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Unrest accelerates at CBS11

It's getting ever more turbulent in the CBS11 newsroom, where "huge staff changes and subtractions" are anticipated within the next two months according to information relayed to unclebarky.com.

"Threats like this have the newsroom running wild," says a source at the station. No one will talk on the record for fear of reprisal.

The agent of change is new news director Regent Ducas, whose fast-paced "urgent" approach firmly took hold during the May sweeps ratings period. Ducas joined CBS11 in late March from KCTV-TV in Kansas City, where he took the station to No. 1 in the Nielsen ratings by selling viewers on the slogan "Live. Late-Breaking. Investigative."

CBS11 so far isn't faring nearly as well, particularly with its marquee 10 p.m. newscasts. In the recently ended May "sweeps," the station finished a distant third in the total homes Nielsen ratings and fifth among 25-to-54-year-olds, the main advertiser target audience for news programming.

While CBS11 news staffers brace themselves, the Kansas City Star's Aaron Barnhart reports on a similar purge of the KCTV newsroom during Ducas' tenure. Recent lawsuits allege that age discrimination and harassment ran rampant in the newsroom at that time. Or as the headline for Barnhart's story reads: "Lawsuits reveal a time of turbulence at KCTV: A gain in ratings came at a high human cost in the newsroom, court filings indicate."

CBS11 president and general manager Steve Mauldin was out of town on station business Thursday. But he sent this message via Blackberry to CBS11 communications director Lori Conrad, who relayed it to unclebarky.com.

"Response from me is that is not true," Mauldin said of any "huge staff changes" in the offing.

This time the cliche fits: Stay tuned.

Mistress of the Dark calls it a night

Veteran NBC5 reporter Susan Risdon, a fixture on the station's 10 p.m. newscasts, will be charting a new course after June 29th.

She'll be leaving the station after seven years to start her own media/marketing firm, Red Media Group.

"I wanted to let you know that the Mistress of the Dark is signing off," Risdon said in an email Friday to unclebarky.com. That's been her nickname in this space, and she apparently grew to like it.

Risdon, whose contract with NBC5 expires at the end of June, invariably reports from scenes of crime or tragedy as one of the station's most prominent 10 p.m. correspondents.

Her last story for the May "sweeps" ratings period, which ended Wednesday, detailed a law enforcement search for a "muscular man in a phony police uniform" who had been stopping motorists. She's seldom if ever seen under a roof or in the light. Her beat is the forbidding nighttime streets, which she shares with 10 p.m. colleagues Scott Gordon and Scott Friedman.

"Telling the stories of crime victims and connecting with law enforcement officers in our communities is a difficult but important job," Risdon said. "It does take a toll on you emotionally, but I respect my co-workers and the management of NBC5 and all of the opportunities they've given me."

Risdon has spent 15-and-a-half years in TV news, joining NBC5 in June 2000 from an Austin station. Her first TV job was in Paducah, KY.

"It's been a great ride," she said. "I'm a night owl, so I enjoy the evening hours. Now I'll actually have to set an alarm clock."

Her tenure at NBC5 has helped prepare her to "tell positive stories about a variety of business clients I plan to represent," Risdon said.

One of her more memorable sweeps stories was a May 15th dispatch about a "scary-looking creature" that sent kids running from a North Dallas McDonald's playground.

"The mystery creature escaped back through the fence," Risdon climactically told viewers. "The manager tells me it had a long nose and was not a rat."

She can laugh about it now.

"By the way, I think it was a possum wreaking havoc," she said Friday.

True story: Tyler's KYTX-TV newscasts getting a big dose of babe watch on new Fox reality series

Happy man: KYTX-TV president and general manager Philip Hurley soon will be welcoming anchor/reporter Lauren Jones to the fold.

Fox already has put several billboards up in Tyler, TX heralding the June 11th on-air arrival of seductive Anchorwoman star Lauren Jones.

Her employer, KYTX-TV president-general manager Philip Hurley, says they first had to be revised three times. How so?

