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Numbers game: D-FW's WFAA8 tightens its embrace of Rentrak as a ratings alternative to Nielsen

So just what is Rentrak?

It's not a bullet train alternative to DART. Nor is it a new website dedicated to finding affordable housing for apartment hunters.

Rentrak looms large, however, on at least one D-FW television station's radar screen. ABC affiliate WFAA-TV, distrustful of the audience numbers it's receiving from longtime titan Nielsen Media Research, is making a concerted push behind Portland, Oregon-based Rentrak's new ways of measuring eyeballs.

"Stability is what we're looking for," WFAA8 president and general Mike Devlin says in a telephone interview. "When I look at Nielsen, some days we're very smart and some days we're the village idiots."

He's talking about the ebb and flow of audience ratings based on Nielsen's sample of just 600 TV households in a North Texas market of 2.6 million households.

"It's a Mad Man technology," the equivalent of a "two martini lunch" from the expense account-fueled early 1960s, adds a WFAA8 executive who asked not to be identified.

Rentrak, to which WFAA8 has been D-FW's sole subscriber for the past 10 months, measures TV viewing via set top boxes in homes subscribing to the DISH satellite network or AT&T Uverse. In this market, that's a total of 900,000 boxes in 350,000 homes, according to Rentrak. And it should be noted that WFAA8 does very well in the Rentrak numbers, with percentage ratings increases that far exceed those of its three major competitors -- Fox4, NBC5 and CBS11. More on this later, with the proviso that larger audiences go hand in hand with higher rates for advertisers.

Unlike Nielsen, no pro-active "People Meter" button-pushing is required. The boxes, already provided by DISH and Uverse, automatically measure whatever program is being watched. But over-the-air viewing by people without cable or satellite -- about 15 percent of the D-FW market -- is not included in the Rentrak ratings. (It's factored in by "weighting" the numbers, says Devlin). Rentrak also does not have contracts with some of North Texas' major subscription TV companies, including Time Warner, Verizon Fios, Charter and DirecTV. And Rentrak's data still arrives via pony express compared to Nielsen, which provides its daily numbers the following morning to subscribing stations.

Devlin concedes that measuring TV audiences accurately is "unbelievably complicated," no matter who's doing it. But Nielsen's local People Meters, which were introduced to D-FW in 2006, "have failed the original promise to provide this market with a stable, accurate and superior tool to measure television usage," Devlin told a group of local media buyers during a June 21st gathering at WFAA8's Victory Park studios in which Rentrak executives also were present. "I do not reach this conclusion lightly or with animosity towards Nielsen."

Rentrak has "approximately 75" local station subscribers across the country, according to its website. WFAA8 is the only Belo-owned TV station on board, Devlin says. "We initially just did it as an experiment. There is no other alternative to Nielsen out there."

WFAA8 increasingly is becoming a believer, though. And what's not to like? Rentrak data (the company currently provides total homes numbers and only recently added the key 25-to-54 newscast demographic) showed WFAA8 with major across-the-board audience increases. So much so that the station crushed its rivals at 5, 6 and 10 p.m. in both ratings measurements during the May "sweeps." And at 6 a.m., WFAA8's Daybreak vaulted from a distant No. 3 to a virtual second place tie with NBC5 behind frontrunner Fox4.

In the Nielsen numbers for roughly that same period, WFAA8 and CBS11 basically tied for first place at 10 p.m. in both total homes and 25-to-54-year-olds. WFAA8 won in total homes at both 5 and 6 p.m., but finished in second place behind Fox4 among 25-to-54-year-olds.

All four stations fared better with Rentrak than with Nielsen in the key 25-to-54 demographic, in which Rentrak is still perfecting its system. CBS11 was alone in losing ground in total homes, though, with smaller hauls in Rentrak than Nielsen at 5, 6 and 10 p.m. The three other stations showed gains, with WFAA8's upswings almost off the charts in some instances.

At 10 p.m in May, WFAA8 jumped from 145,298 total homes to 199,784 while CBS11 dropped from 137,514 to 124,541. And with 25-to-54-year-olds (which Rentrak currently takes a full month to measure), WFAA8's 10 p.m. viewership zoomed from 80,774 to 220,576; CBS11 showed a far more modest increase in this demographic, improving from 80,774 viewers to 118,055.

