Keith Russell, the weekday sports anchor for KTVT/Channel 11, is skipping the biggest game in town on New Year’s Eve.
But there’s a reason he’ll be a no-show when No. 2 Alabama faces No. 3 Michigan State in the Cotton Bowl at Arlington’s AT&T Stadium. Russell has another commitment — and it’s also “a pretty big deal,” he notes.
Russell and CBS 11 news anchor Kaley O’Kelley are going to help North Texas TV viewers count down to midnight in what is now DFW’s only locally produced New Year’s Eve special.
New Year’s Eve on the Couch, a live 90-minute broadcast originating from Sundance Square Plaza in Fort Worth, starts at 10:35 p.m.
To host a New Year’s Eve show, this blows away pretty much any game — except maybe something like the Cowboys in the Super Bowl.
“As important as the Cotton Bowl is, it just can’t compete with this,” Russell says. “To host a New Year’s Eve show, this blows away pretty much any game — except maybe something like the Cowboys in the Super Bowl.”
While other channels will carry network feeds showcasing festivities, musical performances and fireworks from other cities across America, On the Couch is the only local option.
Coverage of Big D NYE from Victory Park in Dallas had become a programming staple during the past eight years on WFAA/Channel 8, but the event was scuttled this year.
Channel 11 started doing a 30-minute show of its own in 2013. Last year, the CBS affiliate moved its hosts and the station’s signature big red couch from the studio to Sundance Square. This year, coverage expands from a half-hour to 90 minutes.
“We were really proud of the broadcast we did last year,” executive producer Tanya Hayes says. “But we all thought it could be even better if we could have more time, if we could let it breathe, instead of trying to squeeze everything into 30 minutes. This year, we’re going to be able to bring more of the fun.”
“On the Couch” will cut away just before 11 to do an East Coast countdown.
Yes, On the Couch will cut away just before 11 to do an East Coast countdown, and of course there will be highlights from other festivities in Dallas and Collin counties. But the main focus will be Sundance Square.
“We’ve got our main team out there, we’re going to have somebody in the audience talking to people and we’ll do a countdown of our own,” Hayes says. “But because we have more time, we’re also going to get to experience more of the festivities, including the music.
“We’re really excited that Professor D (a DFW-based dance/party band) is performing, because they are so much fun. There’s nobody more entertaining than Professor D.”
Mind you, Russell and O’Kelley do have their moments.
“I would like to believe that’s one of the reasons I’m getting this opportunity: I’m a fun-loving guy,” Russell says. “As much as I pride myself on being prepared, no matter how major or minor the assignment is, I also like to go with the flow when it comes to my reporting and on-air style.”
Russell and O’Kelley are newcomers to the Dallas-Fort Worth market, so this will be their first year on that oversized sofa, which is usually housed on the top floor of the CBS Tower in Dallas.
At this time last year, Russell was covering sports in Philadelphia, a job that included doing pre- and postgame shows for the Eagles. He admits he was caught off guard when the news director approached him several weeks ago about the New Year’s Eve gig.
“I thought it was going to be one of those ‘I didn’t like what you did during your sportscast’ kind of reprimands,” he remembers. “Instead, it was, ‘What are your holiday plans? Would you want to host our New Year’s Eve special?’
“I couldn’t believe it. My initial response was, ‘Did everybody else turn you down?’ ”
8,000 Number of people who celebrated New Year’s in Sundance Square last year
In 2013, the year that the downtown Fort Worth plaza was opened, about 6,000 people turned out on New Year’s Eve. Last year’s Sundance Square crowd was closer to 8,000.
It’s hard to estimate how many more might show up this year. But Tracey Gilmour, director of marketing at Sundance Square, doesn’t expect it to become a sea of humanity like it did at Big D NYE.
“We’re kind of hoping to keep the numbers where they already are,” Gilmour says, “because I’m not sure how many more people the plaza can realistically hold. All of our restaurants and entertainment venues are pretty much sold out.
“When we created this event, we weren’t trying to be a big New Year’s Eve celebration unto itself. We prefer to think of it as just a nice finale to the evening.”
But what’s the saying? If you build it, they will come.
I’m not sure how many more people the plaza can realistically hold. All of our restaurants and entertainment venues are pretty much sold out.
Tracey Gilmour, Sundance Square director of marketing
And if you celebrate it on television, they very well might start coming in droves.
Russell can’t wait to mix it up with Fort Worth revelers.
“It’s going to be a blast,” he says. “Part of me wants to downplay it and say, ‘Aw, it’s not a big deal. It’s just another year.’ But the truth is I know that New Year’s Eve is a very big deal.
“It represents another year to embrace loved ones, another year to take stock, another year to look ahead and set goals, another year to savor being alive, another year to think about how blessed we are.”
How can a college football game compete with that?
Other midnight specials
Channel-surfing on New Year’s Eve? Here are some specials to land on.
7-10 p.m. and 10:30 p.m.-1:15 a.m. on WFAA/Channel 8
ABC’s blowout coverage comes from New York’s Times Square and Los Angeles. Musical performances include Taylor Swift, Carrie Underwood, Luke Bryan, Demi Lovato, Wiz Khalifa featuring Charlie Puth, One Direction, 5 Seconds of Summer, Alessia Cara, DNCE, Fall Out Boy, Andy Grammer, Ellie Goulding, Nick Jonas, Elle King, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, and Pentatonix.
10:30-11:30 p.m. on KXAS/Channel 5
NBC’s New York-based broadcast includes guests Gwen Stefani and Andy Cohen (who has his own one-hour special, New Year’s Eve Game Night, at 9 p.m.). Also, at 7 p.m., Kathie Lee Gifford and Hoda Kotb host NBC’s two-hour A Toast to 2015! Finally, at 11:30, Chi-Town Rising rings in the new year from Chicago.
7-9 p.m. and 11 p.m.-12:30 a.m. on KDFW/Channel 4
“Mr. Worldwide” once again brings Fox’s live broadcast to his home city of Miami. He’ll perform his hits and will be joined by Jussie Smollett, Shawn Mendes, Austin Mahone, Pia Mia, Prince Royce and R. City.
7-11:30 p.m. and 12:05-2:30 a.m. on CNN
Marathon coverage from New York and other cities will be interrupted for a half-hour at 11:30 for a different New Year’s Eve Live show hosted by Brooke Baldwin and Don Lemon.
10-11:30 p.m. on Fox News
The most notable guest joining hosts Kimberly Guilfoyle and Eric Bolling will be Donald Trump for a via-satellite interview from Florida. The network precedes this show with two hours of Countdown to 2016.
New Year’s Eve on the Couch
- 10:35 p.m. Thursday
- KTVT/Channel 11
- The free, family-friendly event in Sundance Square Plaza begins at 10:30 p.m. For more information, visit http://sundancesquare.com/.