Reports to contrary, when rivalry is name of game, score is incidental

ON MEDIA

September 24, 2004|By RAY FRAGER

FOR THOSE with short attention spans, we salute you:

When is a rivalry not a rivalry? When one side holds a big advantage. At least, that's the logic CBS analyst Randy Cross used while calling Sunday's Ravens-Pittsburgh Steelers game. Because the Steelers enjoy a much better record in the series, he reasoned, this isn't a rivalry. Not to be contrary - OK, actually, to be contrary - but under Cross' standards, New York Yankees-Boston Red Sox is no rivalry. And what about the Roadrunner and Wile E. Coyote?

Now, maybe you think Jim Palmer works Orioles games as if he were paid by the word. Though I wouldn't argue the point, Palmer makes more than his share of cogent points on the baseball telecasts. For example, during Tuesday's Orioles-Red Sox game on Comcast SportsNet, when Boston got a man on in the ninth and inserted a pinch runner, Palmer said the Orioles should not bring in Jorge Julio at that time because his inability to hold runners amounted to letting the Red Sox turn a walk into a double.

Speaking of arguing, here is today's Annoying Incorrect Usage by Sportscasters: arguably. The word is supposed to mean a good case can be made for either side. Correct: The Federal Communication Commission's fine against CBS for Janet Jackson's "wardrobe malfunction" at the Super Bowl arguably punished the proper party. Incorrect: Though we wish he would have smiled, Ray Frager's picture in the newspaper indicates he is arguably the most handsome of The Sun's columnists. Don't use "arguably" interchangeably with "probably," "likely" or, as in the previous sentence, "indisputably." Harrumph.

With the New York Giants having won a game, maybe the NFL pre-game shows will turn down the volume on their discussions about whether coach Tom Coughlin's be-really-early-or-you're-late discipline makes him the league's Captain Queeg (and the answer to today's movie reference is: Humphrey Bogart in The Caine Mutiny, 1954). Sunday on Fox, Terry Bradshaw didn't exactly apologize for calling Coughlin a "jerk" the week before. CBS' Shannon Sharpe went completely overboard (Leonardo DiCaprio in Titanic, 1997), saying he would rather "die alone in an abandoned building" than play for Coughlin.

Here's my childhood recollection of card games: Thanksgiving at my house, a table set up in a small hallway, blocking access to the bathroom as well as taking over the battlefield for my little plastic army men, with my father, uncle, grandfather and aunt's father playing pinochle, the occasional Yiddish phrase passing among them. I didn't get it then, so maybe that's why I still don't get the appeal of poker on television. But ESPN's World Series of Poker finished with a highly respectable 2.8 rating for its final episode earlier this month. The network plans to come back with the U.S. Poker Championships in January.

By now, the idea of "synergy" connected to TV sports should be familiar to even the casual viewer - unless you still believe it's a cosmic coincidence how stars of a network's series turn up in the stands at big games. CBS certainly wanted Dr. Phil's prime-time special to do well, but did that mean football fans had to endure his pointless appearance on Sunday's pre-game show? Now, if he'd shown up last year to counsel Boomer Esiason and Deion Sanders, that would have been great television.

Starting Monday, ABC introduces "You've Been Sacked" during halftime of Monday Night Football. It sounds a lot like Punk'd minus Ashton Kutcher. ABC will film NFL players pulling practical jokes on each other.

When it comes to reality TV, few things beat the NFL. Sunday games ranked as the top-rated shows of any kind during the Sept. 13-19 week in 18 of the league's markets. That includes Baltimore, where the Ravens-Steelers drew a 21.2 rating (marking the percentage of all television households watching). According to an NFL news release, Baltimore's rating was No. 15 among those 18 markets, beating Miami, Houston and San Francisco/Oakland, but trailing leaders Buffalo, Cincinnati, Kansas City, Pittsburgh and Nashville, which ranged from 32 to 35 ratings. One fact worth noting: The Bengals-Dolphins game was a Sunday night, and viewership for TV overall is generally higher in the evening. Yet Miami's rating trailed a load of afternoon games. Hurricane hangover or Dolphins doldrums?

Contact Ray Frager at ray.frager@baltsun.com.

Top-rated sports

Highest-rated sports programming for Baltimore for Sept. 15-21 (ratings measure the percentage of television households watching a program):

Program Day Ch. Rtg.

Ravens-Pitt. 9/19 13 21.2

Cle.-Dallas 9/19 13 14.5

Min.-Phi. 9/20 2 8.8

Mia.-Cin. 9/19 ESPN 6.5

UM-W.Va. 9/18 ESPN2 4.9

O's-Min. 9/17 54 4.2

O's-Tor. 9/16 54 4.0

NFL Today 9/19 13 4.0

Fla.-Tenn. 9/18 13 3.3

Ryder Cup-a 9/18 11 3.2

a-morning Nielsen ratings courtesy of WBAL-TV.

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