Rentrak's household ratings from July 4-11 were a blast for WFAA8.

WFAA8's Devlin insists that he's "not touting Rentrak simply because we look better. I want something that's stable, predictable and has a large enough (audience) sample . . . If the entire market were to convert to Rentrak and we dropped to No. 3, I would have more confidence that there's something wrong with the newscast than I would under the Nielsen sample."

The 10 p.m. Rentrak numbers for May make WFAA8 a dominant force while pushing CBS11 from a very close second to a distant third in total homes. Even worse for CBS11, it free-falls from a first place tie with 25-to-54-year-olds to an out-of-the-money fourth.

"At 10 o'clock, we're the dominant station (in Rentrak). And we believe we are," says Devlin, discounting Nielsen number that have shown the ABC station in a prolonged battle for first place with arch rival CBS11. But why would CBS11 be the only station to show total homes decreases in Rentrak?

"They may have been the unfair beneficiary, just by chance, in the Nielsen sample," Devlin says.

CBS11 declined to comment for this story. "We don't subscribe to the Rentrak service, so with all due respect, Gary (station president and GM Gary Schneider) will pass," director of communications Lori Conrad said via email. Fox4 also declined to comment, via a corporate spokeswoman based in New York City.

NBC5 president and general manager Thomas Ehlmann was willing to talk on the record, though. In a telephone interview, he agreed with Devlin that Nielsen's sample size "is just not big enough. That's the biggest problem. The loss of three homes can cost you half a rating point. That just doesn't seem right . . . Those are the kinds of things that are frustrating, for us and for advertisers, too. You would think there would be a much better way to judge ratings than we currently have."

Although his station isn't yet a subscriber, Ehlmann said it's "kind of nice to see another company get into the ratings measurement business. They (Rentrak) seem to be getting a little bit of traction and making some progress. That's kind of the position I'm taking right now, just waiting to see what happens."

Nielsen has been down this road before, and has always been able to stare down its competitors and at least quiet its critics. In the late 1980s, a disenchanted CBS became the only network to subscribe nationally to AGB Television Research, a Great Britain-based company that went head-to-head with Nielsen. But AGB folded in 1988 after failing to land another network as a subscriber. At the time, all of the broadcast networks were reeling from sizable declines in their prime-time audiences in the face of more aggressive programming by cable networks. AGB generally showed less audience erosion for the broadcasters, and particularly for CBS.

Nielsen also has been criticized in the past by Spanish language networks who contended that Hispanics were under-represented in Nielsen's national samples. The company steadfastly stands by its numbers and methodology while also acknowledging that it's always looking for ways to improve. "People want to stick to a standard they can trust," a Nielsen spokesperson told Ad Week in response to the new competition the company is facing from Rentrak.

Ironically, Nielsen and Rentrak are partners as well as competitors. They have a long-term licensing agreement to share information on movie box office sales after Rentrak bought Nielsen's EDI business in early 2010 for $15 million. But the two companies remain rivals for now in the very big game of measuring television audiences.

WFAA8's Devlin agrees that Rentrak is still a tough sell to advertising agencies. "Is the buying community going to accept this? That's an open question," he says. "We have all become so used to Nielsen. That's the language that we use. The game is still Nielsen, and we have to deal with it."

But Devlin adds that "our jobs and livelihood are dependent on accurate ratings. And millions of dollars are spent in this market based on just 600 homes with People Meters."

WFAA8 is betting that more local stations and ad agencies -- both in D-FW and around the country -- will begin buying into Rentrak. And if that happens, Nielsen will either be pressured to make major changes, buy out Rentrak or perhaps even join forces with its latest rival.

The actual audience pull of WFAA8 and its D-FW competitors may be somewhere in between the current disparities in play with Nielsen and Rentrak. But Devlin says something has to give.

"I would sum up everything by saying, 'Someone's wrong, he says. 'Someone's very wrong.' "

Local Nielsen ratings snapshot (Fri.-Sun., July 22-24) -- Rangers-Jays a bird in hand for TXA21 while Texas-themed Same Name premiere gets a small "h" howdy

The Texas Rangers remained in first place by taking two of three from the visiting Blue Jays while CBS put a Texas twang in the premiere of its new Sunday night "reality" series, Same Name.

