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New series review: Anchorwoman (Fox)

Sour and sweet: Self-absorbed KYTX-TV incumbent Annalisa Petralia more or less tries to school novice blondie Lauren Jones.
Premiering: Wednesday night, Aug. 22 at 7 p.m. (central) on Fox
Starring: Lauren Jones, Annalisa Petralia, Phil Hurley, Dan Delgado, Michele Reese, Stormy the Weather Dog
Produced by: Brian Gadinsky

It's either perverted injustice or just desserts.

Through the miracle of funhouse mirror editing, Fox's Anchorwoman has managed to turn the tables and quickly take the onus off model and former wrestling vixen Lauren Jones.

She's suddenly at worst a flighty little sweetie compared to off-putting Annalisa Petralia, resident news diva at KYTX-TV in Tyler, TX. In fairness to Petralia, she probably gets jobbed in the show's opening minutes. Then again, she should have known better. A real Capital J journalist, as she keeps saying she is, wouldn't even consider taking a co-starring role in this so-called "comedy/reality hybrid."

(Note to readers: unclebarky.com previously posted two detailed behind-the scenes stories about Anchorwoman. You can find them here and here.)

Fox provided only the first half of Wednesday's one-hour premiere, leaving TV critics hanging on the countdown to Jones' on-air debut from the KYTX anchor desk after just six days of training. She'd first envisioned meeting a "hot cowboy" and supposedly thought about packing a sequined bikini for her new duties.

"How do you think that would look doing the news?" she wonders aloud. Premise in place, via what almost assuredly was a scripted line.

Anchor/producer/reporter Petralia soon makes her entrance, positioning herself as Christiane Amanpour to Jones' Daisy Mae.

"Journalistic credibility is what everything I do here stands for," asserts Petralia, who arrived at KYTX in 2004 after working at two New York City TV stations.

The show quickly sabotages her by showing a clip of Petralia doing an "Eye on Health" segment for her station.

"You've probably seen it firsthand," she tells viewers, "that person who doesn't wash their hands after using the bathroom."

Anchorwoman then cuts back to some more pontificating by Petralia, who says, "Without that (credibility), I'm nothing. And the station is nothing. And everything we do is nothing."

We then return to Petralia's Eye on Health report for her closing line. "That's why boys have cooties," she says while smiling.

The transparent message, tricked up or not, is that Petralia really is no different than Jones, except that she's also a self-absorbed hypocrite. It's amazing what they can do with a little creative cutting and pasting.

Lauren Jones and Annalisa Petralia: they sure do like their mikes.

Jones certainly plays the role, arriving at KYTX in a low-cut Cheetah top and red convertible. The station's Stormy the Weather Dog wants nothing to do with her. Or maybe somebody wagged a steak at him off-camera so that he'd walk off in a seeming huff.

She initially has a tough time with the TelePrompTer and her own inclination to make editorial comments such as, "Gunshots ring out at a Tyler nightclub. There's nightclubs here?"

But Jones also is portrayed as becomingly dedicated. Sure she bats her eyes. But she also puts in long hours at the TelePrompTer, telling a staffer, "I'll go again. I'll go until we get it perfect."

Tyler-ites are duly skeptical, if not always particularly eloquent. One language-mangling man frets that "the kids are gonna see, you know, the 'cleavledge' and stuff." But don't worry, Fox has promised not to portray the city as a buncha bumpkins.

Also starring is KYTX president and general manager Phil Hurley, a good-lookin', straight-shootin' sonofagun who's been upfront from the start about boosting his neophyte station's profile.

"We're the new guy here," he says. "And we're lookin' for as many eyeballs as we can get in a very short period of time."

Good Morning America has been especially adept at thumping the tub, running three stories on Anchorwoman and what it might mean to the sanctity of broadcast journalism. That's kind of a laugh, though, when you had GMA's hunky Chris Cuomo sitting down with Jones for a live interview Monday. His lofty journalism credentials? None really. He's an attorney who came to prominence as a campaigner for his famous father, Mario Cuomo. ABC News snapped him up and he's learned on the job ever since.

Other paragons of TV journalism who arrived at various networks with no formal journalism training or from show biz backgrounds include Mike Wallace, Barbara Walters, Tim Russert, Hugh Downs, Phyllis George and David Hartman.

Jones obviously takes it to the next level, and if this show is a hit then maybe a station in Poughkeepsie will bite next. Still, she seems like less of a phony than Petralia, who apparently thinks she's some sort of journalistic Joan of Arc.

"I want you to know I fought for you. I fought for every woman in this news room," she tells a colleague with no real evidence that she has.

Later, Petralia informs her poor sap news director, Dan Delgado, that she easily could have been a model in these high times for photo touchups.

"But no, I'm a journalist," she sermonizes. "And I don't want anyone to mix me up with a swimsuit model. A swimsuit model fills in Annalisa Petralia's shoes? Is that what we're telling our viewers? That I'm a swimsuit model, too?"

Clearly Anchorwoman has found its pretentious poser -- and it's not Jones. She comes out a winner merely by saying in Petralia's presence, "It's not like I'm a bimbo." A-w-w-w.

By the end of just the first half-hour, Jones already seems to have mastered the art of reading copy to a camera. Is it so easy a cavewoman could do it? Maybe not. But it's not nearly as hard as Petralia makes it out to be.

What 's even easier is making a fool out of a self-proclaimed Capital J journo. A little sleight of hand in the editing room can almost always do the trick. In that respect, Petralia's the real rube in Anchorwoman. The producers will bend and shape her as they please in the next several weeks.

That's not journalism, but it sure is show biz.

Grade: C