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Local Nielsen ratings snapshot (Fri.-Sun., April 27-29)

Still big draws through thin and thin, the Dallas Mavericks piled on the late night ratings Sunday and Friday.

Sunday's blood-drainer against Golden State played especially tall, drawing 277,378 homes on TXA21 and 185,640 on TNT. That's a grand total of 463,018 D-FW homes, the biggest crowd to date for the four playoff games.

Friday's lopsided Mavs loss gave TXA21 another windfall (200,634 homes), with 127,806 more homes tuned to ESPN. Both games beat competing programming across the board in total homes and all major demographic groups, even though a few TV sets may be on the disabled list after being hit by various thrown objects.

The Texas Rangers didn't get quite as much love -- or disdain. The baseball club's Friday night game against Toronto, for instance, managed just 21,420 homes on Fox Sports Southwest. On the same night, Friday Night Smackdown! had 76,160 homes on CW33.

In Friday's local news derby, Belo8 won in homes at 10 p.m. to stay in first place after two days of the four-week May sweeps. But NBC5 won comfortably with 25-to-54-year-olds to likewise remain tops with the main advertiser target audience for news programming.

The Peacock and Fox4 tied in homes at 6 a.m., with the latter station winning among 25-to-54-year-olds.

NBC5 registered rare twin wins at 6 p.m. while Belo8 won as usual at 5 p.m.

This just in: A night in the lives of D-FW's late night newscasts (Fri., April 27)

TV reporters are just like the rest of us in at least one respect. They have to eat.

And so the poor souls at NBC5 -- and now CBS11, too -- slog on through their "urgent" newscasts' three basic food groups -- car wrecks, crime scenes, fires. Assume the position or hit the road, they're told. Do the masters' bidding or we'll hire a replacement from Geraldo Rivera Tech.

"We begin with a savage attack," CBS11 anchor Karen Borta said at the top of Friday's 10 p.m. newscast, warmly welcoming viewers to what eventually added up to a collection of 12 crime stories, two vehicular manglings and a pair of live visits to a refinery fire in Wynnewood, OK.

NBC5, having a hard time keeping up these days, countered with 10 crime stories, a diesel tanker accident and explosion in Houston, two viewing area fires and three live looks at that burning Oklahoma refinery.

Both stations led their newscasts with a "Road Rage" stabbing story, even though it had happened eight days earlier. A Garland man showed off his head wounds -- "I got a big knot here," he told NBC 5 -- while his girlfriend recounted how she had written down the perpetrator's license number in lipstick. As of Friday police were still searching for crum-bum Terry Reeves.

In contrast, Fox4 gave the incident brief mention nine minutes deep into its 9 p.m. newscast. Belo8 didn't cover it at all.

CBS11's second story of the night -- dubbed "Breaking News in Fort Worth" -- found reporter Carol Cavazos standing live next to a crumpled car. The accident sent three people to the hospital, but all "came out OK," she said.

Maybe something like this makes the front page in Pisspot, Idaho, but in Dallas-Fort Worth? Yeah, but that wreckage sure did look purdy on the teevee, even if Cavazos may have cried herself to sleep that night. She's otherwise been a solid reporter. But that was then.

NBC5, meanwhile, had learned of an investigation involving developers and possibly at least one member of the Dallas City Council.

"We are live at Dallas City Hall right now," said anchor Jane McGarry while viewers were treated to an overhead shot from Chopper 5. No more specifics were given. Are they kidding with this crap?

Fox4 logged in with two interesting, in-depth stories.

Jason Overstreet reported from Southlake, where one of the toughest non-smoking laws in the country soon will make it illegal to puff in heavily trafficked public parks. And veteran medical correspondent John Hammarley told viewers about an apparently fraudulent Web site that promises to provide free prescription medicines after a $199 upfront payment. He brought the story home via the sad tale of a bilked elderly man who recently lost his wife.

Fox4 was a day late, though, on a story about a woman who was called an insulting name on a receipt from a Famous Footwear store. NBC5's wily Mistress of the Dark, Susan Risdon, had that one Thursday night after anchor Mike Snyder teed up the "nasty surprise."

Belo8 mostly stayed away from crime and tragedy, but not from overall dullness. Friday's newscast was mostly punchless, with lengthy stories on a high school "clothes crackdown" (Janet St. James) and airline cockpit safety (Byron Harris) failing to generate any real electricity.

A brief story on "lip balm addiction" prompted weatherman Pete Delkus and anchor Gloria Campus to wax on about their favorite products.

The newscast then collapsed in a heap with a closing story on the auction of the hearse used to transport President Kennedy from Parkland hospital to Air Force One.

