HBO magazine tempts Gumbel back to sports

THE BALTIMORE SUN

In 1981, when he left NBC Sports to become host of "Today," Bryant Gumbel vowed not to venture back into the athletic realm, save for a stint as host of the 1988 Summer Olympics.

"You should never say never," said Gumbel. "I never thought I would get back. I've always enjoyed watching, but I've got a great job that's already pretty time-consuming."

But when HBO executives presented him with a chance to do some serious sports journalism through the new "Real Sports" magazine show the pay-cable network unveiled yesterday, Gumbel just couldn't say no.

And how could he? If "Real Sports," which will air the first of four planned 1995 programs in April, is anywhere near the franchise HBO bigwigs tout it as being, then Gumbel would be foolish not to want to associate himself with it. For starters, the hourlong program will air three segments of 15 to 18 minutes each, an eternity in today's flash-and--- world of television.

And Gumbel will be surrounded by an impressive corps of reporting and writing talent, including Jim Lampley of HBO and NBC, James Brown of Fox and CBS, award-winning writer Frank Deford, a Baltimore native, New York Times sports columnists William C. Rhoden and Ira Berkow and Sports Illustrated writer Sonja Steptoe.

Seth Abraham, sports president and CEO of Time Warner, HBO's parent company, pledged that the show will not be a sports answer to the tabloid shows that pollute the early afternoon and evening hours on local television.

However, Abraham said "Real Sports," airing on a network freed from commercial constraints, will explore areas that network sports shows can't touch because of their relationships with the NFL, NHL, NBA and Major League Baseball.

"How much noise can we generate? That's the guiding question here," said Abraham. "If we can get people to say, 'Did you see it?,' this show will have a very, very long run."

Jumping on the bandwagon

As expected, Tuesday's Maryland-North Carolina game was a ratings monster for Channel 54, getting a 13.6 rating and 19 share of the audience, which more than doubled the rating for the program that preceded it, "Marker," according to Chris Mecchi, ratings researcher for channels 45 and 54.

Though the game placed behind such Tuesday stalwarts as "Home Improvement," "Frasier," "Grace Under Fire," and "NYPD Blue," it was the most watched program in town over the final 15 minutes.

In a surprising development, the game drew higher ratings in Baltimore than in Washington (12.8), even though it aired on a VHF station in the nation's capital. Both markets were beaten by Charlotte, N.C., where the hoop-happy throng rang up a 17.3 rating, a higher number than for the Duke-North Carolina game a week earlier.

Charles in charge

TNT has procured the services of Charles Barkley to act as guest analyst for Saturday night's slam dunk and three-point shooting competition during the NBA's All-Star Weekend from Phoenix.

It was a struggle getting some pearls of wisdom from the bashful Barkley during a teleconference the other day, but it was worth it.

Check out Charles on:

* Getting into broadcasting rather than politics: "My original goal is politics. I really don't want to work too hard. Besides, you could steal more money as a politician."

* Sports talk shows: "You have a lot of stupid people talking. Those people are just jealous. I don't like to listen to them. My friends do, but I tell them to get a life."

* The Miami Heat: "I didn't know they still had a team down there. They've been doing a lot of things, but none of them are good. Tell them whatever it is they're doing, just try something different."

Clearing the record

There was a goof here yesterday when we stated that Pam Ward would be the first woman to do sports regularly in this market since 1983. Robyn Marks has been on the job for WEAA (88.9 FM) as a sports reporter since 1988. She also has been co-host of the station's "SportsRap" Friday night talk show since it made its debut in June 1993, and she receives a big apology from this space.

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