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This just in: A night in the lives of D-FW's late night newscasts (Fri., Feb. 18)

Fox4's overkill coverage of John Wiley Price included this dressed up image of anchor Heather Hays taking aim with a gun. Photo: Ed Bark

Fox4 again loaded up on John Wiley Price/Jeff Turner/Mullah/Go to Hell coverage Friday night.

This is still defensible to a point. People continue to talk about Tuesday's war of words between perpetually outspoken Dallas County commissioner John Wiley Price and attorney/conservative activist Jeff Turner. And unlike its rivals, the station's featured 9 p.m. newscast has a full hour to fill against network entertainment programming on rival stations.

But Fox4 hit a low point -- and arguably a point of no return -- during Friday's extended "Viewers' Voice" segment. That's when someone decided it would be funny to doctor a film clip and super-impose co-anchor Heather Hays' head atop a pistol-pointing woman. She was shown taking aim after a Fox4 viewer urged, "Heather Hays, you need to give it a rest. Don't try to cross him up."

The reference was to Hays' live and lively interview with Price on Tuesday's 9 p.m. newscast. As previously written in these spaces, Hays pressed Price -- as she should have -- while also giving him ample time to defend his actions. But another of Fox4's brainiac viewers didn't quite see it that way, contending that "you could see the look on her (Hays') face. And it was very racial."

Co-anchor Steve Eagar, who usually presides over the nightly "Viewers' Voice" segment, rightly scoffed at this while also seeming to enjoy what Hays and Price had wrought on a night when he was off.

"Feeling a little uncomfortable?" he asked her after Friday's "Viewers' Voice" mercifully had ended.

"Still a little bit uncomfortable," she acknowledged after Fox4 seconds earlier brandished a videotaped tight shot of Hays looking cross-eyed into the camera.

"Let's move on then," Eagar said. "OK," she agreed.

Eagar was disinclined to give it a rest earlier in the newscast after reporter Matt Grubs reported on Turner's conciliatory visit to the Duncanville Islamic Center. Addressing members, Turner said he "didn't mean any disrespect" to Muslims when he condescendingly told Price, among other things, "I would say to the Chief Mullah . . . (which he repeatedly pronounced Moo-lah)."

Turner declined to flat-out apologize, though, and wouldn't elaborate to reporters afterward.

"Look, I don't want to make any more statements," he said on Fox4. "Please turn the cameras off. No? Let's go get some tea, OK?" The invitation was to Islamic Center head Thomas Muhammad, who was standing alongside Turner.

"What's your read?" Eagar asked in subsequent live cross-talk with Grubs.

"What he has to do now is somehow make this story go away, but . . . " Grubs said before Eagar cut him off.

"He stepped in it and he doesn't want to step in it again, basically. Right?" the anchor declared. "I mean, right?"

Grubs, a very capable reporter who lately has been cast as Eagar's caddy, laughed before replying, "Well, essentially he is. But just saying 'OK, that's the end of it' or 'I'm not going to say anything else, let's have a cup of tea' isn't going to make it go away."

Eagar then ended matters, segueing to a brief reader on American Airlines.

Fox4's ongoing efforts to re-invigorate and change up its 9 p.m. newscasts have been both laudable and laughable, although invariably interesting, too. Lately, anchors Eagar and Hays are being encouraged to air out their own opinions in a new segment called "The Take." On Wednesday's newscast, Eagar opined rather mildly that a Philadelphia high school teacher who had blogged about her students being "rude, disengaged, lazy whiners" might want to try another profession.

Grubs then was assigned to turn Eagar's riff into a story on Thursday's 9 p.m. edition. He began by saying that at least one viewer had "blasted 'Eags' comments last night."

Eags and company might want to re-evaluate this approach. Are we reaching the point where anchors are encouraged to generate followup news stories tied to their on-air opinions? And will poor Grubs be the hapless, designated elephant dung shoveler required to keep hitting the streets in pursuit of reaction to something the 9 p.m. anchors said during "The Take?"

There's nothing at all wrong with Eagar and Hays jumping feet-first into big breaking stories or hot topics by doing their own live interviews with newsmakers or experts. In fact they've been doing a lot of that lately, often to very good effect. But "The Take" seems both forced and tacked on in an ever-evolving newscast whose two anchors already get far more face time than any of their contemporaries.

CBS11's Andrea Lucia topped the news with some show 'n' tell.


CBS11 has a dogged digger in recent hire Andrea Lucia, whose lead investigative story Friday trained its sights on Arlington's quartet of dilapidated King Landing residences.

After interviewing some aggrieved tenants, Lucia said, "We decided to ask the city of Arlington just how many problems they've had with these apartment complexes. And this is what they gave us."

She then tossed an armload of 490 pages worth of violations onto a table. They landed with a big thump, which in this case gave her story added weight. The two owners of King Landing live in Florida and have arrest warrants out for them after ignoring citations and racking up $400,000 in unpaid fines, Lucia said.

