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Eyewitness to Power of the Sweeps

“Eyewitness News” and ratings sweeps were made for each other. They’re the matchmaker’s dream.

It’s true that self-promotion is built into most newscasts, and lots of curious things are happening just about everywhere these days. Take KCBS-TV Channel 2, for example, where last week you could have found not only some strong investigative reporting but also newscasts used to promote CBS entertainment programs. How many times was last Monday’s airing of the long-lost “I Love Lucy” pilot mentioned during that day’s news block--half a dozen?

But make way for the gurus of flam at KABC-TV Channel 7, where the gurgling of creative juices echoes loudest during the three main ratings sweeps months of November, February and May.

For one thing, it was clearly time last week for another Channel 7 interview with Oprah Winfrey, whose talk show precedes the station’s 4 p.m. news. It had been simply ages since the last “Eyewitness News” chat with Winfrey. The February sweeps, wasn’t it?

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This was nothing, however, compared with the orgy of self-flattery that awaited.

“I’ve been doing this a lot of years, and I just sat here transfixed,” anchorman Paul Moyer said on the air one day last week after a segment of a sweeps series by weathercaster George Fischbeck. No wonder Moyer was awed. In a sense, he was beholding his Creator.

Here was a weeklong series that didn’t simply air on “Eyewitness News.” It was about “Eyewitness News.”

Brutally probing, ever pressing, relentlessly digging, leaving no flowery adjective unturned, Dr. George last week bravely put his job and career on the line by going behind the scenes to uncover the truth and reveal that “Eyewitness News” is, well, gosh, pretty wonderful.

At Channel 7, he boldly disclosed without fear of reprisal, “Nothing is more important than getting major news.”

There he was one day breathlessly reporting about his station’s mobile trucks (“This literally can go anywhere”). There he was the next day, inside one. And there was an “Eyewitness News” crew, shooting another “Eyewitness News” crew shooting a freeway traffic jam. And there was the “Eyewitness News” chopper, shooting the traffic jam where one “Eyewitness News” crew was shooting the other “Eyewitness News” crew.

Dr. George was too thorough to stop here.

The next day found him behind the scenes again, celebrating the “dozens of devoted professionals” responsible for the news seen by Channel 7 viewers, stories running “anywhere from 30 seconds to two minutes.”

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Why a maximum of merely two minutes? There was no time to pause and reflect on such things, for this was exciting “Eyewitness News,” and this driving, fast-cut piece was moving and pulsating, showing the people who “get the facts and get them on the air,” showing them frantically running down halls to beat deadlines a la “Broadcast News.”

Whew!

Still not satisfied, Friday found Dr. George shrewdly stripping the virtue from “Eyewitness News” sports and weather to reveal the virtue of “Eyewitness News” sports and weather.

Well, listen, you have to hand it to the promotion people at Channel 7 for a brilliant scam: Conceive a series that purports to educate the public about the gathering of TV news and then assign it to probably the most trusted and benign person in the newsroom: lovable, funny old Dr. George.

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But the real purpose is not to educate, but to advertise “Eyewitness News.” Get it? You not only report the news, but as a bonus, you are the news.

Hmmmmmmmm.

If it works for “Eyewitness News,” it could work for “Eyewitness Critic.” For example, surely it would educate readers and generally enhance their lives to be told exactly how a clever TV column like this is created:

It was a morning like every other morning. After shaving and blow - drying and brushing my hair, I looked into the mirror and saw not only someone who looked incredible, but also a devoted professional.

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I had a bagel and coffee for breakfast, all the while trying to think of an idea for a column that would benefit humankind, our good friends the animals and our environment.

At last, I had it. After hugging my wife and my cat, all the while hoping that I would be able to make this world a better place for my daughter in college and my sweet old mother, I went upstairs to my office, flipped on my word processor and selflessly began writing this magnificent column.

Being a devoted professional, I tried not to misspell any words.

The phone rang. Not wishing to make the caller wait unnecessarily, I answered it immediately. The call was from a reader, thanking me for being me.

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I replied that I was merely a devoted professional.

Meanwhile, my wonderfully written column was taking shape. To myself, I thought: “I must finish it swiftly so as not to keep my devoted editors waiting.”

Outside, a dog was barking. It occurred to me that it could be barking at a terrorist coming to take me hostage. I didn’t flinch, fearlessly and professionally continuing to write under these routinely perilous conditions, because my devotion to my readers was more powerful than any danger confronting me.

The phone rang again. I picked it up and heard heavy breathing. “Whoever you are, I love you, and God bless,” I said professionally, replacing the receiver softly so as not to disturb the caller.

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Finally, my column was finished.

I have just read the marvelous things that I have written. What can I say? I just sat here transfixed.


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