Gauging the X factor of new anchor teams

Chemistry — noun, defined:

1) The science of matter and the changes it undergoes. 2) Interaction between Dan Ball and co-anchors Marie Mortera and Jessica Moore. And if it matters.

Whether two people amount to chemical combustion or a chemical bust is the unsolved mystery of most relationships, including the professional pairing of news anchors. Last week, Dan Ball, the quasi-hip, 4 and 11 p.m. anchor on KSNV-TV, Channel 3, gained new partners in crime (and other news) reporting: rehired Mortera at 4 and new hire Moore at 11.

Combustion conclusion: split. Cameras catch more than behavior on TV. They capture essence. Intangible, but still informative to viewers for how a newscast feels — a not unimportant factor — rather than its content. (A few chemistry catastrophes are legendary: the tension between CBS’ Dan Rather and Connie Chung, and the near-open hostility between ABC’s Harry Reasoner and Barbara Walters.) Bang-bang, tightly scripted newscasts rely less on anchor chemistry, but if they leave some air for interaction — as most do — then yes, it matters.

United after they both co-anchored the weekend morning shift here, Ball and Mortera — the latter returning from a nearly two-year hitch at KTLA in Los Angeles — are surface smooth. Awkwardness underlies their teaming, though, as if they’re eHarmony first-daters straining to connect over cocktails. Standing or sitting, their body language says "polite," rather than "relaxed," their personality tumblers never quite clicking into place.

Projecting maturity, Mortera has a guarded quality. Suffused with old-school dignity, she’s upbeat, but carefully holding back. The camera doesn’t completely reveal her. Mystery has its charms. Conversely, gregariousness and a contained swagger bounce off Ball and through the camera lens. Playing Mortera’s reserve against Ball’s eagerness, opposites could complement each other. Except they don’t.

Subtleties are a giveaway — say, the glances she sometimes shoots him when co-anchors do that silly tag-team story setup, one mock-serious nodding as the other speaks. Often, anchors can pull off quasi-sincerity. Gazing at Ball, Mortera sometimes looks downright … leery. As if her eHarmony date just told her to pull his finger.

Tenure: six months at best. (Or, in eHarmony terms: one drink, a shared bowl of nuts at the bar and a handshake.)

Yet seven hours later at 11, that busted chemistry suddenly combusts between Ball and Moore, a Vegas newbie from WLEX-TV in Lexington, Ky. — perhaps because Moore could be Ball in a pantsuit.

Urgent for hard news and chatty for lighter items — and comfy joining Ball to indulge in the casual repartee of which he’s so fond — her delivery makes her more an extension of Ball than a counterweight. There’s a rhythm to their pacing and a simpatico vibe between them, rather than the whiff of stiffness between Ball and Mortera.

Dismiss their breezier style if that approach doesn’t appeal to you, but at least they’re in sync as personalities — similar to KLAS-TV, Channel 8’s Garry Waddell and Paula Francis (and Dave Courvoisier) as a team of seasoned, authoritative figures — which makes for a newscast that’s tonally consistent.

Tenure: likely to last. (Or, in eHarmony terms: dinner, dancing and … breakfast.)

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

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