News Hostage

We Hardly Knew Ye.

Like most everyone else, we were glued to the tube as the news broke about the death of John Kennedy Jr. We sat through the hours of coverage, where the same clips were shown over and over (apparently the only ones available of this thoroughly filmed guy) as reporters struggled to find something to say.

As evening approached, the networks threw it back to the local stations. We waited for the inevitable "localizing" of the tragedy.

We cringed when Channel 2 said that there would indeed be an upcoming segment on Kennedy's "Houston Ties." And we shuddered when we saw the reporter for the segment was "Buzz Lady" Roseann Rogers.

Rogers's investigation resulted in: an interview with politician Paul Hobby, who never met Kennedy; an interview with U.S. Representative Ken Bentsen, who met Kennedy once, briefly; and an interview with "philanthropist" Carolyn Farb.

Farb, of course, had never met Kennedy, but Rogers had already firmly established that talking about JFK's "Houston Ties" did not require knowing the guy. Farb's presence as an authority was justified this way: She "traveled in some of the same social circles" as Kennedy.

In case you missed it, Farb found the young Kennedy inspiring.

SloppySecond Chances

Who among us hasn't chuckled at the funny-'cause-true observations of Chronicle columnist Jeff Millar? (Speaking rhetorically, of course.)

Whether it's the differences in how men and women shop, or the country wisdom of "Stickshift" down at the icehouse, Millar has been the Chron's humor columnist (speaking putatatively, of course) for many, many years.

He's also the writer for the sports comic strip Tank McNamara and, for the past three years, the slice-of-life comic strip Second Chances, both syndicated nationally.

He's also an ardent believer in recycling, if his output is any indication.

In June, he writes a column about enforcing the movie-rating system, one that describes a teen buying a ticket for Bambi in order to sneak into an R-rated film. He talks about detection systems for R-rated screens "that squeal when Clearasil is in the vicinity" and how theaters employ people whom "you can't call ushers, because they don't 'ush.' "

A month later, there's a week's worth of Second Chances strips showing a kid buying a Bambi ticket with nefarious intent. There are also strips that show a group of adults simply talking about the issue, regurgitating the joke about Clearasil. A woman is shown saying that multiplex theaters employ "fourŠ well, you can't call them ushers, because they don't ush anymore."

In May, Millar writes a column on how his roof was damaged when a tree fell on it, and his subsequent battles with the insurance company. He has an imaginary conversation with "Unbeneficial Improvident Insurance," where an agent says roof damage caused by "an act of war" is not covered, and homeowners "have to expect to carry a minimum burden of proof."

"That we're not at war?" the faux-Millar character answers.

"Sort of oblivious, aren't we, sir? Heard of a place called Belgrade? American bombers bomb there nightly."

By July, when Millar was recycling the column into a week's worth of Second Chances, peace had come to Yugoslavia. That didn't deter him from getting paid twice for the same joke, though.

"Sort of oblivious, aren't we, sir? Heard of a place called Belgrade?" the agent says in the strip.

"But that's been settled," the Millar character answers.

"To NATO's satisfaction, perhaps, but not to Unbeneficial Improvement Casualty Insurance Company's," goes the punch line. (Speaking presumedly, of course.)

Millar's column is not syndicated, so the national audience for Second Chances doesn't know about any double-dipping. Only Houston readers get the chance to revel twice in the hilarity.

Just another benefit of subscribing to Houston's Leading Information Source.

Anchors Away (Please)

Verbal slipup of the week: Channel 2's Bill Balleza, reporting July 20 on the deaths of two teenagers near Austin: "The sheriff says that either both the boys committed suicide or that one first killed himself, then the other." Talk about burying the lede.

He wasn't the only anchor having troubles.

"Happy talk" segues between the weather reporter and the anchor are never very enlightening, but things reached something of a nadir July 21 on Channel 11.

To understand how bad it was, you have to keep in mind several things:

1. Television stations go to great lengths to convince us that their on-air personalities are deeply rooted in Our Town, possessing an intimate knowledge of Houston and its environs. That's why you see ads where Bill Balleza authoritatively tells a camera crew about a shortcut that will get them to the scene faster, or any of a half-dozen anchors posing with cops, or firefighters, or charity people.

2. Houston, as a city, doesn't have much to brag about, so when it can grasp onto such a straw, it uses a death grip. Visitors and newcomers don't last long without finding out such inane trivia as the first word spoken on the moon was "Houston," or Bob Hope once said the view of Hermann Park from the Warwick Hotel is the finest in the world.

3. The 30th anniversary of the moon landing, it's safe to say, generated some media coverage this month.

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