Those who work in live television know it to be the ultimate high-wire walk that usually pays off handsomely, but occasionally brings a big fall.
That's the precise sensation ABC experienced at the Kentucky Derby two weeks ago, when it nailed down every aspect of the Run for the Roses, except for the result.
As Grindstone and Cavonnier hit the wire virtually together, Churchill Downs track stewards were unable to ascertain immediately who won, and the network waited and waited for a winner to be declared before breaking for a commercial.
Grindstone won in a photo finish, but ABC took a critical beating for being away in a commercial break for more than 2 minutes when the race was called.
Producer Curt Gowdy Jr., who will head ABC's coverage of tomorrow's Preakness (Channel 2, 4: 30 p.m.) understands the criticism, but hopes you don't forget something else.
"Whether you agree or disagree with the decision [to break for commercial], the thing that is most overlooked is that there was an increase of 23 percent in the ratings, which is almost unheard of in this day and age from year to year," said Gowdy yesterday.
"Right now, the sport of thoroughbred racing needs as much positive reinforcement as it can get. That's our goal. We've always come to expect the unexpected. We look forward to putting on the best telecast we can."
ABC will station 25 cameras around Old Hilltop, positioning them in a variety of spots, including the traditional blimp shot and from boom cranes, and wireless microphones will be placed on several jockeys.
Planned pre-race features include a story on the bond between trainer D. Wayne Lukas and Grindstone owner William T. Young and a piece on the support team surrounding Cavonnier, including owners Robert and Barbara Walter and trainer Bob Baffert, not to mention coverage of the Dixie turf race, near the top of the telecast.
Jim McKay and Al Michaels will co-anchor ABC's 90 minutes and they'll be joined by analysts Charlsie Cantey and Dave Johnson, who also will call the race. Lesley Visser will report, though we hope sans hat, which might make her trendy, but certainly
lowers her credibility as a reporter.
Long day at races
For the second straight year, Channel 2 will blow out its Saturday morning and afternoon lineup to present the entire Pimlico card leading up to the Preakness, as well as features and stories around the track, starting this year at 8 a.m.
Meanwhile, WBAL (1090 AM), the radio home of the race, goes on the air at 11 a.m., with reporters stationed in the jockey's terrace, the infield, the tent village and barn area and press box. ABC Radio's coverage begins at 5 p.m.
TNT has what is being billed as the most significant track meet in the United States since the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, the Atlanta Grand Prix track and field meet Saturday at 1 p.m., the first event to take place in the Centennial Olympic Stadium.
At halftime of Sunday's Orlando-Chicago NBA Eastern Conference playoff game (3 p.m.), NBC (Channel 11) will present the annual Tournament of Losers, more properly known as the Draft Lottery. Our local qualifiers, the Washington Bullets, traded away their entry to Cleveland for Mark Price and three magic beans.
On the lacrosse scene, the men's playoff doubleheader at Homewood Field gets television and radio coverage, with both the Harvard-Virginia game and the Johns Hopkins-Maryland clash airing on Home Team Sports and WWLG (1360 AM) on Sunday, starting at noon. In addition, WWLG will carry the Virginia-Loyola women's semifinal tomorrow at 5: 30 p.m.
HBO presents the latest entry in its "Real Sports" magazine series Monday at 10 p.m. A planned feature on Ravens owner Art Modell has had to be scrapped because of his recent illness, but in its stead, reporter Jim Lampley talked with controversial running back Lawrence Phillips.
ESPN will have the second game of the Florida-Pittsburgh NHL Eastern Conference championship series at 7: 30 p.m. Monday, after airing Game 1 tomorrow at 7: 30 p.m. Fox (Channel 45) will carry a Western Conference playoff game Sunday at 3 p.m.
Pub Date: 5/17/96