"They initially had her with a bathing suit on," he says in a telephone interview with unclebarky.com. "We told them our anchors don't wear bathing suits on the air. And they said, 'Oh, OK.' "

It should be a very interesting June at KYTX, the CBS station serving as an incubator for a planned late summer reality series starring a well-appointed model and former wrestling "uber-vixen." Fox publicity materials ramp up the Green Acres angle, telling the media that Jones will be "covering bake sales, cowpie-tossing contests and county fairs like they were Watergate. News anchor or dead weight? Only the ratings will tell."

Hurley, 58, is amused. And unlike most tight-lipped TV station GMs, he's willing to say as much.

"The interesting thing is we don't have any cowpie-tossing here, so we'd have a hard time covering it," he says. "And do they still even have bake sales? She'll be doing some soft news and some hard stuff, but we just won't stage any event for her to cover.

"The only chance of anyone being a bumpkin down here is probably going to be me. I know it's a risk, but we're entrepreneurs. And we just think it will add some attention to the station. We know there'll be some that are upset that she's here. But we knew that going in."

KYTX is a bit different than most TV stations. For one, it's barely three years old. For another, one of its star personalities is Stormy the weather dog, formerly a stray mutt who now assists chief meteorologist Doc Deason with his nightly forecasts. The KYTX web site prominently pictures Stormy alongside its featured news team. Click on him and he'll bark at you.

"He's sitting on my couch staring at me right now," Hurley says. "He's a piece of work. He doesn't think he's a mutt anymore."

But we digress.

The Anchorwoman concept has been in the works for a couple of years. Hurley says he first met its executive producer, Brian Gadinsky, at the National Association of Television Programming Executives convention in Las Vegas.

Gadinsky found a willing collaborator in Hurley, but first there was a "false start." The producers wanted to afflict KYTX with actress Amber Smith, who's also been a beer company spokeswoman and adult magazine cover girl. Hurley didn't like her at all.

"It was going to be more of a Simple Life concept," he says. "And she was just absolutely a pain in the butt -- a high-flyer from L.A."

So KYTX passed on Smith and eventually settled on Jones, whom Hurley describes as "real bright, real outgoing, pretty aggressive, but very honest when she tells you how tough it is in L.A. to ever get a career going.

"She hits you as a real smart little gal. Got a great personality, which the other one didn't. And she seems pretty dedicated to doing a good job. She understands that when she gets here there are going to be some awfully good looking reporters at the station that may not exactly help her that much."

Lauren Jones got the anchor job at KYTX. Amber Smith didn't.

Fox is positioning incumbent anchor Annalisa Petralia as Jones' principal foil. Press materials say she's "not about to lose her Queen Bee status to some L.A. hottie."

But there's an old pro in the KYTX mix, too. Judy Jordan, formerly a pioneering woman anchor at KDFW-TV in Dallas, also will be sharing some air time with Jones on the 5 p.m. newscast.

"It may never be the same around here again," Jordan says in email comments. "I just hope our pin-up lady turned nouveau news anchor is ready to fight for truth, justice and the American way, and willing to throw off any excessive pizzazz, which doesn't have much of a track record in journalism. But then again, it is picking up speed, isn't it?"

Jordan also seems to be at least a bit bemused by the idea of a bombshell being dropped on KYTX.

She says a producer for the Anchorwoman series asked her what advice she would give Jones. "Advice!" Jordan says she retorted. "I'll probably be the one following her around saying, 'I'll have what she's having' . . . in my 'I'm with pretty woman' T-shirt."

GM Hurley says Fox plans to film Anchorwoman from early June until roughly the Fourth of July, with a five-episode run envisioned.

"They're describing it as The Mary Tyler Moore Show meets The Office. We've got our eyes open, we know what Fox wants to do with it."

Hurley recently met with Fox entertainment president Peter Liguori, who "has given me some assurances that the comedy is about her (Jones), not the station. It's basically unscripted, but I've seen some of the storyboards. They've picked out several of our reporters, and they think they can get some situations that are pretty entertaining . . . Our people know what's going on. They're very cautious, but they figure with this kind of exposure it's probably going to help their careers. The Fox folks told me I'll probably lose two or three reporters out of this."

KYTX personalities Judy Jordan, Stormy and Annalisa Petralia.

Just as long as Stormy doesn't get a big head.

His popular nightly "Dog-Walking" forecast requires the pooch to leave his studio doghouse to push an activator button. For Anchorwoman he'll also be outfitted with a miniature camera on his collar, Hurley says. Only in Tyler.