"It runs nice and the radio works," Campos said prospective buyers are being told. All concerned then tried to bat that around a bit before a merciful but very awkward segue to ABC's Nightline.

Not to be outdone, CBS11 weathercaster Kristine Kahanek rolled up the sidewalks by telling viewers she'd given the wrong weekend for Canton's Trade Days. Anchor Doug Dunbar then bizarrely plugged his April 30th birthday, sticking his tongue out, rubbing his hands and saying in a high-pitched voice, "Hoping for presents."

Late Show with David Letterman couldn't come soon enough.

This just in: A night in the lives of D-FW's late night newscasts (Thurs., April 26)

Crime dogs: CBS11 leaves its new scent with Jay Gormley, Jack Fink.

Boy trapped in refrigerator eats own foot.

Or to put it another way, CBS11 officially has gone over to NBC5's dark side. Both stations now are leading their nightly late night newscasts with heaping helpings of quick-hit crime stories. The newscast as assault weapon. No one is safe.

Under new news director Regent Ducas and his "First Five Minutes" gambit, CBS11 began the first night of the May "sweeps" with reporter Jack Fink's urgent live dispatch from Cockrell Hill. A man arrested for brandishing a gun at someone had escaped earlier through a small hole in the jailhouse wall.

Next came a "whoosh" sound effect and a quick segue to latter day fellow crime dog Jay Gormley, who stationed himself in a 7-Eleven parking lot at the corner of Park Lane and Hemlock in North Dallas. Gormley said police had just reacted to a tip on fugitive Fernando Perez's whereabouts.

"We're gonna follow them, see what we can come up with," he promised.

Sure enough, Perez was caught, signaling a return to Fink for a second live report. Then came Gormley a few minutes later -- Whoosh!" -- with video of the man being handcuffed by police outside his brother's apartment. CBS11 billed the video as "exclusive," which in fact it was. But did they have to make it seem as though Osama bin Laden had just been captured?

NBC5 also led its 10 p.m. newscast with this police "manhunt" for an escaped prisoner.

"Chopper 5 is high over Dallas County," intoned anchor Mike Snyder before throwing it to veteran night ranger Scott Gordon. Savvy crime-duster that he is, Gordon got Cockrell Hill police chief Catherine Smit to brand Perez "Houdini." Now that's news you can use.

The Peacock likewise returned live to the scene of the breakout to report that Perez was back in police custody. Belo8 and Fox4 thought little of all this. Both handled the fugitive-from-justice situation with brief anchor reads and no live reporting. Which was the most it deserved, if that, in the populous sixth largest TV market in the country.

CBS11 has undergone a radical change since the February sweeps, when crime stories got short shrift in favor of longer enterprise pieces. That didn't translate into boffo ratings, though, so over and out. Thursday's newscast had 11 crime-related stories, or 13 if you count the double-dipping on fugitive Perez. There were no "packages" a k a enterprise stories prepared in advance on pithier topics.

NBC5 couldn't quite keep up, reeling off eight crime stories -- or nine if you count the double-dip. Snyder tried his best, though, telling viewers at one point, "From one scare situation to another tonight."

That led to reporter Grant Stinchfield's pretty decent piece on a slimy looking courier service operator and registered sex offender who also apparently was an identity thief. But the story got badly soiled by a horror movie soundtrack and dopey camera tricks.

The Peacock always can be counted on for cockamamie health reports. It had two of them Thursday, with anchor Jane McGarry priming the pump for the first by promising an "allergy answer so simple you'll be kicking yourself for not thinking of it first."

Meredith Land later informed viewers that it helps to take antihistamines at the same time every day. You mean that's it? Um, yeah.

Her story proved to be more hard-hitting than Kristi Nelson's dispatch on diet soda "addiction." Two well-known brands got a nice product placement ad during the time Nelson stood live in front of a pair of vending machines.

Slap-happy together: Belo8's Pete Delkus and you-know-who.

Some real news broke out, too, most of it on Fox4 and Belo8.

(Note to readers: We're looking at Fox4's 9 p.m. program instead of the 10 p.m. this time. It's by far the station's most-watched newscast of the day, and gets appreciably more promotional muscle and resources than the 10 p.m.)

Stories of genuine worth get room to breathe on Fox4's 9 p.m. news. And it takes some work to get them ready for air. The station's Shaun Rabb had a particularly interesting piece on a Tarrant County Community College professor who wants to make rap music lyrics easier on the ears.

"The beats are a blessing, the lyrics are a curse," he said. Rabb spent ample time with the young rappers competing in Dr. Murray Fortner's rap contest. As did reporter Jason Overstreet with a jailed textbook thief who wants to make amends.

