With fewer big names, ratings, Indy 500 is due for a tuneup

Media Watch

May 22, 1998|By Milton Kent

In the two years since the Indy Racing League and the Championship Auto Racing Team suffered their noisy split, sending one half of the open-wheeled racers in one direction and the other half the other way, the Indianapolis 500 -- once the crown jewel of American racing -- has lost a lot of its luster and a huge chunk of its ratings.

It's not hard to figure out why the Indy 500's pull isn't what it once was. Legendary names like Mario Andretti, A. J. Foyt and Gordon Johncock have been replaced by Billy Boat, Greg Ray and Scott Sharp. Who? Exactly.

"It's been proven in the NBA, NASCAR, everywhere that you do need names," said Paul Page, who will call the race Sunday for ABC (Channel 2, 11 a.m.).

But Page says that if viewers are willing to get to know these unknowns, they'll find a group of potentially fascinating chaps who are worth the time and effort.

"In the old days, we were looking for ways to retell stories. Now, there are new stories and they [the drivers] are willing to cooperate with you," Page said. "These guys are willing to laugh at their mistakes and crashes."

Still, NASCAR's 600-mile race, airing in prime-time Sunday (TBS, 5: 35 p.m.), is likely to draw just as much attention as events in Indianapolis, and one wonders if the 500 can ever gain back the fans it lost. Page said it's possible and believes that the answer may come from NASCAR.

"I wouldn't be surprised to see an Earnhardt -- maybe not Dale -- participate in open-wheel racing," Page said. "I can't believe that a Jeff Gordon's not going to want to be in an open-wheel car in Indianapolis, and that will be great for racing."

Besides Page, ABC's Indy crew will include analysis from former 500 winners Tom Sneva and Danny Sullivan with reporting from Jack Arute, Jerry Punch and Gary Gerould. In Charlotte, N.C., site of the NASCAR race, veteran race-caller Ken Squier will anchor the coverage, with Buddy Baker and Dick Berggren doing analysis.

Heading the ticket

CBS has selected two men who were a part of their previous NFL coverage to head up the new effort.

Mark Wolff, who was with CBS from 1980 to 1994, returns as lead game producer, teaming with nine-time Emmy winner Larry Cavolina, the new lead game director.

Wolff, 41, had been with NBC for four years, where he produced NBA telecasts, as well as Major League Baseball, the Olympics and NFL and Notre Dame football games. Cavolina, 48, has worked with four other networks on a variety of sports events, including the NFL, NBA, NHL, college basketball, racing, swimming and diving.

The network also announced that former NBC analyst and New York Giants safety Beasley Reece will be a game analyst this season. CBS is expected to fill its sixth and final analyst spot with former NBC analyst Sam Wyche, the ex-coach of Cincinnati and Tampa Bay.

Around the dial

It's a weekend filled with lots of postseason action in basketball, hockey and lacrosse.

ESPN2 will carry both games in the NCAA men's lacrosse final four tomorrow from Rutgers, starting at noon, with Monday's championship game facing off at 10: 55 a.m. on ESPN.

The NHL playoffs move to their final four this weekend with the Eastern and Western conference championships commencing. ESPN airs the first two games of the Washington-Buffalo series tomorrow night and Monday night, with each telecast beginning at 7: 30, and be forewarned: There will be no Home Team Sports telecasts of this series. Fox (Channel 45), which mysteriously has taken a pass on the Capitals in this round, will have Game 1 of the Dallas-Detroit series Sunday at 2 p.m.

Turner concludes its NBA playoff schedule tonight with Game 3 of the Lakers-Jazz series from Los Angeles. Ernie Johnson and ** Kenny Smith will be hosts of the pre-game show on site at 9: 30 and will chat with Magic Johnson at halftime.

NBC (Channel 11) takes over the playoff slate from tomorrow on, with games in the Indiana-Chicago series airing Saturday and Monday afternoon, sandwiching Game 4 of the Lakers-Jazz series Sunday. Tip-offs for all games are 3: 30, with "Showtime" preceding all telecasts at 3 p.m.

Sunday's "Showtime" will focus on the NBA labor situation, with deputy commissioner Russ Granik, the league's labor point man, and Patrick Ewing and Billy Hunter, the players union president and executive director, respectively, chatting with Hannah Storm and the crew.

Weekend ratings

The ratings for the top 10 most-watched sporting events on broadcast television in Baltimore last weekend:

Event .. .. .. .. ..Day .. ..Ch. .. .. .. ..R/S

Preakness race .. ..Sat. .. ..2 .. .. ..14.7/34

Pacers-Bulls .. .. .Sun. .. .11 .. .. ...8.3/18

O's-Indians .. .. ..Thu. .. .54 .. .. .. .6.0/9

Preakness preview ..Fri. .. .13 .. .. ...5.2/11

Lakers-Jazz .. .. ..Sat. .. .11 .. .. ...4.8/12

O's-Devil Rays .. ..Fri. .. .54 .. .. ...4.8/10

Pre-Preakness show .Sat. .. ..2 .. .. ...4.1/14

NBA pre-game .. .. .Sat. .. .11 .. .. ...3.4/11

Gymnastics .. .. ...Sat. .. .13 .. .. ..3.1/10

NBA pre-game .. .. .Sun. .. .11 .. .. .. .2.8/7

Gymnastics .. .. ...Sun. .. .13 .. .. .. .2.8/7

Pub Date: 5/22/98

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