News Hostage

You might not know it, but there's this very funny talk show on NBC starring Conan O'Brien.

The reason you might not know it -- or know it only by reputation -- is that KPRC chooses to delay airing the show from its usual weeknight 11:35 p.m. slot to a somewhat less viewer-friendly 2:10 a.m. No other large television station delays the show so egregiously, a Conan spokesperson says.

Instead, Channel 2 airs Jerry Springer at 11:35 p.m. KPRC general manager Steve Wasserman was out of town when we called, but in the past he has said that he believes the (lame) shows that have filled the 11:35 p.m. slot here for the past five years do better for his station than Conan.

With the recent crash and burn of the Martin Short talk show in the 11:35 slot, KPRC is running a contest on its Web site asking viewers what show should replace it. The choices: Springer, which is apparently running on an interim basis; Entertainment Tonight, which would help fill the enormous void created by the utter lack of inane showbiz-gossip shows on TV; and, the final choice, the Montel Williams show. Late Night with Conan O'Brien is not an option.

That odd sound you just heard was your intelligence being insulted, by the way.

O'Brien's show caught wind of the Web contest and has been eviscerating KPRC lately. They've been broadcasting for the nation the local commercials that show up on their show at two in the morning on KPRC, so everyone is getting to see Houston being represented by Mattress Mac and Hilton Furniture, where a crazed man chain-saws a mattress. (The show is running its own Web site contest, asking viewers to pick the more idiotic of the two ads; since the winner will appear on the show, we're betting Mac has got his employees voting as often as they can click.)

They also gave out the station's e-mail address, resulting in more than 1,600 messages flooding the KPRC computer system.

That sabotaging of the station's system had egregious effects on the newsroom operation, apparently. There is no other logical explanation for what happened January 10.

The top story that night: A piece of melted wax on the sidewalk of a Houston apartment complex looks like the Virgin Mary! Kind of. If you looked at it really hard. And were told what you were supposed to be seeing.

Not content to rest on its laurels after breaking the news that the mother of God had chosen to present herself to humanity through the medium of melted wax, KPRC aggressively followed up the next day. The lead story on the 4 p.m. news was that the melted wax was... Still There.

Less Is More

Houstonians who have long complained that the Houston Chronicle hasn't done anything to improve itself since it drove the Post out of business have been exposed as the chronic, pathetic whiners that they are.

You want improvement? You got it in spades January 11.

A front-page box informed readers that "Beginning with today's editions, the Houston Chronicle joins the ranks of leading newspapers across North America" in establishing new standards for the industry. "The Chronicle's move to join such publications as the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post and the Boston Globe in establishing this standard" will result in great benefits, the story said.

Gosh, did they mean new standards in compelling, pugnacious journalism? Ummm, no. In the future, the story said, the Chron will join the ranks of those other papers by... narrowing the width of their pages slightly.

But the money saved by short-sheeting will surely be plowed into improving the editorial product, right? Not exactly.

The change "will result in greater efficiency Š helping to reallocate resources and maintain the quality of the product we deliver to our readers."

Maintain the quality? Be still, our collective hearts.

Kitten with a Whip

All Houstonians should thank their lucky stars that the historic improvement of making the papers smaller came January 11, not January 10. If it had happened a day earlier, the decreased space could have cost us some of the 500-plus words devoted to the apparently earthshaking, front-of-the-Metro-section news that a local family had adopted a pet from the county's animal shelter, and the pet had ringworm.

A cat from a pet shelter had ringworm? And the family had to suffer through that dread disease, which generally results in a few very temporary blotches and some itchy skin?

Come to think of it, 500 words doesn't even begin to do justice to such a newsworthy item.

Next up: a three-part series on The Scourge of Hair Balls.

Sources Are Still for Burning

You might remember the guy who anonymously tipped off Channel 11 (and the Houston Press) about former mayor Kathy Whitmire living with a registered sex offender.

Someone at 11 passed on the tipster's message to Whitmire, a former political analyst for the station, who then proceeded to write the guy a blistering e-mail and make a few threats.

Understandably annoyed, the tipster has written to KHOU asking what their policies are when it comes to keeping sources anonymous.

"I would just like to know if your station's action in this matter was just an aberration, or is this how your station treats all persons furnishing story leads to you?" he wrote in an e-mail to KHOU's managing editor, Jack Beavers.

Beavers's response? He asked the guy -- whose e-mail address the station had leaked to Whitmire -- to provide his phone number to KHOU so they could discuss the matter.

Not surprisingly, he declined.

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