Fox's 'News at Ten' good on visuals, pacing but thin on hard news


June 04, 1991|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Sun TV Critic

Only nine minutes into its premiere broadcast, WBFF-TV's "News at Ten" was already showing pictures of cakes sent to the station by publicists and featuring weatherman Len Johnson's jokes.

Channel 45 last night had newscasters in tuxedos, lots of self-conscious chitchat at the anchor desk, a bunch of feature stories and several "live" reports.

What it didn't have much of was hard news -- the commodity Channel 45 is promising viewers who the station thinks want their late news an hour earlier than what's offered on Baltimore's network affiliates.

Nowhere was the lack of news more painfully obvious than in the live reports. A live interview with Gov. William Donald Schaefer in Annapolis could have been taped and edited to half its running time. Furthermore, reporter John Rydell and Mr. Schaefer looked ridiculous sitting side by side in chairs for the interview, like it was Dan Rather with Saddam Hussein.

Another story on the closing of the Kids' Diner (seen in the film "Diner") featured a tuxedo-clad reporter standing in front of the darkened diner while the word "live" flashed on the screen.

The use of "live" to give a false sense of immediacy reached an absurd low when anchor Jeff Barnd told viewers that sportscaster "Max Morgan is standing by live in our newsroom." What's the alternative, having your sportscaster on tape in the newsroom?

The big question about this "News at Ten" is whether it can find fresh news that was not seen at 6 o'clock on the affiliates and whether it can deliver more news in an hour at 10 than the affiliates do in a half-hour at 11. The answer last night to both questions was mainly no.

Channel 13, the ratings leader in local news, came on at 11 with a live report from police headquarters pegged to a homicide that Melissa Sanders told viewers happened "just before 10 o'clock." It seemed like the kind of story Channel 45 ought to have had but didn't.

What Channel 45 offered last night instead of hard news were features on money, health and entertainment. The problem was that outside of Steve Crowley -- identified on-air as the "Money Pro" -- the stories showed no special knowledge or expertise. On the plus side, the newscast did have a nice pace and was visually interesting, though, not especially eloquent. The anchor team -- Barnd, Lisa Willis, Morgan and Johnson -- was competent.

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