Empty8-9 p.m., Wednesday, Aug. 22
Phil Hurley might go down in history as the Bill Veeck of local TV news. Veeck, who lacked the deep pockets of other baseball owners, drew crowds nonetheless with inspired gimmicks: He set off fireworks after home runs, tried to get approval for colored balls and once famously sent a midget to the plate as a pinch hitter.
Hurley, GM of KYTX-TV in Tyler, Texas, wants desperately to bring up news ratings. "We're the new guy here, and we're looking for as many eyeballs as we can get," he explains.
His plan is to hire Lauren Jones, a staggeringly attractive former model and beauty queen (and former Barker's Beauty on "The Price Is Right," and former World Wrestling Entertainment wrestler), to be news anchor. "I don't have 14 years of anchor experience, but I want to do it," she tells the camera as she tosses a see-through bra into her suitcase. "I'm just going to go down there and do it."
Purists, including newsroom employees at KYTX, were outraged. Tyler residents saw the billboards with pictures of Jones and were incensed. They blistered the station with phone calls.
You can understand where they're coming from. They want their TV station to have integrity and credibility, and to practice solid journalism. But who are they kidding? At most stations, with their emphasis on crime news, celebrity gossip, fires and accidents, that ship sailed years ago.
Even Annalisa Petralia, KYTK's current anchor, concedes that looks are important, though she says they can only get you so far. The truth is they can get you so far, it's amazing.
So who's right? Will the former Miss New York make a mockery of the news operation, or will she fit in just fine, thank you?
Fox, treating the series like a state secret, gave critics only the first half of the one-hour premiere. Still, there's enough to suggest that, though Jones may not have been able to spell "anchorwoman" when she started, she is well on her way to becoming one inside of a week. If she took it seriously, which she does only part of the time, she could be network material in a month.
It's hard to tell how many of the newsroom reactions are real and how many have been coached, or at least enhanced, to heighten the drama. Either way, the producers do a nice job of developing characters and delineating the conflict. It's so good that, with only a few tweaks here and a little better dialogue there, it could rival "The Office" as a faux documentary.
If this show works -- and it should -- Fox ought to consider doing it as an elimination contest, like "American Anchorwoman." When other TV GMs see the potential for ratings growth by further degradation of their news departments, anchor chairs will open up everywhere.
Fox 21 and the G Group
Executive producer/creator: Brian Gradinsky
Co-executive producer: Josh Bingham
Supervising producers: Chad Damiani, J.P. Lavin
Lauren Jones, Phil Hurley, Annalisa Petralia, Dan Delgado, Michelle Rees