McCarver and Zahn get a test run before tackling the Winter Olympics

January 07, 1992|By Jack Craig | Jack Craig,Boston Globe

First returns will be in next weekend on whether a baseball analyst also can be a charming co-anchor of the Winter Olympics for a predominantly female audience of 60 million for 15 straight nights.

Tim McCarver and Paula Zahn have worked well together on CBS' "Winterfest" programs, but have been seen only on tape. Next Saturday afternoon, the first of three live "Winterfests" will air with the co-anchors interspersing taped programming with live commentary, the format they will use during the Winter Games in Albertville, France, starting Feb. 8.

Zahn is almost sure to succeed. She does fine work daily on "CBS This Morning" and has a sports background. A good showing during the Olympics could provide a boost for her morning news show, generally a ratings loser.

But using McCarver as co-host seems to offer risks beyond the potential reward. He is known almost exclusively as an unrivaled baseball analyst, and still will be recognized as that in April, no matter how smoothly he dissects the luge and biathlon in February.

"But I'm not doing it to gain a lot," McCarver said. "I've never been a careerist. I have trouble with goals. I guess I let the chips float out there."

McCarver landed the Olympic assignment as a result of his strong negotiating position in 1990, when CBS bought network rights to major league baseball. He was guaranteed a role in the Winter Games.

But when the top spot was offered, McCarver mulled his decision for two months. "I was flattered and I was curious," he said. "I think I have more to give than in baseball. It's going to be a new experience."

McCarver's greatest asset is his intelligence. And he is so friendly that his know-it-all manner on baseball is acceptable. (Along with the fact that he does just about know it all.)

McCarver may appreciate his current million-dollar salary more than most broadcasters because in 21 seasons as a major leaguer (1959-80), his top pay was $130,000 with the Philadelphia Phillies in 1978 and '79, when he was in his late 30s. McCarver was so content with that pact he deferred $40,000 to each of the following two years. (He was a player-broadcaster in 1980 and worked solely in the booth in '81.)

"And the Phillies paid me $30,000 to announce each of those two years," he recalled. "I'll tell you, we were eating pretty good."

McCarver became a Mets analyst in 1983 and two years later succeeded Howard Cosell on baseball for ABC. Financially, McCarver was home free.

The Olympics will be far different from the setting for 20 years of ABC's Jim McKay, the godfather of Olympic anchors. Perhaps no one can replace McKay, which could account for the negative reaction to NBC's Bryant Gumbel during the Summer Games four years ago. But McCarver, with Zahn's help, will try to disprove that.

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