Jim McKay has heard all the talk about all the trouble the horse racing industry is in, and while all the chatter concerns him, McKay knows that if there is one day where all is nearly perfect in the sport, that day is tomorrow, when the 121st running of the Kentucky Derby takes place.
"For a one-day event, it's the greatest," said McKay, who will anchor ABC's coverage (Channel 2, 4:30 p.m.), along with Al Michaels, Dave Johnson, Charlsie Cantey and Lesley Visser.
Indeed, the Derby is a perennial ratings winner, pulling in numbers anywhere from 7.3 to 8.9 in the past four years. But the race lasts just about two minutes and comes one hour into the broadcast, virtually inviting today's itchy viewer to wear out his clicker thumb to find action somewhere else.
Network programmers deny a concern about Derby tune-out, but just to make sure it doesn't happen, they've added coverage of the Early Times Turf Classic from the grass at Louisville's Churchill Downs to keep early viewers hooked through post time of the Run for the Roses.
"Everybody channel surfs. People don't have long spans of attention," said producer Curt Gowdy Jr. "We've found that we have some pretty interesting races leading into the Triple Crown races and [covering them] can only help us. It can't hurt."
As for covering the Derby itself, ABC plans to employ 26 cameras around the 1 1/4 -mile track, including, for the second straight year, CableCam, a remote-controlled camera mounted to a cable suspended above the track that will follow the horses down the backstretch.
In addition, ESPN will carry a two-hour special from Churchill Downs tomorrow at noon, and ESPN2 will pick up coverage from 2 p.m. until ABC signs on.
It seems like just yesterday that the NHL regular season started, and we're just a day away from a playoff season that could extend into July if the Stanley Cup finals go to a seventh game.
You would think that the $31 million that Fox laid out for regular-season and playoff coverage would get it a marquee matchup for the first weekend, but only one team from a top-five market, the New Jersey Devils, makes it to the over-the-air network's regionalized coverage this weekend.
"It was a very complicated equation," said Fox executive producer Ed Goren. "We tried to max out what we thought would get the best national numbers for us."
Locally, you'll see the Philadelphia-Buffalo match Sunday at 3 p.m. on Channel 45. ESPN and ESPN2 will have nearly daily coverage, and former Los Angeles Kings coach Barry Melrose will join the networks as a playoff analyst.
* The third "Passion to Play" special, saluting the role of women in athletics, airs Sunday (Channel 2, 3 p.m.) with a look at women who kayak, climb mountains, hang-glide and explore the Antarctic. The show's host is Julie Moran, who soon will be leaving the network for a gig with "Entertainment Tonight."
* The draw for the 12-team men's Division I lacrosse tournament will be announced Sunday at 6 p.m. on Home Team Sports, with Johnny Holliday as host and Leif Elsmo providing analysis.
* NBC will have four NBA playoff games this weekend, one tomorrow and three Sunday, though no one's quite sure who will play in the Sunday games or who will be the announcers for them.
The only certainty is that the Los Angeles Lakers will be seen tomorrow at 3:30 p.m. (Channel 11) in the first game of their Western Conference semifinal against the San Antonio Spurs.