Sweeps Unchained

Rad Berky got armed and dangerous. Carmel Cafiero got Joe Gersten. Ike Seamans got a heart attack. And we watched it all.

As a story about heart disease fades from the screen, WTVJ-TV (Channel 6) news anchor Jennifer Valoppi gazes at the camera in front of her, glances at her notes, then looks back at the camera. "And coming up in just a little bit -- well, actually right now -- we're going to take a look at a very personal story," she stumbles. "You think it'll never happen to you, a heart attack. Well, it did happen to someone very special in our NBC-6 family."

"And what you're about to see is a most unusual story," chimes in co-anchor Tony Segreto. "Our colleague and great friend, senior correspondent Ike Seamans, is here, and we're happy he is! He documented on tape his heart attack as it was happening." Segreto turns to a groggy-looking Seamans, seated to his right. "And I have to ask you, why did you feel compelled to do this for us now?"

Why? That's easy: Sweeps! Seamans's report aired in November, one of the quarterly ratings periods during which television stations nationwide determine how many people are watching their local news broadcasts -- and how much money they can charge for advertising. News programs generate a large portion of a station's profits, so competition for viewers can be intense. During sweeps, news directors display the fruits of yearlong investigations, interviews with celebrities, and absolutely anything else they can think of to hook potential viewers. Like breasts. And babies. And senior correspondents succumbing to chest pains while touring Cleveland sports bars.

Seamans's story, "Surviving a Heart Attack," documents the three days he spent in an Ohio intensive care unit after he suffered major heart artery spasms during Channel 6's coverage of the World Series. Even with his ticker under direct assault, Seamans gamely propped himself in front of a camera and ordered its operator to keep filming. Footage of the resulting story shows the former NBC News Moscow bureau chief supine on a hospital bed with a blue plastic tube snaking into his nostrils, jogging shirtless on a treadmill with electrodes glued to his nipples, and consulting with his cardiologist, who calls Seamans's decision to work through the heart attack "extremely" stupid.

Amazingly, this was not Seamans's first sweeps-broadcast brush with death. Only a few months ago, for the July ratings period, he went on camera to share his personal battle with skin cancer. What's the senior correspondent preparing for the February sweeps, a liver transplant? "Ike's going to be getting older," worries Florida International University broadcast journalism professor Charles Tuggle, a friend of Seamans. "He's going to be able to do a lot of stories like this."

Tuggle explains that personal stories about skin cancer or heart disease or pregnancy (see sidebar, page 22) are part of a trend "sweeping" the broadcast news industry. "Stations have taken on the mantle of your friends down the street," says the professor. "Every time a female anchor has a baby, they're going to make a big deal out of it. I'm sort of ambivalent about it, but what I find disturbing is that this happens only in sweeps."

The most recent sweeps period ran from October 30 through Thanksgiving. Even as the cranberries and stuffing were being served, station managers were scrambling to tabulate the ratings winners. Officially, WPLG (Channel 10) narrowly edged out Spanish-language WLTV (Channel 23) to win in the crucial eleven o'clock nightly news slot. (At least during the week. When weekends are factored in, WLTV came out on top.) WTVJ finished in a virtual tie for second, while WSVN (Channel 7) took third. Fourth place fell, perhaps appropriately, to WFOR (Channel 4). Spanish-language WSCV (Channel 51) finished far out of the running.

Not to take anything away from Channel 10, but we here at New Times believe that the ratings method of determining sweeps "winners" and "losers" is ill-conceived. By focusing exclusively on audience size, the rankings slight the cholesterol-level-be-damned achievements of the reporters, the ones who stalked perverts and skunk apes and revealed the secrets of instructional sex videos, to name just a few accomplishments among the 100-plus stories that aired last month.

Unfortunately, doing something about that sad state of affairs required us to actually watch TV newscasts.

A lot of TV newscasts.
Do not try this at home. We sure didn't. Instead, we enlisted the very helpful staff of the Miami-Dade Public Library's Louis Wolfson II Media History Center. Director Steven Davidson provided us a steel folding chair, a VCR, a television set, and a giant box filled with videotapes containing a month's worth of eleven o'clock newscasts on channels 4, 6, and 10, plus the ten o'clock broadcasts from Channel 7. (Owing to eyestrain and time constraints, we did not review the offerings of Channel 23 or Channel 51.)