CBS11 also continued its "Crisis in the Classroom" series with a likable little segment in which reporter Arezow Doost sat on some concrete steps and asked a group of seven first-to-third graders to give their thoughts on the ongoing budget shortfall. These weren't deep thoughts, but they were cute ones. When a little boy was asked what he might do to help, he told Doost, "I'd probably ask my mom and do whatever she says."

The station likewise scored with Bud Gillett's interesting story on a Falls County grave dig intended to find out more about long-deceased Texas Ranger James Coryell, former friend of Jim Bowie and a supposedly heroic figure in the revolution. Coryell County is named after him, but no known pictures exist.

Also on Friday's 10 p.m. edition, co-anchor Karen Borta followed up her retirement piece on former WFAA8 weathercaster Troy Dungan with a look at anchor Tracy Rowlett's life after he helmed 10 p.m. newscasts at both WFAA8 and CBS11. The story focused on Rowlett and his wife, Jill's, relationship with their autistic son, Michael, who is now a grown adult.

Rowlett and Dungan both made live appearances Thursday night at CBS11's anchor desk. On Friday, Rowlett again joined in, never mentioning WFAA8 but telling Borta, "You look terrific. And you and Doug (his successor, Doug Dunbar) by the way are doing wonderful, wonderful work. And I just so much enjoy being a viewer right now. You guys are terrific."

Then came the shiv after both Borta and Dunbar told Rowlett how much he had meant to CBS11 (after a star-making career of 25 years at WFAA8).

"You guys are doing a great job," Rowlett replied. "And the ratings show it."

Ouch. CBS11 indeed is whipping WFAA8 by a fairly comfortable margin in total viewers after 11 weeknights of the 20-weeknight February "sweeps" ratings period. The two stations have had down-to-the-wire battles in the past several sweeps competitions, with WFAA8 returning to the top last November after CBS11 for the first time ever ran first in May among both total viewers and the key 25-to-54-year-old target audience for news programming.

Borta's Thursday night profile of Dungan, who then was reunited with Rowlett on the CBS11 news set, generated a runaway first-place finish for the station on a night when a robust lead-in from CBS' The Mentalist also didn't hurt.

CBS11's featured players in turn seem to be getting just a bit chattier and goofier of late. Friday's 10 p.m. edition ended with a tongue-in-cheek story, orchestrated by the Allen Wranglers indoor football team, on the kidnapping of the team's mascot, Hoss. Suspects include Biscuit (mascot of the Allen Americans hockey team) and the Chick-fil-A cow, Dunbar said. The team is offering two season tickets to whoever can find Hoss, with help from clues on the Wranglers' website.

Weatherman Larry Mowry smiled, shook his head and noted what a "hard hitting story" this had been.

"That's why we leave 'em to the end," Borta added. Dunbar then cracked her up by adding "Tank's empty" before saying goodnight. It all seemed harmless and genuinely unscripted at the close of another work week. A little of this can go a long way, but this was just the right amount of banter on a station that's currently on a roll.

***Over on WFAA8, weathercaster Pete Delkus once again told sports anchor Dale Hansen that he looks fat.

Hansen supposedly had earlier told Delkus that his ankle was swollen, and "now I fear that it clearly has spread to the rest of his body," he explained.

"It definitely has spread to his head," co-anchor Gloria Campos jabbed.

WFAA8's newscast otherwise seemed a little thin on content but heavy on news blips and briefs.

Reporter Jason Whitely probably had the most relatable story, telling viewers that the cost of their daily coffee fixes will be going up due to big increases in bean prices. Jim Douglas had the second of his extended dispatches from aboard the USS Carl Vinson off the coast of California while sports reporter George Riba performed his own brand of Sports Illustrated jinx on the Baylor women's basketball team by lauding their 21-game winning streak and No. 1 national ranking. On the following night, Baylor was soundly beaten by Texas Tech.

***NBC5 led its Friday 10 p.m. newscast with co-anchor Brian Curtis intoning, "We have some serious security concerns tonight at DFW Airport."

Actually it wasn't that pressing. But this was a pretty good story, based on a tip the station had received on an undercover agent's success in slipping through five different body scanner checkpoints while carrying a gun. She had been testing the vigilance of the airport's screeners, none of whom have been disciplined, NBC5 said.

Reporter Grant Stinchfield broke the story during earlier newscasts, with colleague Ellen Goldberg then carrying the ball live from the airport on NBC5's late news. Her account of where the gun was hidden didn't quite mesh, though. Goldberg first said it was "tucked in her shirt," but then said it was "hidden in her undergarment."

Stinchfield later weighed in with a second story on how to save money on monthly bills. Simply threaten to switch providers, he said, quoting advice from a visiting expert. He also interviewed a North Texas man who said he'd had considerable success with that strategy.

I'm gonna call Verizon Fios.