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This just in: A night in the lives of D-FW's late night local newscasts (Mon., Nov. 7)

Push came to shove again on WFAA8, with veteran investigator Byron Harris on the receiving end this time. Photos: Ed Bark

It's the heart of the November "sweeps" ratings period, with D-FW's four major local TV news providers again striving to make at least a little more noise than usual.

So for a limited time -- the next two weeks if the brain pan doesn't drip too much -- your friendly content provider will re-immerse himself in the 10 p.m. editions on NBC5, WFAA8 and CBS11, and the featured 9 p.m. presentation on Fox4.

This means recording and watching all four of 'em in an effort to see who's doing what -- and how well they're doing it. You can't fairly judge the content and quality of local TV news without plunging in head-first at regular intervals. So here we go again.

All four stations led off Monday's late nighters with the obligatory severe weather alarms and forecasts of a rainy North Texas Tuesday followed by a cooldown. WFAA8 forecaster Pete Delkus again was the only one who couldn't resist taking his jacket off, but had it back on for his regular mid-newscast segment.

For the record, Delkus uses "Doppler Net" to aid and abet his forecasts. NBC5's David Finfrock leans on "Nexrad Radar" and "Microcast" maps while CBS11's Larry Mowry flaunts his "FutureSky Forecast." Fox4's Dan Henry generally doesn't display names for his weather tech toys, instead opting for a "Storm Outlook" and "Futurecast."

Fox4's overall Monday presentation was pretty generic, too. The station filled an unusual amount of space with national stories while spending scant time on local enterprise efforts.

It didn't take much effort at all, for instance, to land a one-on-one interview with Fox-favoring Republican House Majority Leader Eric Cantor. In town for a speaking engagement, he sat down with reporter Shaun Rabb and spouted dull pro forma generalities for several minutes. Rabb wasn't exactly a bulldog during an interview that had about as much zing as 2% milk.

Colleague Saul Garza as usual put some legwork into his weekly "What's Buggin' You?" segment. His piece spotlighted the aggrieved owner of an elderly, infirm cat. She ran afoul of animal control officials after her beloved pet, named Phoebe, bit her while being prepared for euthanization. The animal police then insisted that Phoebe be "cut and chipped," which requires beheading in the interests of a rabies test.

The owner refused and is now facing a fine and a court date. An animal control spokesman, using classic "damage control" techniques by asking and answering his own questions, told Garza that things might have been handled with more sensitivity. Little human interest stories like these can be the lifeblood of a local newscast. But Monday's listless Fox4 edition otherwise never really answered the bell.

Over on WFAA8, investigative reporter Byron Harris characteristically pressed the issue during what turned out to be a combative piece on seemingly shady "We'll Buy Your House" operations in which sellers in some cases still remain stuck with the mortgage payments.

Harris' dirt-digging colleague, Brett Shipp, in recent times has found himself dodging an ice bag thrown at his head and withstanding a physical altercation outside the offices of embattled Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price. In his report, Harris ran afoul of an unnamed man he branded "an enforcer." Shoved hard on camera while trying to do an interview, Harris segued verbally to his observation that "selling troubled houses can be a contact sport, so painless solutions can be enticing."

That didn't make a whole lot of sense. But Harris' report otherwise seemed to be on solid ground. In another moment suitable for framing, he walked into his prey's office and said that "I'm working on a story about some of the deals you've done."

"Uh-oh," said a guilty-looking desk worker before spilling a few more beans.

WFAA8 reporter Chris Hawes also contributed an interesting piece on a family that's suing Fort Worth Animal Care and Control for mistakenly euthanizing their dog after he escaped from the yard during a thunderstorm.

"As a mixed breed, Avery (the dog) was legally worth next to nothing," Hawes said. But in what could be a breakthrough case, the family is citing the priceless "sentimental value" of Avery while at the same time putting a price tag on it.