After assigning a base score of 50 to each story, we added or subtracted points according to a set of objective criteria. Adhering to the unique nature of sweeps reports, for instance, we awarded points for alliteration, for the use of hidden cameras, and for the word "sex." Points were also given for the inclusion of babies, or Howard Finkelstein as a legal expert. Points were subtracted if a similar story ran on another station. (In the case of Channel 10 stories, points were taken off for anything live, local, or late-breaking.)

Finally, our committee of one tabulated the results to determine the best-overall sweeps expose from the November ratings book.

Seamans, regrettably, did not win. (We urge our friends at Channel 6 to break it to him gently.) Our judge threw out his story when it was suggested that the reporter's insatiable need to broadcast his medical history may be a rare variation of Munchhausen syndrome by TelePrompTer. Rather than exacerbate this harmful disease, we are awarding him only our sincere get-well wishes.

To everyone else we present an accurate ranking of the best stories that aired during sweeps. Call it the New Times Nielsens.

Title: "Power, Pleasure, and Pain"
Station: Channel 7
Reporter: Belkys Nerey
Date: November 7

"You know the phrase 'pain is pleasure,'" chirps the perky Nerey as the screen fills with images of whip-wielding nymphomaniacs in leather underwear. "Well, these people are living proof. Domination is the motivation in the world of the dominatrix, where clients -- referred to as 'slaves' and 'submissives' -- answer to masters known as 'doms' or 'dominatrixes.'"

Nerey interviews two doms and a slave, who explain that their fetishes are "not just about pain. It's sensual."

Hidden camera: 0
Ambush: 0
Sex: Well, yeah. +25
Reporter participation: No. -40
Howard Finkelstein: 0

Competition from other stations: Channel 4 ran a piece titled "South Florida Fetishes." -20

Unintentional irony: The seedy Rick Sanchez's intro: "You may have wondered why professionals would get involved in something that seems ... gonna call it what it is ... seedy." -10

Intangibles: We don't know the phrase "pain is pleasure." -5
Belkys Bonus: +10
Total score: 10

Title: "Carnival Convicts"
Station: Channel 10
Reporter: Jennifer Snell
Date: November 21

The vagrants and transients who work at carnivals are sometimes less than upstanding citizens. Snell reveals that Dominic Divola, president of a traveling carnival, does not screen his day laborers for histories of drug and alcohol abuse or run criminal background checks that might uncover murderers or child molesters in his midst. This despite the fact that a man who worked for a different carnival upstate may have molested some girls.

"If you open at 6:00, someone comes looking for a job at 5:30 -- that really doesn't give you much time for a check," Divola protests politely, adding that his permanent employees are checked. "If they're employed on the ride for three hours and if they stay on the ride and work for three hours and we pay them and they go home, I don't have any idea when they would have time to molest anybody."

Alliterative title: +10
Sex: 0
Hidden camera: 0
Live, local, or late-breaking: Local. -10
Intangibles: Credible defense by the accused. -20
Snell a member of the "Eye Team." +10
Where else are these guys supposed to work? -15
Total score: 25

Title: "Valet Vandals"
Station: Channel 4
Reporter: Al Sunshine
Date: October 30

"Shame on You" investigative reporter Sunshine proves that one valet at one condo is a bad driver. "Angry resident" Jodie Feldman gave her car to a valet at Intracoastal Towers in Miami. That man, whose driver's license had expired, drove her car into a construction pit, causing $1300 in damage to the car's underbody.

Sunshine ambushes Gold Star Parking Systems president Arthur Schultz, who appears very contrite and apologetic. "I had no way of knowing that in the course of the last two months the courts suspended his license," Schultz stammers. "I saw his license physically -- and he had a license. It's very unfortunate."

Schultz reimbursed Feldman for the repairs to her car, but she still isn't satisfied. "Shame on you, Gold Star Valet!" she cries, misstating the company's name.

