Ah, for the days when action, not talk, filled the air

Phil Jackman

February 19, 1992|By Phil Jackman

Chris Schenkel, who will be in town to cover the Professional Bowlers Tour stop here on ABC Saturday, let the conversation drift back to the days when he and television first got involved with the Winter Olympics.

"Ah, yes," Chris started in his trademark relaxed style. "It was 1960, we [CBS] were in Squaw Valley, California, and there were only a couple of us, a far cry from today.

"Walter Cronkite was our anchor, I did the skiing, Bud Palmer the hockey and Dick Button the skating. Funny thing is, a couple of us got stuck in a snowstorm in Lake Tahoe and never made it to the opening ceremonies.

"We finally got in three hours late and I was scurrying around looking for Walter. I knew we were going to catch it, but he said, 'Relax, no problem. Walt Disney [who produced the ceremony show] took your place on the commentary. And later, Bing Crosby was on.'

"Squaw Valley was such a great place. Everything was right there within short walking distance. When we weren't on, we were either somewhere helping out or simply watching the competition. The big thing then was action. We just introduced the event, told everyone who was competing and let the athletes take over."

Ah, for the good old days of 32 years ago. For, if there's been one big complaint about CBS' work in Albertville, it's that there's been too much talk at the cost of action.

Once again, it's only fair to point out the Winter Games is not a veritable beehive of activity, as is the Summer Olympics. Yesterday, for instance, the schedule included a 1,000-meter speed skating race, a giant slalom, a 40-kilometer cross country relay, two hockey games and preliminary events in curling and short track speed skating. Next summer in Barcelona, the equivalent of such activity will be completed by 10 o'clock in the morning.

At the same time, however, the net has restricted the amount of action in its taped packages for prime time showing by sticking to its formula of yakking with a chosen few athletes, time after time.

A prime example of this occurred last night when speed skater Dan Jansen was subjected to his 583rd interview of the past 11 days. He had faded to 26th in his last shot at a medal and, clearly, took the setback much better than anyone at CBS did.

Dan said he was relieved that his Olympics was over, but that he was not disappointed with the way things turned out. "There's more to life than this," he said, and he took satisfaction in knowing he did his best.

Obviously, Tim McCarver wasn't listening. The co-anchor next introduced a station break by saying, "While the disappointment continues for Dan Jansen, blah-blah-blah."

As is usually the case with these big TV extravaganzas, entirely too much emphasis is put on the work of the announcers, be it good or bad. The plain fact is, most viewers don't analyze the analysts. A poll by USA Today found that only one percent of respondents deem their contributions really important.

The network itself probably contributes to its problems by over emphasizing the importance of the people wearing its blazers. Before the Games, a CBS spokesman said that he expected the performances of the anchors, play-by-play announcers and commentators to help tremendously in increasing interest.

Hey, you pay these folks a king's ransom, outfit them in clothes, pay all expenses and tout them as indispensable, you have to act as if they're a goodly percentage of the show, obviously.

* THE UGLY AMERICAN: It might be a pretty good idea if Jiggs McDonald and Bill Clement, doing the hockey tournament for TNT afternoons, got off the "defend U.S. coach Dave Peterson" kick. On the world stage in back-to-back Olympics, the former high school coach has come across as a grumpy non-sportsman pretty much unsuited for this high-profile job.

Even in a puff-piece interview with McCarver, Peterson came across as snotty and combative, obviously feeling he had no obligation to explain his crass behavior toward the Swedes after Monday night's game and the ugly conclusion after Team USA had beaten France yesterday to advance to the final four.

Right from the start, McDonald and Clement have been solid in their hockey coverage, which was to be expected considering their experience, but yesterday they slipped into nauseating jingoism for both Canada and Team USA and it was beneath them. Ragging the officials? Come on, fellas.

* CUT THE SACCHARINE: Much as it tries to paint Italian skiing star Alberto Tomba as some sort of international playboy wastrel, I get the idea the guy's a dedicated athlete who's embarrassed by it all.The latest is CBS, to mark Valentine's Day last Friday, playing Cupid to match Tomba and Katarina Witt. No doubt they will send a camera along to record a proposed date. Just think what Edward R. Murrow would have been thinking about now.

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