More Messages: Dueling Debuts

Categories: Media
Last night, all TV eyes were on Katie Couric's debut as anchor for the CBS Evening News. Reviews of the broadcast's predictably glossy makeover appeared in newspapers across the country, and in local rags, too. Rocky Mountain News scribe Dusty Saunders called Couric "buoyant" in his overview, raising the question of whether she can be used as a flotation device. For her part, the Denver Post's Joanne Ostrow described the program as mere show biz in a more trenchant analysis.

Getting lost in the shuffle was the launch of a second show on Channel 4, Denver's CBS affiliate: a 6:30 p.m. local newscast. Rather than simply recycle the typical headline-service formula, Channel 4 news director Tim Wieland decided to tweak things a bit by allowing anchors Molly Hughes and Jim Benemann (pictured) to interact with reporters and contributors about featured stories. On night one, correspondent Raj Chohan, on site at the State Capitol, chatted with Benemann about the election season. Then Benemann and Hughes sat down with investigative reporter Brian Maass, who discussed a report about a 2003 police shooting in Aurora; sports guy Vic Lombardi, who challenged viewers to compete against him in oddball events for "the Lombardi Trophy"; and critic-at-large Greg Moody, who felt compelled to tell us about the return of the play Cats. Meow.

The results were a bit awkward, for a variety of reasons. There were some minor technical glitches: Hughes' microphone didn't work at the beginning of one segment, video related to Maass' visit rolled in early, and Lombardi had trouble figuring out which camera was on him. The locale caused additional difficulties. Instead of building a set that would enhance the newscast's hoped-for conversational mood, producers sat the talent in chairs placed in front of the regular anchor desk. Viewers tuning in mid-show can be forgiven for wondering if the desk had just been painted, and Hughes and company were waiting for it to dry.

It's too soon to write off either Channel 4's latest effort or Couric's new platform. After all, television is a marathon, not a sprint, and while neither production clicked initially, they could find their groove eventually. They might also implode spectacularly, or quietly fade away. Lay your bets, because the race is underway. -- Michael Roberts

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