Ambush: +10
Alliterative title: +10
Hidden camera: 0

Competition from other stations: Channel 6's Steve Daniels reported on dangerous valets last year, and he used a hidden camera. -30

Intangibles: "Shame on You" theme music. +5.
The valet wasn't so much a vandal as he was simply stupid. -20
Total score: 25

Title: "Men Who Like Little Boys"
Station: Channel 4
Reporter: John Deutzman
Date: November 2-4

"The News 4 Problem Solvers go undercover to interview the operator of a Website devoted to the appreciation of young men, to expose a secret, frightening world where grown men are sexually attracted to young boys," Deutzman practically vomits. "The very thought of it can start a violent reaction."

Faced with an apparent dearth of pedophiles in South Florida, Deutzman travels to New York City to secretly videotape Jim Finn III, a well-spoken young adult who admits on hidden camera that he's attracted to males between the ages of eight and eighteen.

Ambushing Finn a day later, Deutzman asks what he would say to parents who think that boy-lovers pose a danger to their children. "I would say if you don't allow people like us to communicate and deal with our feelings, then there will be a lot more dangerous people out there," Finn responds quite reasonably.

Anchor comment: "Disgusting." +5
Talking head: Don Ryce, father of slain nine-year-old Jimmy Ryce. +5
Hidden camera: +10
Ambush: +10
Alliterative title: 0
Gay bashing: Um ... yes. -20
Intangibles: The creepy questions this story raises about John Deutzman. -25
Total score: 35

Title: "Truth Phone"
Station: Channel 10
Reporter: Jennifer Snell
Date: November 7

Snell uses Barbara Walters's interview of Marv Albert to test the truth phone, a $2500 gadget that's supposed to be able to detect stress in a person's voice.

Marv passes easily.
Snell also tests the phone by letting one of her officemates steal an electronic organizer from her pocketbook. She then dials around the office accusing her peers of theft. "I'm going to say based on the numbers that Todd Tongen probably took something out of my pocketbook," she guesses after completing her inquisition. While Tongen is the thief, the numbers (which are visible on screen) actually indicate that Shari Lipner took the organizer.

What else is she hiding?

Alliterative title: 0
Sex: 0
Reporter participation: +10
Live, local, or late-breaking: Not really. 0

Competition from other stations: WTVJ ran its own short story about the truth phone. -20

Intangibles: Channel 10's truth phone reportedly costs $1500 less than the phone used on Channel 6. +10

Total score: 50

Title: "Lives on the Line"
Station: Channel 6
Reporter: Steve Daniels
Date: October 30

The $44 million Ericsson two-way radio system purchased by the county four years ago doesn't work very well. Police and firefighters complain that the radios fail inside buildings, when they get wet, and during other potentially serious situations.

"Is the county holding Ericsson's feet to the fire to make sure the citizens and the public-safety people in Dade County will be kept safe?" Daniels asks Mayor Alex Penelas.

"Absolutely!" the mayor replies. "And I think to your credit and your channel's credit more so now because I think without a doubt we have to make sure the taxpayers of Dade County are getting exactly what they paid for."

Alliterative title: Barely +5
Sex: 0
Ambush: 0
Hidden camera: 0
Endorsement from Alex Penelas (usually the kiss of death): -20
Solid reporting: +2
Intangibles: Daniels did not suffer a heart attack on air. +15
Total score: 52

Title: "Five Secrets to Staying Together"
Station: Channel 6
Reporter: Kelly Craig
Date: November 18
Intangibles: Appreciation. +1
New information. +1
Puzzles. +1
Complaints with request for change. +1
Wishes, hopes, and dreams. +1
Total score: 55

Title: "Crime Caught on Tape"
Station: Channel 7
Reporter: Derek Hayward
Date: October 30

Bombastic British broadcaster Hayward explains that security cameras not only exist, they also seem to work. He shows examples of shoplifters caught nabbing underwear, hats, and cigarettes.

