Back from whence he came, K. Albert takes ride to Pimlico

MEDIA WATCH

May 12, 2000|By Milton Kent

Like a lot of Baltimoreans, past and present, Kenny Albert got his introduction to horse racing at the Pimlico infield on Preakness Day, though it would be a stretch to say that he learned a lot from those experiences.

"I have a couple of friends who would talk me into going to the Preakness, and we had a lot of fun, though I don't think I learned very much," Albert said with a laugh the other day.

But Albert must have picked up enough from osmosis to warrant getting a shot at being host of Fox's coverage of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association Champions Series, which will bring him back to the area for coverage of tomorrow's Pimlico Special (Channel45, 5p.m.).

Albert, 32, was admittedly a surprise choice last year as host of the Fox racing series, which includes five races on the broadcast network and three on the cable outlet.

His broadcasting background was in football, baseball and most notably hockey, the sport that he got his start in, calling Baltimore Skipjack games on the radio in the early 1990s.

But it was Fox senior producer Bill Brown, who hired Albert to do Washington Capitals games for Home Team Sports in 1992, who reminded him that he had already done everything imaginable at HTS.

"I did college wrestling, swimming and lacrosse back at HTS, aside from doing the Capitals," Albert said. "It [the racing assignment] caught me off guard, but Bill chuckled and reminded me of all the different things I had done. I look at it as a kind of challenge."

The larger challenge for Albert was getting up to speed on racing, whose fans are as knowledgeable about their sport as any.

Fortunately, as Albert points out, he need only be a host, not a play-by-play man, so even with his purchase of "The Idiot's Guide to Horse Racing," he looks smart handing off to analysts Ron Ellis, Jay Privman and Caton Bredar.

"I'm really just a traffic cop. I'm there to set them [the analysts] up and get out of the way," Albert said.

The Fox shows have been a mix of attitude and reverence, with features on how horses are saddled and why they wear blinkers in the same shows where one opening sequence had trainer Bob Baffert's playing Austin Powers and another had Bredar, Privman and Ellis' playing an equine version of the game show "Greed."

"It's a really, really fine line that we have to walk. You don't want to upset the rabid racing fans by being too basic, but you don't want to exclude the new fans that are tuning in," Albert said. "The shows have been well received, though, and I think we've struck a balance."

The line starts

With the completion of its merger with CBS, Viacom has decided to cast adrift HTS, which it owns 66percent of, like so much ballast.

Among the apparent suitors are Fox, which owns the other one-third, Comcast, which owns the Philadelphia 76ers and Flyers and a channel to carry them on, and ESPN, which might want branch into local sports coverage.

A longer-shot candidate is Washington Capitals owner Ted Leonsis, who has said owning a network, either via cable or the World Wide Web, is a "natural extension" for him, though he said he has not contacted Viacom, nor has he been contacted.

Folks with relatively long memories will recall that Fox attempted to drive HTS out four years ago when it made a run to obtain the rights of the Orioles, Washington Wizards and Capitals, only to have HTS match and retain the teams' broadcasts. Rumors persist, however, that Fox officials have been waiting to grab HTS at its first availability and rename the channel "Fox Sports Atlantic."

Setting the lineup

In addition to the already announced addition of Jim Courier to its coverage plans, TNT and CNN/SI, which will combine to air Wimbledon this year, has brought Martina Navratilova on board.

Navratilova, who worked as an analyst for HBO for four years, will work in the same capacity for the Turner networks. That is, when she isn't playing in the women's doubles competition, in search of a record-tying 20th Wimbledon title.

Break up siblings

It's ever so sweet to watch Cheryl Miller hug her younger brother, Reggie, after his Indiana Pacers games in the playoffs. But given that Cheryl is functioning as a sideline reporter for TNT, it's not very good journalism.

There's no doubting that Reggie may be more inclined to answer certain questions coming from Cheryl than he might from another reporter. There's also no doubting that she might be inclined not to ask certain questions.

The best solution, for all parties concerned, most especially the viewers, who are entitled to information and not a televised family reunion, might be for TNT to reassign Cheryl to other games while Reggie is on the Pacers roster.

Around the dial

Tonight's monthly edition of "Outside the Lines" (ESPN, 7) will examine the decision of St.Louis high school basketball star Darius Miles, who originally announced that he would attend college next year, then declared himself eligible for the NBA draft when he did not qualify academically for St. John's.

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