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This just in: A night in the lives of D-FW's late night newscasts (Mon., May 19)

Assigned reading for CBS11's Nerissa Knight, NBC5's Brian Curtis.

Oh cruel, cruel fate. Not to say petty theft.

Happily trouncing third-place NBC5 in the 10 p.m. total homes ratings, runnerup CBS11 also is ripping pages from the February sweeps playbook of the Peacock's Brian Curtis. Way to rub it in.

It's not as if they're filching from Edward R. Murrow. NBC5's resident pretty boy isn't exactly known for blowing the lid off of anything -- unless it's a crock pot. Still, his light touch perfectly suits the second halves of NBC5's newscasts, where fluff has always had a home. So CBS11 lately is copying from the master.

Last Thursday's Ginger Allen piece on "The Grocery Game" method of cutting supermarket costs had a familiar ring to it. That's because Curtis opened this year's February sweeps ratings period with a story on the same system. As did Allen, he accompanied a giddy woman to the checkout counter, where she rang up big savings through the miracle of The Grocery Game, which costs about $20 a month to obtain.

On Monday's 10 p.m. CBS11 newscast, reporter Nerissa Knight's "Menu Mistakes" story spotlighted a paperback book titled Eat This, Not That!

Hmm, Curtis did exactly the same thing during his Feb. 8th "Weight Loss Wonder" story on how seemingly healthier foods can have higher calorie and fat gram counts than stuff that looks worse for you. It's all detailed in the Eat This, Not That! book, which both stations of course linked to on their Web sites.

CBS11 anchor Doug Dunbar pitched in Monday by first standing in front of pictures of Outback Steak House's prime rib and strip steak dinners.

"It might surprise you to learn," he said, that the prime rib has only half as many calories as the strip steak. Knight then added, "One menu mistake could actually make or break your diet."

A few D-FW diners threw out sound bites during her survey of five restaurant chains.

"You sound like my wife or something," one poor sap said while apparently hoping to eat That! instead of This.

Still, it's the book that does almost all of the work for reporters, and it certainly did so for Dunbar's opening pitch.

It's quite possible that neither Knight nor Allen knew of Curtis' February sweeps stories. Both also hold down anchoring spots at CBS11, and have minimal time to do the stories thrown at them.

But surely there are assignments editors, producers or even news directors at CBS11 who are fully aware of what's going on. Perhaps their defense is that recycling is good for the environment, particularly if you also can gig NBC5 in the bargain.

Reporters Katherine Blake, Becky Oliver and Rebecca Lopez


***CBS11 reeled off seven consecutive crime stories at the top of Monday's newscast. It then cleansed the palate with reporter Katherine Blake's poignant followup story on a six-year-old girl from Aledo who's set to undergo major brain surgery in hopes of combatting a rare, often fatal disease.

All four stations covered a community rally for Jessie Hall earlier this month. CBS11 then went the extra miles to Baltimore -- or at least somebody's cameras were there -- for her family's meeting with renowned Johns Hopkins Hospital surgeon Benjamin Carson.

***Fox4, NBC5, WFAA8 and CBS11 all had reporter-driven followups to Friday night's shooting at prestigious NorthPark shopping center. The victim, 43-year-old Mary Boyd, is recovering from a gunshot wound to the cheek sustained when she tried to drive away from an armed carjacker who's still at large. She had been waiting to pick up her 16-year-old daughter from a movie.

It's probably fair to ask at this point whether a shooting at a less prosperous mall in a lower-income neighborhood would get the same extensive TV coverage. Frankly, probably not. That's not to diminish what happened to Mary Boyd. But it is a question worth considering.

***Hard-charging Becky Oliver, Fox4's longtime investigative reporter, had a solid expose earlier in the May sweeps on a crooked in-home care operation supported in large part by Medicare funds. Not so with Monday's overwrought look at whether Child Care Associates is infested with volunteers who have past criminal records.

The lengthy piece quickly resorted to laughably generic slasher movie music while popping up mug shots of three alleged volunteers with previous convictions for family violence, aggravated assault and drug dealing.

A former unidentified employee shot in silhouette was Oliver's primary, but not terribly convincing source. That same person provided a list of 2007's volunteers at the centers, which mostly serve lower-income families and are encouraged to use family members as volunteers.

"We had asked Child Care Associates for that same list," she told viewers. "But the agency said no, then hired a law firm with your tax dollars to fight our request."

The "your tax dollars" gambit is an old, oft-reliable standby. But Child Care Associates CEO John Whitcamp in fact did talk on-camera to Oliver, who strove to make him look bad but basically failed.

She also hunted down some of the supposed volunteers with criminal records. Confronting them made for showy video, but really didn't prove anything one way or the other. Oliver's piece never alleged any instances of child abuse or mistreatment. But it did put a number of minorities on camera -- all of them portrayed as pretty unsavory.

Oliver's work generally has been praised more often than not in these spaces. But Monday's investigation mostly brought out the worst in her. She just didn't have the goods. And when that happens, her trademark brawling approach can be all the more grating.

***WFAA8's Janet St. James had a piece on early-morning "Boot Camp Fitness" programs that stress basic, demanding exercise over the miracle regimens often touted on NBC5.

Patrons come "to have their Spandex-clad booties kicked into shape," said St. James, perhaps becoming the first WFAA8 reporter to work "booties" into a story that has nothing to do with infant apparel.

***NBC5's Randy McIlwain, a very capable street reporter, surely would admit to having a big booty. He had a good story, too, on a man who's been charged with check forgery in the face of evidence that very much seems to say otherwise. McIlwain made a convincing case for him.

***Reporter Rebecca Lopez had an interesting account on efforts by Dallas police and firefighters to transform James Madison High School into a "public safety academy" that would train future members of those two professions.

***Finally, NBC's aforementioned Brian Curtis put the ballyhooed new "Wii Fit" device to the test at the Cooper Fitness Center. An expert gave it a passing grade. CBS11 countered with anchor Karen Borta's reader on the plusses and minuses of the "Botox Breast Lift."

Two nights to go.