Despite too much guy talk, Fox is dusting NFL opposition

While nearly everyone else made changes in their NFL coverage for this season, the folks at Fox elected to stand pat on their successful 1994-95 introduction to sports broadcasting.

And why not? In its first year, Fox not only brought new sights and sounds to what has been a staid product, but won the ratings battle with its funky-fresh pre-game show over NBC and narrowly lost out on game coverage by four-tenths of a ratings point.


In year two, Fox is getting closer to delivering as much steak as sizzle, but the network has distance to travel before it presents a package that the serious football fan can totally embrace.

The sticking point still remains the pre-game show, which is largely played for laughs, with opening sketches, sound effects and a lot of jocularity among analysts Terry Bradshaw, Howie Long and Jimmy Johnson.


To be sure, the addition of reporter Pam Oliver from ESPN is a welcome one, as she brings a hard-news edge to a program that lacked it last year. In her biggest coup to date, Oliver two weeks ago elicited from Deion Sanders that he would need arthroscopic surgery on his ankles before he joins Dallas after baseball season.

But while James Brown is solid as the show's traffic cop, there's still too much guy talk among Long, Bradshaw and Johnson, who often seem as content to get in playful jibes at one another as to give useful information. Maybe moving Brown to the middle of the anchor desk will alleviate that.

As for actual game coverage, Fox's camera and sound work are the standard by which all sports telecasts should be measured. NFL games have never looked and sounded as good as they do on Fox, and sports president David Hill and executive producer Ed Goren are to be commended for helping to bring the game to life.

What we've heard of Fox's booth announcers has been good, though the gulf between the network's top team of Pat Summerall and John Madden and the rest of its pairings is greater than the one that separates NBC's commentator corps.

Saunders slips

ABC's usually solid John Saunders did a shabby job during his Saturday halftime "interview" of Florida State coach Bobby Bowden. The subject was Top 10 college teams like the Seminoles being accused of running up scores against hapless competition for better poll positioning.

First, the network ran quotes of three coaches decrying the practice, then a 26-year-old clip of the late Woody Hayes defending it. Next, Saunders (formerly of Channel 2) lobbed three volleyball-sized questions at Bowden, incredibly suggesting that people who were against running up scores either never played the game or forgot what it was like to play in a blowout.

Not surprisingly, Bowden defended himself, but Saunders would have done well to have queried the Florida State coach a bit more intensely, rather than patting him on the back.


Bigger and better?

The long-awaited merger of Time Warner and Turner Broadcasting, announced Friday, does not have the immediate sense of consequence for the sporting world that the Walt Disney-ABC/Capital Cities marriage brought earlier this summer.

There's speculation that the fledgling WB network could be in line to get into the sporting realm, and that a Sports Illustrated-based cable channel could be in the offing, but unless the new company sets its sights on either CBS or NBC, sports fans should see little change.

Getting even

Time Warner still hasn't announced how it will deal with Don King's decision to move November 4's Mike Tyson-Buster Mathis Jr. fight to Fox from pay-per-view. That move effectively puts a crimp in the Riddick Bowe-Evander Holyfield bout, scheduled for TVKO and pay-per-view on the same night.

Some serious revenge seems to be in the works. HBO, a Time Warner subsidiary and the home of a number of boxing shows, has announced it will premiere the Oscar-winning film "Forrest Gump" on Nov. 4. The pay channel also has purchased an option for a film based on the book "Only in America," a scathing biography of King written by Jack Newfield.