If shots against Costas hit home, NBC also will suffer its lumps

Media Watch

July 07, 1998|By MILTON KENT

To the list of inevitable things like death, taxes and Karl Malone shredding whatever piece of dignity he had with last night's wrestling appearance, add this maxim: If you do something well enough and long enough to receive acclaim, there will be a backlash, warranted or not.

NBC's Bob Costas, one of, if not the very best sportscaster working, has been a critical darling, almost from the day he burst on the national scene in the early 1980s in his 20s, doing Saturday baseball games and football play-by-play.

Costas, whose wit and scholarly approach set him apart from many in his profession, has continued to garner praise into his 40s, becoming NBC's lead sports voice.

But some of the very critics who lined up to praise Costas are now lining up to take shots at him, contending that his penchant for occasionally interjecting his point of view into his play-by-play -- sometimes forcefully -- has become irritating.

In particular, many of his critics have singled out Costas' work during the recent NBA Finals, writing that he, in his first play-by-play season, insinuated himself and his views at the wrong times.

This is a not-so-insignificant point. Sure, one can dismiss the carping of critics. We are, as a rule, a fairly ignorant bunch, given to our own petty eccentricities, but television, more than any other medium, is one of perception, and if critics begin to drive a perception that Costas is full of himself, then he'll have a big problem.

And, by extension, so will NBC.

With the NFL gone, the network now has two high-profile American sports, the NBA and Major League Baseball, and the next five Olympics. The common denominator for all of them is Costas, the lead play-by-play man for basketball and baseball, and the prime-time host for the Olympics. A hit to Costas' Q-rating could mean a hit to NBC's fortunes as well.

Costas, in a conference call to promote NBC's coverage of tonight's baseball All-Star Game (Channel 11, 8 p.m.), defended himself last week, saying that his stating opinions had drawn "a disproportionate amount" of comment.

In Costas' view, he is only doing what a good play-by-play person is supposed to do, which is to frame the present action against what has happened and what might come down the road.

"Part of the play-by-play man's job is not to call play after play, but to place the activities in some context," said Costas. "If you can pick up a well-written game story the next day and see most of the points you've made [in that story], you've done a good job."

Tonight's game also will mark the first time that Costas and Joe Morgan have worked together alone on a baseball telecast. Costas had been paired initially with Bob Uecker on Baseball Network assignments, with Morgan joining Costas and Uecker for postseason games.

Uecker, who announced earlier this year that his ailing back would preclude him from doing NBC games, was the voice of levity during telecasts, and it will be interesting to see how the super-serious Morgan and Costas try to keep the non-baseball fans entertained, not only for tonight, but also during the postseason.

"I will miss him [Uecker] personally," said Morgan, who does Sunday night games on ESPN with Jon Miller. "He was great at trying to get me to lighten up.

"Sometimes, I have a tendency to take this a little personally, because I did as a player, and sometimes I need to lighten up."

Weekend ratings

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

Event, Day, Ch., R/S

Orioles-Yankees, Fri. 13 10.0/20

Orioles-Yankees, Sun. 13 5.8/17

Wimbledon, Sun. 11 4.5/13

Orioles-Yankees, Sat. 45 4.2/14

Wimbledon, Fri. 11 2.9/9

Wimbledon, Sat. 11 2.8/10

Men's golf, Sun. 13 2.7/7

Wimbledon, Sat. 11 2.6/8

Brazil-Denmark, Fri. 2 2.6/8

U.S Wom. Open, Sun. 11 2.0/6

R -- Rating. S -- Share

Pub Date: 7/07/98

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