No Happy Talk For New Newscast

I don’t remember the clamor for more newscasts, but we now have another one thanks to WTTA, Channel 38 and its recently debuted “38 News at Ten.”

But if I did miss the groundswell, I’ll assume it was for:

*Less “sweeps” sensationalism and gratuitous self promotions

*Fewer over-hyped hurricane teases — no matter how ominous the wave action is off the coast of Guinea-Bissau.

*Less inane, cheesy chatter among news readers

*A ban on news-context promos for the latest silly reality show on the affiliate’s network.

*A toning down of the all-Bucs’-bandwagon-all-the-time coverage

*A prohibition on goofy, man-in-the-street interviews on slow news days

*Eliminating invitations to viewers to vote on pressing issues: up or down on nuking North Korea, yes or no on recalling Vince Naimoli.

Having said that, let it also be said that “38 News at Ten” is not exactly a clone of the other five newscasts on broadcast and cable outlets. The mold is still intact, but they have tinkered.

The hour-long, 10:00 p.m. “38 News” features weekday and weekend anchors — David Klug and Susan Casper, respectively — flying solo. This is an obvious function of cost-cutting resulting from an economies-of-scale relationship with parent company Sinclair Broadcast Group, which provides national feeds from its Hunt Valley, Md., headquarters.

But it’s not insignificant to viewers; two anchors are typically one too many. The tandem approach is driven by demographics, political correctness and on-air chemistry. At its best, it’s a show-biz package of pleasant-looking people and appealing personalities. At its worst, you get awkward scripting and annoying blather.

With the rather reserved Klug there was, of necessity, no “happy talk.” He’s a pro; it shows; and that’s enough. Save the banter for Seinfeld reruns, which follow at 11:00.

“If I had a dime for every person who says they hate ‘happy talk,’ I be rich enough to get out of the business,” says Channel 38 News Director Teresa Mallea. “That probably works better in the a.m. than at 10:00 p.m. Yes, we did it (solo anchors) for economies, but that’s a bonus.”

The “38 News” format — as with all of Sinclair’s 63 stations nationwide — includes commentary, which almost nobody does anymore. It means taking a stand, risking the perception of bias and using time that could otherwise be allocated to covering fires, accidents, murders and scandals.

Too bad, though, that the commentary wasn’t local. In the case of the debut newscast, it was conservative commentator Mark Hyman, Sinclair’s Maryland-based vice president for corporate relations, delivering a piece — from the all-embracing “News Central” — on safe-sex incongruities in San Francisco. That might not even be news in San Francisco.

A couple of other things. There’s a CNNesque crawl at the bottom of the screen, and a perky, easy-on-the-eyes weather person, Megan Glaros. The former is a distraction; the latter isn’t.

It would seem that “38 News'” is off to a credible and respectable start, especially for those otherwise out of the continuous, redundant national news loop. The integration between national news out of Maryland and local happenings from Tampa was smooth.

A fundamental problem, however, remains. Do we really need any more newscasts? Do we, in fact, need one more than we needed the “Jamie Foxx” show that “38 News” replaced at 10:00 p.m.? Not surprisingly, News Director Mallea thinks there’s a viable place for “38 News” in the Tampa Bay marketplace.

“When this station came into the market five years ago, everyone said there was no room for another affiliate,” says Mallea. “The station proved otherwise and is very successful financially. I look at this the same way. Especially at 10 o’clock. I think consumers like to have a choice.

“Our stance is that we’re a little bit different philosophically,” Mallea adds. “We’re more issue-oriented. For example, transportation is huge here

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