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This just in: a night in the lives of D-FW's late night newscasts (Mon., Nov. 8)

Three guys standin' around talkin': Fox4 sports anchor Mike Doocy with analysts and former NFL players Daryl Johnston and Sean Salisbury in opening segment that ran for 13 minutes. Photos: Ed Bark

The elections and the World Series are over, leaving D-FW's four major late night newscasts on relatively even playing fields as we near the mid-point of the 20-weekday November "sweeps" ratings period.

So if stamina and stomach permit, we're going to resume this feature with two full weeks of up-close looks at the 10 p.m. newscasts on NBC5, WFAA8 and CBS11, plus Fox4's featured 9 p.m. news. Why? Because it helps to get reacquainted with the principal players and any notable changes in their approaches. TV critics ideally are supposed to point out both the good and the bad in local TV anchoring and reporting. And you can't do that without zooming in on content.

Not at all surprisingly, all four stations led Monday's late nighters with the firing of Wade Phillips and hiring of offensive coordinator Jason Garrett as head coach of the inept 1-7 Dallas Cowboys. Owner/puppet master Jerry Jones announced both decisions Monday afternoon.

Under Fox4's still relatively new extended story/interview stratagem, sports anchor Mike Doocy spent the first 13 minutes of the 9 p.m. newscast talking turkey in the studio with analysts Daryl Johnston and Sean Salisbury, both of whom are also former NFL players. The remainder of the first half-hour then went to investigator Becky Oliver's look into verbal abuse at a federally funded day care home, followed by co-anchor Heather Hays' live split-screen interview with a United Way of Dallas childcare expert.

This is risky business, with potential plusses and perils. It's nice to see the station air it out with lengthy looks at newsworthy topics. But if those topics are a turn-off, it's just as easy for a viewer to change channels rather than sit through a long discourse of little interest to him/her.

During the opening Cowboys segment, both Johnston and Salisbury agreed that the team likely was over-rated from the start while also under added pressure to christen February's Super Bowl XLV in Jerry's Palace with the first-ever appearance of a home team. Things gradually started getting redundant, though. Even another Cowboys soap opera can be a yawner after a while.

Hays later injected her own feelings at the start of her interview with United Way's Susan Hoff, telling her that "as a mom, I mean, it makes me sick to hear the audio that we just heard in Becky's story."

Fox's owned-and-operated stations, of which Fox4 is one, lately have been ramping up screen time and story "involvement" on the part of their anchors.

In the third segment on Monday's newscast, co-anchor Steve Eagar and reporter Matt Grubs sat beside each other live in the studio while analyzing former president George W. Bush's earlier book-promoting appearance on an NBC prime-time special.

"That was one area where he started to own it a little bit," Grubs said of Bush acknowledging that he had badly handled the initial response to Hurricane Katrina. Grubs also noted that Bush would be "on with Rush" Tuesday afternoon, an overly familiar reference to radio's Rush Limbaugh. He'll likely be more encouraged to criticize President Obama in that forum, Eagar and Grubs agreed.

Left unmentioned, obviously by choice, was Bush's scheduled appearance on The Oprah Winfrey Show, which is carried at 4 p.m. weekdays by a competing station, WFAA8. That station of course plugged the Oprah/Bush program while leaving Limbaugh unmentioned.

All told, Fox4 used just two reporters on camera during Monday's 9 p.m. news -- Grubs and James Rose. Both appeared live in the station's downtown Dallas studios rather than venturing out into the dark for a typical standup. All of this saves on staffing and conserves money. It also draws a sharp dividing line between Fox4 and WFAA8, whose ongoing promotional campaign touts its "crossing of state lines" in pursuit of stories with local angles.

On Monday's 10 p.m. newscast, WFAA8 ran a lengthy piece that had reporter Gary Reaves journeying to Arizona for the first meeting between a middle-aged woman and the North Texas parents of a 13-year-old daughter who died in a Colorado skiing accident. Taylor Storch's heart is still beating strongly inside the woman after Todd and Tara Storch authorized the donation of Taylor's organs.

The story also has made its way to several national venues, including ABC's Good Morning America and NBC's Today.

"It is helping us heal," said Todd Storch.

Now back to the Cowboys, who easily ate up the most late night news real estate. CBS11 co-anchor Doug Dunbar told viewers that his station "broke this (coaching) change earlier today for you."

CBS11 sports anchor Babe Laufenberg, currently the Cowboys' team-paid radio analyst, later bucked up Garrett's chances during his regular newscast segment.

"I've known Jason Garrett for nearly two decades," he said. "There is no sharper individual or person with more integrity. Will that translate into wins? Who knows?" But Laufenberg, an ex-Cowboys quarterback, noted that he had the privilege of playing for legendary San Francisco 49ers head coach Bill Walsh while Walsh was running the Stanford University football program. Walsh and Garrett have similar traits and approaches, Laufenberg contended.

WFAA8 anchor Dale Hansen, formerly the Cowboys' team-paid radio analyst, again skewered owner Jones in an "Unplugged" segment after earlier saying that Garrett's promotion won't be nearly enough to fix much of anything.

"The Cowboys' problem is owner Jerry Jones is dumb enough to think he's smarter than Einstein," Hansen said to a mild off-camera chortle from co-anchor Gloria Campos.

Einsten oddly came into play via Hansen quoting him as saying that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over -- and expecting different results. The seven head coaches hired by Cowboys general manager Jones are evidence he's learned nothing, Hansen said.

Over on NBC5, sports anchor Newy Scruggs said Phillips should have been fired after telling the media he had no answer to why the Cowboys were thumped at home by the mediocre Jacksonville Jaguars before getting buried Sunday night by the Green Bay Packers.

"Is there a chance that he (Jones) would ever give up the general manager's post?" co-anchor Meredith Land asked.

"No," said Scruggs, who added that Jones likely won't be able to sell Garrett to fans either.

NBC5 co-anchor Brian Curtis touts a homemade, industrial-sized margarita machine before reporter Omar Villafranca takes a sip and deems it "pretty good" as part of a heavily promoted dispatch.

In other non-Cowboys action, NBC5 used a good deal of its prime-time promotional window to tout a story on a margarita machine getting a "MacGyver-style makeover."

"All you need is a garbage disposal -- and an open mind," co-anchor Brian Curtis told viewers before throwing it to reporter Omar Villafranca.

He didn't need to cross state lines for a story on a guy who put together a party-sized machine by hooking a five-gallon cooler to a garbage disposal before attaching an over-sized spigot. Villafranca sipped the finished product and pronounced it "pretty good."

In news with more nutritive value, CBS11's Tracy Kornet reported on a new cell phone app, SecuraTrac, that allows parents to keep tabs on their little kids' whereabouts. The station also had a little heart-thumper, by Arezow Doost, on an unemployed, disabled man who saved his cancer-ridden bulldog by getting a free chemotherapy treatment from the privately bankrolled Magic Bullet Fund.

Curing what ails the Cowboys won't be nearly so easy -- in Hansen's mind at least. He views Jones as the team's, bull-headed incurable cancer.

"I've said it to his face, and I'm saying it again," Hansen said before noting in no uncertain terms that no other NFL team would ever hire Jones as general manager.

"The Cowboys really are America's team," he added. "They're just like America, broken and divided and arguing about the future, doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results."

For good measure, he then lobbed a smaller grenade at the Mavericks' defenseless Dirk Nowitzki, who hit a decisive jump shot to beat the Boston Celtics in Dallas Monday night.

"And Dirk Nowitzki gets the game-winner despite a really bad haircut," Hansen said of his newly shaved head.

And Hansen still has a lotta guts in addition to his really big gut. So there.