Off Limits

Anchors away! Channel 2 reporter Jann Tracey, who lost the tip of a finger while shooting a segment with a caged, allegedly tame bear last week (the station declined to run the bloody aftermath), probably considers TV reporting tough duty. But it's nothing compared with actually watching the stuff.

View all three 10 p.m. newscasts before you criticize Channel 7, busy-lipped anchor Natalie Pujo urged in a recent Empire, in the page 4 spot usually occupied by a local celebrity whose head has been stretched graphically to Eraserhead proportions. Well, okay. On Monday, January 6, here's how they stacked up:

Channel 9 and Channel 4 both led with live "Murder Mystery" reports on the death of JonBenet Ramsey, with updates on the search of the family's Michigan summer home, John and Patsy Ramsey's written responses to Boulder police questions and, in Channel 4's case, the fact that the ransom note had been written with a "felt-tip pen"--which reporter Brian Maass demonstrated by writing with one himself. From there, Channel 4 moved on to missing Boulder musician Randy California, the indictment of the Morgan County sheriff, a suspected suicide found in a City Park lake, a murder in Curtis Park, a woman arrested after a shooting at a Fort Collins coin shop, the O.J. Simpson trial, Frank Sinatra's hospitalization, the West's wacky weather, "Your World Tonight" (clips of the no-longer-grounded New Orleans freighter, the stock market as a possible savior of Social Security, and a Texas doctor on trial), and those carnivorous Cabbage Patch dolls before promising more weather, Newt Gingrich and the Pepsi Center after a break at eleven minutes.

Channel 9 followed its Ramsey piece with a teen charged with the murder of a Platteville convenience-store clerk (allegedly because the clerk made "rude remarks" about the suspect's mother), the Fort Collins shooting, weather, a bit on how the Bronco loss could affect plans for a new stadium (a bullet poll showed Pat Bowlen losing), and teases for upcoming Gingrich and a kids' skiing segment before breaking after ten minutes.

With Pujo at the helm, Channel 7 plugged Ramsey but immediately launched into "Wintertime Wildness" as the "top story," complete with a live shot of wheelchair-bound Pam Daale at I-25 and Franklin two minutes into the newscast. (Seventeen minutes later the camera returned to Daale, by now a human popsicle.) In between, Pujo announced that Denver hadn't violated air-pollution standards in '96, narrated tape of an oil spill off Japan and watched the New Orleans freighter get under way before walking over to a wall bearing a large picture of JonBenet and introducing the latest--a four-minute segment including JonBenet's voice on the Michigan home's answering machine, an interview with media consultant Phyllis Dinner on the family's hiring of a media consultant, and, inexplicably, the word "control" spinning on the screen through much of the report.

That was followed by Denver's first murder of the year, which bore "striking similarities" to the Ramsey case--if you consider a seventy-year-old man found dead in a Curtis Park apartment similar. Then it was on to O.J., Gingrich (extra points for the earliest piece on any of the three broadcasts), Diana DeGette's swearing in (ditto), Christo's Arkansas River-wrapping plans, and pitches for upcoming Avs, Broncos and Cabbage Patch stories before breaking at ten minutes. Channel 7 returned with a definite exclusive: two minutes on the producer-director of the Avs coverage (twelve cameras!) that night, which happened to air on Channel 7. Then we saw penguins in "Great Britian," Pam Daale still frozen to an I-25 overpass, and Janib Abreu's perky sports, with the "real" newscast's final seconds devoted to a "Ticklish Tot" doll that may or may not murmur obscenities--Abreu and Pujo, at this point standing clipboard to clipboard, couldn't tell.

The restrained (in a turtleneck!) Pujo apparently resolved to retire her smirk in the new year; her bangs also are gone. They may have been donated to Adele Arakawa, who's lost her biker-babe look but is still sharing anchor duties with Ed Sardella (despite the Rocky Mountain News's unfortunate "drop anchor" headline of the preceding week). Channel 4 was the evening's biggest surprise, with a significant decline in happy talk from Denver's "longest-running news team." The on-air talent was only slightly more jovial during Channel 2's nine o'clock news, workmanlike except for its wrong-headed coverage of an online discussion of JonBenet's death led by a psychologist on Digital City Denver, the AOL project in which Channel 2 is a partner.

Still hungry for Ramsey sightings? Check out the Web page for Martin Park Elementary--JonBenet's school whose reopening after the holidays made all four newscasts Monday night. "Their little friend won't be coming back," Channel 2 announced in its report. As of Tuesday, Martin Park's Pegasus Press page had yet to be updated, and it still carried the "Star's Honor Roll," which noted that JonBenet was in line for an "I Caught You Being Good" award.


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