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November 15, 2006
Local TV News Sweeps: Day 13

We're breaking into one of these homes! Live! Will it be yours?
- Channel 13 promo

The good news: It wasn't your home. Or mine.

More good news: The much-hyped "special report" on Tuesday night turned out to be far less cheesy than we had feared. In fact - dare we say it? - much of it was informative.

Aside from the hope of a ratings bonanza, the station's reason for breaking into a house on live TV was to show how most people don't bother to lock their doors or take any other precautions against bad guys. Having Sheriff John McGinness (pictured, right) on hand to provide play-by-play commentary during the break-in added a whiff of credibility, as did the handy tips McGinness imparted to dissuade thieves: leave men's work boots and a dog bowl outside your front door; buy a dog; keeps lights on outside your house, and engrave all your valuables.

Now, for the actual break-in, reported by Mike Dell Stritto - yeah, there was some cheese. There was a clock displayed in the top righthand corner of the screen to time the "criminals," who were wearing dark hooded sweatshirts and skulking around like they were in an outtake from a B-movie. Cameras inside the house showed them grabbing laptop computers, ransacking the kitchen for ID-theft items such as credit card or checking receipts. And then the bad guys stole the homeowner's car keys and dashed away in the owner's red sports car.

Dello Stritto breathlessly told us the entire break-in took 1 minute, 25 seconds -about as long as it takes for a smoke break. And the kicker: The "thieves" turned out to be consumer reporter Kurtis Ming and "Good Day Sacramento's" clown Mark S. Allen (left). It was not the first time in recent months that Allen has interacted with the sheriff's department. But, we digress.

On to less sensational "special reports" on rival news shows Tuesday:

* Channel 3 spent the first five minutes of its 11 p.m. broadcast on investigative reporter Josh Bernstein's piece about how the Department of Health Services is failing to investigate in a timely manner the majority of nursing-home complaints it receives and how fines imposed by DHS are often greatly reduced to avoid litigation.

Nice, solid reporting. The nursing home report by no means broke new ground - The Bee and other media outlets have long reported problems at DHS - but it's important for public agencies to be held accountable.

But a word about the presentation of Bernstein's report: Where was the eerie synthesizer music? The quick-cutting, jerky camera shots? What about the alliteration-saturated copy? All the usual sweeps fluff was missing. All we got was the news. And you know what? It managed to keep our attention, sans the bells and whistles.

One question for Bernstein: Josh, was that a minor "faux-hawk" hairstyle you were wearing? That's treading on Mark S. Allen turf, buddy.

* News10 led its newscast with a special report by Dan Adams on Jerry Brown's efforts as mayor of Oakland to put "Shot Spotters" - audio sensors detecting gunfire - on stoplights, overpasses and businesses in Oakland and how he might (emphasis: might) want to expand that program statewide now that he's been elected California's attorney general.

That brings up some thorny privacy and other ACLU-type issues, which makes Adams' report newsworthy. But News10 didn't do a good enough job establishing whether Brown does, indeed, want to install "Shot Spotters" throughout the state. At the end of the report, anchor Cristina Mendonsa told viewers that Brown was unavailable for comment, but that "the California Department of Corrections confirms Brown has been in contact with them."
And that means what?

So far, this sweeps period has been long on crime but short on sex - the other ratings staple.

Channel 3 tried to alleviate that dearth Tuesday night near the end of its broadcast. Teasing (and yes, that's an obvious double-entendre) to tonight's special report called "Born Again Virginity," anchor Edie Lambert said, "A new trend among young people - people who are reclaiming their virginity."
Cut to anchor Dave Walker: "And then there's the other extreme." Walker then proceeded to introduce a story about two Southwest airline passengers who were arrested for trying to join the "Mile High Club" - i. e., having sex during a flight.

Walker: "You get coach, first class or no class."

Fox40 reported the "Mile High Club" story, as well, but the obligatory "talker" of the night was how a donation of "Talking Jesus Dolls" was rejected by Toys for Tots. Anchors on Fox40 and Channel 3 resisted the temptation to add personal comments. Good for them.

And what to make of this? Boreal, the ski resort, opened Tuesday, and all the stations were there. But the best report was not by a reporter. No, News10 sent only photographer Tom Whitaker to Boreal and he filed a package without reporter voiceover (or any reporter involvement, for that matter) that was more entertaining than reports by Brian Hickey (Channel 3), Angelique Frame (Channel 13) or Lonnie Wong (Fox40).

Whitaker interviewed teens and college students about where they were supposed to be ("I've got a midterm today," one said) instead of frolicking on the slopes.

But News10 gets a wag of the finger for shamelessly plugging "Dancing With the Stars" - during sports (the Emmitt Smith angle) and as a show-ender.

Finally, it wouldn't be a sweeps night - at least not for us - without a deer story. Channel 13 ran a story it called "Bambi Busted" - a deer that wandered into a bank in Pittsburgh. Anchor banter after the story revolved around the remarkable glut of deer stories in the news. Quoth Sam Shane: "I guess the water-skiing squirrel got retired."

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