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This just in: A night in the lives of D-FW's 10 p.m. news titans -- WFAA8 and CBS11 (Thurs., Nov. 19)

All in one gulp: WFAA8's John McCaa, Gloria Campos, Pete Delkus.

D-FW station executives keep telling your friendly content provider that ratings "sweeps" periods are antiquated. That they compete in the same way every night year-around. That certain stories aren't geared toward those merry months of November, February and May. That it really doesn't matter who wins a sweeps competition because this is a marathon.


Or to put it more tactfully, what a crock.

On Thursday's 10 p.m. newscast, WFAA8 matched CBS11's November sweeps gambit of providing more than 20 minutes of uninterrupted news coverage before the first commercial break. The usual break point is between the 10- and 14-minute mark. But both stations went all the way until 10:23 p.m., folding their weathercasts into this elongated stretch before finally yielding to the first batch of ads.

Why? Because with just four weekdays remaining in the 20-day November competition, the two stations are locked in a virtual tie for first place in the total viewer Nielsens. WFAA8 is the defending champ and CBS11 is trying to win for the first time ever. So anything you can do we can do better -- which is basically what WFAA8 is saying by replicating CBS11's commercial-free ploy to hold viewers in place all the way to the sports segments.

Odd but calculated story choices also were made Thursday night.

CBS11 led its newscast with the saga of a plucky 76-year-old University Park woman whose purse was snatched by a couple of punks.

"Hear from the elderly woman who tried to take on two robbers," anchor Doug Dunbar teased at the top before reporter Jay Gormley assumed the position with a live report.

The woman, Dorothy Thompson, told Gormley that she briefly tried to hold onto her purse before grudgingly letting go. She emerged unhurt, save for a small bruise on her arm.

WFAA8 countered by leading off with a "Pepper Spray Arrest." Reporter Jason Whitely told the tale of Jason Simpkins, who was stopped on suspicion of theft (wrongly as it turned out) and then taken downtown for having a four-ounce can of "Law Enforcement Strength" pepper spray.

Simpkins, later exonerated, said he spent $6,200 in attorney's fees. He rightly feels wronged.

Mind you that both of these relatively smallish crime stories were top-of-the-newscast headliners in a TV market of almost 6.8 million viewers. Gotta grab 'em in the early going, though, especially when every one-tenth of a rating point is paramount in a down-to-the wire sweeps race.

CBS11, as previously noted, also has taken to providing printed teases within its 10 p.m. newscasts. On Thursday night, viewers first were informed, "Coming up in 3 minutes: Dirty Dining in Dallas." And a bit later -- "Coming up after weather: Meet a CSI star tomorrow."

"Dirty Dining" is investigative reporter Bennett Cunningham's ongoing series on restaurants with fruit flies in the kitchen, food left to the ravages of improper temperatures and someday maybe, even bats in the belfry. The usual culprits are mom-and-pop eateries that indeed need to clean up their acts. But in this latest report, even a few empty boxes in Cowboy Chow's kitchen were deemed a safety hazard by a zealous health inspector. I wonder if the CBS11 newsroom microwave could withstand such scrutiny.

The CSI star turned out to be supporting player Wallace Langham, who appeared Friday morning at a new Fort Worth CSI attraction that CBS11 also promoted during Wednesday's 10 p.m. newscast.

Thursday's edition also included "our exclusive interview" with Simon Baker, star of CBS' The Mentalist. It just so happens he also has a new movie out. Anchor Karen Borta narrated the sit-down with Baker, but an unseen Sandie Newton interviewed him.

On WFAA8, investigative reporter Byron Harris had a lengthy piece on prominent North Texans who own private jets that are taxable only during those times their aircrafts are actually in D-FW. Some try to avoid heavy taxes by keeping the planes elsewhere as much as possible.

"Is somebody committing a foul here?" Harris asked after dropping the name of Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban. "No. It's all perfectly legal, signed off by Dallas County tax officials."

So did this story really fly? Not entirely. It was more "So what?" than "Aha," although Harris did get to reel off two other high-profile plane owners -- Jerry Jones and Troy Aikman.

WFAA8 was on firmer ground with reporter Chris Hawes' second followup to her story on high levels of cancer-causing benzene in air samples taken near some natural gas facilities, including the Barnett Shale in Fort Worth. I was too dismissive of Hawes' first report; this looks like a story worth pursuing, and Hawes has been doing just that.

Overall Thursday night, WFAA8 had a more content-rich newscast than CBS11. Both stations also played some games during the course of their all-out fight for 10 p.m. bragging rights in one of those otherwise inconsequential ratings sweeps months.

Holding the hammer -- When all is said and done, WFAA8 likely has an irresistible force in Tuesday night's two-hour Dancing with the Stars season finale. It will air from 8 to 10 p.m., serving as a no doubt very potent lead-in attraction on the next-to-last night of the sweeps.

WFAA8 will be promoting this like crazy, on newscasts and wherever else it can. CBS11 might have to promise anchors in swimsuits to engineer any major audience shift. Its featured quartet is much fitter to be sure. But I don't think we've quite reached that point yet. Maybe next November.