Hurley also notes that the station won't be able to show the CBS logo during Anchorwoman because the series will be on a rival network. He's also not sure if the viewing area's Longview-based Fox affiliate will even carry the show because it's all about a competitor.

Jones, who's not allowed to meet KYTX staffers until filming begins, has real-life aspirations to be a TV newswoman, Hurley says.

"If you ask her, she'd say she would have liked to have Katie Couric's job when she was on the Today show. She hit me as a real quick study, and is hoping that another, bigger market is going to pick her up."

It also helps that Jones "survived the Google search," Hurley says. "In East Texas, you have to survive that . . . She has a little standard. She says, 'I don't do underwear and I don't do nude.' And we think that's a good thing."

In the end, Hurley anticipates a double-pump of big buzz -- first during the hometown shooting of Anchorwoman and then when it actually airs around the country.

"We're the new guys in town. And a lot of people are going to check out our newscasts for the first time. When they do, they're gonna like what they see.

"And no," he says, "I don't mean just Lauren."

Presenting the new face, etc. of KYTX-TV news in Tyler, TX

Anchorwoman, a new Fox reality series scheduled to premiere sometime this summer, will drop model and ex-WWE "uber vixen" Lauren Jones (pictured above) into the midst of the KYTX-TV newsroom in Tyler, TX.

There she'll attempt to learn the fine arts of TV journalism while all of her male co-workers take copious cold showers. And yes, this is for real, with "reigning" real-life KYTX anchor Annalisa Petraglia "not about to lose her Queen Bee status to some L.A. hottie," says Fox.

And oh yeah, there's also the matter of Fox's new fall schedule. For all the details and more on the impending newsroom invasion, go to Network News & Reviews. You'll also find The CW network's new stuff.

This just in: "Emotion" runs high at CBS11 news

Regent Ducas, the new vice president of news for CBS11 and TXA21, seems to know exactly what he wants from his reporters. His Wednesday memo to staffers, obtained by unclebarky.com, tells them to reach out and touch viewers by selling their stories more vigorously. Without any further commentary -- but feel free to add yours -- here's the memo in its entirety:

"As we're doing live shots and writing . . .

Think: EMOTION & Conversational.

Viewers (people) remember emotion, not facts . . .

Critical facts are important, not all facts are.

I've seen a little too much 'police speak' or 'court speak.'

The suspect faces charges of blah, blah, blah, . . . no one will remember this fact and it's not that important . . .

If the suspect faced the 'death penalty' or capital murder charges, etc.' . . . then that would be important . . . but, for the most part, someone's next court date is not . . .

Think emotion . . .

This neighborhood tonight is in a state of panic, not sure what do to (sic) next.

Fans have decided to stay away from the ballpark, they'd rather spend their money elsewhere.

Feel free to stop by, email or talk about any of this."


John Pronk: Highways, byways and goodbye

Reporter/photographer John Pronk, sole proprietor of Belo8's longrunning Texas Tales series, is leaving the station at the end of the May "sweeps" after 26 years of distinction.

His last day will be on May 23rd.

"I am ready to 'turn the page' and rest up a little," Pronk, 55, told unclebarky.com via email. "I have worked hard and taken any assignment for a long time. And though nobody likes to site burnout as a cause, it's not a bad description."

Pronk began his TV career in 1978 at KPLC-TV in Lake Charles, Louisiana. He joined Belo8 under legendary news director Marty Haag in 1981 and began shooting and reporting his own stories about 15 years ago "because it made it easier on staffing and I sort of liked the flexibility of it," Pronk said. "I was the only one-man band in Dallas-Fort Worth and would often get asked, 'Are they sending a reporter, too, or is it just you?'

"I always tried to let the subjects be the focus and never got involved in my stories. Part of it, of course, was the fact that I was behind the camera, not in front of it."

Pronk said he still cherishes a compliment from former Belo8 reporter Bill Brown, who once told him, "John, I just don't see your stories anywhere before I see you do them. Where do you find those characters?"

He found plenty of them. A still oft-requested story is about the "pet bass" that jumped out of a pond and ate from its masters hand. Many viewers also still remember his story about kids who rode their school bus from Terlingua to Alpine High School every day. It was 100 miles each way, and the students "slept, played guitar and did homework on their 'home on wheels.' "

Immediate plans are to buy a Harley-Davidson and visit his 10-year-old granddaughter in Oklahoma City.