"I'm kind of surprised I made as much as I did as long as I did," said former athletic scholarship student Alvin Wilson, who stole primarily from the University of North Texas book store.

Fox4's Brandon Todd also had an interesting story on a Texas Transportation Institute study that said teenagers taught to drive by their parents were three times more likely to have accidents than those who took driver safety courses.

All three stories were worth a viewer's investment. And anchor Natalie Solis's piece on a spirited "gospel aerobics" class in Northeast Dallas was a nice respite from all those daily doses of crime and punishment.

On Belo8, reporter Gary Reaves had an eye-opener on how a school's tacked-on trailer home classrooms can be weekend hideaways for drug abusers.

"If you come by on a Saturday, it's like a mini-Mardi Gras back here," said Stephen C. Foster elementary school principal Constance Ramirez.

Belo8's Steve Stoler also had a good piece on McKinney school bus stops located near the homes of registered sex offenders.

The station still trades in skin-deep, self-improvement stories, though. The "Friendly Fat" bit by Macy Jepson focused on two self-absorbed women striving to look younger by having body flab injected into their faces. Viewers were treated to the sight of an oversized needle being stuck in one of the patient's cheeks.

"That's a little much for me," grimaced anchor John McCaa, prompting weatherman Pete Delkus to start another pillow fight with sports anchor Dale Hansen.

"Well, you know, Hansen's a donor 'cause there's an endless supply (of fat) with him," Delkus cracked.

Pecos Pete later brandished a red-and-white striped soccer jersey he'd received for being a coin-flipper at that night's FC Dallas game. They didn't have one big enough for Hansen, he added.

"If fat in the face made you look younger, I look like I'm 12," Hansen rejoined before anchor Gloria Campos led the nightly spasms of laughter. Even McCaa had a bonafide giggle eruption.

No one does "happy talk" better than Belo8, which isn't necessarily a compliment. Still, it beats another kick in the head from a crime story, although some stations will disagree.

By the way, June 1 will be Dale Hansen bobble-head doll night at the Fort Worth Cats baseball game in Fort Worth. And that -- pant-pant -- is a wrap.

Local Nielsen ratings snapshot (Wed., April 25)

Dribbling to ratings gold and a playoff victory over Golden State, the Dallas Mavericks again were a smashing success in the D-FW Nielsens.

Wednesday's game, which ran from 8:45 to 11:25 p.m., averaged 258,121 homes on TXA21 and added another 165,735 for the TNT telecast. That brought the tote board to 423,856, down just a smidge from Sunday night's haul of 435,540 homes for Game 1.

In comparison, Fox's two-hour Idol Gives Back charity event averaged 337,960 homes from 7 to 9 p.m. Idol's final 15 minutes was the only program to outdraw the Mavs in head-to-head competition. But the game had barely started at that point, with audiences peaking on TXA21 between 11 and 11:15 p.m. (323,680 homes). TNT had its largest crowd between 10 and 10:15 p.m. (180,020 homes).

D-FW's four 10 p.m. newscasts took an aggregate hit, with Belo8 managing 166,600 homes to take first place. Overall, the quartet of 10 p.m. newscasts drew 487,900 homes, down from 559,300 on the previous Wednesday.

On the eve of the four-week May "sweeps," which start on Thursday (April 26), Belo8 also won at 10 p.m. among 25-to-54-year-olds, the main advertiser target audience for news programming.

NBC5 took first place in homes at 6 a.m., but Belo8 was tops among 25-to-54-year-olds. Although still running fourth, CBS11's early morning show, with Scott Sams logging his third day, perked up considerably in the 25-to-54 demo. Its 41,328 viewers in that age group at least were in shouting distance of third-place NBC5 (57,400).

Belo8 won at 5 p.m. in both ratings measurements. The 6 p.m. spoils were split between Belo8 (homes) and NBC5 (25-to-54-year-olds).

"Topical" heat wave: CBS11's Regent Ducas makes an urgent appeal

New CBS11 news director Regent Ducas is in still unfamiliar surroundings at the station's Fort Worth studios. Photos: Ed Bark


FORT WORTH -- A big storm is brewing on this early Tuesday afternoon. Not just outside CBS11's offices but in the minds of some reporters.

Regent Ducas, finishing his first month as the station's latest news director, already has reshaped the station's ratings-starved newscasts. You don't hire a coach to run the same plays, and he's made that very clear since arriving last month from CBS affiliate KCTV-TV in Kansas City.

