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TV news as we know it/knew it/fear it might become (with a little self-analysis, too)

ABC News has big changes planned. Your friendly content provider, pictured at last year's 25th annual TV Critics Association awards, has long-adapted to the digital age. But are you being well-served?

ABC News president David Westin recently rocked his world -- and gave rivals plenty to ponder -- with his declaration of a "fundamental transformation that will ultimately affect every corner of the enterprise."

The specifics of what he said are in this earlier post. Basically, though, what Westin is aiming at is a big reduction in his work force and a digital age transition in which freelancers and so-called "backpack journalism" increasingly will be the norm, not the exception.

His goal, a frightening one to many veterans of the news business, is to "make ABC News the place to work in the digital age. We won't just be preparing people for the new world; we will be living in it."

Owned-and-operated ABC stations obviously will be affected as well. And Dallas-based WFAA8 on the surface at least seems lucky to be on its own in a market where Fox4, NBC5, CBS11 and CW33 all are owned from afar by their increasingly intrusive corporate masters.

WFAA8 carries ABC's programs, but otherwise answers to Belo Corporation, whose main offices are located across the street in downtown Dallas. It's the largest ABC affiliate not owned by the network. President and general manager Mike Devlin, responding via email, says he's not all that concerned at the moment with how ABC News handles its affairs.

"I just don't think it will affect WFAA," he says, "unless the level of news programming drops so significantly that it is noticed by the (D-FW) audience."

Devlin adds, though, that what's going on at ABC News "is a transformation all of us are going to be making given the advances in technology and the impact of the financial climate."

He also points out the disparate economics of broadcast vs. cable news networks: "Certainly the broadcasting news departments are at a disadvantage. You get relatively small audiences watching Fox News Channel, MSNBC and CNN. But it is not really important to them since they get monthly fees from subscribers, even those who don't watch those channels. ABC only has the ability to monetize the audience that actually watches."

That's a basically accurate assessment. And it's no doubt a troubling one to veteran local and national TV journalists with both considerable experience and salaries. The specter of "backpack journalism" looms over them, and it's generally seen as the province of younger, less experienced reporters who will work for cheap while shooting, editing and narrating their reports. That leaves photographers and editors on the cutting room floor, which is what ABC's Westin is getting at when he says, "We will eliminate redundancies wherever possible."

In the D-FW viewing area, CW33 is continuing to expand its news hours without increasing its staff. The station's Nielsen ratings remain tiny at best. But the news room overhead is low, too. And the news gatherers include two backpackers, Dan X. McGraw and Holly Yan, who were hired last May after being laid off by The Dallas Morning News.

Both McGraw and Yan have been learning the TV news ropes ever since. You don't see them on camera, but you do hear them narrating the stories they also shoot and edit. Neither is a rube, though. Both worked at the DMN for several years as metro reporters, gaining experience on a variety of beats. If you're going to go the backpack route, you could do far worse than these two.

That brings us to the grizzled old prospector pictured above. Some readers have noted that I'm a backpacker, too, although certainly no Cub Scout anymore. After more than a quarter-century at the DMN, I launched unclebarky.com on Sept. 17, 2006.

My stepson, Carl Morgan, set up this website using basic Internet materials that were second nature to him, but virtually a complete puzzlement to me. Eventually I had to swim on my own, learning the mechanisms of publishing, pasting in pictures, linking to other websites, etc. The far easier parts, in the early going at least, were writing stories and reviews, adding headlines to them and captioning pictures.

So am I spread too thin? Can I "focus" while also answering emails, policing the "Comments" sections and so on.

Yes, I can, although playing The Solitary Man can be a little unhealthily isolating at times. But I no longer have to commute back and forth to downtown Dallas, answer to editors, navigate office politics or rant about the continued Belo ban on critiquing local TV news. And my deadlines are of my own making.

Backpacking in the world of TV news isn't quite as easy as sitting at a computer, though. Yeah, I still venture out with a hand-held tape recorder and digital camera to interview people for extended pieces on unclebarky.com. But CW33's McGraw and Yan are hitting the streets every work day. And with their station's limited staff -- and concurrent expansion of newscasts -- there isn't much time to put together much more than their assigned spot news story or stories of the day. From scratch, of course, with McGraw and Yan supplying all of the ingredients.

WFAA8's Devlin indicates in his comments that this is how it's going to be in the near future of TV news. It won't all be for the worse. But it's still hard to imagine how most of it can possibly be for the better.

WFAA8 and CBS11 aren't yet in the "shared content" business, but Fox4, NBC5 and CW33 have been business partners since last spring as part of a Local News Service that's also taken hold in many other markets. News homogenization seems to run hand-in-hand with those aforementioned corporate tentacles. So do mandated downsizing and further consolidation. Is true autonomy becoming yesterday's news? That's pretty self-evident.

As for me, I'll remain an untethered independent. It's the way I started out and the way I'd like to finish up. This is just a wee voice in the very large scheme of things. Someday soon perhaps, I'll have to fire myself and move on. But at least it'll be my call.

Local Nielsen ratings snapshot (Thurs., Feb. 25) -- four out of five for Idol over Olympics (updated)

Fox's American Idol and NBC's Olympics had their final face-off at center ice Thursday. The Winter Games again had to settle for the silver.

Idol, with Season 9's first viewer vote-off edition, drew 407,178 D-FW viewers from 7 to 8 p.m. The Olympics had 325,742 viewers in that hour. That gives Idol four wins in their five D-FW head-to-heads, with only the Wed., Feb. 17th Olympics emerging with a gold opposite the Fox kingpin. These local results had been mirrored nationally until Thursday, when the Olympics edged Idol in the country at large.

NBC's Olympics coverage otherwise has outdrawn all competing programming as it nears the end of a 17-night run. On Thursday night in D-FW, the overall haul was 508,973 viewers, with a peak audience of 665,057 between 10:30 and 10:45 p.m. for the final minutes of the women's figure skating competition.

Over on MSNBC, the early evening gold medal women's hockey final between victorious Canada and the U.S. lured just 54,290 viewers.

In local news derby results, CBS11 swept the downsized three-way 10 p.m. competition with wins in total viewers and 25-to-54-year-olds, the main advertiser target audience for news programming. But NBC5's late-starting late nighter (11:12 p.m. this time) again had more viewers in both ratings measurements than the 10 p.m. victor.

The 6 a.m. golds went to NBC5, with a gradually improving WFAA8 tying Fox4 for second in total viewers and winning the silver outright.

NBC5 won in total viewers at 6 p.m. and tied WFAA8 for first in that measurement at 5 p.m. Fox4 stayed solid with 25-to-54-year-olds, copping the golds at both hours.

