With female sportscasters, ABC not letter-perfect


June 30, 2000|By MILTON KENT

If "Monday Night Football" producer Don Ohlmeyer's mission was to shake up the landscape with his selection of comedian Dennis Miller to the booth, consider it successful. The choice has knocked the sports world for a loop, even landing a spot on the cover of Sports Illustrated.

However, Ohlmeyer may have unwittingly (or arrogantly) handed a golden hammer to former ABC announcer Donna de Varona, which she may use to drop on the network's head.

Last month, de Varona, 53, sued ABC Sports for $50 million in federal court, alleging the network cut her loose in 1998 to attract younger viewers. Don't think for a moment that de Varona's attorneys didn't take note of Ohlmeyer's decision to replace Lesley Visser, 46, as "MNF" sideline reporter with Melissa Stark, who is 20 years younger, and if they're worth their salt, they'll use this as a way to show a pattern of behavior.

ABC Sports president Howard Katz was quick to say last week that the move to boot Visser did not reflect on Visser's work, and Ohlmeyer called it a "non-issue." Considering how little discussion there has been about it, Ohlmeyer is probably right.

The Women's Sports Foundation, of which de Varona was once president, has taken notice of the issue. Donna Lopiano, the foundation's executive director, issued a statement regarding de Varona, wondering why this kind of thing continues to happen.

"The abundance of men sportscasters over 50, such as Marv Albert, Al Michaels, Pat Summerall, and John Madden, has overshadowed the presence of any women in the field," Lopiano said. "In fact, we cannot name any women over the age of 50 who are similarly employed as full-time sportscasters. What is wrong with this picture?"

What's wrong is that few women inside the business dare challenge the system, for fear of losing what few spots they've attained, and hardly anyone else outside the industry makes the point on their behalf.

Meanwhile, sports television - which lags far behind news in terms of enlightenment on this matter - remains the kind of business where men into their 60s and 70s get long-term contract renewals, while women half their age have to worry about lingering in the sun too long in hopes of delaying the aging process for fear that they'll be cast out, like Visser and de Varona.

No translator needed

Beginning with its coverage of the Home Run Derby on July 10, ESPN will provide local cable operators with the option to carry select baseball games on an alternate channel in Spanish.

ESPN will simulcast the Sunday night game and Division Series games that it airs on a separate channel, where the announcers will do the game and conduct interviews in Spanish. Graphics, commercials and promos also will be delivered in Spanish.

Off the mark

Regular readers know that this column usually contains good words about the HBO sitcom "Arli$$," but the series took a turn down the wrong road with this week's episode.

The premise of the episode, titled "Comings and Goings," centered on a blossoming young track star of mixed race, a client of the fictional Arliss Michaels agency, and her single mother, a not-so-thinly veiled allusion to Alexandra Stevenson, the tennis player, who was revealed last year to be the daughter of former basketball great Julius Erving.

And if the allusion didn't hit the viewer over the head enough, the fact that the episode is airing during the first week of Wimbledon, when all of last year's hullabaloo was touched off, should have rung a bell with someone in HBO programming.

Around the dial

ESPN Classic will stage its first live event today, as Stuart Scott plays host to a Baltimore-Washington marathon at Lake Arbor Country Club in Mitchellville. The event is open to the public from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., but for couch potatoes, the day begins at 11 a.m. with a tribute to former Baltimore and Washington Bullet Elvin Hayes, and continues through tomorrow with great moments in Colts, Orioles, Redskins, Bullets, Capitals and Terps history. ...

NBC kicks off its Wimbledon coverage this weekend, with Ted Robinson joining Chris Evert and John McEnroe in the booth, and Jimmy Roberts and Tim Ryan joining Bud Collins on the grounds, starting tomorrow (Channel 11, noon) and continuing Sunday, same time. A late-night highlights show will commence Monday after the 11 p.m. news.

Sunday's NBC show will include a 20th anniversary rematch of the epic 1980 semifinal between McEnroe and Bjorn Borg, including the fourth-set tiebreaker that was won, 18-16, by McEnroe. TNT's telecasts continue today at noon, tomorrow at 3 p.m. and Monday at 1 p.m. ...

With any luck, you won't be seeing much of NBC golf analyst Bob Murphy during this weekend's coverage of the U.S. Senior Open. That's because Murphy intends to play in the tournament, which airs tomorrow and Sunday at 3 p.m. on Channel 11. ...

Human and engine-powered racing are major staples of the TV menu tomorrow. First, ABC (Channel 2) launches its Tour de France coverage at 3 p.m. Then, CBS (Channel 13) airs the Pepsi 400 NASCAR race in prime time at 8 p.m. ...

Are you ready for some football, two weeks before training camp and about a month before the first preseason games? CNN is betting that you are, as it takes the wraps off a new season of "NFL Preview," the best of the Sunday morning NFL shows, at 10 a.m.

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