With cable move, Wimbledon set to join commercial crowd


June 23, 2000|By MILTON KENT

In a sense, American tennis fans won't notice much of a difference as TNT and CNN/SI take over coverage of the Wimbledon fortnight from their corporate cousin, HBO, next week. After all, analysts Mary Carillo and Martina Navratilova will make the move from pay cable to basic cable, as well as many members of the production crew.

But the one change they will notice is commercials, absent from HBO, but ever present on TNT and CNN/SI, which will have to pay for the 89 hours of coverage somehow.

Howard Zalkowitz, who will produce the package for the two channels, acknowledges that the ads are a departure for Wimbledon coverage, but are nothing new for tennis aficionados.

"Americans have watched the U.S. Open with commercials for years. We're very happy to keep it [Wimbledon] in the family [Time Warner owns HBO, CNN/SI and TNT], but there is a cost," said Zalkowitz. "Do you have to deal with the reality of commercials? Yes, but there are some good things attached."

For one thing, more people will be able to see the tennis. The two basic channels, combined, are seen in nearly 90 million homes, while HBO's subscriber base is presumed to be about a third of that, which was likely a major factor in the All-England Club's decision to go to TNT and CNN/SI.

There will be other differences, such as the announcing crew, which will include Marv Albert, who will do play-by-play, and Jim Courier, the former top-ranked men's player in the world, who will join Navratilova and Carillo on analysis.

Alas, one other change from the HBO set-up is that TNT will not have a constant display of the match score. Zalkowitz said TNT officials debated the issue, but ultimately decided to leave it off, feeling a score, particularly for a five-set match, would obscure the screen.

"There's a point of diminishing returns when it [the score]obscures the picture too much," said Zalkowitz. One wonders, however, how much of TNT's position is influenced by NBC, the over-the-air carrier, which intractably refuses to place a constant score on any of its sports telecasts.

TNT will air live weekday coverage at noon, starting Monday, with Tim Ryan hosting, and Albert and Courier handling men's play, and Barry MacKay and Navratilova calling women's action with a 30 minute wrap-up show at midnight each night.

Mixed messages

Is anyone else feeling a little frosted by the announcement that ABC and ESPN have extended their contract with Little League to carry the World Series through 2006?

Don't these kids have enough pressure on them from their peers and from overzealous parents without the obtrusive lens of television adding to it?

At any rate, ESPN and ESPN2 will carry eight regional championships, up from four, and ABC will not only air the World Series championship game, but the United States title game as well. Here's hoping little Johnny's curve doesn't flatten out.

Around the dial

This first full weekend of the summer is a surprisingly busy one on the tube.

The Orioles will make their first Fox appearance tomorrow (Channel 45, 4 p.m.) in Seattle, with former WBAL (1090 AM) host Josh Lewin on the call. During the pregame show, Keith Olbermann will interview his mother, Marie, who was hit in the face at Yankee Stadium this week by one of Chuck Knoblauch's errant throws to first. Perhaps Mrs. Olbermann should have been equipped with one of the "helmet cams" that will be worn by quarterbacks and the game umpire in Sunday's World Bowl football game (Channel 45, 1 p.m.)

CBS (Channel 13) has a track doubleheader this weekend, with the Prefontaine Classic tomorrow at 3 and the Oregon Track Classic on Sunday, also at 3, leading into the LPGA Championship each day at 4. The composition of the U.S. diving teams will be determined at the trials in Federal Way, Wash., airing tomorrow at 4 p.m. and Sunday at 2 on NBC (Channel 11.)

On the boxing front, Mike Tyson will take on Lou Savarese on same-day tape from Glasgow, Scotland, on "Showtime" at 9 p.m. tomorrow, while the replay of the "Sugar" Shane Mosley-Oscar De La Hoya fight from last week will air on HBO at 10:45 tomorrow night.

Robin Roberts and Tennessee women's basketball coach, Pat Summitt, will host ESPN Classic's presentation of "A Hero for Daisy" (Sunday, 9 p.m.), a documentary about the protests of the 1976 Yale women's rowing team over adequate locker room facilities. Meanwhile, the Washington Mystics will meet Detroit tomorrow night at 7:30 on Home Team Sports.

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