For rest of regular season, O's telecasts limited to HTS

September 22, 1992|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Television Critic

The Orioles play on Channel 2.

Nnnnnoooottttt.

Not any more this year, anyway.

If you want to see the O's, you had better have not only basic cable, but also Home Team Sports. HTS is basic cable in some areas, such as Anne Arundel County, but a premium channel in others, including Baltimore and Baltimore County. All three games of the Blue Jay series, tonight, tomorrow and Thursday, are on HTS. No more "free" TV for Orioles' fans. The last "free" game was last night from Milwaukee.

It probably won't make die-hard Orioles' fans who don't have cable TV feel any less like "have-nots," but there are reasons that Channel 2 won't be carrying the Toronto series.

If you want an easy explanation, blame it on the new fall season and the return of such shows as "Cheers" on Thursday night.

"We clearly try to stay away from premiere week when picking games for our TV schedule," Emily Barr, director of broadcast operations at Channel 2, said.

But it's not as simple as saying the Orioles and Blue Jays are not on "free" TV simply because Channel 2 didn't want to pre-empt hit network shows during premiere week, Barr said.

Channel 2 starts putting together its Orioles' TV schedule for next year "right after the end of the preceding season," according to Barr. Channel 2 and HTS then send their lists of selected games to Orioles' management. The Orioles decide who gets which games by February.

"From that point on," Barr said, "the schedules are set. It's very hard to change anything around."

Barr said that Channel 2 management, like just about everybody else who believed in the Orioles, suspected the Blue Jays' series might be a important one, but that there were several problems with it from their point of view, which resulted in them taking a pass on that series and selecting others, like the one that just ended in Milwaukee.

First, even though they weren't sure exactly when NBC's premiere week would be, they were pretty certain -- based on past years -- that the new season would be under way by tonight.

Second, the series involved a Wednesday night game. ESPN has rights to Wednesday and Sunday night games, which means they could have come in at the last minute and snatched one of the games from Channel 2.

Third, it involved a Thursday night. "And we have tried to stay away from Thursdays, because it has traditionally been a strong night for NBC. . . . If you look at our schedule across the year, a lot of it is Monday, Tuesday, Friday and Saturday nights."

Channel 2 had the Brewers' series Friday and Monday. It would have also had Saturday's game, except for another catch in the complicated process of scheduling TV games in a multichannel universe: the fact that CBS has first rights to any games it wants, and it decided that it wanted Saturday's Orioles' game. "That's why we try to stay with late or evening games on Saturday," Barr said.

Is there any hope for Orioles' fans of seeing their team on "free" TV again this year outside of what today seems like the very long shot of playoffs or the World Series?

Barr said there's a slim chance Channel 2 might be able to broadcast an extra game or two out of the final series Oct. 1 through 4 with Cleveland.

"If the Cleveland games were to matter," Barr said, "there's a chance. I don't know if we'd be allowed to carry anything at this point. But we have had preliminary talks with the Orioles about it."

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