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A fetching, fairy-tale version of a TV reporter

April 04, 2006|Paul Brownfield | Times Staff Writer

On the WB hourlong comedy "Pepper Dennis," Rebecca Romijn plays a Chicago TV news reporter who's part investigative ninja, part bombshell, part endearing klutz; in short, she's everything Katie Couric dreams of becoming one day.

The timing of the show is fortuitous, given that Couric may be on the verge of leaving the "Today" show for the "CBS Evening News" anchor post. If it happens, you can draw a straight line from Couric back to Walter Cronkite.

This is what Pepper Dennis, nee Patty Dinkle, wants to do; we are led to believe she starts each day with a "Good morning, Mr. Cronkite," directed at a photo of the newsman.

It would be more appropriate for her to be talking to a picture of the 18- to 49-year-old demographic, but whatever. "Pepper Dennis," at bottom, is a romantic comedy, a silly, screwball-ish one -- "Sex and the City" meets "Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy."

He arrives in the form of Charlie Babcock (Josh Hopkins), WEIE's new self-assured, scene-stealing anchor. They meet cute in the way of "Grey's Anatomy" -- by having a one-night stand before discovering that they're co-workers.

Romijn is quite fetching here, both in looks and performance.

Creators Gretchen J. Berg and Aaron Harberts leaven the dialogue with the kind of newsroom banter -- "high on the hog," "what's what," "big fish" -- that suggests they've been Netflix-ing too many '40s movies. "Save the airtime, Jack, I'm off to get some answers," Pepper says to her news director (Brett Cullen).We're not so much in a local TV newsroom as the Daily Planet, Pepper trying to be both Lois Lane and Superman, lurching between need and superhero.

Here the need part is represented by Pepper's sister Kathy (Brooke Burns), who moves in after leaving her husband. Soon, the show has locked itself in a once-over-lightly dramedy about relationship politics and gender-related double standards, not to mention the difficulties of newsperson-on-newsperson love.

"For you to sleep with me, it's like the anchor got himself a perky little piece of tail," Pepper tells Babcock, the moonlight shining equally on his teeth and his new billboard. "For me to sleep with you, it's like the cub reporter is trying to whore her way to the top."

It's in this gimlet-eyed way that "Pepper Dennis" is meant to resonate with women, provided you can get past the fairy tale of its milieu. For the show portrays a local news that doesn't really exist, in which reporters don't go on the air until after they dig.

She's toiling in the trenches of local graft and prostitution rings. It's an attempt to make us root for her; Pepper Dennis is akin to a Carrie Bradshaw or Meredith Grey, only without the bird arms.


`Pepper Dennis'

Where: WB

When: 9 to 10 tonight

Ratings: TV-14 DL (may be unsuitable for children younger than 14 with advisories for coarse language and suggestive dialogue)

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