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This just in: A night in the lives of D-FW's late night newscasts (Thurs., May 10)

First-rate vets: Belo8's Janet St. James and Jim Douglas

Breaking crime and tragedy still have a place on Belo8's 10 p.m. newscasts.

It's just that the station usually has better things to do.

Thursday night offered further evidence of how Belo8 is striving to differentiate itself while at the same time keeping an eye on the late night news ratings prizes.

NBC5 and Fox4 (at 9 p.m.) both led with live reports from the backyard lawn of an Arlington man who recently was struck by lightning while mowing his lawn. He remains in serious but stable condition.

CBS11 gave the struck-by-lightning story second billing after topping its 10 p.m. newscast with a live report from Fort Worth on a four-year-old girl who'd been hit by a car earlier in the day. She remains hospitalized.

Neither tragedy made Belo8's 10 p.m. newscast. The station instead led with reporter Jim Douglas's piece on how a stretched-thin National Guard may be hard-pressed to respond to natural disasters. That's because a lot of the Guard's helicopters and transport equipment, in Texas and other states, is now deployed in Iraq.

Douglas's story is of far more import, and there's definitely a void to fill. Belo8 seems to have rededicated itself to nutritive enterprise reporting rather than non-stop siren chasing.

In contrast, NBC5 and now CBS11 are fixated on police scanners while Fox4's featured 9 p.m. newscast lands somewhere in the middle. Its nightly menu is a mix of quick-hit crime/tragedy reports and substantive stories by a quality team of correspondents. Basically, there's room for both when you have twice the time to fill.

Just past the halfway mark of the May "sweeps," Belo8 is leading NBC5 in the total homes ratings but still narrowly trails the Peacock among 25-to-54-year-olds, the main advertiser target audience for news programming. And Fox4's 9 p.m. newscast is doing robust business, regularly beating first-run network entertainment programming.

This holds out hope that a high-road -- or a close approximation -- can lead to high ratings as well.

But the jury is still out. Would you rather see CBS11's Brooke Richie report live from a sub-dumpy shack, where a nine-year-old boy allegedly was beaten by his granny with plastic tent rods? Or does Belo8 medical reporter Janet St. James catch your interest with her well-researched followup report on the little-reported dangers of increasingly popular Lap Band surgeries?

Not all of Belo8's "packages" are first-rate. Reporter Rebecca Lopez, who had a good piece Wednesday night on City of Dallas-employed felons, seemed too intent on drawing hearts-and-flowers sympathy for a Latina mother of 11 who was arrested at the state border for trying to smuggle in three young boys dressed as girls.

One of the smuggler's daughters, a teenager, sobbed for her mother -- twice -- as a close-up camera rolled. Others said she had never done anything wrong previously and should be let off. But the woman admitted to authorities that she was promised $1,000 per child if she successfully transported them illegally from Mexico to Dallas. Sorry, but sometimes crime just doesn't pay. Pure and simple. End of sob story.

Lopez's story wasn't helped by a ridiculous graphic that had her super-imposed on a garish-looking map as she took some big steps from Dallas to Laredo and and then over the border to Mexico. It all looked like a very dated leftover from Belo8's long defunct Mr. Peppermint children's series.

CBS11 did have one meaty story Thursday night. Investigator Bennett Cunningham, resurfacing for the first time under new news director Regent Ducas, had a report on Dallas constables who seem far more intent on writing millions of dollars worth of speeding tickets than fulfilling their principal mission of serving arrest warrants.

Looking for answers, Cunningham went to the residence of Dallas constable Mike Dupree, who peeked around the front door at him. The reporter said that elected officials have an obligation to explain such matters.

"OK, but you just woke me up at 7 in the morning," Dupree snapped.

"OK, I'm sure you have to be at work soon, right?" Cunningham snapped back. Showy but effective, even if Dupree wouldn't talk.

Three of the four stations at last got around to "covering" the Dallas mayoral race for the first time on their late night newscasts.

CBS11 goofed on it and NBC5 had a 16-second snippet from Thursday night's candidate forum at SMU, but with no audio. Belo8 anchor John McCaa spent even less time than that telling viewers that the 11 candidates had set a new spending record.

The CBS11 piece, by Jay Gormley, trolled for Dallasites who knew little about the would-be successors to Mayor Laura Miller.

"Now don't get me wrong, there are some voters who know a name or two," he said midway through the report.

He then latched onto a woman standing within easy eyesight of a Max Wells campaign sign. So - ta-da! -- she knew he was running.

Gormley, wearing sunglasses, then walked over to the sign and asked, "Did you know that he was proven, experienced and accountable?"

Cheap shot, cheap report from a guy who knows better. Then came the kicker: "Try, try as they may, we couldn't find one voter who knew more than three candidates. But we found plenty of voters who were at least honest about it."

It's a safe bet that virtually no one in the CBS11 news department can name more than three candidates either. That's pretty much a self-fulfilling prophecy when D-FW's principal TV news operations ignore the mayoral race all together and then twit people for knowing nothing about it.

Thursday night also yielded three news bloopers.

***On NBC5, reporter Kristi Nelson closed her piece on Little League baseball rainouts by telling viewers, "Some of those games might be made up with doubleheaders and other creator re-scheduling." (Creator indeed. He caused the rainouts.)

***Belo8's Shelly Slater, the market's reigning hand-talker, got tongue-tangled during her story on a power company's extensive tree-pruning in McKinney. Some residents see it as far too excessive. Slater's interpretation went like this: "For people in this neighborhood, they say their trees are their liveliness, the reason that they chose this neighborhood. So they're not giving 'em up without a fight." (Their "liveliness?")

***Fox4 had more video of the decimating tornado damage in "Greensboro," Kansas. (Make that Greensburg.)

By the way, the names of the 11 Dallas mayoral candidates are -- oh, the hell with it.