In tight spot, McKay shows finishing kick 124TH PREAKNESS

Media Watch

May 16, 1999|By Milton Kent

ABC's telecast of the Preakness yesterday was one impressive triumph, not only for Charismatic and Chris Antley, but also for the network's proud standard-bearer, Jim McKay.

McKay, 78, has seen his role significantly reduced on Triple Crown telecasts in recent years amid speculation that the sports division, which he helped put on the map during the past four decades, might not renew his contract when it expires next winter.

He stumbled during his live intro, and had it stood alone it might have further fueled that speculation. But McKay bounced back strongly with a stirring mini-essay 20 minutes before post time on the courage of jockeys.

McKay's narration of a pre-race feature on Antley and his drug and weight problems was stirring, though it took a "See, how he's overcome his demons" approach.

However, McKay, a scion of Maryland racing, saved his best for his pre-race prediction, as the only member of the telecast team to offer up Charismatic, the Kentucky Derby winner, as yesterday's winner.

"They say a pig finds an acorn every once in a while. I'm not sure what that means," McKay said.

Perhaps because of the doubts surrounding Charismatic or the absence of a dominant story line, the race, and thus the telecast, lacked a certain spark. Still, the ABC team did well with what was offered, save for a few noticeable audio glitches.

Al Michaels, as anchor, was flawless, moving the telecast along nicely from start to finish. Charlsie Cantey, in a tough role, asked all the right questions from the victory stand, and Lesley Visser was sharp as well.

Producer David Kiviat, filling in for the ailing Curt Gowdy Jr., had all the relevant replays, including solid pictures of Charismatic's charge near the head of the stretch, while director Craig Janoff, who works with Michaels on "Monday Night Football," cut a fine telecast.

As for Channel 2's 8 1/2-hour lead-in program, let's allow that there is no more challenging presentation for a television station or network than an extended live program. All kinds of things can go wrong, and as last year's transformer failure proved, they can't be fixed.

Some of the telecast was intriguing and solid, and anchor Todd McDermott was the brightest of the lot. Sports anchors Scott Garceau and Keith Mills were golden, as usual, getting an excellent interview with jockey Jorge Chavez after an intruder got onto the track during the seventh race.

With all that said, "A Day at the Races," though a noble effort, was often difficult to watch. To wit:

Acknowledging the station's attempt to maximize revenue with a plethora of commercials, the quality of the show would increase significantly if it were chopped in half, or by a quarter, so that only the best stuff would get on the air.

All parties concerned -- Pimlico officials included -- should be embarrassed for the shameless stunt of having a woman dressed as an Egyptian queen ride around the track in a chariot to shill for an ABC miniseries.

Around 11 a.m., anchor Sandra Pinckney told the audience that the black-eyed Susans seen around the track, were, in fact, painted chrysanthemums, because the genuine articles didn't usually bloom here until June.

Fair enough. So why then, about 90 minutes later, did Mary Beth Marsden say with equal certainty that the Susans were real and had been kept in hothouses to be brought out for the race, only to come back later and say the flowers were painted? Which was it?

By the way, someone should tell Pinckney and reporter John Curry that they've got the job. Pinckney hardly knew when to stop talking, frequently walking over McDermott and guests. Curry, assigned to the infield, was over the top all day. In the future, here's hoping each of them stick to decaf on race day.

Finally, would it be such a problem in the future for station reporters to adopt the same rule for infield interviews that many restaurants have, namely, no shirt, no service? And that includes women in bikini tops.

And would it be too much trouble for the director to stay with the interviewer and his/her subject while the interview is going on, rather than the constant, annoying switches to panoramic shots from around the track? Thanks.

Pub Date: 5/16/99

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