"We'll hit the road when school's out," Pronk said. "Probably travel down Route 66 through the great southwestern desert."

Pronk, who also has three children, praised Belo8 management for "always giving me plenty of latitude to do my thing when I had a 'good un' to put on TV. The business has changed, of course, but a great writer, cameraperson and producer are still just that.

"And there are plenty of them remaining in this shop."

Pronk clearly was one of Belo8's best, a vagabond correspondent cut in the mold of the late Charles Kuralt. He still has a signed copy of Kuralt's On the Road.

"It's my favorite," he said.

Tony bags Christopher -- and then beds a onetime Dallas Cowboys cheerleader

Former Dallas Cowboys cheerleader Sarah Shahi loomed large after a stunning Sopranos episode snuffed out Christopher Moltisanti.

Many Sopranos prognosticators measured Christopher Moltisanti for a coffin this season, with some also envisioning his death at the hands of uncle Tony.

They were right, although no one could have seen it going down this way. Series creator David Chase again has zagged the zig, and brilliantly, too.

Christopher (Michael Imperioli), who lapsed back into hard drugs in the previous episode, drove to his own dead end via a crunching car wreck and a fatal admission. Fittingly, he'd popped the soundtrack for The Departed into the player while talking to passenger Tony (James Gandolfini) about smelling the roses, easing up on the throttle.

Tony gave him the ol' "Every day's a gift" dodge before lost-cause Christopher swerved to avoid an oncoming car. They careened off the road and tumbled in tandem, leaving Christopher gravely injured and Tony pretty banged up.

Wheezing and bleeding from the mouth, Christopher then signed his death warrant by telling Tony, "You've gotta help me. I'll never pass a drug test."

The bossman started to call 911 and then thought better of it. He squeezed the remaining life out of Christopher by pinching his nose tight. In a way it was a mercy killing, but only in a small way. Christopher had made himself an expendable liability. He'd also made Cleaver, which Tony grew to loathe as the work of a "weak, lying drug addict who fantasized about my downfall."

This had to be The Sopranos' most shocking death, with Tony then play-acting to the hilt. He asked about his "friend" from a hospital bed, knowing what he'd hear but needing to hear it: "Your friend is dead."

Chase kept throwing in those little Chase touches.

Christopher's wife, Kelli (Cara Buono), got the news over the phone, in sync with a patented Paul Shaffer cackle on Late Show With David Letterman.

Tony awoke from a dream in which he confessed his real sins to Dr. Jennifer Melfi (Lorraine Braco). This time an old Kate Hepburn interview with Dick Cavett played on the TV screen. She would have been 100 on Saturday (May 12), which Chase clearly knew in plotting out this little salute to her.

Tony later professed being "prostate (sic) with grief" over the earlier death of his cousin, Tony Blundetto (Steve Buscemi). Or so he told the real-world Melfi, neglecting to mention that he had been the triggerman.

The Sopranos' grand maestro -- Chase, not Tony -- then threw in another new, out-of-the-blue character. Vegas stripper Sonya Aragon, who used to party very hard with Christopher, was played by former Dallas Cowboys cheerleader Sarah Shahi, covergirl for the 2000 swimsuit calendar.

The 27-year-old Euless native, born Aahoo Jahansouzshahi, helped turn Tony into Hunter S. Thompson after his get-away-from-it-all touchdown in a posh private plane. Fear and loathing in Las Vegas, with pot, peyote, vigorous sex, deep stupors and big, cathartic wins at the Caesar's Palace roulette wheel.

It ended in the desert, with Tony and Sonya havin' a heat wave.

"I get it!" he finally shouted, his voice echoing into the final credits.

But does he really? And have we all finally gotten the fact that Tony Soprano at base level is a dirty, rotten thug?

All of this made for the finest hour yet in this concluding nine-episode arc.

Now it's just three more to go, with HBO's promos proclaiming, "Everybody Has Their Breaking Point."

As David Chase has proven time and again, that could mean just about anything.

