Show & Sell

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Of all the local stations, only Channel 2 largely stayed off the charity-go-round -- maybe because it was so busy lining up advertisers to pay for its other attractions.

Let's Make a Deal
On Denver newscasts, the advertisements don't end when each block of commercials fades to black. Stations also sell sponsorships for portions of programs, giving companies five- to ten-second graphic lead-ins to segments ("This portion of News 4 is sponsored by...") in addition to placement of their spot in the opening slot of the next group of ads. Channel 2 may be the most ardent deal-maker, but the other stations played much the same game, with Channel 4 capping its November 14 "Colorado Millennium 2000" report with valentines to photographer John Fielder (including info about where to buy his latest book) and "Millennium" sponsors such as Public Service Company of Colorado, and all but endorsing participants in its "Companies 4 Colorado" promotion. The implication was that anyone who doesn't patronize these businesses is being unfaithful to the state. Similar subterfuge was at the heart of the relationships between two stations, Channel 9 and Channel 4, and, respectively, the Denver Post and the Rocky Mountain News. Both outlets presented nightly items about what would appear in these newspapers the next morning, but because the stories were merely hinted at, not reported in any tangible way, the segments were essentially commercials masquerading as news. Predictably, the graphics for these regular features were spiffy; unfortunately, they didn't include the word "Advertisement" flashing across the bottom of the screen.

Got the Puff, Daddy?
On Channel 2, soft news -- local or national lifestyle stories, oddball items intended merely to produce a smile -- was given slightly more room than the harder local stuff. That ranking was reversed at the other stations, but each devoted plenty of time to ultra-squishy feature material: 15 percent at Channel 4, 13 percent at Channel 7 and 9 percent at Channel 9.

Some favorite offenders (out of many potential candidates): A November 13 report by Channel 9's Mark Koebrich about a firm helping folks file for their own divorces that was so empty and unquestioning that even weekend anchor Ward Lucas seemed put off by it; an endless November 14 report by Channel 7's Paul Reinertsen about a guy who just happened to buy a house his grandfather once lived in; and a November 14 Paul Day piece on Channel 4 about man-made earthquakes in Denver during the Sixties that was prompted by the airing of a sweeps-month movie, Aftershock, just before the newscast. But even this beaut couldn't compare with an extra-dumb Channel 4 feature on November 13 in which Dr. Dave Hnida argued that beer and pizza aren't terrible for your health if they're consumed in moderation. "The moderation part is what I have a problem with," said weekend anchor Larry Blunt during the thirty seconds of allegedly wacky banter that followed about a prop pizza slice soaking through a napkin on the anchor desk. More beer!

Chat Rooms
Despite widespread criticism of "happy talk" newscasts, blabber remains endemic in Denver TV news, particularly during transitions from news to weather, from commercial breaks to sports, from sports to commercial breaks and just prior to a show's conclusion. All four stations spent around a minute each night on such vapid dish as Channel 4's Aimee Sporer needling fellow anchor Bill Stuart about his reputedly unaccomplished golf game -- and that doesn't count the unnecessary back-and-forths between anchors and reporters on location or in the studio. These exchanges tended to reiterate previously reported portions of stories, not provide new information; they're there to help identify these talking heads as interested, informed-yet-down-to-earth figures who can relate to you, the home viewer -- whether or not you want them to.

Rain or Shine
The weather report is the most practical part of a newscast; people watch it so that they'll know how many layers they should wear the next day or how early they should start for the airport. But rather than present weather predictions in a succinct fashion, as they did in the alleged "updates" that often popped up near the end of newscasts, Denver TV stations dragged them out to an extraordinary degree, using flamboyant graphics and gewgaws, including computer animation zipping to and fro like circling electrons -- for a single purpose: to keep your ass in your chair.

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts