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This just in: A night in the lives of D-FW's late night newscasts (Mon., Feb. 21)

CBS11 and WFAA8 have titles for their ongoing school initiatives. Photos: Ed Bark

Improbably but indisputably, education is hot, hot, hot.

Major budget shortfalls plaguing a number of North Texas school districts have prompted WFAA8 to follow the lead of arch rival CBS11, which earlier launched a "Crisis in the Classroom" initiative.

On Monday, WFAA8 launched "Operation Education," which like Crisis in the Classroom" has a web component and now a planned nightly presence on 10 p.m. newscasts.

WFAA8 began flying its flag with an exclusive lead story tied to documents of proposed school employee cuts obtained by the station. "The numbers are shocking," co-anchor John McCaa assured viewers before handing things over to reporter Jonathan Betz.

"Almost no campus is spared," said Betz, whose story showed some of the specific cuts under consideration at various area schools. The complete list is available on wfaa.com.

CBS11 led its 10 p.m. newscast with reporter J.D. Miles' dispatch on a planned ramped-up monitoring of police dash cam videos in hopes of keeping officers on their best behaviors when arresting or ticketing citizens. The station then went heavily into "Crisis in the Classroom" mode, noting that five school district budget meetings were being held Monday night. Carol Cavazos reported from the one in Grand Prairie, where there was no shortage of upset parents.

Co-anchor Doug Dunbar later took viewers through a new "Interactive Map" on dfw.cbslocal.com that allows visitors to pinpoint the budget deficits -- or in some cases, surpluses -- in their school districts. Richardson ISD currently is riding high with a $12 million surplus while Cleburne more typically has an $11 million shortfall facing it.

Fox4 doesn't have a logo or title yet for its education armageddon coverage. But the station did lead Monday's 9 p.m. edition with Natalie Solis reporting live from Grand Prairie's school budget hearing.

Meanwhile, NBC5 skipped school with a 10 p.m. newscast that had nothing at all on the budget mess. The station instead reverted back to being the old NBC5 -- for a night at least. That meant a lead story about a purse snatcher who encountered "one tough grandma," in co-anchor Meredith Land's words, but still pilfered $3,500 after dragging her across a North Dallas Chase bank parking lot.

Reporter Ellen Goldberg interviewed the injured but still resilient victim, whose 65th birthday is Tuesday. Land then dutifully dropped the word "scary" after Goldberg had wrapped up.

Land later had a lengthy story/infomercial on the "quietly booming" Sally Beauty Supply company, whose CEO, Gary Wintehalter, happily talked up the company's strong points while walking Land down a store aisle.

"What we're in business to do is help women who have problems with their hair," Winterhalter said generically.

Land also has gotten out of the studio to do some solid and interesting reporting in recent months, as has her deskmate, Brian Curtis. But the Sally Beauty Supply piece, although better than the recurring "Big Fat Savings" reports of yore, came off as way too much of a wet kiss. The company no doubt is super-thrilled about this free ride, but it really shouldn't have been given this much space in a No. 5 market newscast.

NBC5 also paid attention, for the first time on weeknight 10 p.m. newscasts, to the otherwise heavily covered blowup last week involving Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price and a group of white speakers at the regular Tuesday meeting.

Substitute anchor Kevin Cokely noted that the Tuesday, Feb. 22nd gathering will have heavier security and what Tea Party activists promise will be a "much larger demonstration."

So where has NBC5 been? As noted in a previous post, the station didn't have any cameras in place when last week's confrontation unfolded. So on Monday night, it resorted to the above blurry and audio-less video from elbagarcia.com. That's the website of District 4 Dallas County Commissioner Dr. Elba Garcia.

NBC5's video shortfall on this big story was reminiscent of its problems during the May 2009 collapse of the Dallas Cowboys practice bubble. In that case, the station repeatedly had to make do with labeled footage from Dallas-based CW33. It's safe to assume that NBC5 cameras will be rolling during Tuesday's County Commission hearing. Otherwise heads might roll.


Veteran CBS11 reporter Jay Gormley, usually a familiar 10 p.m. face, popped in for the first time since this February "sweeps" monitoring began with the Monday, Feb. 14th late night newscasts.

Um, he probably shouldn't have bothered. Gormley had an extended story on a new phone app that allows motorists to "flag down bad drivers" by twitting or haranguing them via their hand-held devices. The app is called DriveMeCrazy. Some viewers instead might have been driven crazy by Gormley's waiting until nearly the end of his story to note in passing that the app "encourages drivers to file reports while behind the wheel. And to some, well, that's just another dangerous road to travel."

Gormley then further demonstrated the app during a live closing segment from his parked car. He said that motorists also could "flirt" with good drivers by messaging them after first getting their license numbers. Let's root for state legislation that would revoke the driver's license of anyone idiotic enough to use this thing while in transit -- or otherwise.

***On WFAA8, medical reporter Janet St. James journeyed to Austin for a story on yet another youthifier -- this one dubbed the "Vampire Facelift." Why? Because a patient's own blood is used to help smooth out that same patient's brainless head ornament.

"The results are much more natural," said the Austin doctor whose needle work costs $2 grand a treatment and currently is unavailable closer to home. Note to self: do not succumb to any come-ons for werewolf hair transplants or Frankenstein brand colorizers.

Earlier in the newscast, WFAA8 reporter Rebecca Lopez had an interesting story on stalled efforts to reopen several Lower Greenville Ave. bars and restaurants in time for St. Patrick's Day. They were all burned down in last March's sweeping four-alarm fire. Lopez focused on the popular Italian restaurant, Terilli's, which hopes to be back in business by this June.

***Fox4 had an overall solid and informative Monday night edition, with occasionally bizarro co-anchor Steve Eagar nicely handling a long, live interview segment on a proposed bill that would allow students to carry concealed weapons on campus. Gov. Rick Perry already has said he would sign such a bill, so it's likely to become a reality with the current majority backing in the Texas statehouse.

Eagar and reporter Matt Grubs also teamed -- to better effect than in recent newscasts -- on a story that compared the massive teachers' union protests in Madison, WI to the built-in legal limits that any rallying Texas educators would face. Austin and Madison, Grubs noted, otherwise share an identity as "funky, college capitol cities." As a once fully-imbibing University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate, your friendly content provider commends Grubs for his insight.

But Monday's best story, on any of the four major TV news providers, came from reliable, resourceful Saul Garza, whose "What's Buggin' You?" segments have righted a lot of little wrongs over the years.

This time out he came to the aid of a congenial, elderly man whose wheelchair travels in a busy Denton shopping area had been dangerously waylaid by a missing stretch of sidewalk. Garza had the perfect touch, and the story had a happy and very satisfying ending.

The man, Joseph Sanders, initially had been brushed off by TXDOT. But "you have a good reputation for getting things done," he told Garza.

That he does. No brag, just fact. Time and time again.