Viewers have more TV options for NCAA Tournament

CBS-Turner agreement puts games on four networks

March 15, 2011|By Diane Pucin, Tribune Newspapers

Nothing says NCAA basketball mayhem like the words of Gus Johnson calling a down to the wire game.

"Cold-blooded," Johnson howled last Saturday when Washington's Isiah Thomas, well, cold-bloodedly ended the Pac-10 championship game in overtime against Arizona with a jump shot at the buzzer.

UCLA fans still love to replay Johnson's call of the 2006 West Regional semifinals when the Bruins came from 17 points down to beat Gonzaga in the final seconds.

"What a game," Johnson screamed as Jordan Farmar made a steal and a pass to Luc Richard Mbah a Moute for a layup in the final seconds, "what a game, unbelievable after being down by 17."

It wasn't so much the words as the tone, a tone as excited as any fan, UCLA or otherwise, who was watching at home.

Some things about this year's NCAA tournament coverage are different. CBS has partnered with the Turner networks, which means every game will be fully televised on either CBS, TBS, TNT or truTv. No more "live look-ins" and angst over missing your alma mater while the local CBS outlet gave you a game you didn't care about.

Some of Turner's well-known NBA voices such as Charles Barkley, Kenny Smith and Marv Albert will be in the mix along with the CBS staples such as Johnson and Jim Nantz.

Nantz, Clark Kellogg and Steve Kerr are the No. 1 team and will do the Final Four games. Johnson and Len Elmore are together again as the No. 2 team and will kick off their NCAA experience Wednesday night in Dayton by calling the Alabama State-Texas San Antonio and USC-Virginia Commonwealth games.

Studio shows will feature a hodge podge of CBS and Turner experts — Greg Gumbel, Ernie Johnson, Barkley, Smith, Greg Anthony, Seth Davis, Matt Winer, Steve Smith.

That's a lot of voices.

David Levy, president of sales, distribution and sports for Turner, said this CBS-Turner merger is, "Empowerment of the viewer controlling the clicker." For the past few years, with only CBS showing games, viewers had herky-jerky coverage – they got a game their local outlet determined they wanted and snippets of other games.

"This is far better," Levy said.

As long as you can find truTV (check with your local cable operator). Or, as Barkley said to David Letterman Monday night on the The Late Show, "We start (Tuesday). We gave you two days to try to find truTV. Good luck with that."

Also check with your local cable operator or your onscreen guide to see if your distributor might be offering truTV in high definition. In Orange County, for example, Cox is offering truTV in HD on channel 792 through the NCAA tournament.

But it is the enthusiastic Johnson, who has a special following (don't call it a cult following, Johnson says. He doesn't like cults). There is a Gus Johnson facebook page (not his own), fan groups, YouTube clips galore.

Johnson said he hasn't consciously worked on developing a style. He just likes what he does.

For example, while the action was non-stop at Staples Center Saturday in the championship game, Johnson noted that Washington's Thomas kept making big shots.

"I grew up in Detroit and Isiah Thomas, we called him Zeke, was everything to me. Now here I am with another Isiah Thomas and thought, 'This is kind of cool.'

"He could have hit 20 shots in a row, he could have missed 20 in a row, he had the same demeanor. He was so much under control…then we're getting to the end, the shot clock is off, the game clock is at 12, he's got the ball, no emotion, you can tell he's thinking, 'I'll take that for myself,' then he crosses over, steps back, shoots a long jump shot and it's nothing but twine. All I could think of was two things. Wow, he's a young Zeke and that was cold-blooded. Just cold-blooded."

And so, as Thomas' shot ended that championship game, all Johnson said was "Cold-blooded." Now it's on YouTube. And Johnson is in Dayton waiting for another word story to unfold.

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