Fox fills pre-game slot and more DTC


The TV Repairman:

"In each of the years we've been on," Chris Berman said proudly, "we've improved our ratings."

He was speaking of ESPN putting together an hour-long "GameDay" when the networks had a brutal time trying to keep a half-hour interesting before the deluge of NFL games on Sunday afternoon.

It was with a touch of "it's not as easy as it looks" in his voice that Berman wished noontime competitor "NFL Sunday" on Fox Network good luck.

For an opener, Fox's high-priced talent did an excellent job, the hour rarely slowing down to the point where a visit to TNN's "Bill Dance Outdoors" was ever an option.

Of course, they had to coax Terry Bradshaw down off the chandelier from time to time and maybe some guys (Howie Long) were underused and others (Jimmy Johnson) weren't used to their best advantage. But it moved, and you want opinion, baby, you're going to get it here.

Feature material becomes predictable as the weeks of a season roll on, so Fox's efforts on pretty much the same material was being compared with that of ESPN with its half-dozen years of experience. The new kids on the block weren't a badly beaten second.

Bradshaw taking sudden holdout Sterling Sharpe (Green Bay) to task for "showing he's only interested in the money," and Long pointing out that "the Buffalo Bills are at the end of a talent cycle and won't be around [for title play]" is the type stuff the great unwashed want to hear.

Opinions, it seems, have always been the province of ESPN with Joe Theismann, Tom Jackson, the reporters and, of course, the ringmaster extraordinaire Berman. But Fox might end up being a match.

Oh yes, NBC was there with its "NFL Live" and it's a good thing it had Greg Gumbel and Will McDonough to lean on. Gumbel's a guy who will never wear out his welcome, just like Jim McKay in his heyday, and McDonough is information, first, last and always.

Why the Peacock felt a need to stick Ahmad Rashad in there as a co-anchor is a mystery as to this very day the strength of Rashad boils down to his ability to catch passes.

It's too early to tell if "John Madden's Insight" is going to work on the Fox pre-game show, but it will help if Big John has a little better idea of what he's going to say during the taped segment as there are times when his off-the-cuff stuff will splat down like a 500-pound bomb.

Mike Ditka and Joe Gibbs continue as an interesting contrast on NBC, but they're limited to reacting to questions and their value would increase dramatically if every so often they took the lead and initiated the action.

* Mark "Do It Now" Duffner's Red-Storm offense, fresh off a 14-point performance against Duke, tries on fourth-ranked Florida State in Terp Park (tomorrow at noon) and Channels 13 and 7 will have it. Good seats are available.

* The U.S. Open women's semifinals are on CBS today from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday's women's final is sandwiched between the men's semis running from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., as usual. Remember the year they played until 11 p.m.?

Before the men's final, Sunday at 4 p.m., USA will slip on to the Stadium Court and send along the women's doubles final at 12:30 p.m. All this will bring the total hours of coverage of the tourney to the length of the Persian Gulf War.

* All knocks against the Sprint International style of golf tournament will cease and desist immediately. That's the tourney wherein players get five points for an eagle, two for a birdie and are penalized a point for a bogey, etc. The final round drew a 5.3 rating, second best to the final round of the Masters for the entire links season. The Masters did 8.1, the U.S. Open and PGA 4.8 and the British Open 3.7.

"Critics of the scoring system are going to have to eat their words," said a CBS spokesman. Pass the salt, please.

Speaking of success, next year's Brickyard 400 already is sold out, and ESPN got its biggest auto racing audience ever with the Goodwrench 400 telecast.

* Could you believe Junior Seau pulls one of the all-time dumbo plays at the end of the Chargers-Broncos game on TNT last Sunday and then, as if nothing had happened, he is a post-game guest being touted to the heavens as the "Stadium Show" hosts oooh and aaah his every word.

* You want bush, listen to Gerry Sandusky try to make light and funny sometimes. After Lindsey Davenport shelled Pam Shriver at the U.S. Open, Ger' made numerous references to the kid's baby fat.

* Next Tuesday night, 8 p.m., 10 p.m. and midnight, "75 Seasons," the story of the NFL on TNT. Be there! This is NFL Films-making at its best, Steve Sabol & Co. splicing all the best action, the best stories, the best quotes out of its library, which just went by the million-mile mark in film stored.

The headliner of the two-hour epic might be Slingin' Sam Baugh, as unpretentious a man as ever fired a 50-yard pass on a line six feet off the ground. "What I wouldn't do to play today. It's a passing man's game," he says. And they didn't call him Slingin' ** for nothing.

Red Grange, George Halas, Paul Brown, Chuck Bednarik, Jim Brown, Roger Staubach, Deacon Jones, Joe Namath and many more, they're all there together with the dominant teams (Bears, Packers, Steelers, 49ers and Raiders) and how they worked into the montage.

The early Colts get a nice call, dubbed the team and town that brought good old college rah-rah to the Sunday game, "Monday Night Football," America's Team, it's all there.

* Greens keepers, pros and golfers everywhere must have gagged as they watched President Clinton drive his cart right down the middle of the fairways during his golf forays while on vacation. What did he think, this was pitch-and-putt layout in Hope, Ark.? CNN had the exclusive.

* Saturday's America (alias college grid on the tube): What, is Northwestern on every week just because Brent Musburger went there? The Wildcats take on Stanford tomorrow at 12:30 on ESPN. . . . Notre Dame vs. Michigan at 2:30 p.m. on NBC. There will be no seating after the game starts. No Tyrone Wheatley, so Irish get the edge. . . . An hour later (3:30), on ABC, Southern Cal moseys on up to Happy Valley to take on Joe Paterno's bunch, as Keith Jackson might say. . . . ESPN's night twin bill has Tennessee-Georgia at 7 p.m., Miami-Arizona State at 10 p.m.

All this could cause a problem for our Waverly Wonders, the CFLs, drawing a strong audience for its tryst with the Sacramento Scourge at 7:30 p.m. on Channel 2.

* Showtime sends along the Nigel Benn (38-2) vs. Darren Van Horn scrap for the WBC 168-pound title at 10 p.m. tomorrow, and if British announcers are utilized, it'll be a jolly good show.

* One good thing about Jimmy Connors not showing up to compete in the U.S. Open is we didn't have to suffer through all the business about Sept. 2 being Jimbo's birthday. During the years it was so bad you got the idea CBS wanted to have the date made into a national holiday.

* Next time you run into Ted Turner herding his bison out on his Montana ranch, ask him what we are to believe, his big anti-violence on the tube campaign just under way or the things we see on TBS from time-to-time?

Last week, for example, there were Hulk Hogan and Ric Flair doing all manner of unspeakable things to each other in the good name of wrassling.

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