Confused clicker-flickers might find order in ESPN2


June 11, 1993|By RAY FRAGER

Think 2. "The Godfather II." "A Bicycle Built for Two." "It Takes Two." 2 Nice 2 Be 4gotten (check your old yearbook). Newschannel 2. Tippecanoe and Tyler Too.

Now, rethink 2. ESPN, the network that has given us college basketball at midnight, pompous sportswriters bickering over your Sunday brunch and Fred Edelstein in a double-breasted suit, is launching a new channel Nov. 2, ESPN2.

The new cable service is aimed at a younger demographic than ESPN, which attracts mostly men between 25 and 54. ESPN2 will seek to capture more of the 18-34 audience of men and women. You know, inveterate channel grazers. Those viewers with the attention span of a 4-year-old who's just wolfed down a half-box of Double Sugar-Coated Chocolate Crunch Crisp cereal. The kind of people who think MTV's "Beavis and Butthead" is funny. Yes, a new sports channel for viewers who find ESPN too complicated.

Not to be too judgmental, of course. And this has nothing to do with suddenly finding myself too old for a desirable demographic. Nothing at all. Can you hand me my cane?

ESPN2 actually will show a lot of what already is carried by ESPN. Among the event coverage will be NHL, college basketball and Arena Football games. No live baseball is scheduled, but maybe if major-league teams start staging more fights such as Sunday's Orioles-Mariners 15-rounder, ESPN2 would be interested.

Network executives say the ESPN/ESPN2 combination could work like this: When one was televising hockey, the other would show college basketball.

"I think the consumer is well-served by more options," Steve Bornstein, ESPN president and chief executive officer, said this week, "and our cable operators need brand names to help sell."

As for how the service will be different from ESPN, Bornstein said: "2 is going to be a little more irreverent."

Has he watched "SportsCenter" lately? If you get much more irreverent than Keith Olbermann, you might wind up jailed for heresy.

ESPN2 will run event coverage Tuesday through Thursday evenings. On Friday through Monday nights, programming will be based in "SportsNight", an "upbeat, less-structured approach" to a studio show. This will include "SportsSmash," a news and scores update on the half-hour. Also look for "SportsCall," a weeknight call-in show.

Late at night, ESPN2 will show "Jock and Roll" -- no explanation why it's not "JockandRoll" -- a series of box scores and game summaries "with contemporary music as a backdrop." Gimme a little Spin Doctors with my National League boxes. (See, ESPN, I'm hip, no matter what your demographic says.)

Also look for -- or maybe make that look out for -- "extreme" sports. That would be things not involving a ball in which score is kept by whether you broke your leg.

What else, you wonder, a home shopping club? Hey, I'll do the jokes. But, as it turns out, that is no joke: ESPN2 will offer home shopping for sports merchandise.

ESPN2 must compete for space in cable systems, but ESPN's popularity with cable operators certainly gives the new channel a good shot at getting in. Remember how TNT, the channel launched by Turner Broadcasting, home of CNN and TBS, was welcomed into cable lineups a few years ago?

So ESPN2 well could be coming to a screen near you in five months. Those of us beyond its targeted demographic might need to rest up.

The Front Page revisited

Class is in session, Journalism 101 with Prof. Peter Vecsey.

Vecsey, one of NBC's NBA "Insiders," gave a brief lecture via the network last weekend on how newspapers handled the latest Michael Jordan gambling story -- the huge golf losses detailed in a new book. Vecsey told the class that this wasn't very big news, that it was no more than agate, the small type newspapers use for box scores so that Rotisserie League fanatics end up needing glasses.

Class, put away your notes.

The charges appeared on the front sports page of The Sun, The New York Times and even Vecsey's own USA Today. In fact, USA Today had a photo of Jordan on 1A referring to the coverage in the sports section.

Don't worry, this won't be on the exam.

Numbers game

The last two games of the Knicks-Bulls playoff series ranked in the national top 10 ratings for all programs last week -- Wednesday's game was No. 4 and Friday's No. 5, drawing a 15.6 rating and 27 share and 15.2/29, respectively. In Baltimore, though, the numbers were a little lower -- 12.7/21 and 12.9/24, respectively.

Wednesday's game might have been knocked down by ABC's "Home Improvement," a Baltimore favorite, and Friday's by an Orioles game on Home Team Sports.

Ratings measure the percentage of television households watching a program. Shares measure the percentage among homes where television is in use. And I say that respectively.

Boxed in

The George Foreman-Tommy Morrison bout that you didn't pay $30 to see will be run on Home Box Office on Monday and Thursday at 9:30 p.m. . . . Roberto Duran, who apparently doesn't know the meaning of "no mas," will fight on USA Network on June 29 at 9 p.m. against TBA. It's not clear what TBA's record is, but he could be related to the New Republic's TRB. . . . Barry and Bobby Bonds will appear on CNBC's "Passing On The Dream: A Father's Day Special" June 18 at 8 p.m. The younger Bonds says that his father taught him "that pride is more important than money." Maybe his father also taught him not to let that stop him from being rich.

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