Then suddenly, and entirely without warning, Hayward displays footage of a gruesome triple homicide: The screen fills with a blurry blue image of Seth Penalver apparently pistol-whipping Miramar nightclub owner Casmir Sucharski. When someone tries to intercede, the gun's muzzle flashes, and Sucharski and two female acquaintances are killed.

"It's both good and bad," Channel 7 legal expert Howard Finkelstein says of videotape evidence. "But in the end I think all evidence is good. It's what the jury does with it. We have seen that these videotapes convict the guilty and free the innocent. It can show when the defendants are lying or the police are lying."

And the bad?

Alliterative title: Not really. 0
Ambush: 0
Hidden camera: Just the topic. 0
Sex: 0
Howard Finkelstein: +20

Competition from other stations: WPLG's "Stupid Criminals" also showed crimes caught on tape (though without the murders). -20

Intangibles: Finkelstein interviewed in an artfully shadowed courtroom. +10
Total score: 60

Title: "Tear Down the Tolls"
Station: Channel 7
Reporter: Patrick Frazier
Date: November 6-7

Quarters collected at South Florida tollbooths along Florida's Turnpike are used to pay for the construction and maintenance of roads not just in South Florida but all across the state. Tolls are also annoying.

"Shame on Florida for their turnpike service!" shouts "angry driver" Anthony Brown. Oops! -- that's for Al Sunshine, who files his own Shame Team report on the tolls, emphasizing the delays caused by motorists who pay with $20 bills.

Alliterative title: +10
Sex: 0
Ambush: By Al Sunshine, who corners a toll collector, but not by Frazier. 0

Quote from a politician, preferably Alex Penelas: State Sen. Mario Diaz-Balart says: "[The tolls are] patently unfair, period." +10

Competition from other stations: -20
Intangibles: Frazier does not enshrine anyone in a "Hall of Shame." +15
Total score: 65

Title: "Classic Clunkers"
Station: Channel 6
Reporter: Bob Mayer
Date: November 7

Mayer, himself a classic car collector, exposes a legal loophole that lets other (read: less sophisticated) people drive around with the collector license plates he prizes. Because of a 1996 state law, all cars more than twenty years old automatically receive collector tags, which cost less to renew than regular plates.

"As a collector myself, I can tell you that a car is not a collectible just because it's old," Mayer huffs.

The reporter confronts Thomas Sheppard, who keeps an old Cutlass in his yard. "How did you get the collectible tag?" Mayer demands.

"Well, when I went to get a tag, they gave it to me," Sheppard replies sheepishly. "I like the Florida one better. It looks better. This is kind of plain."

Hidden camera: 0
Sex: 0
Reporter involvement: +10

Quote from a politician, preferably Alex Penelas: State Rep. Elaine Bloom, who calls the loophole "embarrassing." +5

Intangibles: Nice cars. +10
Total score: 75

Title: "Poison Produce"
Station: Channel 4
Reporter: Michelle Gillen
Date: November 10-13

Potentially contaminated vegetables harvested by child laborers on pesticide-infested Mexican farms are sometimes sold as American-grown. People who eat this food may lose their hair.

Gillen skulks around Mexican farms and Miami produce-shipping bays to report that 50 percent of all winter vegetables consumed in America today are grown in foreign fields. Almost none of the foreign food is inspected by the U.S. government. "Most Americans believe, like you do, that because it has a USDA seal of approval that the product is safe," says Luis Rodriguez, former senior executive with the United States Department of Agriculture. "But it's not."

Anchor comments: Khambrel Marshall: "Quite an eye-opening report." +5. Ileana Varela: "It's incredible.... Sports is up next with some good news about the Dolphins." +15

Alliterative title: +10
Hidden camera: +10
Unintentional irony: As Gillen stands in a Mexican field documenting the horrors of child labor, she appears to be wearing Nike running shoes. -20

Intangibles: Exceptionally evocative music. +10.
Total score: 80

Title: "Outgunned ... by Criminals"
Station: Channel 10
Reporter: Rad Berky
Date: October 30

People who purchase firearms at gun shows do not have to submit to a criminal background check. "From the streets to the schoolyard, it seems we're ALWAYS hearing stories about someone who's been killed by a gun," leads anchor Dwight Lauderdale. "It's so bad," continues co-anchor Kristi Krueger, "that Florida's coming to be known as the Gunshine State."

