Rites of Spring

All the signs of spring in Houston are here: The Astros are ineptly flailing about, the humidity's beginning to hint of a sauna, and the ambush interview is sprouting everywhere on the local TV news screen.

The latter is owing to the fact that it's yet another sweeps month, which is bringing us such investigative gems as KPRC's "Houston Girls Gone Wild," a trenchant look at spring break mores. (Since spring break was at least a month ago, Channel 2 was unable to put its blaring "Breaking News" graphic on the story, but knowing how loosely the station defines "breaking news," it was probably a close call.)

Even though it's early in the sweeps month, we still have some impressive early leaders in the various Ambush Interview judging categories.

In the all-important Long-Distance Shouting competition, Fox 26's Carolyn Canville has set the bar high. As all sweeps month fans know, this always-close battle involves seeing how far an ambush victim is allowed to get away before the reporter flings the triumphant "Why won't you just answer our questions, sir?"

Extra style points are awarded, as always, if the quickly retreating question-ducker is firmly encased in a car with the windows rolled up, further limiting the alleged possibility that he or she will gently tap the brakes, roll down the window and say, "Well, since you put it that way, let me just get out and chat about those credit card bills from The Men's Club. I'll get you a soda or something while you set up."

Canville showed impressive form in an April 29 report (a good one, actually) on a businessman responsible for lots of abandoned, dangerous shacks scattered throughout poor neighborhoods in the city. She intercepted the guy on the way to his car, peppered him as he got in and backed up, and…wait for it…wait for it…watched him drive a good 15 to 20 feet before Canville began breaking out with the piercing "Why won't you…?" bomb. Stellar stuff.

Just as impressive was Channel 13's Wayne Dolcefino in the category of Embarrassingly Physical Pseudo-Confrontations. Competitors here usually hope for, at most, a target who pushes aside the microphone thrust into his face, a microphone with the station logo prominently displayed.

Wayne-O topped that April 29 with his follow-up to earlier reports on frivolous spending at the Houston school district. (Dolcefino's getting very good at stretching his information over many, many segments each sweeps month.)

He barged into the office of some HISD bureaucrat, did the requisite barking and microphone-thrusting, and was told to please go outside. The bureaucrat got up to urge him to exit through the nearby door; Dolcefino said "okay" but didn't seem to move much. Some incidental bumping ensued, and Wayne shrieked, "Don't push me! Don't push me!"

To which the guy said, "Okay, but please leave," and then we saw Dolcefino inching grudgingly toward the door, planting his feet every so often so he'd get bumped. It was like watching former Philadelphia 76er star Bobby Jones flopping for yet another charging call.

The best came when the guy finally got Wayne out the door and started to close it. Dolcefino was off-camera by then, but bursting into the shot came the avenging, accusatory Finger of Wayne, wagging fiercely as he put a cap on things by yelling at the closed door, "And don't push me!"

Well. If there is a cutting-room floor at Channel 13, it's apparently not getting much use.

Still wide open are the sweeps month races for 1) Unnecessarily Hidden Cameras, 2) Silliest Camouflaged Voices, and 3) Cheesiest Homegrown Visual Aids. Dolcefino took a strong lead in the latter category, though, in that same April 29 report by repeatedly showing a steak being fried in order to illustrate that…well, that HISD officials sometimes ate steak.

Cowtown Blues

In celebration of Willie Nelson's 70th birthday April 30, Houston Chronicle music reviewer Michael D. Clark put together a long quiz for readers. "In a four-decade career…the one constant has been [Nelson's] stature on the musical landscape of the Lone Star State," Clark wrote.

The quiz asked such things as what Nelson's middle name is, how many Grammys he's won and where he was born.

It didn't say how Clark did on his own quiz. All we know is that we received a bunch of e-mails last August when Clark's review of a Willie concert mentioned how "Fort Worth-born Nelson and the rest of the…lineup" enjoyed things.

In case you don't know (as Clark and his editors apparently didn't), that would be like the Newark Star Ledger talking about "Brooklyn-born Bruce Springsteen."

Clark had the Central Texas town of Abbott listed as the correct answer in the quiz, so we're guessing he must have got some e-mails last August, too.


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