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Long time in coming: WFAA8 begins calling its own shots with new 4 p.m. local newscast


Anchors Colleen Coyle and Jason Wheeler prepare to hand off to the 5 p.m. duo -- Shelly Slater/John McCaa in background -- after their inaugural 4 p.m. newscast on WFAA8 Monday. Photo: Ed Bark

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After two years of missteps with syndicated programming, WFAA8 made its own 4 p.m. bed for the first time in station history Monday with the debut of a one-hour late afternoon newscast.

Jason Wheeler and Colleen Coyle are the younger, chattier anchor duo for News 8 At 4, which will be battling established local news hours on rivals NBC5 and CBS11 while Fox4 for now sticks with a double dose of Judge Judy.

“I’ve been actually laughing back there,” 5 p.m. co-anchor Shelly Slater told the pair near the end of the first telecast. “Very entertaining, you two. Highly entertaining.” She then quickly added, “In a good way.”

Well, not always. But they survived the first hour in reasonably good shape while promising day-to-day remodelings based on viewer input via social media. The moldy old “news you can use” tagline of years past has given way to whatever viewers want -- within reason more or less.

“It’s going to be a lot of fun,” Wheeler promised at the outset while Coyle (still better known at the moment for her weathercasts) stood happily beside him. “We’re going to inform you, hopefully entertain you a little bit as well. And as time goes (by), no show will be like the other. We’re gonna get your input on Twitter and Facebook.”

“Oh yes we are,” Coyle chimed in before they gave themselves a “High Four.”

The small talk then turned to the big double-hit on Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo during Sunday night’s season-opening win against the New York Giants.

“Ooh, look at the tackle,” said Wheeler. But Romo survived what Wheeler later termed “the sandwich treatment” during repeated replays, one in slo-mo. X-rays were negative.

Wheeler twice showed signs of being maybe a little goofier than the 4 p.m. format calls for. After Coyle noted she’s a “Georgia Peach,” he told her, “And you kind of have a little crush going with him” (meaning the married Romo).

“Maybe. Maybe (Atlanta Falcons quarterback) Matt Ryan may be up there. So you never know. Yeah, Tony Romo. Some people may say he’s as hot as our forecast outside.”

“Ooh” they said in unison before Coyle briskly strode out to Victory Park Plaza for her first of four weather updates. She also introduced a new “Weather Where You Are” feature in which viewers are strongly encouraged to send in their pictures for use on the newscast. Three were displayed before newscast’s end.

Wheeler handled most of the day’s heavier news, including a “Fair Park Rapist” update and reported sexual assaults on both the SMU and UT-Arlington campuses. Two “Syria Latest” updates also made the cut, in addition to briefs on the arrest of George Zimmerman after an alleged domestic dispute with his wife, who’s divorcing him.

A promised cutaway to a news conference by Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett failed to materialize after its announced start time kept getting pushed back. And then Wheeler stepped in it a bit after some anchor jabber on Matthew McConaughey’s new movie, Dallas Buyers Club, for which he lost 40 pounds.

“He was tan with his shirt off, big muscles and everything,” Coyle said of the last McConaughey movie she saw (presumably Magic Mike). “Not anymore. OK, gotta talk about the heat again.”

“Speaking of taking your shirt off,” Wheeler riposted. Pause, one-two. “I mean, not you.”

Taken aback, Coyle gamely guffawed before marshaling a segue: “We’re gonna go outside on that note, everyone. Yeah, News 8 At 4. There’s no censor here.” She then did the weather in relative peace. It’s been another hot one, viewers again were apprised.

New shows seldom get off the ground without a few fluid leaks. Wheeler and Coyle likely will be just fine in time as they take on the very important task of building a better lead-in audience for WFAA8’s 5 p.m. newscasts while the station collects all the ad revenue for the first time in a very long time. WFAA8 aired The Oprah Winfrey Show for a quarter-century in the 4 p.m. slot, in large part to the tune of dominant ratings. But her fall 2011 successor, Dr. Oz, didn’t do particularly well at 4 p.m. Nor did last fall’s Katie, which now airs an hour earlier at 3 p.m.

One more thing. The opening News 8 at 4 tended to be a little top-heavy with repetition in a manner befitting an early morning newscast. In that context, Coyle had an out-of-body experience in introducing Wheeler’s live interview with three medical experts after a brief story on “Breast Cancer Screening Concerns.” They’re “here this morning” with him in the green room, she told viewers.

Facebook and Twitter input is on the way, though. And maybe viewers will lobby for a more varied menu. Or perhaps they’ll be just as happy with more “taking your shirt off” TV moments of the sort supplied by Wheeler. Whatever happens, the direction this newscast takes will be anything but inconsequential. WFAA8’s overall late afternoon/early evening profit picture could be significantly enhanced if increasing numbers of viewers warm to Wheeler, Coyle and their new baby.

It wasn’t an altogether smooth birth Monday. But WFAA8 at long last is in charge of its own destiny -- which is pretty big news on its own.

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net