NBC may need training wheels to get Series coverage on track

Media Watch

October 23, 1997|By Milton Kent

At some point during each of their World Series broadcasts this week, NBC has reminded viewers that this is the 50th anniversary of its first Fall Classic telecast.

There's a touch of irony in the pronouncement, because it implies stability and tradition, but NBC has shown little of either.

And the reason for that, simply, is that though NBC has been in the business of televising the World Series for a half-century, this year is its first alone in eight years. Though, like riding a bike, the knack of covering a Series comes back to you, a few stumbles and scraped knees are to be expected. The trouble is that by the time NBC relearns to ride the bike, the Series will be over.

The holes in NBC's coverage are quite noticeable. On the production side, producer David Neal and director Andy Rosenberg seem way too impressed with their toys, namely the 23 cameras and 17 videotape machines.

Neal is calling for so many replays, particularly on routine plays, like fly balls that don't even reach the warning track, that he's diluting the value of the important ones. For instance, bench reaction shots on fourth- and fifth-inning home runs are just unnecessary, but they've been plentiful.

Rosenberg, meanwhile, is hitting us with so many quick cuts, particularly in situations that hint at drama, that it has been hard to stay focused at times. The "Supervision" computer device that tracks the break of the pitch hasn't really demonstrated any more than a super slow motion camera behind the plate.

And yes, the score box in the upper corner is sorely missed, along, apparently, with viewers, as the first three games of the Series have averaged a combined 14.0 rating, the lowest three-game average ever.

From a talent standpoint, the presence of ESPN refugee and new MSNBC anchor Keith Olbermann as pre-game host and occasional in-game contributor has been extremely disappointing.

Olbermann, one of television's best smart alecks, appears to be overly scripted and ill at ease with the format, which requires him to look adoringly at co-host Hannah Storm in much the same vacant way that a politician's spouse looks at the candidate. And Olbermann, who is a baseball expert, has made shocking errors, mixing up Florida relief pitcher Felix Heredia with Texas' Wilson Heredia and calling Marlins pitcher Livan Hernandez "Fernandez."

Storm has been nothing special, but solid. Meanwhile, the dumbing-down of the once-great Jim Gray continues. Gray, who once was one of the best sideline/features reporters in the business, has descended into vapidity, with one silly question after another.

Where NBC has shone is in its booth talent, with the great Joe Morgan flanked ably by Bob Costas and Bob Uecker.

We've sung Morgan's praises here so much that it's frankly becoming passe, but he has been brilliant again in this setting. Here are just a couple of examples from Tuesday's Game 3: In the pre-game setup, Morgan presciently said that Florida's Gary Sheffield, who had been quiet to that point, would have a breakout game because he would see better pitches. Sheffield went 3-for-5 with five RBIs and a home run. In the ninth, Morgan immediately spotted that Marquis Grissom's throw to third ticked off Bobby Bonilla's shoulder. On the fifth replay, the cameras backed him up.

Costas' gifts, likewise, have been laid out in this space, and he, too, is having a fine week in the play-by-play role. However, his grand pronouncements on the game and his tendency to stray into analyst waters may soon take some of the luster off his work.

Uecker, meanwhile, has been terrific. Maybe the original plan for "Mr. Baseball" was for him to be the comic relief, and he has done that at times. But his humor has not been forced and has, almost always, come at welcome moments. His analysis, particularly on the work of the catchers, has been on the mark, and well worth the listen.

Radio waves

We can't let the Series pass without sadly noting that this year will bring a close to the tenure of CBS Radio as the sport's chronicler after more than 20 years.

Its Series broadcasts, with Vin Scully and Jeff Torborg in the booth and John Rooney on the pre- and post-game, have been nothing short of spectacular.

Scully, in particular, has been masterful, weaving stories of the sport and its participants into his game call with a deftness that only a few have ever possessed.

ESPN Radio has snapped up baseball's national rights, and will take over the weekly and postseason broadcasts next year, with rumors that Jon Miller will be the voice of the network next October.

Pub Date: 10/23/97

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