Spotlight finds ESPN-Fox feud in rare look behind TV curtain

MEDIA WATCH

February 19, 1999|By Milton Kent

For all the wondrous places television has taken us over the years, one of the few places it doesn't let us visit is within its own halls.

Why? Who knows? Maybe the fear in letting us peek is that if viewers see just how and why things get done behind the camera, they'll come away looking at the business the same way Dorothy came to see the Wizard of Oz once the curtain flew open: a lot of smoke and flash, but no substance.

The latest installment of HBO's now monthly "Real Sports" magazine, premiering Monday at 10: 30 p.m., with re-airs next Thursday at 8 a.m. and 8 p.m., pulls open the curtain on one of the best television brawls going, the fight between Fox and ESPN for cable sports television supremacy.

Reporter Armen Keteyian, whose day job is with CBS, narrates a fascinating look at how the two behemoths are tussling like a couple of 2-year-olds over a toy, with consumers such as you the pawns.

Keteyian, one of the best interviewers in sports television, does a great job of getting beyond the pro forma business angle and introducing the personalities of the people who determine what you'll see.

That's particularly true of the usually unflappable Steve Bornstein, head of both ESPN and ABC Sports.

Keteyian pokes and prods Bornstein into admitting that the competition between Fox and ESPN is not just business, but personal. In one sequence, the ESPN boss flashes a sheepish grin when read a quote attributed to him where he called Fox the "moral equivalent of Idi Amin."

But moments later, Bornstein's mood turns grim when he says that ESPN will not air Fox's logo during America's Cup coverage, even though Fox is paying $2 million a year to sponsor one of the leading yachts. Meanwhile, Bornstein's Fox adversary, Aussie David Hill, comes across as avuncular and amused by it all, making for great television.

Also on the docket is an update of Frank Deford's story from three years ago about corruption in the International Olympic Committee. Deford is a little too gleeful in reminding viewers that "Real Sports" was one of the first outlets to note that something was amiss at the IOC, but it's a fine piece of work, as are James Brown's profile of Kentucky basketball coach Tubby Smith and Jim Lampley's look at the winners and losers of the NBA lockout.

Braugher's busy weekend

Apparently, Emmy Award-winner Andre Braugher has had no trouble finding work since leaving "Homicide," and his face and voice will be all over cable television this weekend.

Braugher is the unseen narrator of a brilliant one-hour documentary, "Shadowboxing: The Journey of the African-American Fighter," airing tonight at 8 on ESPN2 and tomorrow night at 8, 9 and 10 on ESPN Classic.

"Shadowboxing" examines the period of boxing from the 1890s to the late 1950s, an era that covers well-known black fighters such as Joe Louis, Sugar Ray Robinson and Jack Johnson, using archival still photos and crude film from the era.

But the film also explores obscure pugilists such as Peter Jackson, whose efforts to win the heavyweight title were rebuffed 100 years ago by John L. Sullivan, or Harry Wills, who didn't get a chance to fight Jack Dempsey in the 1920s.

Braugher also stars with the great Rip Torn in "Passing Glory," a made-for-TNT movie airing Sunday at 8 p.m. The film, set in New Orleans in the '60s, casts Torn and Braugher as priests who try to organize a clandestine game between the city's top all-white and all-black high school teams.

"Passing Glory" carries a remarkable pedigree on the other side of the camera, with direction coming from Steve James, who directed the wonderful "Hoop Dreams." Harold Sylvester, who played in the '60s game, co-wrote the script along with noted screenwriter John Sayles, and the movie is co-produced by Magic Johnson and entertainment impresario Quincy Jones.

Around the dial

It's all NBA all weekend for NBC, starting with a single game tomorrow, pitting Seattle against Utah (contrary to previous listings you may have seen) at 3: 30, with studio analyst Isiah Thomas chatting up Detroit star Grant Hill to drum up interest for Sunday's Pistons-Spurs game. That game, at 1 p.m., opens a tripleheader, with Houston-Orlando following that, and the Lakers-Seattle closing things out, all on Channel 11. The Turner NBA menu has the Pistons going to Phoenix tonight at 8, followed by the Lakers hosting San Antonio on TNT, with the Lakers going to Denver Monday night at 8 on TBS.

The Duke-North Carolina rivalry is every bit as charged on the women's side of things as the men's and the two teams close out their regular-season schedule Sunday at 12: 30 on Home Team Sports. Meanwhile, HTS will present the UMES-Morgan State men's game tomorrow at noon.

By the way, we've been severely remiss in not previously noting the presence of a new radio show, "The Sports Doc," each Saturday at 9 a.m. on WJFK (1300 AM). Hosted by noted sports physician Bill Howard of the Union Memorial Sports Medicine Center, the one-hour program looks into the latest advancements in the field, with interviews with important people in the industry. Finally, if you stayed away from the pay-per-view telecast of the Oscar De La Hoya-Ike Quartey welterweight brawl last week, HBO offers a replay as the precursor to live coverage of the Pernell Whitaker-Felix Trinidad fracas tomorrow at 9: 30. And don't be fooled: Jim Lampley will appear to be wearing the same tuxedo during both fights, but our sources tell us that Lampley did, indeed, change clothes.

Pub Date: 2/19/99

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