NBC hates living with baseball, so grant it a speedy divorce

Media Watch

October 21, 1997|By Milton Kent

By now, it has become passe to lament the lack of backbone among the people who run baseball, but it's way past time that someone in charge of the Grand Old Game put his foot down in terms of its relationship with NBC.

Goodness knows, the Peacock Network and its representatives have been walking all over baseball in the past two years:

To wit:

Before the dissolution of The Baseball Network two years ago, NBC Sports president Dick Ebersol said his network and ABC, which shared Baseball Network duties, had been treated like "scum," and said he couldn't imagine NBC's "being involved in baseball the rest of the century."

Last year, NBC Entertainment chief Don Ohlmeyer groused about how postseason ratings were hurting the network and made threats that the network would try to get out of its five-year, postseason-only deal.

Commentator Bob Costas has been a vocal and constant critic of the wild-card system, including during playoff telecasts.

The latest NBC salvo came last weekend from Ohlmeyer, a former ABC Sports executive, who wished during a conference call held on the eve of this year's World Series that the Fall Classic go no more than four games so that its ratings won't hurt his entertainment schedule and particularly won't pre-empt the powerful Thursday night lineup.

Well, to Ohlmeyer, we here at "Media Watch" politely say what baseball officials won't:

Get out and don't let the door hit you in the rear as you leave.

Ohlmeyer and Ebersol offered apologies over the weekend, and acting commissioner Bud Selig, after expressing disappointment, accepted their apologies, but the whole situation speaks to NBC's total lack of respect for the game.

Besides the appalling lack of taste in publicly trashing a product in which your company has invested more than $400 million, Ohlmeyer's premise -- that the World Series would be a ratings drain -- is a bad one.

Last year's Series, which did a 17.4 for Fox, was the third-lowest rated Series in the past 37 years, but that rating was probably lowered because in many cities, like Baltimore, the Fox affiliate is a UHF station whose signal is typically weaker than that of a VHF station.

Even so, that rating is higher than all but four prime-time shows that aired on NBC during the week of Sept. 22-28, Premiere Week. Those four shows were all on Thursday, so a part of Ohlmeyer's reasoning is understandable, but, over the past five years, Thursday's Series Game 5 telecasts have averaged a 21 rating and 35 share, a shade off the 23.6/37 NBC's Thursday lineup averaged during the premiere week.

For the other nights, Saturday, Sunday, Tuesday and Wednesday, the network will probably get many more viewers than it usually would on those nights, and most of those additional viewers will be from the most desirable demographic, males aged 18 to 49.

Indeed, Saturday's 14.1/25 and Sunday's 16.3/25 are much higher numbers than NBC pulls in for those nights.

Historically, the network televising the World Series has used it to promote its lineup, and goodness knows, NBC, the home of shameless self-promotion, has taken advantage, with more promos of god-awful sitcoms and miniseries than necessary. In fact, Ohlmeyer's problem may be that viewers in the first two rounds of the playoffs saw promos for his entertainment shows and decided to take a pass on the crud he was trying to sell.

The network continues to smack baseball around -- for instance, holding up the first pitch of Sunday's Game 2 for 15 minutes to ensure that its sappy pre-game show aired in its entirety. And, in a move that had to gall baseball officials -- that is, assuming they have any sense of outrage -- NBC ran football highlights during the pre-game and scores and promos during the game, though it doesn't reciprocate with September pennant race scores during football games.

The bottom line is that baseball should have more self-respect than to continue to be smacked in the face by the bullies of 30 Rockefeller Center. Like a cuckolded spouse, baseball continues to try to make the best of a bad marriage. If NBC wants out, then baseball should grant it a divorce. There are plenty of suitors, namely Fox or CBS, who would treat the game faithfully.

ALCS leftovers

The Orioles' postseason run brought out some of the best and worst among the local electronic set, but, from this perspective, the work of two reporters stood out from the crowd.

John Patti of WBAL (1090 AM) turned in spectacular work during the Seattle and Cleveland series, going above and beyond the predictable "excited fan" pieces to find out-of-the-way slices of life around the ballpark.

Among his best stories were a report with a Seattle native who somehow manages to have season tickets for both the Orioles and the Mariners and a piece from Cleveland last weekend on the passion of Indians fans.

Likewise, Channel 45's Steve Davis took what could be a thankless position, the post-game clubhouse interviewer, and made something special of it, generally asking thought-provoking questions of the combatants. It was fine work from Davis, who has grown and improved in his time here.

Finally, a serious thumbs-up to whoever was doing the captions at Channel 45. They were hip, clever and funny and made watching as much fun as listening.

Meanwhile, on the ratings front, last Wednesday's Game 6 did a 29.6 rating on Channel 45 with a 49 share of the audience, for a six-game average of a 26.8/41, down from last year's five-game ALCS, which averaged a 29.0/51 on Channel 11. In Cleveland, Game 6 did a 45/71.

Pub Date: 10/21/97

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