Sometimes the camera should be in their faces -- as Fox4 showed by playing "Gotcha" to good effect

Former consignment store owner Steve Hall didn't want to be on camera during Fox4's Wednesday 9 p.m. news. Consumer reporter Steve Noviello exposed him anyway. And rightly so. Photo: Ed Bark

"Gotcha" journalism can still get you noticed on both local and national TV.

It almost always involves someone not wanting to be on camera -- but to no avail. And there are recurring abuses, including Fox4 "Street Squad" reporter James Rose's decision last November to needlessly put a minor traffic violator on camera after she told him emphatically and repeatedly, "No, I don't want to be on TV." Rose had plenty of other agreeable motorists to choose from, as his report showed. He opted to include the woman anyway in what seemed to be undue bullying.

But Dallas-based Fox4 was on the side of the angels Wednesday night. Veteran consumer reporter Steve Noviello, in one of his frequent "On Your Side" pieces, zeroed in on the now defunct Red Cat Consignment Boutique, which had been located in the Lake Highlands Village shopping center before abruptly shutting down.

A number of people who had placed their goods in the store were left empty-handed. One aggrieved party, Jean Perry, said she later found some of her old possessions at an estate sale being held by one of Red Cat's proprietors, Marukh Hall. She took some cell phone pictures of her stuff before being evicted.

Noviello was unable to find Marukh. But he did track down her surly husband, Steve, Red Cat's other proprietor.

"I'm not answering your questions," he said before slapping his hand on a Fox4 camera lens. And later, "Hey, take the camera off me, man."

Hall contended that he had filed for bankruptcy, but had no answer when Noviello told him, "There's no record of your bankruptcy filing, sir." He was last seen driving off after barking, "Just get the hell out of here."

(NBC5 reporter Omar Villafranca reported on Red Cat in late January, but was unable to reach either of the Halls. It makes a big difference, visually at least, when you succeed in cornering your prey and showing them for what they are.)

The Halls of course sought media attention for the grand opening of Red Cat last summer. And they certainly got it from some circles. But now Steve Hall is trying to act as though his privacy is being invaded. Not so.

Noviello, who gives Fox4 a lot of bang for their bucks, is both an entertaining and diligent reporter. He pulls no punches with his recurring "Deal or Dud" product evaluations. And his investigations and other enterprise pieces are generally both substantive and well-researched. Yeah, he loves the camera. But he also knows how to put together stories and make them resonate. Over the years, I can't think of anything he's done that's been flat-out boring. Some of them have been a little ridiculous, but who among us hasn't laid an egg on occasion?

Noviello was on solid ground in cornering Steve Hall and trying to find out what's happened to all those items that used to stock Red Cat's now vacant premises. The alleged perpetrator came off as a weasel who deserved to be on the receiving end of an avenging camera lens. "Gotcha" journalism strikes again, and this time with good reason. Here's video of Noviello's complete story:

Local Nielsen ratings snapshot (Wed., Feb. 24) -- Idol again spanks Olympics; Mavs-Lakers endgame whips 10 p.m. local newscasts

Can't hear you!!! Mavs rock/sock Lakers at AAC. Photo: Ed Bark

It proved to be a tough night for North Texas' male quartet, but another good night for American Idol Wednesday.

The Fox cash cow again easily outdrew NBC's Olympics in their 7 to 9 p.m. matchup. Idol had 542,904 D-FW viewers this time while the Winter Games averaged 346,101 viewers. The Olympics' overall average of 386,820 viewers from 7 to 10:37 p.m. easily was the lowest total through the first 13 nights of coverage.

Meanwhile, on TXA21/ESPN, the resurgent Dallas Mavericks were beating the Lakers 101-96 in a spine-tingler that tipped off at 8:11 p.m. and ran until 10:44. The game averaged 176,444 viewers on the home station and had another 74,649 on ESPN. From 10 to 10:30 p.m., Mavs-Lakers had a combined total of 278,239 viewers, easily enough to outdraw CBS11's front-running 10 p.m. local newscast (162,871 viewers).

Fox4's 9 p.m. local newscast again took the silver at that hour, with the No. 1 Olympics upping its audience after being freed from direct competition with Idol.

In other local news derby results, CBS11's 10 p.m. win in total viewers didn't hold up among 25-to-54-year-olds, the main advertiser target audience for news programming. WFAA8 narrowly ran first with that crowd in the downsized three-way news competition.

At 6 a.m., WFAA8 scored a rare win with total viewers, nipping both Fox4 and NBC5. The Peacock retorted with an equally narrow win among 25-to-54-year-olds.

NBC5 won at 6 p.m. in total viewers and tied for first at 5 p.m. with Fox4, which ran the table among 25-to-54-year-olds.

Local Nielsen ratings snapshot (Tues., Feb. 23) -- Idol thrashes Olympics in third of five faceoffs

Houston's Paige Miles and Amarillo's Lacey Brown. Fox photos

Fox's American Idol took a 2-1 lead over NBC's Olympics with a big smackdown Tuesday night.

Idol's first live performance show, featuring the 12 female semi-finalists, drew 644,699 D-FW viewers from 7 to 9 p.m. The Winter Games averaged 468,255 viewers during those two hours.

Last week Idol won Tuesday night both locally and nationally before the Olympics struck back with gold medal ratings on Wednesday. It'll be a tougher sled this Wednesday for the Olympics, with a quartet of North Texan males singing on Idol while NBC counters with star turns by skier Lindsey Vonn and short track skater Apolo Ono. The Mavericks/Lakers game also should do some ratings damage with a dual telecast on TXA21 and ESPN.

Overall, the Olympics averaged 502,186 D-FW viewers in D-FW, peaking at 692,203 from 10 to 10:15 p.m., when local newscasts on Fox4, WFAA8 and CBS11 took another ratings hit.

Elsewhere in prime-time, ABC again had solid returns for a new episode of Lost, which drew 298,597 viewers in the 8 p.m. hour. Lost fared even better among advertiser-craved 18-to-49-year-olds, where it crept very close to the Olympics while Idol dominated. Here's the 18-to-49 medal standing in this key demographic:

GOLD -- Idol (365,299 viewers)
SILVER -- Olympics (195,696 viewers)
BRONZE -- Lost (185,911 viewers)

At 9 p.m., Fox4's local newscast took the silver in both ratings measurements.

In local news derby results, WFAA8 and CBS11 tied for the lead at 10 p.m. in total viewers, but CBS11 had the gold to itself among 25-to-54-year-olds, the main advertiser target audience for news programming. All three competing newscasts saw their audiences downsized by NBC's competing Olympics, which stretched to 11:10 p.m. this time.

NBC5 controlled the 6 a.m. ratings on a trumped-up snow-scare morning that evolved into only a light dusting in the immediate D-FW viewing area. The Peacock almost doubled its total viewer audience from Monday and more than doubled it among 25-to-54-year-olds.

