Turner's NBA game plan adds channel, 3rd night

THE BALTIMORE SUN

The NBA plans another formal expansion next year, with the Toronto Raptors and the Vancouver Grizzlies coming aboard, but one of its broadcast partners, Turner Sports, is expanding a lot sooner.

For the 1994-95 season, which begins tomorrow night, the good folks at Turner, who begin a new four-year NBA contract, have added a third night of coverage, Thursday, and a second channel, TBS, to their usual TNT Tuesday and Friday basketball sessions.

The two networks will carry a total of 70 regular-season contests and nearly 50 playoff games, with doubleheaders on TNT and TBS during the early rounds.

"We like to think this is where the viewers will come to watch professional basketball," said Don McGuire, Turner Sports senior executive producer.

Not so long ago, there were big worries at NBA headquarters that the pro game was suffering from too much exposure and that a steady, force-fed televised diet of basketball would drive the audience away.

Obviously, that thinking has changed.

"There was a concern four or five years ago, when you saw [Larry] Bird and Magic [Johnson] in their decline that, 'Hey, are we going to have enough?' " said McGuire. "From our perspective, the growth of teams like Charlotte, Phoenix, Houston and Orlando means that there are more teams out there and there are a lot of attractive players. We feel confident."

The season gets under way tomorrow on TNT with a doubleheader, beginning with the first game in the new United Center in Chicago, matching the Bulls against the Charlotte Hornets at 8 p.m., with the second contest, the Portland Trail Blazers against the Los Angeles Clippers from Yokohama, Japan, to follow.

Ratings leftovers

Somehow, we neglected yesterday to mention that Monday night's Green Bay-Chicago mudfest on Channel 13 did a 13.5 in the local ratings, pulling in a 24 share of the audience.

The above numbers are courtesy of Channel 2's Peter Leimbach, this week's official "On the Air" ratings supplier. Ever the busy numbers cruncher, Leimbach has figured out that through 13 NFL broadcasts, Channel 2 is averaging a 9.5/21, which is an ever-so-slight improvement from last year's 9.3/20 at the same time.

Meanwhile, the 14 football broadcasts that have aired on Channel 45 are averaging a 7.1/15, a decided downturn from the 11.0/26 that NFC games posted on Channel 11 last year at this time. And Channel 13's Monday night package so far has done a 14.2/25 through nine weeks, which is off the 16.8/28 from last year.

Rewarding excellence

ESPN yesterday picked up 24 CableACE award nominations, including four each for "SportsCenter" and "Outside the Lines," the network's recurring documentary series.

Chris Berman and Dan Patrick were nominated as outstanding hosts while Mike Patrick (NFL and NCAA basketball) and Gary Thorne (NHL) received nominations as outstanding play-by-play announcers.

Joe Morgan (baseball), Joe Theismann and Tom Jackson (NFL) and Dick Vitale (college basketball) got analyst nominations, and Chip Dean (NCAA basketball), Doug Holmes (NHL) and Mike Wells ("SpeedWorld") also received directorial nominations. The last three names are probably unfamiliar, because ESPN recognizes behind-the-scenes performers only on its Christmas Day "SportsCenter" show. The awards will be presented in Los Angeles in mid-January.

"Outside the Lines" also received the 1994 Sports Journalism award for broadcast media from Northeastern University's Center for the Study of Sports in Society and the school of journalism for an October 1993 special on issues related to coaching and a July 1993 special that investigated professional boxing's power structure.

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