To begin today's column, let's give it up for that crooning crazy, that slave to the rhythm, fresh from two weeks at the Covington, Ky., Holiday Inn, ladies and gentlemen . . . Chuck Charles.
"Thank you, thank you very much. Great to be back. I'd like to open with one of my favorites, and I hope one of yours.
"Ratings, nothing more than ratings.
"Ratings, again in my life.
"Ratings, whoa, whoa, whoa, ratings . . ."
I don't know about you, but a little musical interlude -- and wasn't Chuck great, folks? -- always gets me in the mood for some ratings news.
Tuesday's NFL expansion announcement didn't do much for football fans in Baltimore, but the timing couldn't have been much better for Channel 13. ABC's prime-time lineup owns Tuesday nights across the country, including Baltimore.
The cleanup hitter in the lineup is "Roseanne" at 9. (That sports metaphor brought to you by your local Cliches R Us.) "Roseanne" often is television's highest-rated program. The NFL announcement came at about 9:45, so Channel 13 blew away the other stations in town in the ratings on NFL coverage.
In order to be measured by Nielsen, programming has to run at least seven minutes, according to WMAR researcher Sharon "The Ratings Maven" Walz. According to the Nielsen standards, NFL coverage by channels 2 and 11 ran from 9:15 to 10 p.m. On Channel 13, the NFL segment went 9:30 to 10.
If you were Channel 13 (I'm talking about you, the guy over there in the T-shirt that says, "I have unresolved feelings about my parents -- and I vote!"), you'd want to keep a top-rated show on as long as possible before switching.
Channel 13's NFL coverage drew a 27.3 rating and 37 share, Channel 11's 17.3/24 and Channel 2's 9.7/13. WJZ pulled in 10 more rating points than it had for an episode of "Coach" the previous Tuesday at that time. WBAL dropped more than four points, but, on the previous Tuesday, Channel 11 had carried a World Series game. WMAR was about the same.
If we look at the last Tuesday night on which CBS wasn't carrying either the baseball playoffs or World Series, Sept. 28, Channel 13 enjoyed nearly a nine-point jump, Channel 11 stayed about the same and Channel 2 was up more than three points.
Not all of Channel 13's dominance necessarily can be attributed to ABC's lineup, however. There is still the tendency, though not as strong, for Baltimoreans to switch on WJZ when a major local news event happens. This dates from the days when Channel 13, led by the late Jerry Turner, ruled the market.
WJZ didn't lose its edge when the 11 p.m. newscasts rolled around, either. Channel 13 had an 18.6/38 Tuesday night, more than double what each of its competitors drew.
Though it didn't go head-to-head with its newscast, Channel 45 received a small benefit from NFL interest. Its 10 p.m. news was up to 6.3/10 Tuesday, up from its recent average of 5.7/9.
And, as Vin Scully would say, it's interesting to note how the NFL decision drew the Baltimore audience to the three network affiliates. On Sept. 28, the three had combined for a 62 share. On Tuesday of last week, they had a 66 share (remember, and this will be on the test, that was a World Series night). On The Night the Lights Went Out in Baltimore, WJZ, WBAL and WMAR combined to draw a 74 share.
Now, a word from Paul Tagliabue: Ratings measure the percentage of television households watching a program. Shares measure the percentage among homes where television is in use. And you still don't get a team.
Even a blind squirrel . . .
What was more distressing than the NFL's decision on Tuesday? Check out which two news hawks got the story right.
ESPN's Fred "I Heard It Through the Grapevine" Edelstein broke the story of Charlotte's selection on Tuesday night, about 20 minutes before the NFL announcement. The night before, during halftime of "Monday Night Football," ABC's Frank Gifford said no one should be surprised if the NFL chooses one expansion team now and another later.
Pardon me while I wipe a tear. Van Earl Wright has left CNN for a local sports anchoring job in Detroit. And I'd always thought he'd never leave except to do cartoon voices for Hanna-Barbera. CNN has hired Larry Smith, formerly of WPTV in West Palm Beach, Fla., as Wright's replacement. . . . TNT has named Nick Charles and Fred Hickman hosts of its Winter Olympics coverage in Lillehammer, Norway. TNT will carry 45 hours of the Winter Games on weekdays from Feb. 14 to Feb. 25. Charles and Hickman will be based in Atlanta (maybe there will be a hard frost).
Marv Albert has a new book out, "I'd Love To, But I Have a Game," copies of which have been sent to approximately 150 people at The Sun. The slim book (192 pages) is amusing enough, filled with Albert's usual deadpan humor. (For example, among his previous works, Albert lists "The Brothers Karamazov" and "The Bridges of Madison County.")
And, hey, luv ya, Marv, but $20 is a bit much to shell out for this book
unless you're doing a doctoral thesis on sportscasting brothers.
Here's what you should do, though: Go to the bookstore and read David Letterman's three-page introduction. Letterman recalls his first meeting with Albert, pulling over his monster Barracuda on a state road near Austin, Texas, and picking up a hitchhiking Albert.
"As we ate mile after mile of two-lane, Marv told me all about himself. Setting fire to his parents' house when he was 6. How he planned and botched his own kidnapping. The Tupamaros. Killing a guy. His early marriage to Kim Novak [Note: Novak's name is not boldfaced in the book. Thought you'd like to know.] and prison. . . . For the next five years, it was me, Marv and the road. We'd never stay in one place too long. Maybe take an odd job here and there to raise money for rocket fuel, and then it was back out on the long, black lonesome."
Albert wrote the book with Sports Illustrated's Rick Reilly, which apparently has kept Albert from pushing it on "The Today Show." Wire-service reports say that "Today" host Bryant Gumbel banned an Albert book appearance because Reilly once wrote an unflattering piece about Gumbel in SI.
However, "Today" executive producer Steve Friedman was quoted as saying: "[Gumbel] doesn't have the power to cancel anything. . . . That final decision rests with me." Friedman did add, though: "Rick Reilly is not Bryant's favorite person."
How NFL coverage on channels 2, 11 and 13 fared in the Nielsen ratings Tuesday night (WJZ's ran 9:30-10, WMAR's and WBAL's 9:15-10) and comparisons with previous Tuesdays:
Station .. .. ..Tues.. .. 10/19 .. .. 9/28*
Ch. 13 .. .. .. 27.3 .. ..17.1 .. .. 18.7
Ch. 11 .. .. .. 17.3 .. ..21.7 .. .. 17.0
Ch. 2 .. .. .. 9.7 .. .. 9.9 .. .. ..6.4
*-Most recent previous Tuesday without baseball on CBS.