ESPN2 goes right with Olbermann


ESPN will be giving its shadow network ESPN2 every chance to succeed when it kicks off Oct. 1, which is a month earlier than previously planned.

Keith Olbermann, in the minds of many the chief reason for staying up until midnight to watch "SportsCenter," will be taking over host duties on "SportsNight." The show will be on in prime time (8-11 p.m.) Thursday through Monday, and it's an assignment right up Olbermann's alley.

"This is the sixth time I have been aboard for the start up of something, and that's always exciting," said the 34-year-old quip-a-minute master of the impromptu remark. "The show will cover the culture of sports and will allow for more opinion."

Although ESPN2 probably will have less than a third of ESPN's 61 million home audience at the start and Olbermann reminds "an ego [his] is a terrible thing to waste, but I'm confident about the growth of this thing."

Keith will have a co-host, Suzy Kolber, and, from all reports, she has the personality and knowledge to keep up with Olbermann.

One drawback of this move is it breaks up the late-night "SportsCenter" combo of Olbermann and Dan Patrick, but he says it was about due anyway. "That's a very intense show, and it grinds on all of us to make it look effortless. Two or 2 1/2 years is usually about how long guys last doing pretty much the same thing every night.

"ESPN2 will give us a chance to put sports in a new context, not simply add to what's going on. We won't be rushed and, if the spirit moves us, we simply slow down and do some flying by the seat of our pants."

* What was it with ESPN picking up BBC coverage of the British Open for interminable stretches the past two days? Bad enough watching golf on the moors, add a couple of Sahara-dry Brit announcers, and it's a near impossible chore to maintain interest. Perhaps it's a ploy to get us to appreciate American announcers more.

ABC picks up the baton and will polish off the show from Sandwich, England, tomorrow (10 a.m.) and Sunday (9:30). The gent not to miss on the revolving-anchor format the network has adopted is Peter Alliss.

A camera caught a fan stretched out across about four grandstand seats sleeping yesterday, and the Brit intoned, "Ah, there's another lover of golf . . . or of fine wines."

* "This Week in Baseball" on Channel 2 tomorrow (1:30 p.m.) is devoted entirely to the All-Star Game, which should help some folks ease down from their high. What might be interesting is comedian Bill Murray being wired and commentating on the swings of former big-league stars. Murray, who gets more free publicity than the team he follows, the Cubs, is overdue.

* ESPN begins its attempt to make the World University Games a viable attraction tomorrow with a three-hour show from Buffalo beginning at noon. Basketball, diving, track and field and volleyball are on the menu with close competition, not recognizable names, being the key. Three more hours Sunday beginning at 12:30 p.m.

* How long do you think it takes good-guy announcer Jim Kaat to live down the awful assignment CBS gives him at the All-Star Game? Bad enough being referred to as "Kitty," he then has to prostrate himself in front of the stars of today for the usual say-nothing interview.

And why is it when baseball is the subject that commentators launch into endless spiels about the possibility of another .400 hitter coming along soon. It's been 52 years, fellas, so give it a rest.

Incidentally, CBS is sending along games each of the next three Saturdays, bringing back "Game of the Week" memories in these days of as many as a half-dozen games being on in a 10-hour period. The Yankees take on Oakland at 1 p.m. tomorrow on Channels 11 and 9.

* Easily the worst camera work of on-field activity during the Carnival at Camden was turned in during the home run-hitting contest. It was a fantastic show, Juan Gonzalez and Ken Griffey Jr. going to double overtime before the former won, but ESPN botched it by going with facial shots of the contestants, and viewers never had any idea where the ball was going.

* Showtime has a show entitled "Naked Sports: Four Portraits" tomorrow at 10 p.m. and, after watching it twice, I still haven't formed an opinion. Marge Schott, Michael Jordan, boxing's Duva family and the Cowboys are the subjects of an effort that's part infomercial and something else.

* NFL Properties reports that the Dallas Cowboys have moved ahead of the Los Angeles Raiders in merchandise sales, which amount to $2.4 billion throughout the league . . . and that's with Jimmy Johnson as the coach, no less.

* Turnabout is fair play, part two: after years of insisting it had passed baseball in fan popularity (and presenting a phony bunch of figures to substantiate the claim), pro football is under siege by those rascals at the NBA, who insist their game is numero uno off big TV ratings for the playoff final between the Bulls and Suns.

Meanwhile, hockey would just like the opportunity to brag that it is on a network more than once a year.

* It might be a good idea for some of the talent on Channels 2 and 11 to consider how ridiculous they sound making reference to baseball success here "Sending a great message to the NFL [with regard to expansion]." Apples and oranges, guys.

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