"Instead of taking a more issue-oriented approach to news, we're going to take a more topical approach," Ducas, 42, says during an interview in his office. "It's all about the here and now of news. That's one of the changes you'll feel, sense and hear on the air. A bit more urgency. Not so much the way it's been."

This week he inaugurated a "First Five Minutes" gambit at the top of 10 p.m. newscasts, importing it from the Kansas City station that he took to No. 1 in the ratings. It's supposed to give viewers the feeling that they're getting something piping hot and served fresh. On Monday's late night newscast, four live reports were squeezed in, with an emphasis on crime.

"The biggest battle at night is turnoff," Ducas says. "So the message I'm trying to convey is don't go to bed quite yet. We're going to give you as much as we can in the first five minutes. New. Fresh. Not something you heard on the radio that morning. Give us at least five minutes. Then it's our job to drag you along, keep you going. It's my plan to execute that."

Ducas talks with a sense of the urgency he's demanding, his body language seemingly punctuated by a continuous series of exclamation points. Some reporters were very afraid at first and some still are -- privately. Ducas concedes as much. But as he inarguably notes, the station's 10 p.m. newscasts have been squandering a good part of the oft-generous lead-in audience provided by CBS entertainment programming. It's left the station a sinking third at 10 p.m. after a run for the top bottomed out in the past year.

"CBS is a fantastic network. It's a hot network," Ducas says. "And there's no reason why we shouldn't be able to deliver on the audiences they give us."

The new guy's approach is "run and gun if you will. I'm sure there is an adjustment period. I'm sure some people are wondering to themselves whether they're going to make it under this new format, whether they even subscribe to it in the first place."

He figuratively arrived at CBS11 "with boxing gloves on," Ducas says. "I thought I'd have to battle. But I've really done very little of it. It's been remarkable. I'm incredibly impressed with the competency of the people at CBS11.

"I think we have the players to pull it off. But the proof will be in the pudding and in daily performance. I'm a very performance-oriented person. I'm all about accountability."

Ducas soon will have a new office in a rebuilt, "state of the art" CBS11 newsroom. The orange outline is for his picture window.

CBS11 also is sharpening its prime-time teases, which Ducas feels were too passive in the past.

"Promotion is critically important, maybe as important as the actual newscast. It has to match the intensity of what we're going to have on the news. You need to zero in on who you are. And we're going to be this live, latebreaking, investigative type of television station that brings you this urgent news. If you want the in-depth story about something, we're not going to be the station to come watch.

"My lead story may not be the most important news of the day, but it's going to be the freshest, most topically driven news that the viewer will be able to get in the area."

Ducas insists he's not copying a very similar format used by NBC5, which had a five-year winning streak broken in February by Belo8. But the Peacock remained No. 1 with 25-to-54-year-olds, the main advertiser target audience for news programming.

Nor is he ruling out expansive investigative reporting, Ducas says after veteran CBS11 gumshoe Robert Riggs is mentioned.

"There absolutely is a place for him," but it likely won't be in the newscast's first five minutes, Ducas says. "When we get everything rolling together, investigations will be a major part of what we are."

Ratings frontrunners Belo8 and NBC5 regularly stock the closing half of their newscasts with stories obviously aimed at women viewers, who watch in appreciably greater numbers than men. Ducas acknowledges this, but says he basically doesn't care.

"You're not going to see a lot of diet-oriented stories in the second quarter-hour. Absolutely not," he says. "If that's the magic to success, then I'm not going to try to beat 'em at their game. I'm a big believer that solid, topical news is going to drive viewership. I'm just not into tailoring news."

Ducas also must fix his station's early morning newscasts, which are in far worse ratings shape than the latenight productions. Former Belo8 morning personality Scott Sams is newly installed, but CBS11 will be losing co-anchor Shannon Hori after her three-year contract expires in July. She wants to spend more time with her Florida-based husband.

The early morning show "used to be laid-back and lifestyle-oriented," but now will match the urgency of CBS11's other newscasts, Ducas says. He expects Sams to re-bloom and grow on viewers, many of whom still remember him from his 19 years at Belo8.

"He's such a great pro, as pro as pro gets. So the last person I'm worried about is Scott and his adapting to this formula."

Whatever the daypart or city, Ducas is banking on his belief that news viewers are all pretty much the same. They supposedly want fresh, not always nutritive produce, something they haven't seen before, a hook to keep them on the line. So it'll be a snap-pop approach at the new CBS11.

"The Internet has changed everything," Ducas says. "In my (TV) world, everything gets old fast. Viewers are just going, going, going.

"And you've got to match their lifestyle, and go get 'em."

