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San Diego Spotlight

MEDIA : New Channel 51 Newscast Is Like Return to the Old Days

October 15, 1990|KEVIN BRASS

For San Diegans accustomed to male models and beauty queens delivering the nightly news, KUSI-TV's (Channel 51) new 10 p.m. newscast is quite a shock. It is almost like entering a time warp, returning to a simpler time when Tricky Dick and Barry Manilow were rising stars and television news people were all radio veterans who thought mousse was a ballplayer for the Pirates.

It is certainly no accident that Channel 51 has decided to entrust its first foray into news to two male anchors in their sixties. By definition, the 10 p.m. newscast is aimed at an older, early-to-bed crowd, the folks not quite willing or able to stay up until 11 p.m. to watch the news.

In Los Angeles, the most popular 10 p.m. newscast is easily the Channel 5 news veteran program led by Hal Fishman, who is definitely not a male model.

Channel 51 news director Peter Jacobus says the KUSI team of George Reading and Roger Grimsby is designed to appeal to a broad audience, but it certainly provides an interesting contrast to, say, Channel 8's young and perky combo of Stan Miller and Susan Roesgen.

Grimsby is the anthesis of perky. On the set, sans make-up, he looks pale and drawn, seemingly on the verge of falling asleep at any moment. He delivers the news in a slow, incredibly deliberate style, never moving his eyes or changing his expression. He comes across like a grouchy grandfather telling the audience what they missed at school that day.

However, close the eyes and listen to his words, and it becomes easier to understand why he was the most popular and controversial anchor in New York for 20 years. A clear product of the golden era of radio, Grimsby has a literate style unheard on the local news scene. His feisty personality, his willingness to slide his own perspective into the reading of news story, emerges from his words, not his mannerisms.

Grimsby and the newscast in general haven't been helped by a predictable slew of technical glitches. In the two weeks since the newscast came on the air without any warning, the program is still extremely entertaining to watch, in much the same way it is fun to watch someone learning to ice-skate.

In addition to to the usual missed cues, bad camera angles and general confusion, there have been some classic television bloopers, from Grimsby sneezing into a microphone, producing a sound roughly equivalent to a hand grenade exploding in a metal tube, to graphics that look like UFOs hovering over the anchors' shoulder.

The program's timing is still far off, and the technical problems persist, but it is improving. At least Grimsby and Reading are wearing dark suits. That's a plus. For the first few nights, they appeared in pale suits in front of a pale background, making a very pale impression.

The wardrobe change and a picture of the San Diego skyline at night in the background have helped give the program a warmer and friendlier look.

However, in many ways it still has the look of a newscast circa 1972, with overly long features, dark and bland photography, and a no-frills attitude. With only five reporters, the newscast relies heavily on footage picked up from CNN, giving the newscast a preponderance of national features.

"It looks like the news from old 'Mary Tyler Moore Show' " said one industry professional. "I expect to see Ted Baxter on the air, and Murray pounding at the typewriter."

Despite the bizarre nature of some elements of the newscast, including annoying Sports Guy Rod Luck, the newscast clearly is not far from being respectable. Something as simple as labeling Grimsby's closing monologue as commentary (last week he went off on bankers, "loan lizards," who wouldn't give him a loan) would go a long way toward helping people understand the newscast's rhythm.

"I think the program is evolving, and hopefully it will never stop evolving," Jacobus said. He said he hopes to add more "informational elements," to do a newscast that lets people know "it wasn't all death and destruction in the world" that day.

Channel 51's biggest virtue undoubtedly will be patience. As long as it is the only local 10 p.m. newscast in San Diego, there will be an audience for it. If it attracts bigger ratings than its predecessor, reruns of "Newhart," it will be easy to justify its expensive existence, given the overall favorable impact it can have on the station's identity.

Several local car dealers, angered over a feature that aired on "P.M. Magazine," have pulled their advertising from KFMB-TV (Channel 8).

The story, produced in Seattle, focused on car brokers, but touched on unsavory practices employed by some car dealers.

"It was the worst case of yellow journalism I've ever seen," said Stephen Cushman, owner of the local Cush dealerships, who said he will pull his ads from Channel 8 for 30 days.

The ironic twist: "P.M. Magazine" co-host Pat Brown is Cushman's official spokesperson. Brown and "P.M." executive producer Geary Buydos were on assignment in Austria when the story aired.

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