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Respect's Rare When You're No. 1 at KABC

THE SWEEPS: One in a series examining the TV industry's periodic ratings rituals.

February 14, 1988|DENNIS McDOUGAL

Paul Moyer and Ann Martin are tired of being seen as L.A. TV's Ken and Barbie.

For the last seven years, the wide-eyed ex-baseball player from Torrance High School and the former TV weather girl from Seattle have been the most popular news anchor team on Los Angeles TV. Month after month, their 5 p.m. newscast on KABC Channel 7 trounces the competition.

"But we don't get credit for it," muttered Moyer, the first $1-million anchor in town.

Martin is more philosophical: "The nature of the beast is money . . . advertising money," she said. "The critics look at you and say, 'Oh, Ken and Barbie!' But the real question is, 'Does the audience still tune in and does the guy who hired you still give you a paycheck?' If they do, who cares? If you know you're doing a good job, who cares?"

Then, after a thoughtful pause: "You have to have a thick skin in this business."

The perks tend to toughen the skin. Big salaries, nice homes, sensational wardrobes, neat cars. If he's not in his Mercedes, Moyer makes the commute from his Santa Monica home to KABC's Hollywood studios each afternoon in his 1985 Ferarri. Martin and her husband Roger, a motion picture cinematographer, recently bought beach property on Puget Sound as a weekend getaway.

Still, the respect they get is, well . . . limited.

Martin and Moyer have taken their lumps from critics and competitors for being attractive and imitative. Martin, a cool and introspective blonde, is sometimes described by peers as a young Christine Lund--though, in her mid-30s, Martin is not that much younger than the original Eyewitness News Blonde.

Moyer, 46, has been chided for copying the style of fellow KABC anchor Jerry Dunphy, 65. When he was a reporter for four years on CBS affiliate KDKA-TV in Pittsburgh in the late '60s, Moyer reminded viewers of Dan Rather. And 10 years ago, Moyer was accused of actually being fellow KNBC anchor Tom Snyder.

"When Tom left and went back to New York, a significant number of viewers thought he had never left KNBC because Moyer looked like him, had his voice, his mannerisms. . . . He was a Tom Snyder clone," recalled a longtime L. A. news man.

Snyder, who says he has had his fill of TV, returned to radio last fall and now hosts a nightly coast-to-coast talk show for ABC. He wouldn't comment on Moyer or television.

"I suffered under that comparison, but that was in another life," said an obviously irritated Moyer. "I mean, that was a long, long, long, long time ago. That's history."

Martin's trials have revolved more around the cute factor.

Shortly after she graduated from the University of Washington, Martin answered a newspaper ad seeking young, attractive women to audition for the position of weather girl at KIRO-TV in Seattle. For the next decade, she fought against cute assignments.

"My first real story after I did the weather for a year or so, was covering a hula hoop tournament," she recalled. "I really didn't like that. I didn't want to always get the panda bears at the zoo. I didn't want to be a total fluffhead.

"I used to go home and just cry and cry. There were people there who wanted to put me through speech therapy!"

If she was mousy and drab then, by the time she landed in L. A. 12 years ago, she was ready for the Big Time. She did overnight stints at hostage scenes, standups in pouring rain and interviews with both celebrities and scum. Once, during a labor strike in Long Beach, she did a "Live-at-5" report while dodging raw eggs that strikers tossed her way.

By 1980, she was ready to anchor.

"Before she became an anchor, she had darker hair and no distinguishing features. She wasn't plain exactly. She just didn't stand out," said one of her former producers.

But then-KABC news director (now head of ABC Sports) Dennis Swanson began her metamorphosis, according to the producer. Using makeup and critiques, he finished her transformation from weather girl to anchor star. Though she acknowledges Swanson's role as something of a Pygmalion, Martin denies that he "made me over."

"In fact, in the beginning, he told me, 'I don't think it's gonna work. You're too low-key,' " she said. "I don't know whether he said that to just make me more determined or what. But it worked."

The lack of recognition for their efforts becomes particularly hard for Paul and Ann to take during sweeps ratings periods.

Sweeps--the months of February, May and November when every TV station in the country is rated by A.C. Nielsen Co.--are virtually the only time of year that anchors leave the studio.

It is then that KABC management calls upon both Moyer and Martin to hit the pavement and come back with four- and five-part news series, or "mini-docs," on topics that are pre-arranged, packaged and promoted, often before the final interviews are on tape.

"The classic was 'Lesbian Nuns,' " said Martin. "(KABC reporter) Lonnie Lardner still hasn't lived that one down."

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