Local Nielsen ratings snapshot (Fri.-Sun., April 20-22)

Root canal or not, Game 1 of the Dallas Mavericks' painful loss to Golden State dominated Sunday's ratings, drawing more viewers than even a new episode of ABC's Desperate Housewives.

The TXA21 telecast amassed 258,230 homes, with TNT's version adding another 177,310 in the D-FW viewing area. DH, the days' second most-watched attraction, had 257,040 homes.

The pancake-flat Mavs also whipped DH among advertiser-coveted 18-to-49-year-olds and cut a hole in the numbers for local 10 p.m. newscasts. The most-watched of the four, on Belo8, had 135,660 homes from 10 to 10:30 p.m. The Sunday sports special add-ons all tanked.

Sunday's other local pro sports attraction, the Texas Rangers' afternoon win over Oakland, averaged 73,780 homes on Fox4. And the Dallas Stars' sixth game Stanley Cup playoff win against Vancouver drew 43,237 homes Saturday night on Fox Sports Southwest. Monday night's do-or-die game should fare far better than that on MY27.

Friday's local news derby went like this:

Belo8 re-asserted itself at 10 p.m., winning comfortably in homes and among 25-to-54-year-olds, the main advertiser target audience for news programming.

The 6 a.m. spoils were split, with NBC5 on top in homes and Fox4 winning in the 25-to-54 demo.

Belo8 placed first in both measurements at 5 p.m. and also won the 6 p.m. competition in homes. NBC5 had the edge with 25-to-54-year-olds.

Local Nielsen ratings snapshot (Fri.-Sun., April 13-15)

Severe storm coverage sent ratings through the roof early Friday night on D-FW's four major news providers. Then a half-hour power outage knocked Fox4 off the air and down for the count.

Audiences peaked between 6:45 and 7:15 p.m. on Belo8, NBC5 and CBS11, with Fox4 pretty much falling off the map by 7 p.m. after losing its picture a bit earlier. Here's the way it looked:

6:45 to 7 p.m.
Belo8 -- 414,120 homes
NBC5 -- 357,000
Fox4 -- 233,240
CBS11 -- 216,580

7 to 7:15 p.m.
Belo8 -- 421,260
NBC5 -- 409,360
CBS11 -- 192,780
Fox4 -- 16,600

Fox4 had returned to the air well before 8 p.m., but its ratings never fully recovered. At that same hour, NBC5 ended its continuous storm coverage in favor of the Peacock's new Raines series and a Law & Order repeat.

In contrast, Belo8, CBS11 and Fox4 completely scrapped their entertainment lineups, with the latter station dumping out of the Fox network movie White Chicks before going to its regularly scheduled 9 p.m. local newscast. Here's the way the Nielsen numbers played out:

8 to 9 p.m.
Belo8 storm coverage -- 209,440 homes
Raines -- 166,600
CBS11 storm coverage -- 159,460
Fox4 storm coverage -- 90,440

9 to 10 p.m.
Belo8 storm coverage -- 157,080 homes
Law & Order -- 142,800
CBS11 storm coverage -- 140,420
Fox4 storm coverage -- 114,240

A competing Dallas Mavericks home game against the Utah Jazz averaged 138,040 homes Friday night. The Dallas Stars' late night Stanley Cup playoff game against Vancouver lured 45,220 homes to Fox Sports Southwest. A Texas Rangers road game at Seattle did slightly better on Ch. 27, drawing 47,600 homes directly opposite the Stars.

In Friday's regularly scheduled local news battles, NBC5 won at 10 p.m. in both homes and with 25-to-54-year-olds, the main advertiser target audience for news programming.

The Peacock also won at 6 a.m. in homes, but fell to second behind Fox4 in the 25-to-54 demo.

Belo8 won at 5 and 6 p.m. in homes. Otherwise NBC5 placed first with 25-to-54-year-olds at 5 p.m., with Fox4 on top with that audience at 6 p.m.

Sunday was event-full, too, with the Mavs-Spurs on ABC going directly against the closing two-and-half hours of Fox's Nextel Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway. Hoops prevailed, drawing 164,220 homes to the Nextel Cup's 138,040 homes from 2:30 to 5 p.m. The Mavericks won by a much wider margin among 18-to-49-year-olds, the favored target audience for non-news programming.

D-FW's pro sports also-rans again were Sunday night's Stars-Canucks on FSS (73,780 homes) and the afternoon Rangers-Mariners game on Ch. 27 ( 37,700 homes).

In prime-time, Fox's heavily promoted two-hour premiere of Drive blew a piston on its first lap, finishing with a measly 54,740 homes in D-FW. The night's biggest entertainment draw, a new episode of ABC's Desperate Housewives, had 252,280 homes.