In the latter attraction, Hollywood's David Hasselhoff traded places with David Hasselhoff of Lake Jackson, TX during Sunday's 8 p.m. hour. It drew 138,514 viewers, a smallish return that still was good enough to win its time slot opposite repeats on rival broadcast networks. But Fox's reprises of Family Guy and American Dad turned Same Name into mud among advertiser-craved 18-to-49-year-olds. And the Rangers' 3-0 loss to Toronto was the overall champ in both ratings measurements, drawing 270,101 viewers on Fox Sports Southwest during the 8 to 9 p.m. portion of the game.

Friday's Rangers win on TXA21 averaged 186,994 viewers, falling short in its closing 9 to 10 p.m. hour to Tom Selleck's Blue Bloods rerun on sister station CBS11 (the night's top draw with 221,622 total viewers). But the Rangers homered with 18-to-49-year-olds, sweeping prime-time in this measurement.

The Saturday night game, a walk-off 5-4 win for Texas, drew 207,771 total viewers to beat everything else in sight.

Spoils were spread among three of the four major D-FW providers in Friday's news derby competitions. But Fox4 had by far the biggest slice.

CBS11 won in total viewers at 10 p.m., ending a three-weekday streak of no wins anywhere. NBC5 had the 10 p.m. win with 25-to-54-year-olds, the main advertiser target audience for news programming.

Fox4 otherwise ran the table at 6 a.m. and at 5 and 6 p.m., leaving a winless WFAA8 in Nielsen's ratings outhouse.

Talking points in D-FW television

Everything but the kitsch-en sink would make Uncle Barky's backyard a perfect all-weather locale for TNT's new Dallas.

The producers of TNT's new Dallas series are looking for a few good locales before shooting begins this fall.

Dallas Film Commissioner Janis Burklund put out the word in a news release Monday. "Maybe your home showcases how some of us live in this diverse and fourth largest metropolitan region in the nation," she said. "Or maybe you'd like to draw tourists to your property, or grow your business."

If so, just email dallastv@dallascityhall.com with "Dallas TV Series Locations" in the subject line. You'll also have to include a phone number, email and street address in addition to a photo(s) of your property, a brief description of it and why you'd like to participate.

"We'll pass the information along, and residents may soon find themselves talking to a representative of the show about how their property can play a part in shaping the world's future view of Dallas," Burklund says.

For more information, go here. The new Dallas is scheduled to premiere next summer, with Larry Hagman, Linda Gray and Patrick Duffy all returning to the cast along with a younger generation of connivers.

***The Alliance for Women in Media is throwing its annual fall TV premiere party on Thursday, July 28th from 5:30 to 8 p.m. at Dallas' Granada Theater, 3524 Greenville Ave.

For $35, you'll get sneak peeks, assessments of which networks are taking the biggest risks, etc., etc. Drinks and appetizers are included, with a portion of the proceeds going to the tornado victims of Joplin, Missouri. For more information and to purchase tickets, go here.

***WFAA8 sports anchor Dale Hansen's extended vacation goes on. Which it does every summer. He took off after the Dallas Mavericks' June 16th victory parade, with some readers now wondering what's happened to him.

The station's vice president of product development, Dave Muscari, says he answers inquiries this way: "Good to hear from you, and thank you for the concern. Dale's taking vacation time, as he does most years around now. When Cowboys Camp starts, he starts 'the season,' so to speak, and doesn't wind down until after the BCS Championship, Super Bowl and so forth. He'll return soon."

So there. (Update: Hansen returned to WFAA8 on Monday, July 25th, just in time for the end of the NFL lockout. Now he'll be heading to Cowboys training camp in San Antonio.)

***Reader Don Kotria passes along the news that a behind-the-scenes D-FW television pioneer, Homer Venso, died on July 12th at the age of 87.

Venso worked at WBAP/KXAS-TV for 40 years and "pretty much hand-built the first generation of ENG (Electronic News Gathering) trucks, including the very first 'Live On Five,' " Kotria says. "He trained me on this truck, and we went out and did some of the very first live shots in the D-FW market."

Kotria notes that Venso also was the camera operator in the basement of the Dallas Police Department whose pictures were being shown live nationally when Jack Ruby shot and killed Lee Harvey Oswald.

