Roberts realizes lifetime dream as host of Wide World of Sports

Media Watch

January 11, 1996|By Milton Kent

It's fitting that "Wide World of Sports," which kicks off its 35th season Saturday (Channel 2, 4:30 p.m.) and is television's longest-running anthology series, presents a new host, Robin Roberts, who embodies the kind of variety "Wide World" is known for.

"Because I've done so many different things in 'SportsCenter' and in my career . . . they [the producers] can throw anything at me and I'll be able to handle it," said Roberts. "In all the conversations I've had with [producer] Curt [Gowdy Jr.] and [executive producer] Jack O'Hara, it's about the versatility that I bring to the show. They're going to utilize it. I'm not going to just sit in a studio and read lead-ins to different sporting events."

Roberts, an ESPN fixture, takes over a "Wide World" franchise that doesn't quite carry the buzz that it used to, in part because of entities like ESPN and because sports like figure skating and gymnastics, once regular staples of "WWOS" now draw big ratings on their own.

"It hasn't lost its stature among those of us in broadcasting and those of us who know the show, but it's one that some people are now aware that it's still on, perhaps," said Roberts. "I've gotten a couple of people, that, when they've read about it, have asked me, 'Is it still on?' "

Even so, Roberts says the show will be what people have come to expect, right down to original host Jim McKay's reading of the opening credo, to the ski jumper who takes a plunge off the platform to a series of world championships from sports that are off the beaten track, like luge and snowboarding."

"It ain't broke. I'm not coming in to fix anything. It's a show that has stood on its own for 35 years," said Roberts. "To now be the host of it is breathtaking. I grew up watching Jim McKay and never in a gazillion years, growing up in Mississippi wearing pigtails did I think I would host it."

The premiere program will present coverage of the Nutrasweet World Challenge of Champions figure skating ladies and pairs competition as well as the presentation of the show's "Athlete of the Year" award, which goes to cyclist Miguel Indurain of Spain, who won his fifth straight Tour de France last summer.

Cabin fever's cure

There were millions of people cooped in their homes Sunday with little to do but watch the snowfall and playoff football, as a check of the ratings indicate, thanks to numbers furnished by Channel 11 ratings researcher Sharon Walz, this week's sole and official (and thankfully not snowbound) "Media Watch" ratings provider.

The blizzard drove up viewing levels past last season's Super Bowl. For instance, during the time last Sunday's Indianapolis-Kansas City game was on, nearly three of every four homes that have television sets in town were watching them.

Not surprisingly, the Colts-Chiefs game was the big ratings winner for Channel 11, attracting a 24.6 rating and 33 share of the audience, the biggest football rating of the 1995-96 season. Channel 45's Philadelphia-Dallas game, which preceded the Colts-Chiefs, drew a 19.2/27.

With the threat of more snow this weekend, Sunday's conference championships could do even better.

Boitano joins ABC

ABC has added former Olympic gold medalist Brian Boitano as a figure skating commentator, the network announced yesterday.

Boitano, who won the gold medal in 1988, one of 60 titles he's captured, will make his debut during ABC's coverage of the U.S. Figure Skating Championships next Saturday, and also will work the World Figure Skating Championships in March.

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