Rene Syler: From anchor to author with a pause for major surgery

Rene Syler returns to D-FW with her new book in hands. Photo: Ed Bark

Rene Syler used to enjoy interviewing the weekly Survivor castoffs during her four years on CBS' The Early Show.

Then the network abruptly cast her off late last year, just a few weeks before she had her breasts removed in a procedure that goes down in the medical books as a bilateral prophylactic mastectomy.

The penultimate chapter in her new book, Good Enough Mother, recounts these travails in 11 pages titled "double whammy, or how to lose your breasts and your job in five short weeks." You might say she has a sense of humor. And that at age 44, she's a survivor.

"I feel amazing," Syler says during a promotional stop in Dallas, where she spent 11 years anchoring at both Belo8 (1992-'97) and CBS11 (1997-2002). "It's not just physically I feel better, but my head is better. I feel lighter. That's such a crazy way to describe it, but that's the only way I can think of it. I feel like a weight has been lifted, and life is grand and wonderful."

Her Jan. 9 surgery and a followup procedure in early March were alternatives to a series of painful biopsies that became necessary when Syler was diagnosed as a high-risk patient whose parents both have had breast cancer. The procedures also were increasingly disfiguring. So Syler says she asked herself, "How many more of these can I go through where they go in and keep pulling out breast tissue that's the size of a golf ball?"

Finally, the "futility of it all" convinced her she was better off without breasts and with "nipple-sparing" implants. Her candor in this regard is typical but never off-putting. And Syler's book, as you might judge from its cover and its title, is mainly about mommying without being a contemporary mommie dearest. It's dedicated to "Casey and Cole, the treasures of my heart."

Daughter Casey, 10, is the low-maintenance angelic one. Son Cole, 8, is the one who provides a wealth of material for the first-time author.

"That boy, if he had been the first, he'd have been the only one," Syler says. "Because he is such a handful."

She was pregnant with him while still anchoring at CBS11. At the six-month mark, Syler remembers standing on a desk in the newsroom and sermonizing on the differences between South Dallas and Oak Cliff.

"I was just ranting and raving. I'm sure that's part of the reason that boy is the way he is. Because I was a crazy woman when I was pregnant with him."

Syler's already promoted her book on Oprah and Good Morning America, and on Friday (April 13) at 7:30 p.m. she'll be signing copies at Barnes & Noble Booksellers, 7700 W. Northwest Hwy. across from the North Park shopping center.

An April 17th guest host stint on The View also should help sales. By the way, the show still has a vacancy.

"I don't look at it as an audition. Not at all," Syler contends. "It look at it as I'm going in for one day just like all these other guests hosts have done."

"But if asked, you would serve," her interviewer interjects.

"Sure," she says, laughing. "Yes, if asked I would serve."

One of her old D-FW employers, CBS11, also needs a booster shot. The station recently hired former Belo8 veteran Scott Sams to step in as half of the 5 to 7 a.m. anchor team. His deskmate, Shannon Hori, will be leaving the station in July after her three-year contract expires.

"I haven't heard from anybody there," says Syler, who still lives in New York with husband Buff Parham, whom she married while at Belo8. "And it's the morning! I mean, I'm just getting used to sleeping again. That's probably why I'm feeling so great."

She did some co-anchoring with Sams while both were at Belo8. It wasn't a career highlight.

"At the time we had some rough patches there," Syler says of their professional relationship. She did send him a congratulatory email, though, when CBS11 signed him up.

Last call at CBS and glamming it up at a recent awards show.

Her book tour originally didn't include a stop at her old network's Early Show, where she said goodbye on Dec. 22 after being told the show was going in the dreaded "new direction."

"My intention was not to go back, but you know what? Everybody moves on," Syler says. So when Early Show bookers called after her GMA appearance, she decided to stop by and make the best of it. On Monday, her best friend on the show, Harry Smith, did the book chat.

"I was good for me to be able to show viewers that I was OK," she says.

Syler has never asked for the specifics on why Early Show let her go. In Good Enough Mother, she quotes CBS News president Sean McManus as saying, "This is the part of the job I hate . . . We're going to go in a different direction."

McManus then adds, "It's really hard for me to sit here and tell you this."

To which Syler says she rejoined, "Not as hard as it is for me to sit here and listen to you tell it."

One of her former colleagues, who's still co-anchoring Early Show, is Julie Chen, wife of CBS president and CEO Leslie Moonves. This goes unmentioned in her book and during our interview (at least for publication). But draw your own conclusions as to who's sitting pretty.