"This guy was a TV legend," Kotria writes. "Just not one of the guys you saw on the screen every night."

Fox4 reporter Matt Grubs ending his tenure at Fox4

Matt Grubs in official Fox4 photo and at ease on Facebook page.

Matt Grubs, a low-key, oft-stylistic general assignment reporter for Dallas-based Fox4, has decided to leave the station later this summer after a three-year stay.

He joined Fox4 in September 2008 from Albuquerque, New Mexico's KOAT-TV, and will be returning to the state with his wife to be closer to family, Grubs said in an email to Fox4 staffers Thursday.

He also has a job producing public affairs programming for a PBS station in New Mexico, Grubs said in the email. "Personally, it's a good move for us. Professionally it will be a bit tougher because I will be leaving daily television news behind. I will miss telling stories about people who are a lot closer to us than we sometimes realize."

Grubs' on-air television career began at KJCT-TV in Grand Junction, Colorado. From there he went to Fox's WOFL-TV in Orlando, FL before moving to KOAT in 2002. He could not immediately be reached for further comment, but voice and email messages have been left for him.

Grubs has been a major on-air player for the station. He's a regular presence on the featured 9 p.m. newscasts and often is called on for big picture explanations of breaking news stories.

Local Nielsen ratings snapshot (Fri.-Sun., July 15-17) -- numbers up for soccer loss, Rangers' wins

D-FW viewers flocked to Sunday's final minutes of the U.S. women's crushing loss to Japan in the World Cup soccer final while the Texas Rangers drew smaller but nice-sized weekend crowds for their 9th, 10th and 11th consecutive wins.

The Rangers' 10th win in the streak and Japan's overtime victory on penalty kicks over-lapped during mid-to-late afternoon Sunday. The soccer game, which ended at 4:21 p.m. on ESPN, drew an XX Large-sized 720,273 viewers for the 4:15 to 4:30 p.m. increment measured by Nielsen. That portion of the Rangers game on Fox Sports Southwest had 242,400 viewers, by no means shabby.

The entire World Cup final averaged 519,428 viewers, easily the weekend's biggest audience haul. The entire Rangers-Mariners game, which ended at 5:43 p.m., built from a slow start to average 214,697 viewers.

Saturday night's late-starting Rangers win on FSS drew 186,994 viewers. The Friday night game on TXA21, which ended relatively early at 1129 p.m., clocked in at 207,771 viewers to easily win its time slot throughout the night against all competing programming.

Friday's extended series finale of the Austin-made Friday Night Lights drew 96,960 viewers. It tied for second from 7 to 8 p.m. with ABC's Shark Tank repeat, with both series running well behind a new episode of the summertime CBS crime series Flashpoint (200,845 viewers). From 8 to 8:30 p.m., FNL took the silver behind the first half-hour of CBS' CSI: NY rerun.

Among advertiser-craved 18-to-49-year-olds, FNL edged Shark Tank for second place from 7 to 8 p.m. while tying CSI: NY for first in the 8 to 8:30 p.m. competition. The series will rise for a final time during the September 18th primetime Emmy ceremony on Fox, where FNL has a best drama series nomination for the first time in its five seasons.

In Friday's local news derby competitions, CBS11 and NBC5 divided the spoils at 10 p.m. The Peacock had a dominating win among 25-to-54-year-olds -- main advertiser target audience for news programming -- while CBS11 enjoyed a narrow edge in total viewers.

Another split decision gave NBC5 the total viewers victory at 6 a.m., with Fox4 atop the 25-to-54 heap.

Fox4 ran the table at 5 p.m. and also scored a 6 p.m. win with 25-to-54-year-olds. CBS11 ran first at 6 p.m. in total viewers.

WFAA8's Gary Reaves decides it's time to retire (updated)

Gary Reaves in a signature picture from his Facebook page.

Reporter Gary Reaves, a stalwart at WFAA8 in two tenures totaling 24 years, is retiring from the Dallas-based station. His last day will be on August 1st.

Reaves rejoined WFAA8 in 1991 after working five years for CBS News. His first shift at WFAA8 was from 1982 to 1986. Later Saturday, he forwarded the note he sent to his station colleagues Friday.

