When it comes to glitz, Fox makes All-Star list


July 13, 1999|By MILTON KENT

With a 40-minute pre-game show, 24 cameras positioned around Fenway Park and six on-air commentators and reporters, it's obvious that the word that best categorizes Fox's coverage of tonight's baseball All-Star Game is "understated."

Yeah, right. We're talking about Fox, a network for whom subtle means that Ally McBeal's hemline rides an inch above the knee rather than to mid-thigh.

Nope, when the Fox types sign on tonight (Channel 45, 8 o'clock), look for a program heavy on spectacle.

"This is the only telecast we do all year when this is not a game, it's a show," said game producer Michael Weisman. "More than any other game we do, this one is scripted. We go with the flow, but we need to know when we're going to say certain things."

Indeed, with the chance of each player coming to the plate just once -- or maybe not at all -- play-by-play man Joe Buck's job as traffic cop will be more difficult than usual.

"I've got a couple of bullet points that I want to emphasize," Buck said. "You don't script the words, but you might try to prioritize what you have to say."

The script for tonight involves something of a "Field of Dreams" motif, with a procession of baseball greats emerging through the center-field fence, culminating with the entrance of Ted Williams, who will throw out the ceremonial first pitch to Carlton Fisk.

And Weisman plans to link some of the great players of the past to today's stars. For instance, when Seattle's Ken Griffey comes to the plate, Weisman and director Bill Webb may call up a shot of home run king Hank Aaron to guide the conversation.

Buck will be joined in the booth by Tim McCarver and Bob Brenly, and Keith Olbermann will report from the National League dugout, after serving as host of the pre-game show. Steve Lyons will work the American League side of the street, with Thom Brennaman conducting interviews among the crowd.

All-Star stuff

The WNBA celebrates its first All-Star Game tomorrow night at 7: 30 from Madison Square Garden, with Robin Roberts and Tennessee coach Pat Summitt doing the ESPN commentary.

Here's hoping ESPN will get that fabulous mock '70s funk band, the "WNB-Ays," that does its league promos to perform a halftime number. Those guys are good.

Speaking of good, one of the Eastern Conference starters, Washington's Chamique Holdsclaw, has a cameo in this week's episode of the HBO sitcom "Arli$$," airing tonight at 11: 30 and tomorrow at 8.

A cautionary note

In view of the whopping ratings for Saturday's Women's World Cup final and the wave of good feelings that the U.S. team has engendered, there will undoubtedly be a stronger push to form a professional league.

Though that's a great idea in theory, reality suggests, at least in terms of television coverage, that unless a niche cable channel, say, Lifetime for example, is willing to step forward, the great idea will remain just that, a great idea.

The reason is simple. Soccer, to this point, hasn't demonstrated that it can sustain a large enough American viewing audience to warrant sustained, across-the-board coverage, a point reinforced by numbers for Major League Soccer.

Sure, Saturday's title match between the United States and China -- which, by the way, will be re-aired on ESPN at 8 tonight and again Sunday at 5 p.m. on ESPN Classic -- was the most-watched soccer game in American history, and pulled in numbers on the order of a highly watched regular-season NFL game.

But it was a one-time event, with a lot of hype and promotion. Chances are that when the furor cools down, people will go back to their usual viewing patterns, which, quite often, don't include soccer, male or female.

By the way, we shouldn't let Saturday's final pass from view without condemning ABC for its jingoistic coverage. For all the information and air time the Chinese team got, the Americans should have played a split-squad game.

Teaming up

CBS has jiggered its NFL announcer slate for the coming season, with changes up and down the lineup.

For instance, Brent Jones, one of the best things about last year's pre-game show, will be out on the road and teamed with Gus Johnson, and Johnson's 1998 partner, Steve Tasker, will work with Don Criqui. Criqui's former teammate, Beasley Reece, will be paired with Bill Macatee or Craig Bolerjack.

An eighth team will have Tim Brando doing play-by-play with former Washington defensive lineman Charles Mann. Former ESPN reporter and Maryland alum Bonnie Bernstein joins the network's No. 2 team of Verne Lundquist and Dan Dierdorf as a sideline reporter.

Pub Date: 7/13/99

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