NBC5 also dominated the early evening news numbers, sweeping the 5 p.m. competitions, winning at 6 p.m. in the 25-to-54 demographic and tying WFAA8 for first at the later hour in total viewers.

No business like snow business

Misty water-colored memories of the way he was: NBC5 reporter Ken Kalthoff survived the great foot-long snow storm of 2010. But the much-hyped sequel mostly turned to dust Tuesday. Photo: Ed Bark

They just can't help themselves. Never err on the side of caution when inclement weather is even a remote possibility. Every TV news department in captivity knows it's the easiest path to a ratings windfall. So flog it and slice the sports segment if necessary. Those guys are dinosaurs anyway.

Alas, the snowfall so boldly predicted for Tuesday became little more than an inconsequential dusting in the immediate D-FW viewing area.

Reporters who got all dressed up and braved the elements earlier in February could count more dandruff flakes on their heads this time around.

And how about those weathercasters who can't resist the primal urge to strip down to shirtsleeves when the going gets rough? They ended up being all dressed down with nowhere to go.

So what have we learned from this? Essentially nothing. Weather calls the tune, whether it's a sub-freezing "Arctic Blast," a blowhard wind, hail the size of chick peas, rain beyond the one-inch level or -- best of all -- snow! Leading a newscast with a weather bulletin -- while promising further details around the corner -- increasingly is business as usual on newscasts at all times of the day.

And who are we not to watch? A thousand and one editions of sports anchor Dale Hansen's "Unplugged" commentaries on WFAA8 pale next to forecaster Pete Delkus topping a newscast by saying, "Plunging temperatures could mean sweater weather tomorrow, with the cold snap just beginning. We'll have your complete forecast in just a few minutes."

Cue a well-practiced groan from warm weather-loving news anchor John McCaa. Repeat this basic formula on Fox4, NBC5 and CBS11.

We leave you with a MADtv sketch that's still a howl 13 years later. It's titled "Windstorm '97," with 11-15 mph gusts ravaging the Southland while news anchors, meteorologist Chance Cumulus and a reporter in the field take turns spreading panic.

THE TRADE: removal of malignant tumor rejuvenates Mavs and returns them to living

Love those stats: Fox Sports Southwest displayed them on the post-game show after Dallas beat Indiana Monday night. Photo: Ed Bark

An overdue eviction of Josh "J Ho" Howard has re-routed the Dallas Mavericks toward endless possibilities when the NBA playoffs roll around.

The above statistics, put up on Fox Sports Southwest Monday night, are jaw-dropping in what they say about the Mavs' defense since the acquisitions of Caron Butler, Brandon Haywood and DeShawn Stevenson from the Washington Wizards. Haywood in particular. He's been an Incredible Hulk inside, averaging 11 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per game while playing in place of the injured Erick Dampier.

NBC5 sports anchor Newy Scruggs and others may well be right that Haywood, not Butler, is the key to a trade that wiped away the stench of the malingering Howard and brought in three gamers. Jason Kidd in particular seems reborn, playing with the new-found conviction that these Mavs might actually have a shot at a lengthy playoff run.

The old Mavs clearly were beaten down and on the ropes, with Dirk Nowitzki playing with a noticeable slump in his shoulders as the losses piled up before the All-Star break.

Dallas has gone 4-1 since then, with only one opponent (the Pacers on Monday night) a certified scrub. The new Mavs pretty much toyed with Indiana. The old Mavs probably would have been lucky to win in the final minutes. That's another difference between then and now. And the previous edition never would have whipped the powerful Orlando Magic on their home floor.

Now come the mighty Los Angeles Lakers in a Wednesday night game at the AAC that should pull the Mavericks out of the ratings doldrums for at least a night. They'll square off on both TXA21 and ESPN, with Dallas looking to prove something. In other words, let's play hardball.

Reborn or not, the window remains small for the Mavs. They didn't get younger with the trade. Seven Mavericks are 30 or over, and Butler will hit that milestone on March 13th. On the current roster, only 22-year-old rookie guard Rodrigue Beaubois is a possible future star.

Dallas hit rock-bottom -- hopefully -- with a miserable 9-point home loss to the woeful Minnesota Timberwolves on Feb. 5th. Your friendly content provider quickly lashed out with enough vitriol to stock Simon Cowell's medicine cabinet for the next decade.

But that was then. Owner Mark Cuban deserves credit for seeing the obvious and pulling the trigger on a trade that brought new grit to the team while also cleansing it of a constantly injured head case who occasionally showed up for half a game or so. The Ding-Dong is gone and the bell has sounded for the Mavericks' stretch run.

It very much looks like they're ready to make the most of it. And it's fun to get behind 'em again.

Left out but still in: Duncanville's Tim Urban a virtual mystery guest among Idol's Top 24

Fleeting glimpse: Unmentioned either verbally or on-screen, an otherwise happy Tim Urban of Duncanville was merely No. 89416 until the closing minute of Wednesday's American Idol. Photo: Ed Bark

American Idol's Season 9 Top 24 is unprecedentedly thick with Texans, numbering six among the Fox juggernaut's semi-finalists.

Four are from North Texas, with Alex Lambert, 19, of North Richland Hills and 20-year-old Tim Urban of Duncanville joining Tuesday night's previously announced Todrick Hall, 24, of Arlington, and Casey James, 27, of Fort Worth via nearby Cool, Texas.

Add Lacey Brown, 24, of Amarillo, and Paige Miles, 24, of Cypress, who got their go-aheads Wednesday. Do the elementary math and that's one-quarter of the Top 24 hailing from Texas.

Urban was a virtual no-show -- obviously not by his choice -- during Wednesday's selection of 17 more semi-finalists beyond the seven revealed on the previous night. He was the only contestant, on either night, to go completely unidentified during the selection process.

Anyone keeping count knew that Idol had come up one short of its Top 24 after the final rejection left a bawling Thaddeus Johnson out and a jubilant Andrew Garcia in as the supposed last of 12 males.

Only very vigilant viewers -- and it took a playback for me -- would have spotted Urban with a blink-and-you-missed-it big grin on his face while surrounded by fellow conestants. But Idol didn't name him as a member of the Final 24 until the closing montage of semi-finalists. So really, who knew until then?

Given the oft-redundant retelling of some contestants' back stories -- and the judges' meandering verdicts -- it's odd that Idol ended up making no room at the inn for Urban. He'll now go into next week's first live sing-offs and evictions as the edited-out Mr. X of the competition.

Previous exposure can be important in building a fan base during the show's impressionable early viewer voting. But several hearts 'n' flower, sob story washouts got almost infinitely more face time than Urban, who was treated as a rural outpost Wednesday night. We'll see if he pays a price or survives his snub when the first four semi-finalists are punched out on Thursday of next week.