"It is with mixed emotions that I have come to the decision to make a change in my career," Reaves said. "After 35 years of going to work every day in a newsroom, I have decided it is time for me to move on. It is difficult to decide to leave WFAA. I have had most of the best moments of my work life here. I have been blessed to work with many of the best people in the business. I have been privileged to travel the world, from East Texas to East Jerusalem, from South Africa to South Dallas. However, after some 10,000 days on deadline, I have decided it is time to take a break."

In an interview with this writer when he was still with CBS, Reaves sent signals that he wasn't entirely happy at the network news level. In fact he seemed pretty miserable back in 1989.

" 'Humbling' doesn't even begin to cover it," he said. "It's funny, because you would think it would be this incredible boost to your ego, having been picked. But they sort of re-train you, and so that's pretty humbling."

During his first go-around at WFAA8, "I knew I was pleasing the people I worked for every day," Reaves said. "Here, there's a half-dozen people in New York who go over every word you write and sort of by committee decide whether it's good enough. It seems like when you do get a story on, the stress that you go through is so much greater that it almost takes away the satisfaction . . . There have been many times when I have turned to my wife and asked, 'Why am I doing this?' "

Reaves, a native Oklahoman, could be counted on to bring a light touch to feature stories and a hard nose to the breaking news of the day. He has been a quintessential general assignment reporter, one of the best this market has ever had.

In a Q&A segment attached to his WFAA8 bio, Reaves says that for him, being a success in TV news means "doing my job every day with consistency. Whether it's a fun feature story or a tragedy, I am successful when I make the most of the time I have to produce, and the time I have on the air to tell it."

Whatever the story, he says, "you need a reason in your heart that makes you feel strongly that what we do is important."

"We laid waste to everything in our path, J.R. And for what?"

Up-close with more invective -- and squirrelier eyebrows. Larry Hagman got back to being J.R. in TNT's Monday night Dallas tease. Photo: Ed Bark

Larry Hagman took more nasty spills as J.R. Ewing Monday night, informing viewers that younger brother Bobby "was always a fool" before vowing to take another turn as Texas' oiliest oil baron.

"I'm the one who belongs on Southfork. It's mine. And only mine," he said at the close of TNT's one-minute promos for its new Dallas series, scheduled to premiere next summer. The 10-episode first season will be shot in North Texas, with production tentatively set to begin in mid-October.

The spots, which included the still resonant Dallas theme song, aired during the season premieres of TNT's most popular dramas, The Closer and Rizzoli & Isles. At first glances, Patrick Duffy looked to be the most vigorous of the three returnees from the original Dallas. Hagman and Linda Gray also are being mixed and matched with a new set of spiteful, willful, much younger Ewing offshoots.

Take a look. And if you want more, go to dallastnt.com.

Fox4's new Good Day Sunday gives Adrian Arambulo an anchor shot amid surrounding shot clocks

Adrian Arambulo anchors Fox4's new Sunday morning news show. Photos: Ed Bark

Fronted by Fox4's cutest male news personality but hijacked by a quartet of opinion-spewing "4 Minutes" segments, the Dallas-based station's new Sunday morning Good Day edition is off to a rather odd start.

Adrian Arambulo, who joined Fox4 in June 2007, got his first permanent anchor spot as a sweetener in his new contract. He capably helmed the traditional hard news portions of the 6 to 8 a.m. show, with much of the second hour's content a replication of the first. The Fox network's Fox News Sunday immediately followed, moving up an hour from its longstanding 9 a.m. slot.

The oddities during Sunday's premiere were four taped "4 Minutes" features in which anchor Heather Hays solicited viewpoints from shirt-sleeved reporters Shaun Rabb, Richard Ray and Matt Grubs. They weren't kidding about the time limit. Floor director Larry Walker barked out time alerts -- "Two minutes! Two minutes remaining! Two minutes!" -- before climactically stepping into the camera shot like a referee counting out a boxer in reverse.

"5-4-3-2-1," he said at the end of the last "4 Minutes," which was devoted to Thursday's tragic death of a Brownwood firefighter at Rangers Ballpark. "Time's up! Stop!"

Um, whose idea was this? Not the segments themselves, but the ham-fisted notion of yelling out how much time is left rather than simply showing a silent countdown clock in a screen corner.

