CBS has eyes only for Gumbel WINTER OLYMPICS

February 11, 1994|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,Sun Staff Writer

Don't get Greg Gumbel started on clothes.

His brother, Bryant, was ripped by critics for everything from being aloof to wearing designer suits while acting as a television host for the 1988 Summer Olympics.

And when Paula Zahn and Tim McCarver served as co-hosts of the 1992 Winter Olympics, they were zapped for their wooden manner and their precious sweaters.

"Jim McKay wore a yellow blazer, for goodness sakes," Gumbel said. "A yellow blazer."

With Gumbel in the anchor seat for CBS' coverage of the 1994 Winter Games, get set for a new age in Olympic broadcasting.

Glib is in. This is the Olympic host as Seinfeld, a wry observer of all around him. Only in this case, Gumbel will be providing introductions to a bunch of sports he doesn't necessarily adore.

Biathlon, anyone?

"Oh, you mean they put together two dull sports -- cross country skiing and shooting?" he said last fall during a CBS press tour of Lillehammer, Norway, site of the Games.

Exactly.

But don't be misled. Gumbel takes his profession and his assignment seriously. He is part fan, part master of ceremonies, an understated, droll host. Now, he's playing for the biggest stakes in television.

Gumbel is all too aware of the potential pitfalls that come with an Olympic assignment.

The standard by which all other hosts are measured was set by McKay, who deftly guided the ABC Olympic telecasts for two decades, from the tragedy of the 1972 Munich Games to the patriotic fervor of the 1984 Los Angeles Games to a slushy finale at the 1988 Calgary Games.

When the Olympic torch was passed to NBC in 1988, Greg's older brother, Bryant, took the host assignment with the confident attitude he exhibited on "The Today Show."

The critics were not kind. Bryant Gumbel simply wasn't the kind of guest Americans wanted in their home for 16 nights.

Zahn and McCarver didn't fit the bill as Olympic hosts in Albertville, France, either. She was a news anchor. He was an ex-baseball catcher.

"We thought we needed two hosts," said Mark Harrington, CBS' vice president for Olympics. "We thought we needed the variety over three hours. We found out it was a one-host broadcast."

That one host was Gumbel.

He didn't campaign for the job. When Rick Gentile, CBS' senior vice president, gave him the assignment in December 1992, Gumbel reacted with one word.

"Why?" the future Olympic anchor said.

"The reason Greg is in the position he is in is because he is skilled, he is comfortable on the air, he is an easy look and listen to the viewer and he is a good traffic cop," Gentile said.

Gumbel, 47, also had assembled an Olympic resume while building his identity apart from his older brother. He worked his way up from local sports anchor in Chicago to CBS, via an alphabet soup of sports stations and networks, including ESPN, WFAN radio in New York and MSG, the Madison Square Garden television network.

Now, he's the often-reluctant salesman of the Winter Olympics.

Gumbel, a 1992 Olympic daytime host, said he is really trying to find something to like in winter sports. He has immersed himself in Olympic history. He has formed quick friendships with Brian Boitano, Picabo Street and Brian Shimer.

"If you know the personalities, you'll like the sports," he said.

Gumbel promises not to complain about the cold weather in Norway, even though, on the whole, he considers himself a beach guy.

But these are tough times at CBS Sports, so Gumbel is playing the role of good sport. His five-year stint as host of "The NFL Today" ended when the network lost the rights to pro football games to Fox and NBC.

So instead of setting the scene for Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Gumbel will do the lead-in for the luge at Hunderfossen.

L His goal is to be nothing more, or less, than a genial host.

"You have to make sure you don't make people throw up," he said. "You have to welcome people and make them feel comfortable and give them an idea of what they are going to look for. Then you take them through the program, bid them farewell and tell them to tune in tomorrow."

4( "It doesn't take a genius to do it."

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