No Contest

KPRC-TV has been criticized for its idiotic devotion to giveaway contests during sweeps, the times when a station's ratings are used to determine advertising rates.

Every eyeball is sacred during such periods, one of which began February 1. Channel 2 has regularly enticed viewers by giving away thousands of dollars in low-rent lotteries.

Not anymore, apparently. This month it has gone altruistic.

Channel 2's 10 p.m. broadcast February 1 looked, at times, just like a telethon: Anchor Bill Balleza was strolling among long tables of volunteers (or employees) who were busily answering phones. Balleza energetically urged viewers to call in NOW. At the bottom of the screen throughout the entire broadcast was a scroll of names, just like Jerry Lewis airs each Labor Day.

But KPRC wasn't collecting donations for earthquake relief for India. Or for anything else, as it turns out.

Instead, the station was urging people to call in to see if the Internal Revenue Service owed them money. The names at the bottom of the screen were some of the 2,000 lucky people in the Houston area who had money coming to them from past unclaimed IRS refunds.

Every few minutes throughout the broadcast, Balleza and fellow anchor Linda Lorelle reminded viewers to call in now to see if there was money waiting for them. Operators would be standing by until 11 p.m.!

Apparently dozens of viewers did call, judging from the scene as Balleza walked among the people answering the phones and looking up names from the lists.

We wish they had provided some audio on those calls. That would have made for some scintillating viewing:

"Roger Johnson? Sorry, you're not on the list."

"Francine Anderson? Nope. Thanks for watching."

"Rick Carey? Sorry. Oh -- with two r's? Wait just a sec -- no, sorry."

We never were told if any viewers hit the jackpot. But we're sure KPRC is hoping it did.

If the station had been running a telethon, it apparently would have been for the Fight to Wipe Out Cats. That night's big investigative piece looked at the possibility that cats can cause schizophrenia.

About 10 percent of cats carry a parasite that can cause toxoplasmosis, the station reported, and toxoplasmosis can cause schizophrenia, depression, mental retardation, birth defects "or even death in unborn children."

At one point KPRC actually showed a full-screen close-up of the face of a relatively fierce-looking cat, which then stayed in the background behind shots of apparently unsuspecting humans playing with their pets. Ominous music played, of course.

Needless to say, the threat of toxoplasmosis is nowhere near what KPRC made it out to be, according to newspaper stories that have looked at the situation in more depth than Channel 2.

But perhaps KPRC wasn't out to warn the public. The next day, its Web site featured this blurb: "Tonight at 5! Why Houston Cat Lovers Are Angry!" And tuning in, we guess.

Not-So-Good Gossip

This was the headline on the January 30 op-ed column by longtime Houston Chronicle political writer Jane Ely: "Gossip About 2004 Too Good to Pass Up."

"One current item of political gossip I confess to relishing as much as most political junkies," she wrote, "is the one about the 2004 Republican gubernatorial primary election. Shucks, just make it the whole 2004 gubernatorial election. And, to do it justice, we better and more skilled rumormongers have to reach out and include the 2004 U.S. Senate race in Texas."

It went on like that, saying that ever since George W. announced for president, "a good bunch of political junkies [have been] gleefully anticipating a hot 2004 GOP primary between U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison and then-Lt. Gov. Rick Perry." She added later that the "gubernatorial gossip, of course, brings us back to more gossip about the 2004 U.S. Senate race."

Not to put too fine a point on what "better and more skilled rumormongers" are talking about, but there is no gubernatorial primary in 2004. And there's no Senate election that year. Both races take place in 2002.

Stations of the Cross

The morbidly depressing results of Super Bowl XXXV are sufficiently past; we have recovered enough to mention the subject. Not the game itself, but the pregame reporting, which featured -- via two Houston media outlets -- the further fetishistic worship of billionaire Bob McNair, the man who brought pro football back to town.

KTRK-TV and Houston Chronicle sports columnist Dale Robertson both thought it newsworthy to tag along as McNair visited the house he was born in. And where he lived, for a mere six months.

"Sixty-four years ago this month, on the first day of 1937 with the nation still throttled by the Great Depression, the youngest son of Ruce and Ruth McNair entered the world at 108 1/2 Bungalow Park in south Tampa, two miles from downtown," Robertson wrote, somehow neglecting to mention the abnormally bright star that shineth through the night that joyful day.

The garage apartment is now occupied by a Hispanic man who doesn't speak much English and never had heard of McNair -- even if, as Robertson wrote, "he's chasing the same American Dream McNair spectacularly caught."

Video on Channel 13 showed McNair posing with his utterly baffled host and some other residents from the downstairs apartment.

But leave it to Robertson to provide the over-the-top touches necessary in all local reporting about McNair. "When pressed, McNair admits he and [his wife] Janet have given some $100 million to the causes closest to their expansive hearts," he wrote, before moving on to his Big Finish:

"Ruce McNair, grateful simply to have a job when so many didn't in 1937, never did leave [his employer] Sunshine Biscuits. But he always encouraged Bob to shoot straight and aim high. 'All I can do,' McNair said, surveying the weather-beaten, ramshackle homes around him before his group left for its luxury digs, 'is thank God that I was born in America. I don't think this could have happened anywhere else.' "

Regular services at the Church of McNair are held each Sunday in the column of NFL beat writer John McClain. On Holy Days such as Super Bowls, or the Day of Announcement (either of the team name or team uniform design), services are held at various columns throughout the paper.


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