Even better, why not just let these things play out? One segment might last 3 minutes, 45 seconds and another 4 minutes, 15 seconds. Instead floor director Larry just barged into the picture and cut off Hays in mid-sentence during a bat-around on Gov. Rick Perry's decision to let the state execute a Mexican national for raping and murdering a 16-year-old-girl. At issue: had Texas violated international law?

Anchors and reporters offering up their opinions is hardly a novelty anymore. In fact it's becoming more and more the norm. On this website, your friendly content provider both reports on TV news of the day and reviews a wide variety of network/local news or entertainment programs. Fox4, owned and operated by Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation, is under the same orders as other local news properties. In short, the mandate of the moment is to get anchors and reporters "more involved" in the stories they cover.

This sometimes even includes admitting errors, as when Ray said that he shared the blame for showing the firefighter's fall to his death "too many times" Thursday night before the footage was re-edited.

In the execution segment, Rabb said that Perry's boldness makes him "the kind of man that many people would like to see . . ." His voice then trailed off, apparently halted by an internal caution light that stopped Rabb short of his finishing touch. Namely, adding the words "run for president."

The four of them also jabbered, in two other segments, about Casey Anthony's acquittal on charges she murdered her two-year-old daughter and Roy Williams' rejected mail-in wedding proposal, in which he included a $76,000 engagement ring.

Floor director Larry Walker tells all to shut their opinion holes.

One topic of course proved to be too hot for "4 Minutes." Arambulo dutifully reported Sunday's shutdown of the United Kingdom's News of the World after the newspaper became immersed in a far-flung wiretapping scandal. Arambulo also responsibly noted that the tabloid was "owned by News Corporation, the parent company of Fox4." But that's as far as it went. Hays, Rabb, Ray and Grubs weren't about to stick their noses in that stinker. Had that by some miracle happened, floor director Larry might have immediately jumped in to shout, "Your 2 seconds are up! We ain't gonna have none of that stuff!"

Ratings from Nielsen Media Research were pretty good news for the second hour of Good Day Sunday. The 6 to 7 a.m. portion had a measly 13,851 D-FW viewers. But the audience swelled to 69,257 for the 7 to 8 a.m. hour, good enough to tie NBC's competing Sunday Today. And Fox4 won both hours outright among advertiser-craved 18-to-49-year-olds.

Arambulo, who regularly shared his anchor desk with weathercaster Ron Jackson, probably would like to become a bigger presence on Good Day Sunday. He could easily accomplish that by becoming the ringmaster of those "4 Minutes" segments. As for floor director Larry, well, Fox4 would be wise to declare an end to his 5-4-3-2-1 seconds of fame. Go with a silent clock. And if you must, perhaps sound a buzzer to end these things.

NEWS NOTE: Former CBS11 anchor/reporter Nerissa Knight, dropped by the station in December of last year, reported Saturday night on Dallas-based CW33's 9 p.m. newscast. Her topic was the fire that disrupted Rihanna's Friday night concert at the American Airlines Concert.

"I'm just freelancing," Knight said in an email response to unclebarky.com. It was her first appearance on a CW33 newscast. Her in-market non-compete clause expired in June, enabling Knight to look for new TV news opportunities in D-FW.

TNT will re-do Dallas -- in Dallas

Dallas remix, with old gushers and new blood. TNT photos

Dallas will ride again -- and in these parts, too.

TNT announced late Friday morning that it's going ahead with a 10-episode first season of its Dallas remix. And although a network publicity release makes no mention of this, TNT spokeswoman Jennifer Greene confirmed in an email that "Yes, we will be shooting in Dallas."

A Dallas pilot was filmed in North Texas earlier this year, with a new generation cast joining three original Ewings -- Larry Hagman (J.R.), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen) and Patrick Duffy (Bobby). TNT said the Dallas series will premiere sometime in summer 2012. Sources say that on-location shooting in North Texas tentatively will resume in mid-October.

The original Dallas, portions of which were filmed in North Texas during hot weather months, ran on CBS from April 1, 1978 to May 3, 1991. It ranked among prime-time's Top 10 most popular series for seven consecutive TV seasons, from 1979-80 through 1985-86.

In the 1980-81 "Who Shot J.R.?" season, Dallas ranked No. 1 with a bullet, averaging a national 34.7 Nielsen rating to beat No. 2 The Dukes of Hazzard by a whopping 7.2 ratings points. The Nov. 21, 1980 revelation episode still ranks as the second most-watched scripted program of all time, behind only the Feb. 28, 1983 finale of M*A*S*H.

