CBS' move to Greg Gumbel shows how less means more at 0...


December 18, 1992|By RAY FRAGER

CBS' move to Greg Gumbel shows how less means more at 0) Olympics

Remember those evenings during the Albertville Olympics? You'd gather the family around the television set for a few hours of entertaining sport.

Pop would be in his favorite easy chair, handcuffed by Mom to prevent him from flipping the remote control. Mom would be on the couch, knitting sweaters for television reporters from developing nations without access to the Lands End catalog. Brother would be comfortably balanced with his head on the coffee table, his feet over back of the couch, popping Fiddle-Faddle into his mouth and waiting for the sugar high to kick in. Sister would have brought her homework in, hoping to finish the last 25 pages of her report on Kafka as soon as she read the dust jacket of "Metamorphosis."

An idyllic family scene, and, then, CBS would bring out robotic prime-time hosts Tim McCarver and Paula Zahn. The family would gape at the announcers, unbelieving. McCarver, apparently shot with a tranquilizer gun before air time, didn't seem to be operating in the same time zone as Zahn, wearing a spray-on, Miss America smile.

Well, forget all that.

Yesterday, CBS announced that Greg Gumbel would be the lone prime-time host for the 1994 Games in Lillehammer, Norway. The network also made Gumbel the play-by-play man on its No. 2 baseball announcing team, pairing him with Jim Kaat and dropping Dick Stockton.

Gumbel's performance for CBS, which he joined four years ago, in play-by-play, reporting or studio roles has been consistently engaging. Gumbel's good-humored style meshes with everyone from Terry Bradshaw to Billy Packer. Like his predecessor on "The NFL Today," Brent Musburger, Gumbel is practically flawless on Sundays, but, unlike Musburger, Gumbel seems to be part of the show rather being the show.

Also unlike Musburger, who once seemed to be on the air more often than Soloflex commercials, Gumbel isn't going to be overexposed, he said.

"Are there people in the past who've been overexposed? Yes," Gumbel said during a news conference yesterday.

"But I don't think I'm at that level."

not worried about that," CBS Sports president Neal Pilson said.

"[Adding] his role in baseball, we don't see that as an overexposure situation."

Pilson and the rest of the CBS brass at the news conference said the moves didn't reflect dissatisfaction with the McCarver-Zahn team or Stockton.

McCarver has been given the role of lead correspondent in Lillehammer, reporting from the athletes' village, and Zahn will stick with her "CBS This Morning" colleagues on morning shows during the Games. Stockton, whose contract with the network is being negotiated, will continue on the NFL, NCAA basketball and Olympics.

The Winter Games late-night and weekend anchors -- Pat O'Brien and Jim Nantz and Andrea Joyce, respectively -- will remain the same as in Albertville, France.

"I feel that I've been very fortunate since I've been at CBS," said Gumbel, 46. "My goal has been to improve as a broadcaster, and the way you do that is to do different things.

"I'm constantly amazed at the kinds of responsibilities I'm given and that sane-thinking people would trust those things to me."

Such self-deprecation is part of Gumbel's low-key manner, one that wears well during repeated exposure. Gumbel will become the second member of his family to be a prime-time Olympic host. His brother, Bryant, was NBC's host in Seoul, South Korea, in 1988.

Gumbel did play-by-play for the MSG Network's New York Yankees games in 1989, and made a few appearances on Seattle Mariners games in 1990. But his association with baseball goes back much further.

"I lived five blocks away from Griffith Stadium in Washington, D.C., when my dad was going to law school," Gumbel said. "That's where I saw my first baseball game.

"It's one of the more difficult sports to do because the action doesn't carry the event as much as it does in basketball and football, but it's my No. 1 favorite."

Manfra's the man

After his appearance on Jeff Rimer's WBAL Radio talk show Wednesday night, new Orioles announcer Fred Manfra was said to sound like Phillies play-by-play man Harry Kalas, according to a few of Rimer's callers. So far, so good. At least no one said Manfra sounded like Ken Levine.

Just because the two recent Orioles announcers hired without extensive major-league experience (Levine in 1990 and Jack Wiers in 1987) didn't work out doesn't mean that Manfra was a bad choice. Manfra did call 25 Tigers games on subscription television in the late 1970s and has filled in on Orioles radio games, most recently two years ago. And Manfra does come with the added attraction of being a Baltimore native, Patterson High Class of '64.

"We heard it from a lot of people, 'Why don't you hire a local guy?' " said Jeff Beauchamp, WBAL (1090 AM) station manager and vice president.

Manfra's hiring should make those people happy, and he certainly has the broadcasting credentials to make practically all of the listeners happy.

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