THIS JUST IN VIA A LATE NIGHT FOX PUBLICITY RELEASE -- The network says that Urban belatedly was named to replace previously selected Top 24 finalist Chris Golightly, 26, of Orange, Calif.

"It has been determined that Chris Golightly is ineligible to continue in the competition," Fox said without elaboration.

Early reports say he had an old, now expired recording contract that he neglected to tell the show about.

That explains a lot about Urban's invisibility Wednesday night. Still, Idol needs to do a much better job of coming clean on the program itself rather than leaving viewers mystified as to why the show's Top 24 finalists only added up to 23 until Urban somewhat magically appeared as the closing credits rolled and the 12 chosen males each danced for a few seconds.

Schneider gets reins at CBS11/TXA21 (updated with interview)

Gary Schneider, who had been acting general manager at CBS11/TXA21 since Steve Mauldin's abrupt departure in December, got a permanent promotion Tuesday.

He'll be the D-FW based stations' president and GM, CBS Television Stations president Peter Dunn announced, praising Schneider as a "proven leader" with "experience and knowledge of the marketplace."

"I'm extremely happy to be leading the charge for KTVT (CBS11's call letters) and KTXA," Schneider said in a statement. "We have a lot of positive momentum at both of our stations and I look forward to working even closer with our staff, clients and community."

Schneider's first task will be to name a news director. The position has been vacant for several weeks after Scott Diener joined Mauldin at CBS-owned KCBS-TV and KCAL-TV in Los Angeles.

"I've been interviewing candidates over the last three or four weeks," Schneider said in a telephone interview Tuesday afternoon. "I would love to make an offer by the first of March and have somebody over here by the middle of March in time to get ready for the May sweeps."

Schneider, 51, had been senior vice president and station manager at CBS11/TXA21 since August 2004. He initially joined CBS in 2002 as the head man at KEYE-TV in Austin, which was owned by the network at the time.

"It's really going to be a continuation of what we're doing here," Schneider said when asked how he'll make his stamp on CBS11/TXA21. He has no plans to change anchors or drastically alter the reporting staff.

"I think that might be the case if I were coming from outside the market," Schneider said. "But I'd be kind of pointing the finger at myself if I were making a lot of changes in that regard. So there won't be anything that could be considered an overhaul. . . We're very happy with who we have on our team right now."

CBS11's self-standing investigative unit basically has gone out of existence with the recent departure of reporter Bennett Cunningham and the producer who was in charge of what once was a full-time, three-person team of Cunningham, Robert Riggs and Ginger Allen.

"We're still doing investigative pieces," Schneider said. "But in terms of an investigative reporter, I'd prefer that be a position that the new news director will fill."

TXA21's First In Prime 7 to 9 p.m. local newscasts are still making money, he said, even though they're drawing barely measurable audiences on some nights.

"It's an integral part of the station, but I do think there are some things we can do to make the product stronger," Schneider said.

TXA21's Friday night newscasts will be preempted by Texas Rangers games when the station launches its 25-game package this spring. Josh Lewin and Tom Grieve will remain the play-by-play announcers for the TXA21 telecasts, with Gina Miller and former Ranger Mark McLemore doing the pre- and post-game shows.

Featured sports anchor Babe Laufenberg's contract expired on Jan. 1st, but "it'll be worked out," Schneider said. "Babe is our guy."

Laufenberg's work load can get especially heavy during football season, when he works weekends as the Dallas Cowboys' radio analyst while also doing his Sunday night show, The Score, for CBS11. "There might be some more days off that we will work with him on," Schneider said of his overall presence on CBS11.

Schneider has spent more than two decades in executive positions at major market TV stations. Before CBS took ownership a decade ago, Schneider was KTVT's local sales manager from 1987-89, when the station was the property of Gaylord Entertainment. From 1993-'96 he served as vice president and general manager of KSTW-TV in Seattle, which also was owned by Gaylord at the time.

Local Nielsen ratings snapshot (Fri.-Mon., Feb. 12-15) -- Olympics, NBA All-Star game, etc.

Sunday night's Olympics vs. NBA All-Star game matchup was pretty much a blowout, despite the pro hoopsters' presence on North Texas soil.

NBC's third night of Winter Games coverage averaged 658,271 D-FW viewers during the 6 to 10 p.m. prime-time slot. The high-scoring, down-to-the-last second All-Star game at Jerry's Palace in Arlington drew 427,537 viewers during its 7:50 to 10:37 p.m. running time on TNT.

The portion of the Olympics that ran directly opposite the All-Stars made an even stronger showing with 698,989 viewers. The Olympics also dominated the All-Stars among advertiser-craved 18-to-49-year-olds, not surprisingly winning by a wider margin among women than men.

Afternoon coverage of the Olympics also outdrew Fox's much-delayed Daytona 500. Sunday's most-watched non-sports attraction, the second episode of CBS' Undercover Boss, had a nice-sized 325,742 total viewers in the 8 p.m. hour. Focusing on Hooters probably didn't hurt.

Saturday's prime-time Olympics coverage averaged 610,767 viewers and Monday's drew 583,622. All three competition nights were less-watched than Friday's opening ceremonies from Vancouver, which topped the D-FW charts with 800,783 viewers.

Friday's 10 p.m. local newscast audiences were notably deflated by NBC's opening ceremonies over-run.

Opposite the pageantry, WFAA8 "won" with just 128,940 total viewers after drawing 373,247 on the previous night. Fox4 ran second Friday with 81,436 viewers while CBS11 took a hollow bronze with 67,863 viewers. WFAA8 also topped the downsized 10 p.m. field among 25-to-54-year-olds, the main advertiser target audience for news programming.

In other local news derby results, NBC5 swept Friday's 6 a.m. competitions while Fox4 took both 6 p.m. golds and WFAA8 did likewise at 5 p.m.

On Monday, WFAA8 won at 10 p.m. in total viewers but was edged by CBS11 among 25-to-54-year-olds. However, CBS11's win didn't count because it opted to take an "H" for President's Day. So that throws out those numbers and gives WFAA8 the win.

NBC5 similarly coughed up what otherwise would have been a pair of 6 a.m. firsts. WFAA8 joined the Peacock in taking a knee for President's Day, leaving Fox4 with a pair of golds in a two station race against CBS11.

All four stations opted to play for keeps at 5 and 6 p.m. NBC5 swept those competitions in both ratings measurements and likely will do very well both this week and next with Olympics coverage serving as afternoon and prime-time sandwich bread.

NBC5's glimmer twins

Brian Curtis, Meredith Land in their Friday night debut. Photo: Ed Bark

They make a very attractive couple, perhaps the prettiest in the history of D-FW television news.

