Schaap, in one-on-one setting, is cut above other TV talk hosts


June 01, 1999|By Milton Kent

There is nothing simpler in television, or cheaper to make, than the standard interview show, where one person sits in one chair and talks to another person in another chair, with three cameras filming the action. Done properly, and with the right guests and a good interrogator, it can produce riveting programming.

Yet, for all its simplicity, the interview show has largely gone the way of the dinosaur. In late night, Bob Costas left the splendid "Later" show that he started a few years ago, and it became an entertainment program, with a little sizzle, and a lot less substance. Likewise, CBS' post-Letterman program has taken a hit in quality since Tom Snyder left two months ago for former ESPN anchor Craig Kilborn.

For these tastes, ESPN's nightly "Up Close" has always been hit or miss, between cloying interviewers, like Roy Firestone, or modern athletes, who don't have a lot to say and waste 30 minutes not saying it.

That's what makes tomorrow's "Schaap One on One," (ESPN Classic, 10 a.m. and 6: 30 p.m.) something special: a well-executed interview with a fascinating subject.

The interviewer is Dick Schaap, one of the more witty and urbane sportswriters of his time. Schaap's talents, unfortunately, are largely wasted these days as host of the "Sports Reporters," ESPN's weekly news roundup show, that -- more often than not -- disintegrates into weak stand-up comedy from a panel of columnists more interested in throwing out funny lines than real observation.

But, in a one-to-one setting, Schaap is probing and engaging, drawing out the human side of his guests without being overly solicitous.

Schaap's guest tomorrow, home run champion Hank Aaron, is an interesting choice. For most of the 25 years since he broke Babe Ruth's career mark, Aaron has been on the fringe of the public's consciousness. As holder of one of the greatest records in sports, Aaron was entitled to waves of acclamation, but for a combination of reasons, he never really received it.

But, with Schaap's gentle prodding, Aaron -- a heretofore reticent man -- exhibits a warmth and charm we've rarely seen, and reveals sides to himself that few knew about.

For instance, he talks, without bitterness, about leaving his home in Mobile, Ala., in the 1950s as an 18-year-old for the Negro leagues with $2 in his pocket, one shirt and one pair of pants in his bag and wearing borrowed shoes.

Later, Aaron's face lights up joyously as he recounts how, long after he had been a member of the Atlanta Braves, he would go to Cleveland Browns games and sit in the infamous Dawg Pound until owner Art Modell heard about it and offered him seats in the press box.

Granted, part of Aaron's comfort with Schaap comes from the fact that the two collaborated on a coffee table book now available in stores, but the piece never feels like an infomercial. Rather, "Schaap One on One" comes across as television the way it ought to be: personal, honest and moving.

Closing up shop

TNT wraps up its season of NBA coverage tonight with Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals between New York and Indiana.

Ernie Johnson and Kenny Smith host the 30-minute pre-game show at 8 p.m., with the game telecast to follow.

A weekend of spin

It's really wearying watching the networks use time that is supposed to be there to update viewers on scores and breaking news to promote coming shows.

Take ABC, for instance. During Sunday's Indianapolis 500 telecast, we were more than once reminded of this Saturday's Belmont Stakes program during what was billed as an update, paid for by a sponsor. And, on the instances when the network deigned to give us French Open scores, the intent was obvious. By telling viewers what had happened in Paris, ABC was hoping viewers wouldn't tune over to NBC for its taped tennis show.

Of course, NBC, the masters of such schlock, played right along, with "updates" during basketball from Paris of matches that were long over, which, of course, set up promos for next weekend's coverage. And, while Tom Hammond hinted that the Indianapolis 500 was over in the coda to the Knicks-Pacers game, no one bothered to tell viewers who had actually won the race; no doubt because it wasn't on NBC.

In a related Indy 500 rant, someone really ought to tell ABC analyst Tom Sneva that equating the fate of Steve Fried, Robbie McGehee's chief mechanic, who was hit from behind by Jimmy Kite's car during a pit stop, with that of a commercial character is in extreme bad taste.

Pub Date: 6/01/99

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