Here's Bennie the Bull's shot to horn in on ratings

RADIO-TV

October 08, 1993|By RAY FRAGER

I don't know about you, but I'm glad that this Michael Jordan guy has retired. When I tune in a Bulls game, I want to see Bennie the Bull.

But the cameras would spend all the time on Jordan, and hardly ever show the mascot. I kind of got the feeling we'd never see Bennie unless Jackie Sherrill was after him.

Now, though, Bennie should be showcased. The NBA's television contracts set a maximum number of times that a team can appear on NBC or TNT during the regular season. And the Bulls -- along with the Knicks, Magic and Suns -- get the maximum exposure, seven games on NBC and 10 on TNT.

Despite Jordan's retirement -- you may have read something about it somewhere -- the networks aren't changing their schedules.

"People asked the same question two years ago when Magic Johnson retired," NBC spokesman Ed Markey said. "I don't see any reason to change."

Not this season, sure. But expect change pretty soon, unless Jordan unretires. Without Johnson, the Lakers are scheduled for two appearances on NBC, three on TNT. And they even have the Laker Girls, who dance much better than Bennie (though you'd expect him to be able to hoof it up).

As yesterday's New York Times pointed out, the Bulls played in NBC's four highest-rated NBA games last season. "Michael Jordan leaving is like [Jerry] Seinfeld leaving NBC," "NBA Showtime" host Bob Costas told the Times. "He's a prime-time show to himself."

(It's "Air Time," starring Michael Jordan, with Jerry Krause as his pal George and Phil Jackson as Kramer, the guy who keeps barging into the locker room.)

"His impact is hard to calculate," Costas said. "Jordan brought in fans who weren't necessarily hard-core fans, but who were just hooked on Jordan and the Bulls."

On Turner Broadcasting during the past eight seasons, games with Jordan drew 17 percent higher ratings than the overall NBA average, those know-it-alls at the Times reported.

(OK, the Times can give you this facts stuff, but can it provide such a clever "Seinfeld" allusion as appeared a couple of paragraphs ago?)

The networks, therefore, must boost the league's other stars, of which there is no shortage. So, expect to see lots of promotions featuring Shaquille O'Neal pulling down backboards, Larry Johnson going to the basket with his grandmotherly charm and Chris Dudley making a free throw.

And maybe it wouldn't hurt to show a little Bennie the Bull.

Rawhide

While Bennie is on the lookout for Sherrill, he also would do well to stay away from anyone associated with ESPN2. It seems that nearly everyone is issued a leather jacket before going on the air.

And then there's baseball expert Steve Buckley, who appeared wearing a letter jacket and a baseball cap turned backward. You expected somebody to tell him about needing a fill of unleaded on Pump 8.

By the way, I finally caught "Jock'n Roll," the 3 a.m. box-scores-and-music program. If Cher's hairdresser isn't on an infomercial, "Jock'n Roll" is hard to beat.

Eyes of Texas

To quote the country song, all our exes live in Texas. Earlier this year, Butch Alsandor left Channel 11 for Houston. Now, Channel 45 sports anchor Max Morgan is headed for Dallas.

Morgan said yesterday that he has been hired by KDFW, a CBS affiliate, as weekend sports anchor and reporter.

"I'm originally from Arkansas," said Morgan, who has been with Channel 45 since it launched a newscast about two years ago, "and I've always been interested in the Dallas-Fort Worth market. Plus, it's a chance to get in a top 10 market."

Morgan said he expects his last day at Channel 45 will be Oct. 21.

Bruce Cunningham, Channel 45's sports director, reporter and sometimes anchor, said he is interested in taking over Morgan's role. . . .

Late last month, Channel 45 sports reporter Kevin Frazier got a job as a weekend sports anchor at Cincinnati's WXIX.

Fred, that's what he said

Jeff Beauchamp, WBAL Radio vice president, station manager and The Man Who's Giving Rush Limbaugh 50,000 Watts, said the station wants Orioles announcer Fred Manfra back for a second season, though Manfra isn't under contract for 1994 yet. Manfra, in his first full year of baseball play-by-play, improved during the course of the season. Though still behind the play at times, Manfra added more description to his broadcasts. . . . Because Greg Gumbel is occupied with baseball, Jim "Vanilla Ice" Nantz will join Terry Bradshaw on CBS' "NFL Today" Sunday.

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