"In that moment you're not thinking correctly," Syler says of the day she was shown the door. "So I didn't even challenge them. I guess the direction they wanted to go in was to add a news reader. So they had to subtract someone.

"It is what it is. In this business you get paid to roll with the punches. People don't remember you for how you came into a job as much as they do for how you went out. So it's really important for me to maintain a sense of dignity and class and grace about a situation that was very, very painful."

Her ongoing book tour and efforts to turn Good Enough Mother into a prime-time sitcom have kept her bouncy and bright. CBS passed on the idea last year, but a new effort is being made in partnership with Without a Trace star Anthony LaPaglia's Last Straw production company.

"I'm very optimistic about the book and about my future, even though I don't know what that holds," Syler says. "I just feel like the sun is shining brightly."

D-FW's port of call: CBS11 invests heavily in talent from other D-FW stations.

Clif Caldwell, Mary Stewart: Join the crowd at CBS11.

Often deemed expendable by rival local stations, they've rekindled their TV news careers at CBS11.

This week's hiring of former Belo8 anchor Scott Sams makes it a baker's dozen of on-camera expatriates who have found themselves feeling wanted again. No other D-FW station comes close in this particular province.

"He's very, very excited about this opportunity . . . He's in a good place now," CBS11 president and general manager Steve Mauldin says of Sams' reportedly fragile mental makeup during his last years with Belo8. "This was not an act of desperation on our part."

Sams, who begins co-anchoring CBS11's early morning newscasts on April 23, spent nearly 20 years at Belo8 before being dumped in September 2004. He's spent the last year as the featured news anchor at little KTEN-TV, which serves Sherman-Denison. Now he'll have a chance to both work in a Top 10 market again and compete against a station that he sued for allegedly firing him without just cause. Both sides claimed victory after Sams won a judgment earlier this year.

"It's a big market, a good place to live and a lot of people want to stay here," Mauldin says in an interview with unclebarky.com. "That's part of it. But I don't think these people are castoffs or second-handers either. They're first-team players."

A majority of the 13 were hired before Mauldin began running the shows at CBS11 and sister station TXA21 in February 2003. But he's also renewed the contracts of some staffers who previously segued from other D-FW stations.

"It's not premeditated," Mauldin says. "It's not part of the game plan. There are people that wanted to come over here that I haven't hired. I'd like to think that this is a good place to work."

CBS11 didn't launch its 10 p.m. newscasts until 1995, when it first became a network affiliate after roughly four decades as an independent station. Suddenly there were plenty of openings in the news department.

"We're the youngest of the news stations," Mauldin says. ""I think that's the other factor."

Sams will be reunited with a number of former Belo8 colleagues, including Tracy Rowlett, Kristine Kahanek, Robert Riggs and Mary Stewart. But the CBS11 roster also includes seasoned newsies from Fox4 and NBC5. Besides Sams, here's a thumbnail look at the rest of the roster:

Stephanie Lucero -- Steady, capable street reporter joined CBS11 in 1997. Formerly of Fox4.

Tracy Rowlett -- Cut ties as Belo8's longtime mainstay anchor to sign on with CBS11 in 1999. Recently stepped down from 10 p.m. newscasts and now is co-anchoring 5 and 6 p.m. programs on the road to a planned retirement in July of next year.

Mike Burger -- Formerly of Fox4, the veteran weathercaster has been filling in and working weekends at CBS11 since 2000.

Mary Stewart -- The durable cancer survivor joined CBS11 in 2000 after working hard for the money at Belo8.

Bud Gillett -- Solid as they come, he's up for any story after CBS11 claimed him in 2001. Formerly of Fox4, where he gave it his all for two decades

Still flossing: Former Fox4 reporters Stephanie Lucero, Bud Gillett.

Clif Caldwell -- Ex-NBC5 nightbeat streetwalker has been anchoring and reporting at CBS11 since 2001.

Robert Riggs -- Dogged investigative reporter brought his spyglass to CBS11 in 2002 after a long career at Belo8.

Kristine Kahanek -- Former Belo8 weathercaster has been the featured temperature taker at CBS11 since 2002.

Gina Miller -- Sports anchor/reporter splits time between CBS11 and TXA21 after coming on board in 2005. Used to be with Belo8.

Pam Harris -- Part-time reporter joined CBS11 in 2005 after working for both Belo8 and NBC5.

Teresa Frosini -- She won a contest to be a backup traffic reporter for NBC5. Now is the featured traffic cop at CBS11, where she arrived in 2006.

Carol Cavazos -- Ex-shortterm Belo8 reporter has been with CBS11 for the past several months as a part-time reporter whom the station plans to hire full-time.

