Separating truth from fiction at News-3

Rumors and ratings and moves, oh my.

Headline: Paula Francis is not springboarding out of her Channel 8 anchor chair into one at Channel 3. "That was so out of left field," says News-3 general manager Lisa Howfield about last weekend's sizzling speculation. "In all the discussions we've had about what's best for the station, her name has never come up." Adds Francis: "I have an ironclad contract at Channel 8 and I'm not going anywhere. It's flattering to be mentioned."

Bottom line: Gossip is especially infectious in newsrooms -- what are reporters if not paid gossips? -- and a stubborn strain has news chief Bob Stoldal remodeling News-3 after his ex-digs at Channel 8. Scuttlebutt over Francis and George Knapp being 3-bound fizzled. Nonscuttlebutt subjects Gary Waddell and Dave Courvoisier must feel dissed.

Headline: New anchor lineup in July with Dan Ball in, Sophia Choi out at Channel 3. Howfield: "We're going to try Dan at 4 and 11, then Jim and Sue at 5 and 6. I don't have (another) female anchor and I'm looking. I don't know what that means for Sue yet, if we keep her at 5, 6 and 11."

Bottom line: Choi's ouster already has been slammed here as wrongheaded. Ball has been a decent reporter and his matinee-idol mug gives News-3 a shot of Botox (no offense there, Dan-O). Weekday anchoring demands a different skill set, though, so Ball's a toss-up.

Headline: As reported in a story elsewhere in Neon Thursday about May sweeps, News-3, while winning for evening news, tumbled to third at 11 p.m. Howfield: "It kills me. To be behind (Channel) 13, that's something I'm losing sleep over. You can't keep (blaming) NBC."

Bottom line: Don't discount it, either. Viewer habits were disrupted leading up to May: Jay Leno's prime-time debacle weakened lead-in numbers, then Olympics coverage pushed late news to 11:30 and beyond. Might Ball charm them back?

Headline: Jeff Gillan's not leaving News-3, will do special reports and continue as managing editor. Howfield: "I felt bad for Jeff (over rumors of his firing). He's a great presence in the newsroom, very respected and well-liked by everybody. I know he likes being on-air, but I need somebody different in that position."

Bottom line: Low-key on a station ramping up electricity with ready-for-his-close-up Ball, Gillan was a probable on-air casualty. Given his consummate journalism skills, though, and being tight with Stoldal from their Las Vegas ONE days, dumping Gillan was unlikely.

Headline: "Face to Face with Jon Ralston," as also reported in the ratings story, took third place at 6:30 p.m., but 47 percent of the audience scrammed from "Jeopardy" at 6:30 last May. Howfield: "It's comparing apples to oranges."

Bottom line: Sorta. Chasing away nearly half the viewership is a big-time belly-drop even if you're comparing bananas to kumquats, but "Jeopardy" (now 7 p.m.) is such a powerhouse that almost any replacement would've paled, comparatively. At third -- beating Channel 13's news and landing fairly close to Channel 8's "Inside Edition" -- "Ralston" shows signs of holding and perhaps building an audience, even post-primaries.

That's a headline to make News-3's staff bulldog smile. Or, bottom line: at least growl with satisfaction.

Contact reporter Steve Bornfeld at sbornfeld@ or 702-383-0256.