NBC5's former 10 p.m. anchor duo, Jane McGarry and Mike Snyder, were dubbed "JAM" in a now somewhat infamous 1990s station promo that amazingly still hasn't made it to youtube.

Brian Curtis and Meredith Land, who officially teamed for the first time on Friday's late-starting, post-Olympics edition, would be called BAM under those circumstances. But the more fitting shorthand is GLAM.

Short on hard news reporting expertise but undeniably telegenic, Curtis and Land prepped for NBC5's showcase 10 p.m. newscasts with mostly soft focus feature reporting on "Big Fat Savings" (Curtis' specialty) and cosmetics/cosmetic procedures (Land's forte).

Their route to the top of NBC5's pecking order is decidedly different than the one Brian Williams took. Announced as Tom Brokaw's successor five years before the fact, Williams subsequently was sent abroad to bolster his international reporting resume. The idea was to make him a more serious, fully-rounded correspondent before he became the Peacock's standardbearer as anchor of the No. 1-rated NBC Nightly News.

In contrast, Curtis and Land haven't been duly marinated. Not that this likely matters all that much to the younger viewers that NBC5 and rival stations covet above all else. The new team is very much at home behind an anchor desk, where they present the news with what looks to be the greatest of ease. They're camera-ready and thensome, bringing youth and fashion model appeal to newscasts that long have been transparently thinner in content than those on WFAA8 in particular and Fox4 and CBS11 for the most part.

McGarry and Snyder, now anchoring NBC5's 5 and 6 p.m. newscasts after 17 years together at 10 o'clock, weren't exactly Edward R. Murrow and Lesley Stahl during their prolonged partnership. And other D-FW stations have put even younger and more inexperienced talent in charge of their center ring newscasts.

Fox4's Clarice Tinsley, still anchoring at 10 p.m., was just 24 when she arrived in this market from a Milwaukee station in 1978. She immediately got the 10 p.m. co-anchor slot as Ch. 4's answer to WFAA8's Iola Johnson, D-FW's first African-American news anchor.

Johnson herself had been in TV news for just five years before she joined the much more journalistically experienced Tracy Rowlett to form WFAA8's featured, No. 1-rated anchor team.

CBS11's 10 p.m. co-anchor, Doug Dunbar, who replaced Rowlett at that station in March of 2007, is a former radio deejay and longtime announcer for ESPN's X Games telecasts. He's not exactly neck-deep in previous hard news experience.

Of D-FW's current 10 p.m. anchor duos, only WFAA8's John McCaa and Gloria Campos worked their way up to those positions after years of street reporting experience. But as with Snyder and McGarry, their days could be numbered in times when many economically challenged local stations continue to trim their news department budgets. Long-standing, highly paid, aging anchors are among the most endangered species under these circumstances.

Once upon a time -- long before NBC assumed corporate control -- Ch. 5 had an anchor named Dave Layman. In the early 1980s, he teamed with former Miss America Jane Jayroe as that station's featured anchor duo. But Layman didn't last long after pointedly proclaiming himself a reporter first and an anchor by happenstance.

"My thing is traipsing through weeds, knocking on doors and covering a story," he once said. "That's what I enjoy doing. The anchoring to me is secondary, much to the disgruntlement of management sometimes. Every time I've had a run-in with them, it's been over that. Sometimes I miss the beginning of a newscast because I'm still putting the finishing touches on a story . . .

"If I don't write stories or report for a newscast, I'm a crummy anchor," he added. "I feel like I'm a parrot, an idiot. You can't call me anything worse than a 'news reader.' To me it's the worst thing in the world, because it means an anchor didn't do anything for the newscast except show up."

Unless something changes dramatically, you can't call Curtis and Land anything more than news readers. And they're quite smooth at it, too.

The future success or continued ratings failure of NBC5's 10 p.m. newscasts won't be based on whether either of the station's newly installed glimmer twins gets out and actually covers any news of real merit.

We're long past those days. Curtis and Land will solely be judged on their appeal as presenters. That's their basic skill set. And whose fault, really, is that?

"I mean, I've got the Stones on my iPod, but I've also got rap" -- NBC5 anchor Jane McGarry talks about life beyond the 10 p.m. news

Jane McGarry first teamed with Brian Curtis in July on NBC5's 10 p.m. news. Thursday's edition turned out to be her last after nearly two decades as the station's late night co-anchor. Photo: Ed Bark

Jane McGarry figures that stepping down from NBC5's 10 p.m. newscasts can be a step up in due time. Or at least that's the story she's sticking to on the day her station announced an end to her nearly two decades on the high-profile late shift.

"Yeah, change is scary," McGarry said in a telephone interview Friday afternoon. "But change can be exciting, too. I'm a person who gets bored easily. I need energy, action, all that stuff. For me, this is the beginning of something new. And I'm not B.S. 'ing you here in any way."

McGarry will remain at NBC5 as co-anchor of the 5 and 6 p.m. newscasts, where her former 10 p.m. partner, Mike Snyder, has been deployed since NBC5 replaced him in July with Brian Curtis. McGarry's successor is Meredith Land, beginning immediately. Curtis and Land will debut as the station's new 10 p.m. duo after Friday's telecast of the Winter Olympics opening ceremonies.

The NBC5 release announcing the new lineup quotes McGarry as saying she'll have "additional time to devote to a new project that I am very excited about."

She declined to be more specific, save to say that "it has to do with television" and possibly could be in partnership with NBC5.

"I know some people are going to say, 'Oh, she got the boot and she's just saying this stuff.' That's not the case," McGarry said. "I don't know what I will be able to do or accomplish. But to the best of my abilities I hope to make this last third of my life the most interesting and the most fun. I mean, I've got the Stones on my Ipod, but I've also got rap . . . I don't do well with boredom. Trust me. It's not my strong point. I've gotta live every minute of every day. I'm a big, enjoyment, fun person."

McGarry's last 10 p.m. newscast was Thursday, and she didn't want it to play out the way Snyder's goodbye did just seven months earlier. He got emotional and she commiserated with him. It of course wound up on youtube.

"You think I want to go through that again?" McGarry says, laughing. "No. I purposely did not want to say goodbye on TV."

McGarry said she's been contemplating a change for the past three years, and had been talking "actively" with management for the last six months.

"Am I sentimental? Yes. My executive producer at 10 p.m. is my best friend. And he and I can't look at each other right now without bursting into tears. However, I'm realistic. I can't do this forever. Change is inevitable. Could I do it forever? No. Would I want to do it forever? Half of me says yes, because I love it so much. It's one of the best jobs on earth. I love the constant excitement, the energy and the pressure of the news."

McGarry, who is in her early 50s but would not specify her age, said she still considers herself "totally a full-time player here at Channel 5 and totally a full-time player in moving ahead into this next thing. It's like it really is a great thing. I'm working on my future and I'm still involved here. That may not make the best, juicy story on earth. But honestly, I'm kind of excited about what may lie ahead."

