Costas, Collins go right to top, but NBC, like NBA, falls short

Media Watch

June 25, 1999|By Milton Kent

The end of the NBA season is upon us, perhaps as early as tonight's fifth game of the league championship series, and it seems as good a time as any to take note of NBC's efforts.

By any measure, Bob Costas and Doug Collins have, in just one season, become the best regular basketball announcing tandem on the air.

Collins is a brilliant basketball strategist, but unlike a lot of guys who know the game, the former Chicago and Detroit coach is able to convey that knowledge without being condescending. If he can learn to laugh a little, he'll join John Madden, Dick Vitale and Joe Morgan at the top of the analyst list.

Costas, of course, is the best sports announcer working, but he's learned the pacing of NBA games this season, and that has made his game calls even better. If they stay together, Collins and Costas will place themselves on a level with the all-time NBA pairings of Dick Stockton and Billy Cunningham on CBS and ABC's Keith Jackson and Bill Russell from the early 1970s.

But even with the exemplary work of Costas and Collins, it should come as no surprise that NBA postseason ratings have taken a sharp drop. The game has come more to resemble wrestling than the art form that Magic Johnson and Larry Bird helped to make it in the 1980s.

And while the league is taking steps to shore up its product, NBC ought to consider some common sense measures to do the same. For one, make Ahmad Rashad a pre-game co-host and get him off the sidelines. He has demonstrated a smoothness in studio settings that would better serve the telecasts than his present sideline role, where he is inept.

Secondly, the network should lose the warm and fuzzy features that have marred many playoff telecasts. If he had any shame, Peter Vecsey would be embarrassed over his Monday interview with Latrell Sprewell during which he did all but kiss the Knicks guard.

Third, rather than starting games at 9: 20 p.m., how about an 8: 30 or 8: 45 start time? The West Coast audience might be slightly inconvenienced, but not nearly as much as East Coast viewers who now can't stay up for the ends of games. And, finally, it's way past time for NBC to get over its collective petulance and put the score and clock on the screen all the time.

Tonight's Knicks-Spurs telecast begins at 9 (Channel 11), and if the New Yorkers win, Game 6 would start Sunday at 7: 30, with "NBA Showtime" airing 30 minutes earlier.

A new attitude

As NBC's Dick Enberg heads across the pond for his 20th Wimbledon, he's beginning to notice a change in the attitude of male players. After watching popularity in the women's game surge, the men seem willing to put forth more of an effort to attract attention to their game.

For example, Enberg, who is in the midst of a brutal schedule that has taken him from Salt Lake City to Paris and seemingly every spot in between, noted that during the French Open semifinals, all four men's participants sat down to chat with him before their matches. Previously, he said, the network would have trouble getting one man to do pre-match interviews.

"I'm really excited about what's happening here," said Enberg. "Women's tennis has always been there, because the elder players taught the younger players, but I really sense that the men are catching on. Maybe the sport has hit bottom and is going to hit a resurgence."

To mark the first year of a new contract, NBC begins nine straight days of live and taped coverage tomorrow at 1 p.m., with a recap of the first week Sunday at 2 p.m. Starting Monday, the network will air daily coverage at 10 a.m., with a nightly recap at 11: 35 p.m.

Murphy's law

Don't ask Lifetime WNBA analyst Mary Murphy a question unless you're prepared for an honest answer.

Murphy, who will join Michele Tafoya and Fran Harris behind the microphone for tonight's Washington-Houston game (7 p.m.), has emerged as one of sports television's most blunt speakers, so much so that some Internet groups have called on her to tone it down.

"When you grow up in a household with eight brothers like I did, I think you learn to have an edge. There's nothing wrong with criticizing poor effort, and that's all I do," said Murphy,

Around the dial

Fox's No. 1 baseball team of Joe Buck and Tim McCarver makes its appearance for tomorrow's Orioles-Yankees dust-up (Channel 45, 1 p.m. pre-game).

Boog Powell, we are told, will be miked from his Eutaw Street barbecue stand, and here's hoping he'll send a sample of his wares to the hard-working types in the production truck, as well as to the booth. And on the baseball theme, the new Home Team Sports interview show, "A Closer Look," has a chat with B.J. Surhoff at 11: 30 a.m. tomorrow.

Consider how much money you might have won on a wager that the X Games would see its fifth anniversary. ESPN's annual foray into eccentricity commences Sunday from San Francisco with a two-hour telecast on ESPN2 at 9 p.m., with a Monday show on ESPN at 9: 30.

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