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Z on TV
Critic David Zurawik writes about the business and culture of TV
Fox hits bottom with Sunday telecast of Ravens game

I take it all back. All the complaining about CBS Sports scraping the bottom of the barrel in terms of the announcers sent to small-market Baltimore for Ravens games — I take it all back.

Never did CBS Sports Chairman Sean McManus go as low on the depth chart as Fox did Sunday in sending the team of Justin Kutcher and David Diehl to call the game.

When they popped up on the screen prior to kickoff at M&T Bank Stadium, I thought I had punched the wrong buttons and landed on a regional cablecast of a college football game — a Division III college football game between, say, Muhlenberg and Juniata.

Then, I decided it must be a stunt by Fox. Kutcher was an actor from one of their sitcoms, I was thinking, and this was the network’s latest obnoxious way to promote its prime-time schedule by having one of its new and unknown sitcom performers pretend to be a play-by-play announcer at the NFL game.

But, sadly, I was wrong. Fox was serious about Kutcher and Diehl, and they were really going to...

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HBO stays on the case of intimate violence after others move on

Where has all the media concern for victims of domestic violence gone?

That's what I was thinking last week as I looked at TV lineups in vain for featured reports, stories or episodes of series about domestic abuse. And then I found the HBO documentary, "Private Violence," premiering at 9 Monday night, and it almost made up for the medium's short attention span.

Remember the flood of coverage in the two weeks immediately after TMZ posted the video on Sept. 8 showing Ravens running back Ray Rice knocking out his then-fiancee Janay Palmer?

Led by television, the media binged on domestic violence in the immediate aftermath — and I mean that in a good way. The evening news on NBC and CBS led two nights with the story of the video and fallout from it. The lineup of stories included in-depth reports and analysis. News and sports cable channels ran all day for several days with aspects of the Rice story, the NFL's handling of it and the sociology of domestic abuse.

Indicative of what some saw...

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Let's face it, Cal Ripken and Ray Lewis are bad TV analysts

It's time to stop being Baltimore-nice about local sports icons Cal Ripken and Ray Lewis and their cable TV careers.

Being Hall of Famers on the field doesn't automatically translate to success in the studio or broadcast booth. In fact, it's often the opposite, with a former star's over-sized ego and sense of entitlement making him the least likely to succeed.

Actually, I haven't been that hometown-nice to Lewis. Last year, when he started waving his credit card around on ESPN and offered to pay half of a fine levied by the NFL against San Francisco linebacker Ahmad Brooks for a hit on New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees, I called him a hotdog and a blowhard and compared him to a drunk in a bar.

Still, I was too nice.

And I have been pulling punches on Mr. Iron Man way too long.

Given his I-don't-really-want-to-be-here demeanor in the TBS broadcast booth during the first two games of the ALCS series, it needs to be said: Ripken stinks as a TV analyst. I hope this is the last series he...

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Ernie Johnson on sportscasting: 'Don't call it work'

Whether it’s hosting "Inside the NBA" or calling a Major League Baseball playoff series, Ernie Johnson makes sports broadcasting seem easy.

There has not been much joy for Orioles fans with the Birds losing the first two games of the American League Championship Series to the Kansas City Royals, and TBS delivering lackluster telecasts.

The delay of the first pitch on opening night in Baltimore because super-bright TV lights on the set of the TBS pre-game show in center field were left on was an unforgivable gaffe. And Cal Ripken’s lifeless analysis during both games has been almost as depressing as the Orioles’ play.

But as the series resumes tonight in Kansas City with Game 3, one of the few bright spots has been Johnson’s easygoing but animated play-by-play. The Turner Sports broadcaster never seems to be forcing himself on the action. Instead, he lets the game come to him at its own speed, especially in a playoff series.

“Less is always more in a playoff game,” Johnson said in an...

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TBS broadcast stumbles at the start of Orioles' ALCS vs. Kansas City Royals

The TBS telecast got off to about as bad a start imaginable Friday night when the first American League Championship Series game had to be delayed for almost two minutes because of the channel’s pregame show.

It wasn’t that the show ran over, but rather that the high-powered TV lights used to brighten the set behind the bullpens in center field were on, and the home plate umpire thought they would distract Orioles and Kansas City Royals batters.

So as tens of thousands of fans in Camden Yards and millions of viewers looked on, what they saw was pregame-show analyst Pedro Martinez dancing and hotdogging it up for the fans out in center field, oblivious to the delay.

It took 1 minute, 45 seconds before they got all the lights turned off, and Martinez’s antics seemed more annoying with every passing second.

Credit play-by-play announcer Ernie Johnson for saying, “We have to own this,” though it would have been hard to blame the lights on anyone else. And I was glad to hear game analyst...

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A faithless Dominic West fuels Showtime's 'The Affair'

No one on TV does adultery better than Dominic West.

That’s what I kept thinking as I watched the first episode of “The Affair,” a 10-part series premiering on Showtime at 10 p.m. Sunday.

There are deeper things to think about in connection with this finely wrought drama from Sarah Treem and Hagai Levi, the team responsible for HBO’s “In Treatment.”

There’s the complex and multilayered storytelling that shifts from one character’s point of view to the other in recounting the affair — with small differences in memory between the two leading to large shifts in moral responsibility. And with one narrator being male and the other female, there’s a wealth of gender differences that are subtly and wisely explored.

Episode 1, which was written by Treem, unfolds more like the opening chapter of a novel than a standard TV drama. When the first major break in point of view came halfway through the hour, I thought of “Gone Girl.”

But there are shifts in time as well. Think HBO’s “True Detective” with...

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