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Show & Sell

Local newscasts have plenty of style, but where’s the substance?

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Rah Rah
Denverites love their sports, and knowing that, local programmers stuff their news programs with a jaw-dropping amount of the stuff. Only about 8 percent of the average Channel 2 newscast was devoted to gamesmanship, but its competitors more than made up for this modest performance, with channels 4 and 7 clocking in at 17 percent and Channel 9 at about 20 percent. Most of that time was filled with highlights from the NFL, NBA and NHL, with other sports news mostly winding up on the cutting-room floor. Channel 2 didn't report on a single women's event during the entire week; the closest Channel 7 came was when sportscaster Tom Green casually mentioned that the girls' volleyball team at Smoky Hill High School had won a championship -- after showing footage of the Smoky Hill boys' soccer squad doing likewise. Channel 9 was nearly as weak in this regard, screening highlights of just one contest, an LPGA tournament, and while the station's Carol Maloney, one of the rare female sportscasters in the region (see the Message, November 11) was given a moment or two in the spotlight on November 12, she reported exclusively on boys' high school football. Marcia Neville, Maloney's prep-sports counterpart at Channel 4, did a little better, actually squeezing some girls' volleyball highlights into her segment on November 13. Thanks to her efforts, men's sports coverage outpaced women's sports coverage by about 300 to 1.

By this week in November, the Broncos' playoff chances were as good as dead, but all four stations still included extensive coverage on the team each and every day -- and on November 14, when the Broncos fell to the Seattle Seahawks, the newscasts responded with an orgy of highlights, lowlights and bellyaching. Channel 2 resisted leading that day's broadcast with the team, but its decision was probably dictated by the show's 9 p.m. start time; the game wasn't over by then. Channels 7 and 9 weren't nearly so shy. Channel 7 opened up with two minutes on the game, and during the sports segment, it offered nearly eight minutes more. Channel 9 dedicated four minutes at the outset and four minutes later in the newscast -- and for those Broncos boosters whose sadomasochistic urges still hadn't been sated, weekend sportscaster Tony Zarrella promised much more to come on Broncos Tonight immediately following the news. Channel 4 really took the ball and ran with it, though: After several news stories, the Broncos got their due for over four and a half minutes, and then the normal sports segment was distended to make room for "Super Sports," a special Sunday segment hosted by weekend anchor Vic Lombardi that came complete with its own deafening music theme, explosive graphics and list of sponsors. That led to two more Bronco rehashes that added up to nearly seven additional minutes -- the appetizer for an extended sports roundup that pushed the newscast to a full hour in length.

Talking heads: Channel 7's Lynn Setzer, Channel 9's Adele Arakawa and Channel 4's Bill Stuart.
Talking heads: Channel 7's Lynn Setzer, Channel 9's Adele Arakawa and Channel 4's Bill Stuart.
Talking heads: Channel 7's Lynn Setzer, Channel 9's Adele Arakawa and Channel 4's Bill Stuart.
Talking heads: Channel 7's Lynn Setzer, Channel 9's Adele Arakawa and Channel 4's Bill Stuart.

Proof that Pope John Paul II had fathered several children by a Denver woman wouldn't have received as much coverage as the Broncos did on November 14 -- unless the woman were Janet Elway.

The Cute Out
With so much news and so little time, why devote the last minute or so of every show to an adorable, cuddly item? Because newscasts fail unless a sizable number of viewers tune in tomorrow, and TV execs think people are more likely to do so if, no matter how bad the news of the day is, viewers leave feeling good. And so Channel 9 ended its November 8 broadcast with footage of San Francisco rodeo clowns dodging a bull as they rode a seesaw, Channel 7 wrapped up on November 12 with shots of Bronco Terrell Davis filming a milk commercial, and Channel 2 concluded its November 14 program with nearly a full minute of videotape showing geese floating in the water at Sloan Lake. Channel 4 ended not one, not two, but three of the seven newscasts between November 8 and 14 with looks at killer whales and brought its November 13 program to a close with a New York City "stain-a-thon" that was a one-minute commercial for Tide detergent, the media event's sponsor.

Actually, this last report was an appropriate way to close a Denver newscast. Based on our analysis, these programs are as much about selling -- detergent, network sitcoms, the newscasts themselves -- as telling.

Back to you, Denver.

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