Void grows on Saturday afternoon

Let's face it: Unless you're into golf, infomercials, professional wrestling, syndicated shows or retread movies, Saturday afternoon television is a fetid wasteland.

That is, except for the saving grace of baseball. Yes, the grand old game has taken its lumps of late, but the term "couch potato" was invented with Saturday afternoon baseball in mind.


A bag of chips, a lovely beverage, a remote control device and a sofa. Who could ask for more?

But, this weekend, for only the third time in the more than 125-year history of major-league baseball, there was not one Saturday afternoon game played, much less televised.


Nothing from Fenway Park.

Silence from SkyDome.

Quiet at Candlestick.

And the culprits? ABC and the soon-to-be-forgotten and hardly lamented Baseball Network.

ABC, which has six weeks of coverage under TBN plan, selected Saturdays and Mondays as its telecast nights of preference, figuring fresh baseball makes for better programming than movie reruns. NBC has opted for Friday when it takes over in mid-August.

Then, ABC and TBN shifted the start times of every game to 8 p.m. Eastern or Pacific, creating "Baseball Night in America," with regionalized coverage, so that viewers could be whipped in and out of the game in their area to see snippets of games from other locales.

This is all well and good, except that the loyal baseball viewer was left with nothing to do on the one day of the week when he or she has come to expect a game.

Even in the absence of a network Game of the Week, Saturday afternoon baseball is an ingrained part of the culture, thanks to cable and your occasional local telecast, not to mention radio broadcasts. Baseball must ensure that Saturday day games continue, no matter who gets the network contract next year. After all, how much "American Gladiators" can you take?


And, by the way, the real Baseball Network outrage will come in the fall, when you will miss seeing some postseason games, thanks to region- alized coverage.

NFL expansion on ESPN

ESPN has announced plans to expand its Emmy-award-winning "NFL GameDay" pre-game show to 75 minutes, from its hourlong format, starting Sept. 3. Ostensibly it's to give the viewer more information, but, more accurately, will provide a 15-minute head start on Fox, which joined the fray last year with a one-hour pre-game program.

Meanwhile, the network will start its "NFL Prime Monday" show next Monday, six weeks earlier than usual, with 30-minute programs that will focus on training camp reports.

Video killed 'SportsCenter' stars

It was only a matter of time before some group took the marriage of rock music and sports that started with Dire Straits' "Walk of Life" to another level, and we have Hootie and the Blowfish and the kids from ESPN's "SportsCenter" to thank for the latest nuptials.


Five of your favorite "SportsCenter" stars -- Chris Berman, Keith Olbermann, Dan Patrick, Charley Steiner and Mike Tirico -- have teamed up with the band for its latest video, "Only Wanna Be With You," which debuted last week on VH-1 and MTV, and will appear in bits and pieces during "SportsCenter."

In the clip, the ESPN guys do some of their signature stuff while surrounded by band members and athletes such as Muggsy Bogues, Alonzo Mourning, Alex English, Dan Marino, Fred Couples and former Maryland star Walt Williams.

"I promise I won't do any more videos if they promise they won't play any more sports," said Patrick.

Speaking of Hootie and the Blowfish, they'll be a part of Robin Roberts' fourth "In the SportsLight" special tonight at 7:30, along with Craig T. Nelson of the sitcom "Coach."

Roberts interviewed the band, whose members attended the University of South Carolina together, during a recent concert tour stop in Columbia.