She's contractually prohibited from talking about her new deal with NBC5. But she said that Land clearly was being groomed for a more prominent anchoring spot after she joined the station in 2003.

"I knew they had intentions of growing Meredith and letting her develop," McGarry said. "I'm very excited for Meredith. Anybody who thinks there's any animosity there would be completely wrong. She and I are good friends. I'm happy for her."

McGarry joined KXAS-TV (Channel 5) long before it became an owned-and-operated NBC station. She began as a weekend anchor in 1982 while also reporting three days a week. Her next step up was anchoring the noon and 5 p.m. newscasts, beginning in 1984. In 1991 she began co-anchoring at 10 p.m., partnering with both Brad Wright and Randall Carlisle before Snyder joined her in April 1992.

McGarry currently has no idea whether her days at NBC5 are numbered. That depends on how her "new project" pans out.

"I'm gonna swing for the fences," she said. "I am extremely fortunate. I mean that. I hope I have accurately conveyed to you that I am truly fine with all this."

Land replacing McGarry as NBC5's 10 p.m. co-anchor

Meredith Land (left) is NBC5's new 10 p.m. co-anchor, with Jane McGarry moving to early evenings. The new lineup begins immediately, on Night 1 of NBC's Winter Olympics telecasts.

Jane McGarry, a fixture for nearly two decades as NBC5's 10 p.m. newscast co-anchor, has been re-assigned to the Fort Worth-based station's 5 and 6 p.m. editions, where she'll team with veteran Mike Snyder.

McGarry's 10 p.m. replacement, beginning Friday, Feb. 12th on the first night of NBC's Winter Olympics telecasts, is incumbent anchor/reporter Meredith Land, who will team with Brian Curtis.

Land joined NBC5 in 2003 and McGarry has been with the station since 1982. Curtis replaced Snyder at 10 p.m. last July.

In statement released by NBC5 Friday, McGarry said, "I have been very fortunate to have a dream job (of anchoring the 10 p.m. news) for almost 20 years. "Now Meredith will have that opportunity and I hope she will enjoy it as much as I have! Moving to the 5 and 6 will allow me additional time to devote to a new project that I am very excited about, while continuing my relationship with NBC5. I am very appreciative of that, and I wish Meredith and Brian all the best as the new 10 o'clock anchor team."

The station did not specify what McGarry's new project is. And she was not immediately available for comment Friday.

Land, in the NBC5 statement, said, "I have great respect for the work Jane has been doing with the 10 p.m. newscast and look forward to maintaining that level of excellence and dedication."

Snyder took a substantial salary cut after being re-assigned to the 5 and 6 p.m. newscasts. It's assumed that McGarry was offered a similar deal.

NBC5's 10 p.m. newscasts ran third in the November "sweeps" ratings period, but were hurt by consistently small lead-in audiences from NBC's The Jay Leno Show, which had its last telecast on Tuesday.

McGarry and Snyder began anchoring NBC5's 6 and 10 p.m. newscasts in April 1992. Here's video of their first time together.

Local Nielsen ratings snapshot (Thurs., Feb. 11) -- NBC5, WFAA8 top windfall ratings for snowfall newscasts

Humble unclebarky.com world HQ survives spate of fallen, snow-laden tree limbs. Please don't send camera crews. Photo: Ed Bark

D-FW viewers turned out in larger numbers for a snow news day Thursday, with the early morning editions getting the biggest bumps.

NBC5 led the 6 a.m. parade, drawing 264,666 viewers compared to runnerup Fox4's 237,521. The Nielsen numbers on the previous morning were 124,868 viewers for front-running Fox4 and 120,118 for the second place Peacock.

NBC5 also led at 6 a.m. Thursday among 25-to-54-year-olds, the main advertiser target audience for news programming. Its audience in that demographic more than doubled Wednesday's.

WFAA8 topped the 10 p.m. field in both ratings measurements, drawing 373,247 total viewers compared to 217,162 for Wednesday's late nighter.

WFAA8 also swept Thursday's 6 p.m. news battles while NBC5 did likewise at 5 p.m.

Thursday's other big winners were ABC's Grey's Anatomy, the two-hour premiere of CBS' Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains and CBS' The Mentalist.

Grey's was the day's biggest draw, with 447,896 total viewers. Survivor had 400,392, thumping ABC's The Deep End in its first hour before losing to Grey's from 8 to 9 p.m.

The Mentalist then dominated the 9 p.m. total viewers competition with 407,178. But it narrowly lost to ABC's competing Private Practice among 18-to-49-year-olds, the preferred advertiser target audience for non-news programming.

NBC's twin repeats of The Office from 9 to 10 p.m. barely registered with 61,077 and 47,504 total viewers. NBC5's 10 p.m. newscast more than tripled that lead-in, but still ran fourth in total viewers on what turned out to be veteran Jane McGarry's last night as co-anchor. NBC5 took the bronze at 10 p.m. among 25-to-54-year-olds, though, dumping CBS11 into the bottom slot.

Snow 'n' tell: the sequel

Marianne Martinez and friend on CBS11's 5 p.m. news. Photos: Ed Bark

And it kept on fallin', prompting D-FW's major TV news providers to provide viewers with a blizzard of extended coverage Thursday afternoon.

WFAA8 knocked off The Oprah Winfrey Show and Fox4 waylaid Judge Judy rather than let rivals NBC5 and CBS11 get a jump with their regularly scheduled 4 p.m. newscasts. The mounting snow and impending ice then blanketed all else -- and rightly so.

"It has been more than 30 years since we've seen a snow storm like this," Fox4 anchor Clarice Tinsley said at the start of the station's 5 p.m. news. Meteorologist Dan Henry then zeroed in.

"This is one of those once in a generation type of snow falls," he told viewers. "And in fact, it's the heaviest snow we have seen going back 32 years."

Some reporters built their own snowmen. Others, such as WFAA8's Brett Shipp, found something to investigate. The station touted his exclusive report of a weather-induced brawl on the Skyline High School campus after some snowball fights got out of hand. WFAA8 had long-distance video of punches being thrown amid a throng of unsupervised students on a day when a number of teachers stayed at home.

Shipp then capped the story by saying, "The only people around to stop that fight was our crew. And we had several gestures toward us that were unfriendly as we approached that crowd of students who were out of control."

WFAA8 also quickly mounted a promotion touting its earlier coverage Thursday of this very uncommon weather "event."

As previously noted, stations love this stuff. Bad weather newscasts, especially of this magnitude, attract many more viewers than usual. It's the one story that still plays out best on television screens, where reporter garb and anchor overstatements often spice up what otherwise can be some very useful and informative coverage.

