New airing of time-tested truth: From little lists grow big issues

Media Watch

April 23, 1999|By MILTON KENT

In our never-ending quest to demystify the media and its workings, we're going to let you in on a dirty little secret:

The people who make up those periodic lists of things, like the greatest athletes of the century or the most beautiful people of the year or the best songs of the millennium, don't care one whit what you think of the lists they make.

Rather, what they want, more than anything, is for you to talk about the lists, and to get your friends to talk about the lists.

For instance, take tomorrow's NBC and Sporting News collaboration special in which a list of the 100 greatest baseball players of the 20th century is unveiled.

Do you really think anyone outside of St. Louis will be upset that Stan Musial is ranked below Ted Williams? Does it matter that Mark McGwire is judged to be a less significant player than, say, Willie Stargell? Closer to home, would you lose sleep over the notion that Cal Ripken is ranked 40 places behind, say, Ernie Banks?

Of course not, but the fact that such a list exists is the kind of thing that makes people talk about the topic and maybe watch specials, such as tomorrow's (Channel 11, 4: 30 p.m.), that are related to it.

Right off the bat, host Bob Costas notes that only two of the first 15 players on the list, released during last year's World Series, played most of their careers in the post-World War II era and that the 16th player on the list, Johnny Bench, is the first player to have begun his career after 1954.

"Modern players are shortchanged, not in terms of how many, but where they are," said Costas. "I mean, I'm not so sure that Tony Gwynn wouldn't have outhit Eddie Collins. But baseball has it as a part of its appeal that you can have this kind of discussion."

And that you might watch that kind of discussion.

Bringing home Emmys

Among all the winners from Wednesday's Sports Emmy Awards, the biggest, no doubt, are Fox's James Brown and former CBS Sports executive producer Rick Gentile.

Brown, who has the thankless job of serving as traffic cop on Fox's rather noisy NFL pre-game show, was recognized as best studio host, while CBS received seven Emmys for its presentation of the 1998 Winter Olympics. Gentile, who was unfairly pilloried in some corners for his production, deserves to gloat. Both Brown and Gentile are fine broadcasters and good men, and their awards are well-deserved.

In other major categories, John Madden won his record 12th award as best game analyst; Cris Collinsworth captured his second consecutive award as best studio analyst, and Fox's NFL pre-game show, starring, among others, Brown and Collinsworth, was named best studio show.

Fox's telecast of the game in which McGwire hit his 62nd home run was selected best live sports special, while NBC's golf telecasts were named best live sports series.

HBO's "Real Sports" received three Emmys, one for best edited sports series and two for sports journalism -- one for Sonja Steptoe's piece on blood doping of East German athletes and another for Armen Keteyian's story on the Arizona Diamondbacks. Finally, director Jon Alpert's HBO documentary on the 1996-97 Tennessee women's basketball team won the Emmy for best-edited sports special.

At the helm

Fox has announced what had been a fairly open secret, that newly acquired anchor Keith Olbermann will be host of its baseball coverage this season, as well as the network's telecasts of the All-Star Game and the postseason. Former studio host Chip Caray will become Fox's No. 3 baseball play-by-play man, teaming with Jeff Torborg, when telecasts begin next month.

Meanwhile, in a totally unexpected move, NBC has tapped news anchor Brian Williams to serve as host for its inaugural foray into NASCAR this November in Miami. Williams, who anchors NBC's Saturday night news program, as well as his own nightly cable news show, and serves as chief backup to Tom Brokaw, is said to be a huge racing and NASCAR fan.

Around the dial

Speaking of NASCAR, Sunday's race from Talladega, Ala., will be pre-empted locally as Channel 2 airs the Towson-UMBC men's lacrosse game. Now, we can hope that local racing fans will make use of one of these options:

Watch the race live on a satellite feed or out of Washington (Channel 7, 1 p.m.)

Watch it on tape Sunday night at 12: 05 a.m. on Channel 2.

Handle the news as graciously as bowling aficionados will, as they miss Saturday's Johnny Petraglia Open because Channel 13 is airing the Orioles in that slot rather than CBS programming.

Somehow, given their track record, we'd bet on option D, which means they'll whine a lot.

"Showtime's" boxing tripleheader from Washington (tomorrow, 10 p.m.) has an interesting component, as two of the fights will have open scoring and the scores will be posted following rounds. Of course, the card is promoted by Don King, so believe half of what you see and none of what you hear.

Finally, there are six NBA games on the menu, among TBS, TNT and NBC. TNT gets things started tonight with a doubleheader matching Toronto and Orlando in the opener at 8, followed by a juicy Utah-Portland matchup. Tomorrow, in prime time, the Lakers go to San Antonio, after "NBA Showtime" on Channel 11, with a regional Sunday doubleheader after "Showtime" at 2: 30 p.m. Then, the Lakers and Houston go at it Monday night at 8 on TBS.

Pub Date: 4/23/99

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