Dallas Film Commission head Janis Burklund was out of the office Friday and could not immediately be reached for comment. But TNT's decision obviously is a big boon to the area TV production community, particularly after three network series filmed last season in North Texas -- NBC's Chase and Fox's The Good Guys and Lone Star -- all were canceled either during or after their first seasons. Burklund has estimated in previous interviews with unclebarky.com that each episode of a network TV series shot in Dallas pumps roughly $1 million into the local economy.

The city of Dallas recently offered a deal sweetener with a $235,000 economic development grant that would provide air-conditioning for a warehouse at 2901 St. Lamar St. in downtown Dallas. Also included in the agreement is six months of free rent for a TV or film project using the facility.

A website for the upcoming Dallas re-do already has been set up at www.dallastnt.com. And "sneak peeks" of footage from the pilot episode will be included in the Monday, July 11th season premieres of TNT's The Closer and Rizzoli & Isles, which air at 8 and 9 p.m. (central).

TNT executive vice president of programming Michael Wright said in the publicity release that his network had "explored the possibility of an updated version of Dallas for several years," but didn't bite until reading executive producer Cynthia Cidre's (The Mambo Kings and the failed CBS serial Cane) outstanding pilot script. "It is incredibly exciting to see both new and familiar characters in the hands of a dream cast . . . We couldn't be more pleased at how Dallas has come together."

The new Dallas also will star Jesse Metcalfe as Bobby and Pam Ewing's adopted son, Christopher; Josh Henderson as J.R. and Sue Ellen's son, John Ross III; Julie Gonzalo as Christopher's fiancee, Rebecca Sutter; and Jordana Brewster as Elena Ramos, whose "love triangle" includes both John Ross and Christopher. Plus, Brenda Strong from Desperate Housewives will be playing Bobby's new wife, Ann.

Here's a closer look at the younger cast members:

Left to right: Joining the old hands are Jesse Metcalfe as Christopher Ewing; Julia Gonzalo as Rebecca Sutter; Josh Henderson as John Ross Ewing III and Jordana Brewster as Elena Ramos.

Three D-FW news personalities shake 'em for charity

Fox4's Fiona Gorostiza and dance partner Ian Kelley beam while ubiquitous former NBC5 sports anchor Scott Murray (left) approvingly basks in their victory at the recent Top Hat & Tails charity benefit. Photos are from the contestants' Facebook pages.

NBC5 "Gridlock Buster" Tammy Dombeck gamely sought to stop traffic in a bared midriff, bright red dress previously worn by Dancing with the Stars pro Cheryl Burke.

CW33 meteorologist Rebecca Miller tried to get temperatures rising in a fetching purple ensemble with plenty of spangles.

But Fox4 weathercaster/roving reporter Fiona Gorostiza ended up the night's big winner with her skimpy outfit and sizzling rumba/samba at the recent Top Hat & Tails charity benefit.

They were the three local TV personalities among the eight celebrity dancers. With a surname like mine -- and with all proceeds benefiting the very worthy Paws In the City -- I'm simply going to roll over and pant my approval.

For an extended account of these proceedings, go to Jeanne Prejean's "My Sweet Charity" blog. Before clicking, though, here's a picture of Dombeck (and partner Justin Brown) in a dance costume suitable for r-r-r-rush hour.

Kids blaze away on Fourth of July/cops called/kids scatter (updated)

A WFAA8 photographer shot this action-packed, 39 seconds of visceral, ground-level Fourth of July fireworks video. It speaks for itself as both a cautionary tale and one helluva chilling show. Hope no one got hurt. I've never seen anything quite like this.

(Note: The photographer, not identified in a youtube posting of this clip, is veteran WFAA8 staffer Robert Flagg. A story on wfaa.com by reporter Gary Reaves says the incident occurred at the Creekside Villa apartments in southeast Dallas. Flagg, who described the scene as "basically a war zone," says he suffered a small burn to his neck when hit by one of the fireworks shot at him. Flagg's vehicle also was reportedly damaged by rocks, bottles and fireworks. Police did not catch any of the perpetrators but promise to investigate further.)
Ed Bark

Local Nielsen ratings snapshot (Mon.-Tues., July 4-5) -- Talent wins out, whips Casey Anthony special

Post-Fourth of July fireworks came from an Orlando, FL courtroom Tuesday, with TV pontificators all shocked at the "Not Guilty" verdict in Casey Anthony's murder trial.