"The boss won't let me out of the building," WFAA8 weatherman Pete Delkus noted after anchor Shelly Slater encouraged him to get outside and see a snowman or two. "I'm an indentured servant at this point."

Over on NBC5, reporter Ken Kalthoff acted as though most D-FW residents were sunbelt yahoos. Up north, he said, "they have a thing called snow plows." Really?!?!?!

Here's another picture album from the day's activities.

Fox4's Brandon Todd happily hoisted a cup of hot chocolate.

Boys of winter. Clockwise from bottom left: NBC5's Randy McIlwain; WFAA8's Brett Shipp; NBC5's Scott Gordon and Fox4's Fil Alvarado.

Pretty as a picture and in full makeup, too. WFAA8's Alexa Conomos.

Talking up a storm indoors and out: Forecasters Steve McCauley (WFAA8) and CBS11's shirtsleeved duo of Garry Seith, Larry Mowry.

Let it snow. Clockwise from bottom left: WFAA8's Rebecca Lopez; NBC5's Kim Fischer; Fox4's Emily Lopez; CBS11's Selena Hernandez.

Hoops anybody? Ready or not, here it comes this weekend.

Snow 'n' tell: a keepsake album from Thursday's D-FW dawn patrols

Clockwise from bottom left: NBC5's Ashanti Blaize; Fox4's Adrian Arambulo; WFAA8's Jim Douglas; Fox4's Saul Garza; NBC5's Lindsay Wilcox; CBS11's Robbie Owens; CBS11's Joel Thomas and a cheery, hand-built snowman from WFAA8's Cynthia Vega. Photos: Ed Bark

D-FW's early morning news programs love having their foot soldiers in uniform during cold, inclement weather.

Meanwhile, the ratings heat up as many more viewers than usual tune in to see whether schools might be closed or their commutes a living hell. Foul weather news -- and plenty of it -- still packs 'em in. That's why you see so many local newscasts -- at all hours of the day -- leading off with their weathercasters in times when a drop of rain or a 10-degree plunge in temperatures hangs in the balance.

Thursday morning had some fairly serious snow, though, and all four major TV news providers capably mustered their weather maps, traffic reporters and field troops for extended coverage.

After all, "We are in the grips of winter weather," emoted NBC5 anchor Deborah Ferguson.

Enjoy the above collection of correspondents who had hands-on experiences early Thursday.

New bottom lines on Fox4's 9 p.m. newscasts

Sophia Reza had company on Monday's 9 p.m. newscast. Photo: Ed Bark

Your eyes are being asked to multi-task as part of a new look on Fox4's 9 p.m. newscasts.

The Dallas-based station is now deploying news briefs on the bottom of home screens. They rotate rather than "crawl" while anchors and reporters are otherwise occupied with other stories. Interesting combos are always a possibility, of course. In the above picture, reporter Sophia Reza introduced a story on telephone "Sexting" while Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie contemplated a lawsuit over widely disseminated reports that they aren't having sex anymore because their relationship (not marriage) is on the rocks.

Bottom-of-the-screen news blips are hardly new, although the eye can still encounter a little trouble getting used to them when they pop up in a new venue. All three major cable news networks began implementing right-to-left moving news "crawls" in the immediate aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

CNN since has stopped using them, but Fox News Channel and MSNBC persist. HLN, formerly CNN Headline News, retains a rotating device identical to Fox4's.

Whether viewers are served -- or needlessly distracted -- remains an open question. What's your view?

Local Nielsen ratings snapshot (Fri.-Sun., Feb. 5-7) -- another steamrolling Super Bowl

Victorious Saints QB Drew Brees with son, Baylen; The Who's Roger Daltrey and Pete Townsend after Supie halftime show. Photos: Ed Bark

A little thing called Super Bowl XLIV occupied 74 percent of all D-FW TV sets in use Sunday, topping last year's audience by more than 450,000 viewers.

The New Orleans Saints' 31-17 win over the favored Indianapolis Colts averaged a mammoth 2,599,153 viewers locally on CBS, peaking at 2,911,323 in the game's final 15 minutes.

Last year's down-to-the-wire game, in which the Pittsburgh Steelers edged the Arizona Cardinals, had 2,125,760 viewers with a peak audience of 2,431,338.

Saints-Colts also rolled up a big number among advertiser-craved 18-to-49-year-olds. Of the 2,599,153 viewers, 1,298,117 were in this age range.

This year's halftime act, The Who, are old enough to be the fathers or grandfathers of most viewers in the 18-to-49-year-old demographic. But surviving members Roger Daltrey and Pete Townsend made a very game go of it, even if it's doubtful that Daltrey summoned a live primal scream for the climactic "Won't Get Fooled Again." If he did, the camera didn't catch him, which is a cardinal sin. So I'm guessing they used a recorded "Ye-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-h!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!" from one of the soon-to-be 66-year-old lead singer's better days.

CBS' post-Super Bowl show, the premiere of the reality series Undercover Boss, drew 1,133,312 viewers.

Rival broadcast networks wisely threw in the towel against Supie XLIV, with ABC's 6 to 7 p.m. repeat of America's Funniest Home Videos the biggest draw (47,504 total viewers).

In Friday's local news derby results, WFAA8 maintained its 10 p.m. lead in the February sweeps' six-weeknight sprint to the Feb. 12th start of the Winter Olympics. The snow/ice competitions from Vancouver then will push NBC5's late nighter out of the mix while also likely sucking viewers away from the three newscasts on Fox4, WFAA8 and CBS11.

WFAA8 won at 10 p.m. in both total viewers and 25-to-54-year-olds, the main advertiser target audience for news programming. The ABC station also swept the 5 p.m. news competitions.

NBC5 ran the table at 6 a.m., with WFAA8 second in both measurements. The usual silver or gold medalist, Fox4, fell to fourth place with 25-to-54-year-olds, just a smidge behind CBS11.

At 6 p.m., CBS11 recorded rare twin wins, edging WFAA8 in total viewers and running first by a more comfortable margin with 25-to-54-year-olds, where Fox4 and WFAA8 tied for second.

Old, tired and all but dead: Mavs crap out against Timberwolves

A disconsolate Dirk hangs head after latest Mavs loss. Photo: Ed Bark

Let's be blunt. The Dallas Mavericks stink. Stink on ice. Stink to the point of losing by nine points(!) on their home floor Friday night to the really crappy Minnesota Timberwolves.

I'd been holding back on this, but it's clear at this point. All is lost. The Mavs are old, tired and destined to flop in the post-season.

Dirk is drained, disgusted, dinged up and staggering into the showcase NBA All-Star game next weekend in Dallas. He didn't start Friday night because he showed up late for the team's shoot around. Who could blame him.

Dunce cap Josh Howard is playing like Moe Howard for the most part, again prompting trade rumors. As if anyone would want him.