"You know what my comment on that is?" Mauldin asks after the names are ticked off to him. "Sounds like an all-star roster to me."

Gotta sing, gotta dance, gotta watch: special D-FW tornado scare edition (April 3)

Belo8 blew off its tornado-themed coverage just in time for Shandi Finnessey's eviction from Tuesday night's Dancing with the Stars.

Belo8 weatherman Pete Delkus knew he was playing with fire -- and rain.

All four of D-FW's major TV news providers broke into prime-time programming shortly after 8:15 p.m. Tuesday to present extended and sometimes rather breathless coverage of a tornado warning near Arlington. But Delkus also had ABC's live Dancing with the Stars results show on his radar.

"I don't want anyone to take this too lightly," Delkus said at 8:30 p.m. as his weather map showed an angry red/purple buildup over Arlington. "I know that we have a very popular show on ABC right now."

You can bet that Belo8's switchboards got flooded, even if no operators were on duty. So Delkus had to tap-dance a bit as the winds, hail and rain dissipated before his watchful eyes.

"I appreciate your understanding," he said as Belo8's Dancing preemption neared 8:45 p.m. He was referring to the many viewers sitting high and dry in their living rooms while heavy rains quickly spat and moved on elsewhere. "I appreciate your consideration of others."

Stations understandably are obligated to break in for tornado warnings, and Delkus said there was one in effect for Tarrant County until 9:15 p.m. But weather watchers on the ground didn't seem quite as anxious as the viewing area's four fearless forecasters. Delkus gets especially grave whenever the weather kicks up.

He spoke of "potentially deadly hail" falling in some locations and warned of "a tornado that may be on the ground right now" in the Arlington area.

But a minute or two later, Arlington resident David Willbanks told the station by phone that "right now the rain is pretty much dissipated." Also, what looked to be a funnel cloud had gone away, he said.

Fox4, NBC5 and CBS11 also were starting to downplay the storm activity, but it had gotten too late to save respective firstrun episodes of House, Law & Order: Criminal Intent and The Unit. By 8:50 p.m. the tornado warning officially was canceled after Energy Management Administrator Irish Hancock told Delkus and Belo8 anchor John McCaa, "Nothing significant seems to have been reported to us."

Belo8 finally returned to Dancing at 8:52 p.m., in plenty of time for viewers to see celebrities Leeza Gibbons and Shandi Finnessey in the show's Bottom Two before the latter got voted off. NBC5 and CBS11 stayed with weather coverage until 9 p.m. rather than return to filmed dramas that already had been ruined for their viewers. Fox4 dropped back in for the last minute or two of House, only making matters worse.

So did the stations overreact? After the fact it's always easy to say they did. And it doesn't help their cases when all four have recent track records of looking like idiots during those annual "Arctic Blast" follies.

Belo8 easily could have opted out of weather coverage a few minutes earlier. But at that point everybody is covering their asses by reminding viewers what a horrible situation this could have been, but luckily wasn't. Realistically, you can't just say, "Whoops." Plus, imagine the outcry if Belo8 had stayed with Dancing while a tornado in fact was tearing through Arlington. So yes, these can be tough calls.

The ABC station, to its credit, initially went to Delkus only during commercial breaks, allowing Dancing fans to see the first 15 minutes of the show intact. After that, Delkus, Fox4's Dan Henry, NBC5's David Finfrock and CBS11's Kristine Kahanek kicked into full-blown, bad-storm-rising mode. And once they get started . . .

***Earlier Tuesday night, Fox4 fortunately didn't have to make an even tougher choice -- whether to preempt a live performance edition of American Idol.

Legendary Tony Bennett "coached" this time, with all those kids who otherwise never listen to him bowing to his greatness.

It's looking as though Sleepy Time Phil Stacey will be the next contestant to take the gas pipe. His performance of "Night and Day" had Simon Cowell enthusing, "I think it had all the joy of someone singing in a funeral parlor."

Much-maligned Sanjaya Malakar looked slick in "singing" Irving Berlin's "Cheek to Cheek." He also danced with a typically dazed Paula Abdul, who then cooed, "I get why people love you."

Cowell doesn't, but was willing to offer unequivocal praise in hopes of getting Sanjaya out of his hair.

"Let's try a different tactic this week," he said. "Uh, incredible!"

Host Ryan Seacrest also let it be known that inaugural Idol champ Kelly Clarkson of Burleson will be performing live on the show's April 25th Idol Gives Back charity extravaganza. It will be her first trip back to a show that she's pretty much ignored since becoming a big pop star in her own right and on her own terms.