The jury's rejection of the prosecution's charge that she had murdered her two-year-old daughter became a nationally televised combination of reality series/soap opera during its nearly six-week running time. Many potential viewers were at work or on vacation when the verdict came down between 1:15 and 1:30 p.m. Tuesday. The in-home Nielsen ratings show that 69,257 D-FW viewers chose Fox News Channel while 41,542 watched CNN and 6,926 went to MSNBC. Those were all daytime ratings "spikes," but not big ones considering the national notoriety of the trial.

In prime-time, CBS quickly slapped together a 9 p.m. 48 Hours Mystery special -- "Casey Anthony: Judgment Day" -- while ABC's Nightline offered an extended one-hour Anthony edition.

48 Hours Mystery had 145,440 viewers in trailing both the last hour of NBC's America's Got Talent (332,434 viewers) and Fox4's competing local newscast (166,217 viewers). The Anthony recap edged ABC's 9 p.m. third episode of Combat Hospital (138,514), which nonetheless ranked as its network's No. 1 attraction of the night after a limp lead-in from 101 Ways to Leave a Game Show (69,257 viewers).

Among advertiser-craved 18-to-49-year-olds, 48 Hours Mystery tied Fox4's news for second place, with both finishing just a hair ahead of Combat Hospital.

Nightline's Anthony special matched the CBS hour with 145,440 viewers while outdrawing all late night competitors.

On Fourth of July night, three fireworks special squared off at 9 p.m. CBS' Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular got ooh ahs from 186,994 total viewers while NBC's Macy's Fireworks Spectacular had 110,811 viewers in its 9 p.m. hour but 200,845 for its 8 to 9 p.m. preliminaries. PBS' annual A Capitol Fourth managed 62,331 viewers. It was the same order of finish with 18-to-49-year-olds.

All of the four major local TV news providers took holiday knees on the Fourth, meaning that the ratings don't count.

On back-to-business Tuesday, NBC5 and WFAA8 tied for first place at 10 p.m. with 221,622 total viewers apiece. But the Peacock thumped all comers among 25-to-54-year-olds, the main advertiser target audience for news programming.

NBC5 also scored a total viewers win at 6 a.m. while tying Fox4 for the top spot with 25-to-54-year-olds.

Fox4 ran the table at 5 p.m. and added another gold at 6 p.m. in the 25-to-54 demographic. WFAA8 won at 6 p.m. in total viewers.

Long time, no thoughts: there's still a hush over Cuban's blog

Mark Cuban also was at a loss for words during AAC celebration. Photo: Ed Bark

A lot of people talked about Mark Cuban's vow of silence during the Dallas Mavericks' run to their first NBA championship.

He stifled himself all the way from April 16th -- the Mavericks' first postseason game against Portland -- until June 12th, when Dallas punched out the Miami Heat on their home court to win the NBA Finals.

Cuban has a longer drought still in progress, though. His blogmaverick.com website hasn't had any activity since way back on April 12th, when Cuban posted his thoughts on "How Netflix is Hurting Youtube." He generally has something to say -- usually at length -- every two weeks or so.

So what's up? Has Cuban become bored with blogging, perhaps determining that it's as old-school as NBA championship rings? Is he looking for new forums? Has he decided to limit himself to tweeting, where on July 2nd he urged his more than half-million followers to check out a video of him celebrating in San Francisco?

Unclebarky.com asked the man himself, via horse-and-buggy email.

"Just taking a break," Cuban replied.

Well, all righty then.

***An open casting call for CBS' The Amazing Race is being hosted by CBS11 on Friday, July 15th from 2 to 7 p.m. The venue is the Irving Arts Center, 3333 North MacArthr Blvd. in Irving. For more information on what you need to do, go here.

***Also on CBS11, 12-year-old Neil Patel of Plano will be a Jeopardy! contestant on the Thursday, July 7th edition. Air time is 11 a.m. It's all part of the show's summertime "Kids Week," starring 15 of the nation's brightest 10-to-12-year-olds.