When it comes to enterprise, cable efforts shame networks


Good, old-fashioned enterprise sports journalism, like the old "ABC SportsBeat," has largely vanished from the networks.

The industry giants believe that hard-hitting commentary is one former coach leveling blasts at another coach, whose game just coincidentally turns up on said network.

And so it is left to cable to get down in the dirt and turn up stories that shatter the myths. Two of the best practitioners of the craft, ESPN's "Outside the Lines" and HBO's "Real Sports," go tonight with impressive efforts.

* "Outside the Lines" -- Tonight's program (7:30) marks the five-year anniversary of the series that has, to borrow a phrase, boldly gone where few sports news shows have gone before.

In what has evolved into a monthly arrangement, "Outside the Lines" has tackled some of the weightiest issues affecting sports, including steroids, race, sex, religion, economics and violence, along with profiles of athletes as varied as Muhammad Ali, Mike Tyson and Cal Ripken, and always in a thoughtful and thought-provoking manner.

Not surprisingly, "Outside the Lines" has been honored with five sports Emmys, and two CableAce awards for excellence.

"The most gratifying thing is the growth [of the show] and the fact that we get our phone calls returned," said Bob Ley, host of the show since its inception.

Tonight's program will revisit five topics from previous shows, including a powerful piece from reporter Mary Ann Grabavoy on former featherweight champion Ruben Palacio, who was stripped of his title after he tested positive for HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. Palacio is imprisoned in Florida on drug smuggling charges.

* "Real Sports" -- This much-ballyhooed newcomer failed to live up to its billing in its first two efforts, but tonight's third offering (10 o'clock, with repeats tomorrow, Thursday and Saturday) is impressive.

The best piece is a Jim Lampley-narrated profile of a former Oklahoma State football player who was offered a scholarship by the team's recruiting coordinator, only to be strung along for more than two years.

Not far behind is a look at the myth and reality of Nike, as reported by Sonja Steptoe and produced by award-winning Julie Anderson.

The weakest of the three stories made available to the media is an admiring profile of Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones from Baltimore's own Frank Deford, who turns up in the "Outside the Lines" special earlier. Shockingly, former Cowboys coach Jimmy Johnson does not turn up in the piece, despite the fact he works for HBO on its NFL review show.

The managerial derby

Let's say this for Channel 13: At least it deemed yesterday's announcement of Davey Johnson as new Orioles' skipper important enough to cover live, as opposed to last year, when it whiffed on the unveiling of Phil Regan.

However, it did leave the news conference fairly quickly, and John Buren, as usual, didn't even make it off Television Hill to cover in person. Guess there was no bowling angle to pursue.

As for Channel 2, which has made great hay of this column's positive statements about its sports operation: It missed badly by not even going live to the news conference.

Channel 45 stayed with a very special episode of "Taz-Mania."

Channel 11, which is rapidly becoming the news leader in town, won the day, with the most lengthy and extensive live coverage of Johnson's hiring.

More from the geriatric set

USA's "Geezers of Boxing" tour continues tonight at 9, as former two-time heavyweight champ Tim Witherspoon, a spry 37-year-old, meets largely unknown Everton Davis in Phoenix.

The network also will have an interview with Buster Mathis Jr. in advance of his Saturday night fight with Mike Tyson, as well as features on Riddick Bowe and Evander Holyfield, who also do battle Saturday, or hadn't you heard?

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