Addendum: Fox4's Chris Yates

Scroll down a bit on this page and you can read the story on Chris Yates leaving Fox4 after 12 years as a sports anchor/reporter.

Now Yates can say where he's going. He's taking a position with Continental Adjustors in Highland Park, which expedites insurance settlements and endeavors to get top dollar for its clients. Continental recently went to bat for Bob's Steak & Chop House after its Oak Lawn location had heavy fire damage. Bob's was back up and running in 11 days.

Yates says he wanted to "enter the adult corporate world" after a total of 17 years in television. He also wanted to have weekends off.

"I had a blast at Fox4," he says. "People are great there."

His last day is May 23rd.
Ed Bark

Fox4's Chris Yates leaves it all behind

Veteran Fox4 sports personality Chris Yates is quitting the station after a 12-year run.

He's leaving a job as Fox4's sports web producer after recently being taken off the weekend morning anchor desk.

Yates said his last day is May 23rd, but declined to comment further for now. Fox4 sports anchor Mike Doocy praised him as "a valuable member of our sports team" who had a "great eye for video and was a top-notch editor. He had worked hard to improve his on-air skills as well.

"We'll all miss his enthusiasm and experience," Doocy said.

Sosa sort of attends Rangers annual charity event

Texas Rangers beat writer Evan Grant and boxing kingpin Don King helped judge an "Iron Chef America" cookoff between 3rd baseman Hank Blalock and catcher Gerald Laird Sunday night. Photo: Ed Bark

The Texas Rangers Baseball Foundation held its annual fundraiser Sunday night in Dallas, with most of the players, coaches and celebrity attendees gamely dressing up and going to bat for charity.

Rangers second baseman Michael Young as usual couldn't have been nicer. First baseman Mark Teixeira and his wife, Leigh, again served as co-hosts for the evening at the Hilton Anatole.

Legendary fight promoter Don King, assisted by Rangers coach Art Howe and Dallas Morning News baseball writer Evan Grant, agreeably judged an "Iron Chef America" cooking competition between 3rd baseman Hank Blalock and catcher Gerald Laird. The secret ingredient was pasta. Laird won.

Young, Teixeira and other players competed in mockups of Family Feud and Hollywood Squares emceed by Rangers voices Eric Nadel and Josh Lewin.

Rangers public address announcer Chuck Morgan kept stoking up interest in an array of silent auction items ranging from a mounted picture signed by the cast of ABC's Grey's Anatomy to basketball shoes autographed by Dirk Nowitzki. It was all for a good cause, after all, with proceeds going to the Texas Rangers Baseball Foundation and Big Brothers Big Sisters of North Texas.

And then there was Sammy Sosa.

Flanked by three bodyguards, Sosa arrived at the same time as most of his Rangers teammates but otherwise was hardly a team player. He scribbled a few indecipherable signatures on baseballs given to attendees, studiously avoiding the "sweet spot" in order to deflate their value. He mostly stood with his protectors on the fringes of a hotel ballroom, waiting for red carpet introductions of players.

After walking the carpet, Sosa and company U-turned to the right and immediately left the event, which had barely started. We watched him stride past our table, wondering whether he'd demanded an appearance fee for even showing up.

In contrast, Don King stayed throughout the event, signing autographs and posing for pictures. And Michael Young could be seen greeting a young fan with "Hey, buddy!"

That likely made the kid's night, and his Dad's, too. But Sosa couldn't be bothered. On a night when the rest of his teammates went extra innings after an afternoon game, Sosa decided that he alone would take an early shower.

He may be an eventual baseball Hall of Famer, but on this night he acted like a bush leaguer. A pity.

Jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge

Happy together: Don Nelson and Golden State Warriors GM Chris Mullin stick it to the old ball coach's former employer.

Teammate Maurice Ager outscored Dirk Nowitzki in Thursday night's do-or-die playoff game against the Golden State Warriors.

Maybe no further commentary is necessary. The likely regular season MVP went from saviour to slug, joining his fellow Dallas Mavericks in a second-half slasher movie that owner Mark Cuban privately will find impossible to stomach. Losing to Don Nelson, whom he'd basically branded a loser before Game 5, is going to haunt Cuban for a long time. Don't believe anything he says to the contrary.