A hidden camera carried into a West Palm Beach gun show reveals an assistant producer buying a 9mm handgun. Afterward, Berky ambushes the seller: "Can I ask you a question? A quick question?" Berky demands as he runs over to the seller's car. "We're doing a story on gun shows. We just saw the gun sold without a permit, no paperwork."

The seller's Cadillac peels away in a gray fog of rubber with Berky in halfhearted pursuit.

Hidden camera: +10
Ambush: +10
Props: 1 Chinese-made assault rifle. +10
Alliterative title: 0
Live, local, or late-breaking: Nope. 0
Intangibles: "Gunshine State." -15

At the beginning of the piece, the title is displayed over footage of a body being wheeled through a hospital corridor as someone wails in pain. +15

Berky, shown at a gun range, appears to be a good shot. +5
Total score: 85

Title: "Lost Pets"
Station: Channel 7
Reporter: Patrick Frazier
Date: October 31

"Stolen," shrieks the introduction. "For science, money, or someone's sick obsession. Tonight the Night Team's graphic story of 'Lost Pets.' We should probably warn you: This one could be disgusting." (A heads-up the station failed to give for the aforementioned "Video Violence," which included footage of the triple homicide.)

Frazier explains that pets are sometimes stolen, mostly in the Midwest. No numbers are available for South Florida. "And remember," he concludes, "take care of your pet. You don't ever want to experience ... coming home and finding it gone."

Alliterative title: 0
Ambush: 0
Hidden camera: 0
Sex: 0
Intangibles: Cute puppies. +40
Total score: 90

Title: "Stalking the Great Skunk Ape"
Station: Channel 4
Reporter: John Deutzman
Date: October 31-November 1

"Intriguing" new evidence has emerged concerning the Great Skunk Ape, a Bigfoot-type creature rumored to live in the Everglades.

"Tell you what, maybe I'm just a moron, guys," Deutzman opens convincingly, "but I've lived here nine years and I've never heard of the Great Skunk Ape thing until recently, but I'll tell you what, one thing's for sure, there's definitely something going on out there."

The "evidence" consists primarily of a blurry videotape of what appears to be John Deutzman wearing a gorilla costume. After interviewing befuddled tour guides, camping overnight with renowned skeptic the Amazing Randi, and flying above the Everglades in Chopper4, Deutzman reveals that the videotape is actually of him wearing a gorilla costume.

Talking Head: Gift shop owner David Shealy, who says, "There's absolutely no doubt in my mind whatsoever that this thing exists." +5

Alliterative title: 0
Ambush: 0
Hidden camera: 0
Sex: 0
Reporter participation: +10
Helicopter: +10
Intangibles: Boy-lover hater Deutzman admitting that he may be a moron. +30
The Amazing Randi sitting next to a campfire. +5
Total score: 110

Title: "What Is Politically Correct?"
Station: Channel 6
Reporter: A panel chaired by Tony Segreto
Date: November 6

Segreto and his co-workers grapple with the definition and significance of political correctness. "Years ago you wouldn't think twice about using the terms 'housewife,' 'cripple,' or 'Negro.' Well, today these words are considered 'insensitive.' They're not 'politically correct.' ... What is politically correct and what isn't? And what's the meaning of it all, anyway?"

Among the revelations: Reporter Danielle Knox prefers to be called black. Alicia Ortega's preferred label is Hispanic, because Latino and Latina have a negative connotation. Also, the Miami Herald "regularly holds style meetings, in part to keep its staff up-to-date on new politically correct terms so as not to offend readers."

Anchor chat: Jennifer Valoppi: "Certainly something we're sensitive to around here is the weather, so with that we turn it over to Roland Stedham." +60

Alliterative title: 0
Sex: 0
Ambush: 0

Intangibles: Segreto holds up his fingers and makes a "quote" sign when he says the term "politically correct." -10

Herald editor Steve Rothaus is shown with an earring in his left lobe. +15
Total score: 115

Title: "Gersten Down Under"
Station: Channel 7
Reporter: Carmel Cafiero
Date: November 10-12

The scoop of all time! Carmel Cafiero travels to Australia to track down the wayward former county commissioner who skipped town after a drugs-and-prostitution scandal erupted around him. Cafiero discovers that even halfway around the world, Gersten is still an arrogant prick.

