With an ex-jockey's perspective, Stevens takes NBC analyst reins

ON MEDIA

May 05, 2006|By RAY FRAGER

Tomorrow at 5 p.m., NBC goes in the Kentucky Derby, Gary Stevens up.

Stevens, a three-time Derby winner, makes his Triple Crown announcing debut, and he has been preparing as if he were still donning the silks.

"I've been keeping track of these horses since the fall," Stevens said in a conference call Wednesday, "kind of like I would have if I was still a jockey."

But, Stevens pointed out, now he doesn't have to choose just one to ride. Heading into the race, he said he likes at least six horses for a chance to win, then he named seven - Barbaro, Brother Derek, Sweetnorthernsaint, Lawyer Ron, Bluegrass Cat, Point Determined and Bob and John.

NBC's host for the telecast, the reliable Tom Hammond, agrees with Stevens.

"You can make a case for six or seven of them," Hammond said.

But who would the NBC people bet on?

Director David Michaels sounded inclined to put something down on Keyed Entry. Why? During this week, Hammond locked himself out of his rental car, and it was one of those vehicles whose doors don't open with the use of keys.

OK, so Michaels was kidding. The analysis before the race is likely to be a trifle more sophisticated than that.

Hammond said: "We always walk a fine line at the Derby between those who follow horse racing always and those who watch one race a year."

The casual fan may not recall that Charlsie Cantey has retired from the air. Stevens is her replacement.

Producer Sam Flood said: "He gets to do different things because his experience is different [from Cantey's]. Gary has that unique ability to explain to you exactly what is going on."

So if Keyed Entry wins, Stevens can go over that whole thing with the car.

Not a Triple play

Those on the conference call agreed it is unfortunate the Triple Crown races no longer are united on one network. NBC has the Derby and Preakness, and ABC will carry the Belmont.

Michaels said: "It's not a great thing for thoroughbred racing."

Maybe there is something to the synergy - geez, I'm starting to sound like one of those television executives - of all three races having a single broadcast home, but I'm not so sure it makes a huge difference. Certainly not to the viewer. If a Triple Crown winner is in play five weeks from now, people will find their way to the right channel.

Sidelined

My favorite part of the WBAL/98 Rock radio plan for the coming Ravens season is the "celebrity" sideline reporters. It's an acknowledgment that we could live the rest of our lives quite happily without hearing another sideline report from any game.

Stan White, who was named this week as a game analyst along with former Ravens defensive end Rob Burnett, showed what a smart man he is by agreeing with me.

"If you're going to have someone on the sideline, it might as well be a celebrity," said White, a former Colts linebacker and longtime sports talk presence on WBAL (1090 AM), "because that's what they are - lipstick. ... A lot of times, they feed [sideline reporters] information and tell them to say it."

White said he has been on the air with Burnett before, when he was a guest on White's Monday night talk show during football season. White also called some of Burnett's college games on the old Home Team Sports channel when Burnett played at Syracuse.

Switcheroo

Many fans turned to CN8 on Wednesday night expecting to see the Orioles play the Texas Rangers, but there was no telecast. The game was part of Comcast SportsNet's original schedule, but CSN was carrying the Washington Wizards playoff game. When there has been a conflict, the Orioles generally have switched over to CN8 or to a different channel on satellite systems. (That will be the case again tonight.)

This week, Comcast SportsNet decided to give up Wednesday's game in hopes of swapping for another later in the season. CSN spokesman Chris Helein said the network tries to avoid switching games to other channels because of possible confusion for viewers and because not all cable systems can accommodate the switch. However, news of the change didn't necessarily get out to the public, causing its own confusion.

You love Bradshaw

At least, that's the word coming out of the Davie-Brown Index, a ranking of 1,500 celebrities based on research among 1.5 million people. Fox reported that the Fox NFL Sunday star rated first among the approximately 30 sports figures in the survey, at No. 228. The next highest was new NBC football analyst John Madden, at No. 304.

I'm not sure where Bradshaw's colleague, Jimmy Johnson, ranked, but word is Johnson's hair came in at No. 985. ...

Fox also says you love rainouts. Specifically, NASCAR rainouts. The network's 4.5 national rating for coverage of Sunday's rained-out Nextel Cup race was the highest-rated sports show of the weekend. Baltimore viewers, though, weren't as enthralled by raindrops on parked cars; coverage on WBFF/Channel 45 drew 2.1 percent of the local audience.

ray.frager@baltsun.com

Read Ray Frager's blog at baltimoresun.com/mediumwell

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