To draw crowd, NBA playoffs face lineup changes

MEDIA WATCH

April 21, 2000|By Milton Kent

Call your ma, your pa and brother James Brown: The NBA playoffs are about to begin.

Actually, there's no need to alert the Godfather of Soul about tomorrow's start of the second season, for he's already on the case like an attorney as the star of promos for Turner's playoff coverage.

Brown has been brought in, no doubt, to bring some kind of spark to ratings, which have flagged all year on Turner and NBC.

Cable ratings, for instance, are down a whopping 24 percent from last year, while NBC's presentation of the San Antonio-Utah game in prime time on Saturday got a 2.4 rating in the Nielsen overnights, the kind of number that is usually surpassed by those neat little test patterns stations run at the end of the broadcast day.

The league, NBC and Turner have tweaked the playoff format to drive the numbers up. The NBA has spread out its eight first-round, best-of-five series, some to run over 13 days, to eliminate overlapping doubleheaders on TNT and TBS, and to give more early games to NBC.

Still, that might not be enough. All sorts of theories, from lack of a dominant player to spotty play, abound to attempt to explain the NBA's slide. Let's kick around a couple of others.

As the NCAA is finding out, there is probably too much basketball on television. The same is true of the professional game. Not only do most teams now have virtually all of their regular-season games shown locally, either on cable or broadcast, but both NBC and Turner added more games to their schedules this season, as part of their new deals.

"That's a major factor, especially with [direct broadcast satellite] TV, but to me it's just one thing," said Turner analyst Hubie Brown. "People are somewhat waiting until the playoffs until they get interested. But all sports are being affected along with prime-time television. NBA basketball is not the only thing that people aren't watching as much as they used to."

The other factor may be that, in the post-Michael Jordan era, no team has dominated, though the Lakers exhibit every indication of taking the league by storm.

Yes, people tuned in to see Jordan's wizardry, but the fact that the Bulls won six titles in eight years certainly helped. If you go back to the 1980s, you'll remember that the Lakers, Celtics and 76ers formed a popular triumvirate that people wanted to see, week in and week out, and CBS gave them that.

"If some of these younger players can play well and win a series and move through, I think you'll see a rise in the interest in the league," said NBC's Doug Collins.

NBC (Channel 11) will open with tripleheaders tomorrow and Sunday, commencing each day at 12: 30 p.m. after "NBA Showtime." TNT will carry the first games of the Indiana-Milwaukee and Charlotte-Philadelphia series tomorrow and Sunday, respectively, at 8: 30 p.m. after a pre-game show at 8 each night.

Doing the draft right

A football fan, left to his own devices and drawing on his own resources, could not have produced a more thorough and comprehensive NFL draft package than the one WJFK (1300 AM) put Saturday.

Things got a little chummy at times, as you might expect from the team's rights holder, but under the direction of producer extraordinaire Paul Mittermeier, the draft show never lagged, and moved about smartly.

The station has added an hour of "Ravens Talk" to its schedule, airing at about 7: 30 p.m. or whenever its lead-ins decide to shut up, from Tuesday through Friday. Mittermeier, Gary Stein and Steve Stofberg will share hosting duties.

De Varona's lament

It's odd, in a way, that former ABC sportscaster Donna De Varona would sue the network for age and sex discrimination, as she did last week. The network historically has done better by women than its competitors.

And while De Varona is more likely the victim of a shrinking ABC calendar of events than of age or sex discrimination, hopefully her suit has lifted the veil on a dirty little secret in network sports television.

While men with experience in sports television simply move from one network to another (see Dick Enberg or Tim Ryan), you have to really look carefully to find a woman over the age of 45 on most sports television broadcasts.

With the exception of ABC's Lesley Visser or Charlsie Cantey, women with experience in sports television - such as former Baltimore anchor Gayle Gardner and former CBS studio anchor Andrea Joyce - just disappear from sight, to be replaced by younger women.

Now, while the addition of women to the testosterone-laden field of sports television is certainly welcome, it would be nice to see women of all ages represented. If De Varona's suit makes that easier, then, by all means, bring it on.

Around the dial

jv0 The Orioles make their first "Sunday Night Baseball" appearance this week, as they visit Oakland (ESPN, 8 p.m.). Channel 2's lacrosse schedule moves to Annapolis for the Johns Hopkins-Navy game at 1 p.m. tomorrow.

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