Ever since NBC wrested away telecast rights to the U.S. Open golf tournament from ABC with a reported three-year, $40 million contract, linksters have wondered whether the Peacock network can adequately cover the nation's championship event, held this year at Shinnecock Hills on Long Island.
An article in the June issue of Golf Digest, in fact, cast skepticism not only on NBC's production abilities and camera work, but also on its announcers -- Bob Trumpy, Dan Hicks and Jim Lampley -- not to mention raising questions about NBC's new golf host, Dick Enberg.
"In a certain sense, we are under the gun, because this is our first major, but we have covered Ryder Cups and players championships with complete 18-hole coverage," said NBC Sports executive producer Tom Roy, who personally will produce this weekend's coverage.
Roy branded as "stupid" speculation that the NBC crew, which has been criticized for over-emphasizing approach shots and putts, would be too overtaxed to provide even tee shots.
"We're well-prepared to cover tee shots," said Roy. "Obviously, whenever you have an event that changes networks, there's a lot of attention, but the fact of the matter is the story is the event, not so much television."
NBC (Channel 11) kicks off its coverage of the Open with 30-minute recap shows after the late local news tonight and tomorrow, then six-hour telecasts Saturday and Sunday, starting each day at 12:30 p.m.
ESPN will have first- and second-round telecasts today and tomorrow at 10:30 a.m. and again at 5 p.m.
Hail to the chief?
You might have noticed that neither Channel 13 nor WBAL (1090 AM) interrupted Tuesday night's Orioles blowout in Cleveland to carry President Clinton's address on his plans to balance the budget.
Liz Chuday, a spokeswoman for Channel 13, which aired the speech and response in their entirety after the 11 p.m. news, said the station went with what it thought was "the best of the options we considered."
Chuday pointed out that because CBS delayed its post-speech schedule, the station would have been left with having to fill a 13-minute gap by the speech, and elected to tape the speech and air it later, after covering it during the late news.
"This wasn't a content decision. This was a decision based on how we could serve the maximum number of viewers," said Chuday.
Jeff Beauchamp, WBAL's general manager, said he consulted with news director Mark Miller during the afternoon and the two believed the address, though substantive, was not of a nature that couldn't be covered during the succeeding newscasts.
"If the president was making a declaration of war, we would have covered that, but it was the announcement of a budget that has to go before Congress. It's not breaking news. It was a tough call," said Beauchamp.
The ratings game
The end of the NBA championship series will bring an end to a pretty good ratings run as well, both locally and nationally.
For instance, the national numbers for the first three games of the Houston-Orlando series were up about 15 percent from last year's Rockets-New York series.
The games Wednesday and Sunday were the third- and fifth-most-watched prime-time shows overall, respectively, and Friday's game was 14th.
In Baltimore, the series ratings for Channel 11 have been good as well, with Game 1 getting a 12.4 rating and 21 share of the audience, and Sunday's third game posting a 12.5/21, according to numbers provided by Channel 11's Sharon Walz, this week's sole and official "On the Air" ratings supplier.
Friday's game slipped to a 9.7/18, but that's still impressive when you consider that it was narrowly beaten by an Orioles-California game (10.3/20) on Channel 13.
In other ratings highlights, Saturday's running of the Belmont Stakes got a 4.9/13 for the first half-hour of coverage and a 7.9/19 over the final hour on Channel 2.
The Kemper Open did a nice 3.4/18 and 3.8/10 on Saturday and Sunday, respectively, on Channel 13, and the fifth game of New Jersey-Philadelphia NHL series got a 2.4/6 for Channel 45, one of the highest hockey ratings of the season.