The pair boat, hike, drive on the left side of the road, and fit Gersten with the ceremonial black robes and white wig that lawyers wear Down Under. Gersten explains why he has filed for political asylum.

"America is a foreign country to me. Australia is my home," he sniffs defiantly. "I wouldn't trade what I have now with what I had then for a million dollars."

Cafiero neglects to ask if he'd make the trade for a million dollars in crack cocaine.

Alliterative title: -10
Nice title nonetheless: +10
Sex: As in with a prostitute. +10
Hidden camera: 0
Howard Finkelstein: 0
Intangibles: Wigs. +20.
References to Gersten as "a likable bloke." +40
Total score: 120

Title: "Driving Schools for Scandal"
Station: Channel 4
Reporter: Mark Hyman
Date: November 7-9

"You see them every day on the way to work," Hyman opens. "They are the morons who cut you off. The nimrods who barrel by you on the shoulder of the expressway, and the pinheads who ride your bumper."

How do they get that way? Hyman shows instructors from private driving schools who sell their students the answers to the state driving test. In a much more interesting segment of the expose, he pays one of the driving instructors $100 to "guarantee" that a deliberately incompetent driver will pass. (The viewer is left to assume that the instructor will in turn bribe the state worker who conducts the student's driving test.) Indeed, the student passes the driving test despite steering his car off the road, failing to parallel park, and, yes, failing to use his blinkers. The state worker abruptly resigns after Hyman starts asking whether she accepted a kickback.

"Who knows, this could help keep a few more idiots off the road," the reporter surmises.

Anchor comments: "Unbelievable. Excellent job. Very enlightening." +15
Hidden camera: Extensive. +15
Sex: 0
Ambush: Several. +20
Quote from a politician, preferably Alex Penelas: 0

Intangibles: Hyman actually appears to catch bad people doing bad things. +25

Use of "nimrods" in context. +10
Ditto for "pinheads." +10
Total score: 145

Title: "The Secret to Sex Tapes"
Station: Channel 10
Reporter: Laurie Stein
Date: November 24

"We begin tonight with a situation that affects many of you watching this right now, whether you admit it or not," anchor Dwight Lauderdale coos. "Here's an easy way to understand it. Imagine eating baked chicken for every meal for every day of your life. Now, at what point would you grow tired of eating baked chicken?"

Kristi Krueger joins in: "Now, substitute your sex life for that baked chicken and you can understand the frustration of many couples. And they're doing something about it."

Cut to Stein, the station's consumer reporter, who has purchased a cartonful of the self-help sex tapes advertised in the back of many national magazines. She takes them to a marriage counselor and a sex therapist and asks if the tapes can help sexually struggling couples. To her astonishment, they both deliver a qualified yes. Therapist William Samek reasons that the videos may assist the "release" process. "I don't think they will replace therapy or counseling," he quickly injects.

At first the story seems to be a typical sweeps sex entry, minus only the whips and slaves. We begin tabulating the score. Ten points for the alliterative title. Subtract ten each for no hidden camera and the regrettable lack of reporter participation. Add points for mentioning sex. Throw in more for perseverating about it. Finally, deduct a whole bunch of points because we'll never be able to eat baked chicken again.

But during the standard anchor-reporter repartee that follows the piece, something takes place that renders the numerical analysis irrelevant, something that makes this story the clear winner of the November sweeps ratings period: Stein and Lauderdale (whose on-air mien is usually so deadpan that it's hard to tell whether he's breathing) briefly lift a little corner of the figurative curtain that separates newscaster from viewer.

It begins when Stein notes that if the sex videos are less than helpful, there are many good self-help books on the market. She points to a number of tomes arrayed before her, written by Dr. Ruth Westheimer and the like.

Fingering the stack, Lauderdale turns to Stein with a wry expression. "Have you read any of these?" he queries.

