For ESPN show, Bonds news will likely pump up ratings

ON MEDIA

March 10, 2006|By LARRY STEWART | LARRY STEWART,LOS ANGELES TIMES

If it is true that any publicity is good publicity, then ESPN is on a hot streak.

Last week, the network announced the details concerning a weekly documentary series on Barry Bonds, beginning April 4. And this week Bonds has been in the news, just a little.

But that hasn't deterred ESPN.

"This project falls under our ESPN Original Entertainment banner and will chronicle Bonds' quest for baseball's all-time home run record," ESPN spokesman Josh Krulewitz said. "This does not impact our news gathering operation which will cover this breaking story thoroughly."

ESPN ombudsman George Solomon had said before the latest uproar over Bonds' alleged steroid use that it wasn't a good idea to be involved in a business relationship with Bonds. And Solomon has been proved right.

But then won't all the news about Bonds increase ratings? And isn't that the bottom line, at least as far as ESPN is concerned?

Rapid fire

Another big project for ESPN Original Entertainment is a much-ballyhooed documentary, Though the Fire, which will be on ESPN and ESPNHD Sunday at 8 p.m.

The show features Portland Trail Blazers guard Sebastian Telfair, a high school basketball star from Brooklyn, N.Y., who bypassed college and is now in his second year in the NBA.

Telfair wasn't all that well known to the general public outside Coney Island until last month, when he was suspended for two games for carrying a gun onto a team flight.

He claimed the gun belonged to his girlfriend, and he had mistakenly taken her carry-on bag instead of his own.

Don't you just hate it when that happens? And then when you get home, the wife or girlfriend yells at you for leaving her unarmed.

Through the Fire is well produced and was named best feature-length documentary at a film festival in New York last June. But the film seems to perpetuate the notion that the only way out of the ghetto is via the NBA.

The documentary shows Telfair, after securing an endorsement deal with a shoe company, buying Rolex watches and expensive cars. And he says he plans to play basketball for the rest of life, which of course isn't going to happen.

But then again, maybe the message doesn't matter. The ratings are what matters to ESPN, and the recent publicity from Telfair's gun incident no doubt provided a shot in the arm.

Short waves

Maybe GSN, formerly the Game Show Network, should have arranged for Tonya Harding to be involved in a knee-whacking incident. Or at least have her punch someone. GSN's outstanding documentary series, Anything to Win, Sunday at 11 p.m. features Harding's life story. ...

Not sure why, but CBS asked ESPN for permission to use Dick Vitale on its NCAA tournament coverage. But ESPN considers Vitale its signature voice and declined CBS' request. ...

Selections for the NCAA women's tournament, for the first time, will be announced a day later than the selection for the men's tournament. The women's tournament's Selection Monday show will be on ESPN on Monday at 7 p.m. ...

ESPN's coverage of North Carolina's upset victory over Duke on Saturday got a 3.5 rating, making it the network's highest-rated college basketball game since a Maryland-Duke game in 2002 got a 3.5.

The game was also carried on ESPN2 with an "above the rim" angle, and that telecast drew a 0.7 rating. Combined, the telecasts on the two networks reached 3.78 million households, making it the most-watched college basketball game in ESPN history. The previous high was 3.44 million homes for an NCAA tournament game between Princeton and Arkansas in 1990. ...

Because of the dispute over the rights to his name, John Wooden says he will not attend this year's presentation of the Los Angeles Athletic Club's John R. Wooden Award on April 8.

But CBS has decided to televise the presentation anyway, for a fourth consecutive year. Mike Solum, the director of the award, said the telecast is being made possible through a sponsorship deal with TIAA-CREF, a national financial services organization.

Larry Stewart is a sports media columnist for the Los Angeles Times.

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