`Yessss!' Albert welcomes Turner follow-up shot

MEDIA WATCH

February 16, 1999|By MILTON KENT

In the worst times over the last two years, Marv Albert confesses that he didn't think he'd get another chance at the big time. And he still doesn't know whether everybody will think he deserves another shot at a national forum.

But he's willing to try and Turner Sports is going to give Albert the platform, formally announcing yesterday that he will return to calling NBA games in early April on TNT and TBS.

"It's been a very exciting week for me," Albert said on a national conference call yesterday. "I've been hoping all along that something would take place and it's thrilling that this has happened."

Albert, who signed a multi-year contract for an undisclosed length and amount, will return to NBA broadcasts with his first assignment on April 2, during the Los Angeles Lakers-Phoenix or Indiana-Charlotte game. He'll work six regular-season games, then move into Turner's playoff rotation as well as working the Goodwill Games and boxing assignments.

"We think he's among the best, and with Dick Stockton and Kevin Harlan, that makes as good a play-by-play team as you can have," said Mike Pearl, Turner Sports' executive producer.

For two generations of New Yorkers, Albert was the voice of the New York Knicks and Rangers, and spent 20 years with NBC, six of them as the lead voice on NBA telecasts. His "Yessss!" call on a made basket is recognized by those who aren't even basketball fans, and Albert's popularity was extended by his regular appearances on David Letterman's late-night talk show.

But all of that collapsed two years ago after a former lover accused Albert of biting her during sex and forcing her to perform oral sex. Those and other lurid charges emerged seven months later during a Virginia trial that made Albert a national laughingstock, and he was convicted of misdemeanor assault and battery charges.

NBC fired Albert and he resigned from Madison Square Garden Network, where he had worked for more than 30 years. But after a shaky series of early interviews during which he tried to explain his behavior, Albert quietly set about rehabilitating his image. MSG hired him back last year to be host of its nightly highlights show and as the radio voice of Knicks home games, which he began doing last week to favorable notices in New York.

But while the Big Apple has embraced one of its own, it remains to be seen whether the rest of the nation will do the same.

"His name has been cleared. Most of it [reaction] will be positive, but I'd be lying if I told you that all of it will," said Pearl.

Pearl said Albert's personal and professional life had been checked out and that some market research had been done regarding his viability with viewers.

In addition, Albert's hiring has been cleared by top executives at Turner Broadcasting, and it's a pretty fair bet that Gerald Levin and Ted Turner, the top executives at Time Warner, the parent company of Turner Broadcasting, as well as NBA commissioner David Stern also signed off on Albert's return.

As for Albert himself, the announcer says the time he spent away from television and radio, the first prolonged down time he had had since he was 15 years old, was "kind of strange like the music stopped."

But the break also was healthy for Albert, who spent time with his new wife, his father and his family, as well as taking walks through Central Park. "I just feel much better about myself. I'm a better person," said Albert.

Albert said he has had informal social talks with NBC Sports president Dick Ebersol, but not about his return to the network. Given the increased schedule of NBA games that NBC will be doing over the next 3 1/2 years of its contract, not to mention the relative dearth of play-by-play announcers in its stable, it wouldn't be a total surprise to hear Albert back on the network at some point.

Revved-up ratings

Sunday's Daytona 500 telecast garnered a modest increase in the overnight ratings for CBS.

The race pulled in a 7.9 rating and 20 share among the 44 markets where Nielsen meters reside, a 3 percent boost from last year's 7.7 overnight rating. The network expects that national ratings, which will be released Thursday, will be higher as those numbers cover all of the nation's markets, including smaller, more rural areas more favorably disposed to stock car racing.

The race seemed to have a positive impact on the succeeding program, the final round of the Buick Invitational golf tournament, whose ratings were up 2 1/2 points from last year's tournament finale.

Pub Date: 2/16/99

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