L.A. TV takes to land and sky in search of non-existent traffic jams

When all was said and done and demolished, Carmageddon turned out to be a marketing campaign that was much better than the movie.

L.A.’s local newsies were left with plenty of time to fill during the weekend when the shutdown of a 10-mile stretch of the Interstate 405 failed to produce anything close to the traffic nightmares predicted in the weeks leading up to the closure of the key Westside artery to allow for the demolition of the south side of the Mulholland Bridge.

Local TV stations had teams of reporters fanned out across the affected regions, ominous theme music and plenty of splashy graphics at the ready, but the facts got in the way of the story — so much so that the freeway actually opened well ahead of schedule, around noon on Sunday rather than 6 a.m. Monday. (Sounds like Caltrans officials took a page from the studio-exec handbook of underpromising and overdelivering.)

With nothing but good news to report about the lack of traffic congestion, the release of Casey Anthony and Rupert Murdoch’s ongoing woes across the Pond wound up with more air time on many stations. By Saturday night, exasperated news directors got some relief thanks to a local motorist who decided to lead police on a nearly 3 1/2-hour high-speed chase from the Valley across a slew of freeways before ending without incident (or gas in the tank) on Interstate 5 near the Grapevine.

L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and other officials gushed at every opportunity at how the unprecedented advance warning of the freeway closure “brought out the best” in Angelenos who cooperated by staying out of the affected areas as much as possible. Though employees at agencies and studios that closed early Friday were cheered by the unexpected free time, some L.A. events saw lower-than-expected attendance.

The first sight of the barren freeway certainly brought out the poetic impulse among many broadcasters. KNX-AM traffic reporter Jeff Baugh enthused Friday night about the “Ansel Adams moment” he witnessed as the 405 was gradually cleared of cars.

“Moonrise over Carmageddon,” Baugh observed.

But it was downhill from there, as far as coverage was concerned. Oh well. Maybe there’s still hope for the sequel, coming next year when the north side of the bridge comes down.

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