"I've skimmed them," she replies, giving him a little jab on the arm. Her colleagues gave her a hard time for exploring the sex tape topic, she adds. "When this story was assigned to me, you heard it around the newsroom: There was a lot of snickering. People didn't think that this was really going to be educational. I was surprised to hear that even the therapists really thought it was." Stein pauses and smiles. "It's not just pornography to them."

Unmistakably, a sardonic grin flashes across Lauderdale's usually inert visage. And then, incredibly, he adds a dose of sarcasm: "We're here to help, aren't we, Lori?" he asks.

"We are," Stein concurs, equally caustically, raising a thumbs-up salute that could well apply to all of sweeps month. "We want to do good for people."

Although not every news story was good enough to make New Times's final ratings cut, several reporters and topics did merit special recognition:

Best Live Camerawork Channel 10 reporter Mark Shumacher, who used multiple cameras to show people how to survive a high-rise fire, how to survive a tire blowout, and how, if the car should veer under the bed of an eighteen-wheel truck, its passengers would be instantly decapitated.

Most Awkward Quote Channel 6 reporter Steve Daniels, who in his two-part series "The Lemon List" asked Richard Baker of the South Florida Auto Dealers Association to explain who was responsible for the fact that some people buy used cars without knowing that the cars had previously been declared "buybacks" or lemons. Baker may have thought he was talking to Al Sunshine. "I would say the dealer should have disclosed it if he was aware of it. I think he's facing some possible liability, so I would say, 'Shame on the dealer and step up.'"

Best Chitchat Channel 6 anchor Jennifer Valoppi for her off-the-cuff intro to a story about how to impress your boss: "There's a word for that, isn't there?"

Most Alarming Quote Channel 10's Jennifer Snell, for her story "Carnival Convicts": "Before you send your kids off to the carnival for what you think will be a night of harmless fun, ask yourself this: Would you let a convicted murderer strap your loved one into a ride?"

Most Alliterative Title Channel 7 for "Same-Sex Selling," a story about how advertisers are targeting gay consumers.

Most Obvious Statement from a Talking Head Channel 6's Gail Montgomery, biofeedback specialist, for "The Fear Factor": "I think what scares people is anything they perceive that is a threat."

Best Title for a Talking Head Channel 6's Ted Smith, political correctness expert.

Best Battle Channel 10's Russian mail-order brides versus Channel 6's Colombian mail-order brides.

Oddest phrase Channel 4's Mark Hyman, during his story on the Metro-Dade Police Department's internal affairs unit. As he runs a tape of a bad cop shaking down a Liberty City drug dealer, Hyman intones, "In a moment there will be no distinction between good and evil in the Garden of Eden."

Weirdest crusade Channel 4's John Deutzman, for appearing to advocate censorship throughout his piece "Men Who Love Little Boys."

Born to Be on Teevee
Ike Seamans wasn't the only reporter to present personal life events as news. Several stations broadcast stories about staff members' new babies. Spanish-language Channel 23 featured the new fathers among its reporting crew in a piece entitled "Educating Dad." Channel 4 hyped a story celebrating the birth of Grant William, son of anchor Anne Roberts, whose replacement on the eleven o'clock news, Ileana Varela, ballooned during the course of the month with the imminent birth of her own baby.

And over at Channel 6, Jennifer Valoppi returned to anchor newscasts only five weeks after giving birth to Julian -- and only for sweeps. After the ratings books closed, she resumed her maternity leave. But the station made the most of her presence, heralding it with "Bouncing Back from Baby, Life Lessons," a piece about how Valoppi hired a personal trainer to lose the 50 pounds she'd gained while bringing Julian into the world.

Valoppi invited the trainer -- and all of TV land -- inside her bright home to watch her learn about her "fat-burning zone" and lie on her back with her knees lifted to her chest. Though there was no hidden video, there was a clear shot of the anchor's refrigerator, stocked with take-out food cartons and champagne.

Reporters at Channel 6 were so caught up in the birthing game during sweeps that Iliana Bravo felt compelled to file a story that bared her own medical secret -- she's infertile.

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