Nowitzki at least will always be Nellie's fair-haired wunderkind, even if he played like a bratwurst in a game where virtually everyone expected him to shine.

"You have to believe you're not going to see that in consecutive halves," Mavs analyst Bob Ortegel said on TXA21 after Nowitzki contributed all of four points in a nonetheless closely contested first half.

But Nowitzki had a mirror-image second half, contributing four more points to finish with -- what's this? -- eight. Ager had 10 in what ended as a 111 to 86 Warrior romp. Did anyone ever expect to see anything like that?

Over on TNT, analyst Charles Barkley had a different halftime take.

"Dirk Nowitzki, I don't know what the hell he's doin', man," said "Sir Charles," who had predicted the Mavs would beat Golden State four games in a row after losing the opener.

Barkley even wore a green No. 41 Nowitzki jersey during the TNT studio show for Game 4. By the end of Game 6 he'd donned a yellow "We Believe" Warrior T-shirt.

"Dallas packed it in," Barkley said. "They didn't compete down the stretch." For once he was right.

Ortegel of course wore his rose-colored glasses almost to the very end. With around three minutes left and Dallas down by more than 20, he finally allowed himself to say that the Mavs just weren't going to make it this time. "It's very disappointing. There's nothing else to say."

Instead, truth-telling post-game co-host Derek Harper again said it for him.

"You hold these guys accountable, man," the former Maverick emphasized. And that includes coach Avery Johnson, who seemed to be at sea in the second half as Nelson flummoxed him with a zone defense.

"Avery will be under the gun as well," Harper said.

Johnson, to his great credit, praised both the Warriors and Nelson in his post-game press conference.

"You have to take your hat off to Nellie," he said.

Cuban won't be able to summon that kind of class, at least when it comes to Nelson. The old ball coach pretty much held his tongue in check throughout the series, but did allow himself one slap at his old boss during a courtside interview that CBS11 excerpted on Wednesday's 10 p.m. newscast.

"You guys know Mark Cuban," he said. "He tries to crush everything in his path. And I'd really rather not get involved in discussing those situations."

Cuban's now in his rear view mirror as Nelson prepares to move on in the playoffs while the Mavericks wonder what hit them.

The only people in Dallas even remotely happy about any of this might be the management at Fox4, NBC5, Belo8 and CBS11. They're in the heart of a May "sweeps" ratings competition, and Mavs playoff games were siphoning away potential audiences for their 10 p.m. newscasts. Now they can dream bigger again while the team that seemingly couldn't be beat endures what's going to be a hideously long off-season.

Lest we forget, Maurice Ager outscored Dirk Nowitzki. And that's ballgame.

Heart-healthy at last

"Welcome back, Dirk," said TXA21 play-by-play dude Mark Folowill.

"Welcome to the playoffs big-time for Dirk Nowitzki," TNT analyst Kenny Smith added a few minutes later.

Simple as that, really. Finally!!! He shoots instead of watches.

Latenight drama, real or fictional, doesn't get any more compelling than the Dallas Mavericks' Invisible Man pulling himself and his team out of a crypt with a pair of three-pointers and 12 of his team's last 15 points. Add a key blocked shot as well. In the game's final three-and-a-half minutes, Nowitzki almost singlehandedly turned a 112-103 deficit into a 118-112 Mavericks victory over Golden State in Tuesday's Game 5 of the NBA playoffs. Finally the Warriors blew one by going scoreless down the stretch.

D-FW's 10 p.m. May sweeps newscasts now might as well go dark opposite Thursday night's Game 6. The combined TXA21/TNT Nielsen numbers for Tuesday's return from the dead no doubt will surpass Sunday night's 463,018 homes, the series biggest haul to date. But Game 6 will really be a whopper. Unless, of course, one of the four stations wants to do their newscast in the nude.

Maybe, just maybe, the Warriors are now exposed.

"Golden State could taste this thing," TNT's Smith said. Instead they choked after overcoming a 21-point deficit on the Mavs' home floor before a crowd that was looking like a still-life painting.

Maybe Nowitzki no longer is a dead Mav walking. For now he's saved himself and his team from one of the longest off-seasons in pro sports history. But those Warrior fans are going to be super-crazed Thursday night.

Man, what drama. Beats the hell out of even The Sopranos. Who's gonna get whacked?