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Channel 4's New Look

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April 21 was a day of introductions at KCNC-TV/Channel 4. The CBS affiliate broadcast its newscasts in full HD for the first time, unveiled new graphics, and welcomed recently hired anchor Karen Leigh, an Arkansas native most recently seen in the Minneapolis market, who takes the place of male co-host Jim Benemann's previous sidekick, Molly Hughes. Given this rash of newness, it's no surprise that the 10 p.m. program proved a bit clunky. Still, the technology seems promising, as does Leigh, despite some opening-night awkwardness.

The show looked brighter and sharper than usual even on a non-HD set -- a phenomenon that viewers also noticed back in 2004, when Channel 9 became the initial Denver TV station to make the HD move. However, Channel 4 is the first to offer HD-ready images from the field, and while there were no major meltdowns amid live shots, location variables presented an array of challenges. During a segment starring reporter Shaun Boyd, for instance, a light pointed in her direction intensified as it shifted in the wind, briefly making it seem as if she was standing in front of a solar flare. In addition, studio-bound forecaster Ed Greene's red tie strobed several times, especially during an intro snippet that found him sans jacket.

The fresh graphics, on the other hand, were an unalloyed success: sleek and simple, with a contrast of whites and colors that leapt off the screen. If only Leigh had looked as contemporary. For her inaugural day on the job, she wore a red jacket with giant shoulders that would have looked perfectly in fashion back in, say, 1985. Perhaps the garb was intended as a reference to that evening's episode of How I Met Your Mother, which featured female lead Cobie Smulders as '80s pop star Robin Sparkles in a music-video parody alongside aging Dawson's Creek hunk James Van Der Beek and onetime teen-queen Tiffany. Whatever the case, Leigh didn't look especially comfortable, and her attempts at chatter with Benemann and Greene seemed forced. That was a problem, since happy talk only works if participants seem happy to be talking.

No doubt Leigh will work through these kinks soon enough, as will the Channel 4 technical crew. Whether the results will be strong enough to convince viewers to switch away from ratings leader Channel 9 is another question -- one that CBS' investments are intended to answer in the affirmative. -- Michael Roberts

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