The Shawn Marion acquisition is pretty much a bust, adding more age to a team that has seven players over 30.

The Mavs looked formidable in the early going, but have cratered miserably as the season wears on. You just DON'T lose to a team that was 11-38 going into Friday's game and had just three road wins. But the Mavs found a way.

This is a team that at long last needs to be rebuilt. No one is indispensable. In fact, I'd love to see Dirk traded to a team that had a genuine chance to win a championship. That team is not the Mavericks. Everyone should know that at this point. In a high octane league, the Mavs at this point are hamster-powered. It's hard to see anything changing down the stretch. Would you like the Mavs' chances in the playoffs against the precocious Oklahoma City Thunder?

I wouldn't. And that's a shame.

Nose for news at NBC5

Oh, this is making it way too easy.

NBC5 virtually invited a snark attack by letting anchor Jane McGarry go one-on-one with an odoriferous, sight gag graphic during Monday's 10 p.m. newscast.

Hmm, what could this story be about?

Might it be a reference to the stinko management and continued prime-time woes of the Fort Worth-based station's corporate owner?

Could NBC5 be calling viewer attention to its own reliably sub-standard newscast?

Surely Jane's perfume couldn't be the problem. Her splendiferous home spread in the current D magazine is evidence that the veteran news reader buys only the best -- and can afford to do so.

Well, as Jane told it, "People in Rowlett are raising a stink tonight over a nasty stench coming from a Garland landfill."

Hey, your friendly content provider lives in Garland, so maybe that's what this story was getting at.

Still, an anchor should never be caught alone on the air with a "Sickening Smell" graphic as a backdrop. That's only common sense.

Gables makes WFAA8 weekend morning debut; station also stages a three-way GOP guv debate

One day duo: Debbie Denmon and Shon Gables. Photos: Ed Bark

Dressed for balmier weather in a pink, sleeveless top, Shon Gables dawned on WFAA8 viewers Sunday morning in tandem with incumbent Debbie Denmon.

"I'm the new kid on the block," Gables said on three separate occasions while also repeatedly noting the unseasonably cold weather.

Denmon, who is moving to the station's weekend evening newscasts, agreeably chaperoned Gables' maiden voyage as WFAA8's new Saturday/Sunday AM anchor. From now on she'll be on her own.

Gables, a native Oklahoman who briefly lived in Texas "way back" in 1988, handled her limited duties smoothly Sunday. As previously posted, she had been freelancing at WPIX-TV in New York City after a stint from 2003 to 2006 as co-anchor of NYC's early morning newscasts on WCBS-TV.

"You're gonna love it and the viewers are gonna love you," Denmon told her near the end of Sunday's program.

"Well, thank you for passing the torch," Gables said. "You're a wonderful sweetheart."

Enough with the candy coating.

Yes, Texas Gov. Rick Perry actually winked at Sarah Lucero of San Antonio's KENS-TV after answering one of her questions.

No, U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison didn't know who the first Texas governor was.

And maybe longshot hopeful Debra Medina again scored points by repeatedly promising to end property taxes if elected. Even if there's no chance she'll ever be able to deliver on that.

The three Republican candidates for governor gathered at Dallas-based WFAA8 studios Friday night for The Belo Debate, which was shown on a statewide network of stations. The big winner? WFAA8. This was a model for how debates should be conducted.

The questioners were sharp, the pace was crisp, the set looked like a million bucks and the candidates were called on to navigate a variety of segments.

A so-called Jeopardy round, as WFAA8 anchor and moderator John McCaa described it, caught Hutchison off balance when it came to identifying the state's first governor. But candidates also were grilled in depth during one-on-one segments in which the sharpest, most persistent questioners were longtime Dallas Morning News political reporter Wayne Slater and Len Cannon of Houston's KHOU-TV.

Lucero and Terri Gruca of Austin's KVUE-TV rounded out the reporter contingent. All work for Belo properties, hence the one-hour program's less than scintillating title. But prospective voters who took the time to tune in were given ample reason to stay tuned.

McCaa expertly orchestrated the proceedings without being a drudge about it. And the tone throughout showed both a respect for the office and a willingness to press the candidates when their answers didn't seem to add up.

So which of the three candidates came out ahead? Probably Perry, despite that patently phony grin punctuating several of his answers. He came to play, though, tangling twice with Slater and also playing an interesting game of ping-pong with Cannon on the subject of whether he'd serve out his entire term if re-elected. In the end, Perry unequivocally said yes -- and actually seemed to mean it.

Hutchison looked nice in a royal blue suit, but otherwise didn't seem to register much. She made a reasonably impassioned closing statement, although it likely was too little, too late. Perry seemed far more engaged, creating a few sparks while Hutchison too often came off as bland and comparatively lethargic. Maybe she should have batted an eye at Slater.

Medina, belatedly invited by Belo when her poll numbers accelerated to double-digits, has a knack for speaking in easily digested sound bites. For one she's a "born-again, Bible-believing Christian."

Another mantra -- "where there's freedom, there's prosperity" -- is tied to Medina's opposition to property taxes. And as a novelty act, she can still get away with describing both Petty and Hutchison as a "team of economic tricksters intent on destroying our freedoms and selling Texas to the highest bidder."

Who knows? Maybe Medina can force a run-off, which would give Hutchison a chance to regroup and perhaps put a skip in her step.

The Belo Debate tried to wrench all three candidates from their well-rehearsed talking points without being a bully about it. This was a forum with decorum, but never to the point of tedium.

***Reliable sources at D-FW's CBS11 think they see a frontrunner for the vacant job of news director. That would be Adrienne Roark, news director at CBS-owned WFOR-TV in Miami.

Roark was at CBS11 Friday for an interview. According to her WFOR bio, she joined that station in January 2007 as assistant news director before taking charge of the newsroom in June of that year.

CBS11 also has had in-house interviews with Scott Keenan, formerly an interim news director at the station, and Kurt Davis, currently news director at KENS-TV in San Antonio.

The previous CBS11 news director, Scott Diener, recently left the station to join its former president and general manager, Steve Mauldin, at KCBS-TV in Los Angeles.

***Responding to a previous post on WFAA8's nationally popular new iPhone app, Elvira Sakmari, director of integrated media at Fort Worth-based NBC5, notes that her station launched an iPhone app in October.

It also ranked No. 10 in iTunes' free news aps list, "where we stayed for a week," Sakmari says.

"We congratulate WFAA, CBS11 and The Dallas Morning News on their app launches," she adds.

As of this writing, iTunes' top 100 downloads of free news aps lists WFAA8 as No. 7 nationally, a spike from No. 10 last week.

CBS11's app has jumped up to 29th place (from 57th) and the DMN ranks 71st (from 73rd).

There are no other North Texas-based news apps in the top 100, including NBC5's.