WFAA8 then went to ridiculous extremes, let alone played with fire, by sending anchor/reporter Shelly Slater to Los Angeles for a piece on the Dancing with the Stars diet. The show is carried by WFAA8 and currently fills two-thirds of ABC's Monday prime-time schedule.

A company called "Freshology" prepares tasty, low-calorie meals for Dancing's pro hoofers and their celebrity partners. Slater talked to the head chef and to dancer Anna Trebunskaya, who pointed to her trim, firm bod and said, "This is my moneymaker right here. I gotta take care of it." Slater's story also noted that plus-sized contestants Ricki Lake, Nancy Grace and Chaz Bono all have lost substantial weight during their time on the show.

As most readers of this site likely know, WFAA8 anchor/reporter Debbie Denmon has charged the station with discriminating against her on the basis of her weight. That suit is ongoing. So it seems ill-advised, if not completely insane, for WFAA8 to risk reinforcing her claims with a lengthy story of this nature. Could Denmon use Trebunskaya's words to help bolster her contention that WFAA8 wants no part of plus-sized bodies, at least where on-air talent is concerned? Are female news anchors hoping to be promoted also obliged to keep the the pounds off their "moneymakers?"

The station may feel it has a saving grace in Nancy Grace, who contributed what appeared to be a tacked-on ending that didn't at all jibe with the overall thrust of Slater's story.

"Frankly, ladies, I think you should love your bodies like they are," she said before co-anchor Gloria Campos noted that one of her sons is a vegan.

Delkus later joked about beefy sports anchor Dale Hansen's unsuccessful efforts to maintain a vegan diet.

"Actually, I'm a quasi-vegan. My cows are vegans, and then I eat my cows," said Hansen, who basically is being held up as Exhibit A in Denmon's charge that men are treated differently at WFAA8 when it comes to body size.

Action anchor: NBC5's Meredith Land grips a wheel to make a point.

NBC5 went extra-heavy into show-and-tell mode with anchor Meredith Land's kick-off of a week-long sweeps series titled "5 Nights That Could Save Your Life."

Longtime Night Ranger Scott Gordon first primed the pump a bit by dipping his shoe into a little puddle to show viewers that, yes indeed, it had been raining outside. Land then went head-over-heels in her report on how to react when faced with a speeding wrong-way motorist heading directly at you on a freeway.

"NBC5's Meredith Land gets behind the wheel to show you what to do when seconds count," co-anchor Brian Curtis assured viewers before she could be seen driving "live" -- in the rain -- for a few yards in the station's parking lot.

Um, that may not have been entirely necessary. But the gist of her otherwise taped report found Land driving for keeps while being shown how to react in a wrong-way crisis by an expert who also instructs police officers. The gist of it: "Swerve quickly and hit anything but that oncoming car."

Viewers got at least a bit of useful information in tandem with Land trying to get the hang of things. "I was fully focused and still really on edge," she told Curtis back at the anchor desk. He then pumped Tuesday nights segment on how to avoid being claimed by the "biggest weather killer." Perhaps someone will show viewers how to scrunch in a tub?

Later in the newscast, reporter Ellen Goldberg had a nice piece on a 14-year-old boy who collapsed at soccer practice before his life was saved by quick-to-react coaches and the school nurse.

On CBS11, reporter Jay Gormley had an intriguing story on a woman whose disappearance in July 2008 was solved by drought conditions that drastically lowered water levels on a private lake in Van Zandt County. The woman was found in a previously submerged car, her seatbelt still attached. Authorities believe she committed suicide after her son likewise had intentionally drowned himself.

But the station's showcase show-and-tell piece was by investigator Ginger Allen. She reported on how various companies continue to surreptitiously downsize their food products while still charging the same price.

Allen duly brandished a number of grocery items, but this is a somewhat shopworn story by now. Her designated expert in the field, consumer watchdog Edgar Dworsky, has been crusading against this practice for several years, and has regularly appeared on other CBS stations. The story appeared to use previous footage of Dworsky, although Allen did do her own interviews with some local shoppers.

Here's the Dancing with the Stars diet video: