus voting and over-crowding. Many prospective participants reportedly gave up and went home.

What turned out to be a left-footed "Texas two-step" either needs to be drastically remodeled or abandoned all together, McCaa said. "Once you invite a bunch of people to the party, they expect to dance."

Meanwhile, Clinton and Obama have moved on -- and definitely won't be waltzing toward Pennsylvania's April 22nd primary. Gibson's pumped.

"From a selfish standpoint, I don't want it to end," he told unclebarky.com in an interview earlier Tuesday. "I love this thing going on, and I think it's good for the democracy. The longer you can keep people engaged, the better."

Charlie Gibson by the numbers -- child of the '40s hitting 65 while still going strong in the ratings

Gibson and company on Tuesday's Good Morning Texas. Photo: Ed Bark

ABC World News anchor Charles Gibson talked openly to unclebarky.com Tuesday about life in and out of "The Chair" on the cusp of a milestone birthday.
Ed Bark