Show & Sell

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Channel 9's November 8 weather report, hosted by Mike Nelson, included:

1. A view from Sky 9 (a helicopter) of the day's sunset.

2. A time-lapse shot of the mountains that would have shown clouds zooming past had not the sky been almost entirely clear that day.

3. Footage of snow in the Sierra Nevadas, since there was none in Denver.

4. A high-temperature graphic in which the numbers, in yellow, hopped one by one onto the screen.

5. A satellite view of the western U.S. that rapidly panned back from Denver, represented by a star.

6. "Future Cast," a swirling computer representation of what would likely happen later that evening.

7. A shot of Nelson walking into the "9 Back Yard" outside the station's studio.

8. A time-lapse shot of Vail overlaid with a "Statistics" graphic.

9. A "Currently at DIA" graphic over a city-streets visual that dissolved into a report of temperatures in other Colorado cities.

10. Nelson in front of a state map framed in brick, with greenery growing beneath and around it. As he waved his arms, clouds with moving raindrops and glowing suns magically appeared on the map, representing changes expected over the next several days.

11. Video of a jet trail over which flashed animated forecasts for "Tonight," "Tomorrow" and "Planning," all with the 9 News logo prominent.

This head-spinning display took over three minutes, or about 12 percent of that night's newscast excluding commercials, yet the key data -- what we think it's going to be like tomorrow -- was dispensed with in around ten seconds.

Commercially Speaking
Surveys suggest that late newscast viewers are fairly affluent, which explains the preponderance of advertisements for cars and online services. But such straightforward spots were often joined by ones that pumped the newscasts themselves. Channel 4 repeatedly hyped sweeps programming like Dr. Dave Hnida's "What to Take for Your Ache" (about the pain relievers doctors use for themselves) and Larry Blunt's "Invasion of Privacy" (concerning banks that sell customers' information), and created a special commercial for Fidelity Investment as a reward for sponsoring "American Dream," a Dan Rather-hosted segment recycled from the CBS Evening News. Channel 7, meanwhile, produced several editions of "7 Mark in Time," which blurred the line between news and advertising in a way that's both ingenious and disconcerting. Inspired by a gimmick popularized by Dateline, "Mark in Time" found anchor Mitch Jelniker mentioning a couple of events that took place earlier this century and then invited viewers to guess the correct year; he returned with the answer only after several commercials aired. In other words, the segment exists primarily to keep people seated through a slew of ads, and if Jelniker's credibility as a newsman gets scuffed in the process, who cares? In a fight between integrity and revenues, revenues win every time.

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.

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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