Postponement of NASCAR race presents CBS with tough call

Media Watch

July 03, 1998|By Milton Kent

The postponement of tomorrow's Pepsi 400 NASCAR race leaves CBS with not only an immediate programming hole to fill, namely the 8-11 p.m. Saturday night block, but also a major decision and a philosophical question to answer down the road.

The new Pepsi 400 date of Oct. 17 falls in the middle of the new fall entertainment schedule, is smack dab in the midst of the college football season and is the scheduled day for Game 1 of the World Series, an event that will draw a goodly number of male viewers who might tune into the race.

Toss in the fact that the race was supposed to air in prime time, the first of its kind ever on a broadcast network, and you can see how tough a call some CBS official is going to have to make.

A CBS official said no decision had been made yesterday on when or even if the race, postponed by wildfires that have engulfed areas of Florida for the past month, would be aired.

The network has invested an increased amount of time and money on stock car racing, wagering that the sport's rising popularity will translate into viewership. And, to date, that strategy has paid off. The three 1998 races it has aired have pulled in a 6.3 average rating.

But no one knew how a stock car race, airing at night, would fare. While there is a long history of airing sports in prime time, those events have generally come from the pool of traditional sports that play to a mass audience, like baseball, basketball or football.

Even with the sport's growth, we still don't know whether stock car racing is a sport for the masses. Rob Correa, the sports division's vice president of programming, admitted earlier this week that the network was swimming in "uncharted waters" in carrying the race in prime time, and didn't even attempt to guess what the race would garner in ratings.

That's what made July 4 such a perfect time to experiment. With families all over the country out enjoying Independence Day picnics, parades and fireworks shows, viewership levels on that day are among the lowest of the year.

The race also was going to provide fresh programming in the rerun-laden summertime, but that won't be the case in October, when all the networks, not just CBS, will be trotting out their new entertainment shows, and where a 6 rating in prime time just won't fly.

All-Star party

Monday's baseball All-Star workout and festivities get ESPN's full multimedia attention, with first-time live coverage of the Home Run Derby from Coors Field at 8 p.m., with New York Mets catcher Mike Piazza joining Chris Berman and Joe Morgan in the booth.

In the same program, ESPN also will cover the new Hitting Challenge, where four teams of celebrities, rookies and recently retired players display their hitting skills, followed at midnight by coverage of the All-Star Gala.

For the first time, ESPN Radio will take over All-Star coverage, with a two-hour Monday program, starting at 8 p.m. on WBAL (1090 AM), with Charley Steiner and Kevin Kennedy in the booth and Rich Eisen and Karl Ravech roaming about.

Around the dial

The Baltimore area's first foray into big-time PGA senior golf, the State Farm Senior Classic, gets the ESPN treatment this weekend with coverage today at 1 p.m., tomorrow at 2 p.m. and a final-round telecast Sunday at 5: 30 p.m. ESPN also will carry today's second round of the U.S. Women's Open at 3 p.m., with the third and final rounds shifting to NBC (Channel 11) tomorrow and Sunday, airing each day at 3 p.m.

Wimbledon's fortnight comes to a close this weekend, with one men's semifinal airing today at 1 p.m. on NBC (Channel 11), almost certainly the Pete Sampras-Tim Henman match and the other, Richard Krajicek-Goran Ivanisevic, on HBO at 5. The women's final airs tomorrow at 9 a.m. on NBC, with the men's championship Sunday, same time, same network.

There's plenty of nationally televised baseball on tap for the holiday weekend, with an ESPN doubleheader tonight at 7: 30, with St. Louis-Cincinnati first, followed by Colorado-San Diego.

Milford Mill's own Brian Jordan, who leads the National League in hitting, is the subject of an "In the Zone" feature tomorrow (Channel 45, 12: 30 p.m.), leading into the Orioles-Yankees contest, the big game on Fox's regional slate. Managers Ray Miller and Joe Torre are scheduled to wear microphones, and Chris Hoiles is slated to wear "Catcher Cam." The Seattle-Texas game closes the curtain on the first half of the season Sunday night (ESPN, 8 o'clock).

Finally, Sunday's "Sporting Life with Jim Huber" (CNN, 9: 30 p.m.) promises to be as interesting as always with scheduled features on Buffalo quarterback Doug Flutie and his autistic son, Dougie, and a pair of San Francisco men who have turned a piece of vacant inner-city real estate into one of the nation's best driving ranges.

Pub Date: 7/03/98

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