ABC calls an audible, switches 'Blast'

Media Watch

November 03, 1998|By Milton Kent

A one-day, wildcat strike of technicians and other off-camera personnel forced ABC to relocate its fledgling "Monday Night Blast" football pre-game show, as well as the halftime segment, from its usual place at the ESPN Zone here last night.

Instead, a scaled-down version of those "Monday Night Football" program elements aired from Philadelphia, the site of last night's Eagles-Dallas Cowboys game, and without regular hosts Chris Berman and Frank Gifford.

Berman's halftime highlights were done from New York, while the pre-game feature that is normally introduced by Gifford was instead set up by Al Michaels.

Mark Mandel, an ABC spokesman, said the network had not made contingency plans to produce programming from Baltimore in the event of a walkout, and decided to move the show to Philadelphia for the week.

Mandel would not speculate on whether the "Blast" show, normally aired in an area adjacent to the restaurant's bar area, would return to Baltimore next week.

Though large crowds usually attend each week's show, Scott Dickey, director of marketing and sales for the ESPN Zone, said he anticipated no change in the restaurant's business because of the change.

"The main draw is still the game. That's still the focus. It's business as usual," said Dickey.

More than 2,000 members of the National Association of Broadcast Employees and Technicians (NABET) walked off their jobs at 5 a.m. yesterday as part of a dispute with Walt Disney, ABC's parent company, over a company demand that union members enroll exclusively in Disney's health-care plan.

The strike affected 75 NABET members in Philadelphia and an undetermined number of workers in Baltimore, but Mandel said the network has had plans for more than a year to cover itself at a game site in the event of a strike.

Terps tip-off

At least one ESPN Zone-originated show, Dick Vitale's "Slam, Bam Jam Preview," got done from the restaurant, with taping of the 30-minute college basketball preview taking place last Thursday.

Vitale, college basketball's most enthusiastic booster, dropped into town with good words for this year's Maryland men's squad, expected to be one of the best in school history.

"They've got depth, they've got experience and they've got talent," said Vitale. "I think [coach] Gary Williams' club will be right in the hunt in the ACC all year long and you can easily make a case for them to be in the Top 10."

In particular, Vitale is itching to get a look at junior college transfer guard Steve Francis and is impressed with senior center Obinna Ekezie and forward Laron Profit, while looking for sophomore Terrence Morris to "blossom."

Vitale has two words for Williams and his Georgetown counterpart, John Thompson, regarding a game between the schools:

Do it!

"Come on, Big John, get with Gary. Hook it up! We'll come down here with the cameras. What a way to whet the appetite of the people in this area. Sure, someone will get an 'L' [loss]. Big deal. Both you guys got millions and millions. The 'L' will never hurt you," said Vitale.

The special, with co-host John Saunders, airs tonight at 10: 30 on ESPN.

Mum's the word

What are we to make of the sentiment expressed by a number of NBA players that they will refuse to talk to NBC and Turner Sports after the lockout is over in retaliation for the networks' funding of the owners, even while games aren't being played?

Probably not much. The networks have done quite a bit to publicize the players over the years, and the players, particularly those with endorsement deals, aren't going to pass up the chance to hawk their wares on national television. Beyond that, it isn't as if Craig Sager or Ahmad Rashad is going to play Grand Inquisitor after a game.

But that doesn't mean that the players don't have something of a legitimate beef. Sure, Turner and NBC had to pay the owners in order to keep the rights, and that tied their hands to an extent. But the arrangement only reinforces the notion that the "partnership" between any league and its broadcasters only covers the owners, not the rank-and-file.

By the way, the new Nike ads with such celebrities as Samuel L. Jackson, Dyan Cannon and Spike Lee checking out decidedly un-NBA level competition are cute, but more than a little self-serving. After all, you can't sell cheaply made, overpriced footwear and apparel to a gullible public if your best salesmen are sitting home with nothing to do.

Pub Date: 11/03/98

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