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California and the West | MIKE DOWNEY

News at 11 Knows What's Really, Really Important

October 06, 2000|MIKE DOWNEY

I watched the 11 o'clock news Wednesday night on Channel 4, because I'd already been watching that channel for two hours, to see how President Sheen got shot.

The prez had been directly in the line of fire when last season's last episode of NBC's "The West Wing" came to an end. A gun went bang and everybody ducked. We had to wait all summer to see who caught more flak, Martin Sheen or his flacks.

Somebody asked me to guess which West Winger got winged. My hunch was that the bullet got deflected by an Emmy statue inside the president's coat pocket, saving his life. Or else at the last second, he'd thrown himself on an intern.

Anyhow, I saw the whole show.

And a few minutes from the finish, Channel 4's local news anchorman invited me to stay tuned for tonight's "top story"--another L.A. automobile chase.

A chase with a twist, he said.

You'll recognize somebody involved in the chase, he said.

OK, I'll stay tuned, I said.

*

Now remember, this is the NBC news, Los Angeles, we're talking about. This isn't Channel 99, northeastern South Dakota.

We live in the world's seventh-largest urban area, behind (according to my almanac) only Tokyo, Mexico City, Sao Paulo, New York, Mumbai and Shanghai.

And for hundreds of thousands who don't get home until 7 or 8 p.m., this is our TV evening news.

We can't get there for Brokaw, Rather or Jennings in time. We can't catch the early local TV news between 4 and 6. And we can't get our news at 10 o'clock, because we're busy watching President Sheen and his staff get shot.

My 11 o'clock news is where I learn what's new in L.A. and the big, wide, wonderful world around us.

By then I've already read my newspaper and listened to news radio on the way home. But now, before bedtime, I'm ready for a wrap-up on everything important that happened on This Day in History.

Los Angeles is no slow news town. In the last week alone, we've had a transit worker strike, a county worker strike, a cop corruption trial and multiple attacks by killer bees.

In terms of importance, these would probably rate pretty highly from Mexico City to Mumbai.

Furthermore, there are Israeli-Palestinian peace talks in Paris, riots along the West Bank, election tension in Yugoslavia, debates over who won the Bush-Gore debate and fears that there's even more dangerous chromium 6 in California's tap water than even Erin Brockovich first found.

In short, no shortage of news.

But a sucker is born every minute, so I, being one, stayed tuned for the Channel 4 news Wednesday night at 11.

Where the "top story" turned out to be a hit-and-run driver who hit six cars. Who got caught by police a reported 15 minutes later. With no reported injuries.

Oh, and one of the cars belonged to Elvis' ex-wife.

I kid you not. NBC's affiliate in America's second-largest city began its evening news Wednesday with somebody running into Priscilla Presley's car.

Good thing it wasn't Madonna's car, or Channel 4 would have broken into "West Wing" with a Special Bulletin.

A guy in a red Pontiac Trans-Am sideswipes a few vehicles in the Valley, and so much for Ehud Barak, Yasser Arafat or Slobodan Milosevic--you know, those foreign models.

Biggest story in all of L.A. that day: Elvis Ex in Fender-Bender.

I could understand if it were, oh, Dennis Rodman, that weird basketball player. Then at least Channel 4 could have led with: Trans-Am Hits Transvestite.

I could even understand if this were "breaking news," as TV loves to call it. But the chase took place at around 4 in the afternoon. So this news wasn't breaking; it was already broken.

*

Look, I like Channel 4 news. I watch it because Channel 2 calls itself the "Station of the People," which sounds like something created for the proletariat by Station Manager Karl Marx.

Channel 7 is better, but ever since the news boss there asked if I'd like to come on TV and do commentaries, I've questioned his taste.

(Good thing I said no, because it can't be easy working with people at a station that isn't a station of the people.)

Therefore, I have to depend on Channel 4 for up-to-the-minute news, from presidents to Presleys. Because otherwise I'd be forced to watch CNN, the station of the smarter people.

*

Mike Downey's column appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Write to: Los Angeles Times, 202 W. 1st St., Los Angeles, CA 90012. E-mail: mike.downey@latimes.com

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