'Wide World' was prime for prime time


ABC celebrated 30 years of "Wide World of Sports" on Sunday, and there was only one major fault with the anniversary program -- it was on during the afternoon instead of prime time.

The show deserved a wider audience. For one thing, the marriage of music to pictures was among the best in recent memory. Take the opening, for example: a quick run through 30 years accompanied by matching songs -- a young Muhammad Ali celebrating to the sound of "Respect," the Harlem Globetrotters going through a routine while "Don't Worry, Be Happy" played and Connecticut Little Leaguers twisting and shouting to "Glory Days."

The hallmark of "Wide World" always has been getting beyond the competition to the competitors, a job it has done so well that "up close and personal" may have become a cliche. There is nothing cliched about the feelings captured in these profiles, though, and you have to be made of stone not to get choked up by the story of the triathlete who swims, bikes and runs with his son who has cerebral palsy. If his son weren't along, the man says, he couldn't think of competing.

The show often was touched with emotion, particularly the ending, a tribute to Mr. "Wide World," Jim McKay. If McKay seemed surprised and moved by the end piece, it's because he was.

"It was totally a surprise," McKay said Monday. "We had rehearsed, and I had written a closing piece, and then Frank [Gifford] went into something totally different."

"It was very touching to me, and I hope it wasn't self-serving."

Not at all. McKay deserved nothing less.

* Paul Baker, co-host of the "Hoops" radio talk show, is fond of saying that NBA stands for Not Before April. Even if you agree with Baker's mistaken stance about the superiority of the college game over the pros, you should be able to tell that it's April and the best part of the basketball season has arrived.

Between NBC and TNT, every National Basketball Association playoff team was on television over the weekend, true hoops nirvana. There was plenty of variety behind the microphones: redoubtable Marv Albert, more doubtable Mike Fratello, didactic Hubie Brown, auditioning-while-waiting-to-be-a-former-coach Ron Rothstein and No. 1 NBA analyst Doug Collins, among others.

NBC's Fratello can be as inconsistent as the team he once coached, the Atlanta Hawks.

During Sunday's New York Knicks-Chicago Bulls game, for instance, there was Fratello, (to borrow a phrase from Paul Simon) the Obvious Child: "It's tougher to make shots under duress." (That means open shots are easier that contested ones.) In addition, he said a team in the penalty still should hustle, but has to be careful not to foul, because that gives the opponent free throws. (And you wonder why Fratello isn't coaching anymore.)

On the other hand, Fratello offered a lucid, concise explanation of the Knicks' inability to use their inside offense that had worked well early in the game -- the Bulls extended their defensive pressure, throwing off the Knicks' timing and making passes more difficult.

Still Fratello has a softer approach than Brown ("OK, you're the Houston Rockets and you have 6.5 seconds to get the ball to Hakeem Olajuwon for the post-up move or to Kenny Smith for the penetration or to Vernon Maxwell for the three or you can call another timeout or. . . . Oops, game's over.")

Rothstein, the Miami Heat coach, may be trying to put himself out front for an announcing spot next season; his status with the Heat has been rumored to be shaky.

certainly sounded relaxed enough. In fact, he even kidded Ahmad Rashad -- who confused the father of Rik Smits, the Indiana Pacers center who is from the Netherlands, during an interview in the stands -- that Rashad was the one who was hard to understand.

Collins comes through loud and clear.Collins enthusiastic and informative resembles nothing so much as a basketball version of Tim McCarver. Collins even sounds like the baseball announcer.

Come to think of it, you don't hear McCarver much before April, either.


Because of Pete Van Wieren's NBA assignments, Atlanta Braves telecasts on TBS have featured the father-son combo of Skip and Chip Caray. Chip recently joined Turner Broadcasting. . . . The Washington Bullets are through, but not radio announcer Charlie Slowes. He's scheduled to call about 100 games of the Class AAA Tidewater Tides and will fill in on New York Mets radio broadcasts.


The cry has gone up from TV Hill: "Five more years, five more years." Channel 13's John Buren has a new, five-year contract with the station to continue his sit-down sports act. Cue the Little Richard tape. . . . The Baltimore Orioles' early-season troubles may not make fans happy, but they sure make for a livelier "Stan the Fan Show" on WCAO (600 AM). Stan Charles must be wearing out his pencil with all those new lineups he's making out. . . . Howard Cosell was on Larry King's radio talk show last week. A crew of five reportedly was needed to clean up all the names that were dropped in the studio.

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