It was a chance for the local show to dance.
The city was still bumping and grinding to the beat of the previous day’s Christopher Commission report calling for sweeping changes in the Los Angeles Police Department and for embattled Chief Daryl F. Gates to step aside.
Wasn’t this--the hometown story-- exactly what was supposed to distinguish KTLA’s 3-day-old morning newscast from its established national counterparts on ABC, NBC and CBS?
But the dancer had two left feet.
So “KTLA Morning News"--the area’s first two-hour local morning newscast--clumsily stumbled Wednesday, missing its first opportunity to spin away dramatically from its 7-9 a.m. higher-profile competitors “Good Morning America,” “Today” and “CBS This Morning.”
Channel 5 on this morning treated an extraordinary, complex story routinely, rehashing the previous day’s developments, airing a couple of pale live reports on reactions to the report from cops at LAPD’s Hollywood Division and offering up an interview with a Christopher panelist that was almost amateurish compared with interviews on the same topic featured by the network morning shows.
Mayor Tom Bradley had made himself available in his office in the morning’s wee hours to Joan Lunden of “Good Morning America,” Paula Zahn of “CBS This Morning” and Faith Daniels of “Today,” who also questioned John Spiegel, the commission’s general counsel.
Although “Good Morning America” erred horrendously by abruptly cutting to a commercial while Bradley was in mid-sentence, all three interviewers were incisive. The gifted and versatile Daniels was especially adroit--pressing Spiegel, for example, to cut through the commission’s tactful language regarding its call for Gates’ withdrawal: “What is the difference in calling for a transition and calling for resignation?”
Compare that with Channel 5 morning anchor Carlos Amezcua’s inept interview with Christopher panel member Robert Tranquada, who met vague queries--"Give us your impression of the findings"--with vague responses.
Plus, just as the nationally oriented network morning shows did, Channel 5 failed to elaborate much on the Christopher report, instead clinging to the headlines as if held fast by a magnet.
Nor on Thursday morning--while giving strongest emphasis to that day’s solar eclipse--did the local newscast advance the police story beyond what had already been reported both by other TV stations and in newspapers.
It’s not that this failure to meet an early challenge necessarily bodes failure for Channel 5 in the morning, where a two-hour local news block is surely a welcome option to Barbecuing With Bryant and the rest of the 3-hour-old fare served here by the New York-based network shows. But to excel, Channel 5 will have to perform differently and more distinctively than it has.
It did get Bradley in the morning--but for its Monday premiere. Amezcua’s interview with the mayor approximated a batting practice pitcher lobbing soft ones underhand to a slugger. The mayor opened by congratulating Channel 5 on its “great innovation” and closed by telling Amezcua that L.A. has “much about which we can be proud,” after which the anchor, in effect, thanked Bradley for blasting everything out of sight and strode off the mound.
“KTLA Morning News” has a split personality, airing a smattering of national and international headlines and CNN stories amid its diet of thinly reported, unevenly written local stories.
What it already offers is improvement over the antique sitcoms that the independent station had been running during these two hours. What it already projects is likability and pleasantness. It’s a quality that comes with the anchors--even though co-anchor Barbara Beck does have an interesting edge that contrasts with Amezcua’s raging geniality--and with weathercaster Mark Kriski.
When limited to headline reading and anchor chitchat, Amezcua wears well. Beck so far has been much the better interviewer, even when saddled with questioning two car experts about the resurgence of convertibles. She asked them to play Siskel and Ebert in assessing various models. They did so only partially, giving thumbs up to everything. Meanwhile, thumbs up to Kriski, a blessed respite from the grinning weather comics on “Today” and “CBS This Morning.”
What you get, too, in this refreshingly Willardless, glossless and moderately straight-laced newscast are frequent “Skycam 5" reports that give Channel 5 a traffic-reporting edge over the rarer local cut-ins during the network shows.
Yet there’s a sense of deja vu here in terms of a local newscast--old, sun-baked ground being transplanted to a new location. But consider the alternative. Closing out “CBS This Morning” with anchor Zahn Thursday were those lovebirds Tom and Roseanne Barr Arnold. “Let’s talk about the reality of working together,” Zahn said. Let’s not.
WALKING THE PLANK: The Barbary Pirates of local news struck again Tuesday morning when KABC-TV Channel 7 reporter Linda Breakstone, on orders from news director Roger Bell (and surely with the concurrence of general manager Terry Crofoot), broke a news embargo on the Christopher Commission report by reporting on some of the material before its agreed-upon release.
The incident speaks to the character of Channel 7.
“Eyewitness News” and the city’s other news organizations were given copies of the report in advance on the basis that they would honor the 11 a.m. embargo. Channel 7 agreed to the condition, then ignored it.
Channel 7 gained no real competitive advantage by rushing on the air at 9:20 a.m. with sketchily gleaned highlights from a complex, lengthy document that no one in the media had had a chance to study. The fuller account would be everywhere on the airwaves later that morning anyway.
Channel 7 broke the embargo apparently for only one reason. It could.
You can argue that news organizations should not accept such conditions in the first place. But that’s another issue. Channel 7 did accept this one, then reneged.
What happened shouldn’t be surprising. This is the same station, after all, that had an onerous policy of not covering local anti-war demonstrations during a significant period of the Persian Gulf War.
How could a station with integrity and scruples act in such a fashion? It couldn’t.