NBC rusty, but Costas and company smooth way

Media Watch

October 02, 1997|By Milton Kent

In the mid-1980s, NBC's slogan for its fall lineup one year was "Our Pride Is Showing," and while the slogan pertained to the entertainment division, it certainly could have also applied to the network's baseball coverage.

Under the leadership of the late, legendary director-producer Harry Coyle, NBC set the standard for how the game was to be telecast, with new camera positions above first and third bases, extensive and telling replays, and some of the most memorable voices in baseball history behind the microphones, from Dizzy Dean to Joe Garagiola to Vin Scully to today's standard-bearer, Bob Costas.

Leading up to last night's telecast of the Orioles-Seattle Division Series opener, NBC's promos have attempted to accentuate its tie to baseball tradition. But much of the broadcast landscape has changed since the network lost control of the regular baseball contract eight years ago and NBC appeared, at least last night, to be mired in the past.

Nowhere did history's anchor weigh the network down more than in its decision to forego the now standard constant score and situation box that routinely appears on both Fox and ESPN baseball coverage.

The viewer's eye, as a matter of course, now looks to the upper left corner of the screen to see what the count is, where the runners are and the speed of the pitch, as well as the score and outs. NBC, which refuses to follow Fox's lead in football with the score and clock, also won't use the informational box for its baseball coverage, and that's a shame, for it only cheats the viewer.

Producer John Gonzalez and director Andy Rosenberg did a fine job, to their credit, of getting a busy, but informative score and situation box on the screen every 30-50 seconds, a slight concession to Fox and ESPN, but not quite enough from this perspective.

The pictures and replays were splendid, particularly for a network like NBC that hadn't televised a game in almost a year, dating back to Game 5 of last year's American League Championship Series, though the misidentification of Orioles pitching coach Ray Miller in the team's seventh was more than unfortunate.

Costas and analysts Joe Morgan and Bob Uecker were on the mark in a game that was largely devoid of drama once the Orioles broke through for four runs in the fifth.

The two analysts immediately jumped on Orioles manager Davey Johnson for benching three of his usual starters, but gave Johnson credit for having the guts to make the move.

Morgan, the best analyst in television sports, was on his game, as usual, emphasizing that the key to handling Randy Johnson was to lay off his high fastball, but jump on the low heat.

The revelation last night was Uecker, who largely sheds his buffoon role in a network setting to make some trenchant points.

It was Uecker who first recognized that Seattle starter Randy Johnson not only did not have his usual stuff, but seemed to be aiming rather than pitching. Uecker, a former catcher, also was astute in the Seattle sixth when Chris Hoiles was plunked in the head by the backswing of Joey Cora.

Costas, a noted scholar of the game, was terrific, noting, for instance, that both Ken Griffey and former St. Louis Cardinals great Stan Musial hailed from the same Pennsylvania town and that Griffey's grandfather had played with Musial.

However, Costas arrogantly injected his now predictable rant on the playoff system and, indirectly, the wild card, dropping it in by the bottom of the third. To his credit, he made a statement, then wisely backed off, saying, "I think the point's been made."

Yes, Bob, it has.

For the entire playoffs.

Today's second game of the series will originate on ESPN. Under baseball rules, however, when a playoff game airs on ESPN, the network must make its signal available to a local, over-the-air station, and, for this round, Channel 13 is that outlet.

Be forewarned, however, that the graphics and announcers on Channel 13's air will be ESPN's, not those of Home Team Sports, the Orioles' usual telecaster.

Pub Date: 10/02/97

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