ABC's "Wide World of Sports" has been, in the unforgettable words of Jim McKay, "spanning the globe to bring you the constant variety of sports," but the truth is that the show has become the longest-running program in the network's history because, for all its far-flung travel, it is about simplicity.
"We've always focused on the human beings, rather than all the surrounding things. It sounds simple, but it's true and that led to our Olympics coverage," said McKay, the first host of "Wide World," which celebrates its 35th anniversary with a two-hour retrospective Sunday (Channel 2, 4 p.m.).
Indeed, from that poor skier taking a fall in the opening montage to the World Wristwrestling Championships to barrel jumping to every unusual competition in between, "Wide World" always has been about telling human stories in a basic way, beating back knock-offs and challengers from the other networks and then from cable.
"The most important thing when we found these sports was that the sport be legitimate and that it not be hyped," said McKay. "You see things that are not that important being hyped and that changes the legitimacy of the event. We've never done that."
Sunday's program, which features two former hosts, McKay and Frank Gifford, and current anchor Robin Roberts, is divided into three distinct parts, two taken from McKay's opening voice-over, "the thrill of victory" and "the agony of defeat," and a tribute to Muhammad Ali.
Symbolically, ABC, rather than turn the anniversary into some splashy, all-star overblown May sweeps party, wisely has left the "Wide World" tribute right where its loyal audience has found it all these years.
"We have not moved around the schedule in all those years. The basic "Wide World" has been there from 4: 30 to 6 on Saturdays and Sundays, and the fact that we've been there at that time has been good for our audience. They know who we are and what we are and where they can find us," said McKay.
By the way, McKay, 74, a former Evening Sun reporter who lives in Monkton, reports that he is feeling fine after heart bypass surgery last May that kept him from his beloved Preakness.
He says he feels better than he has in years and intends to fulfill a schedule this year that would tax a man 40 years younger, which includes being host of ABC's Triple Crown coverage, making speeches in support of the Olympics and doing commercials, one of which portrays him as a near-100-year-old reporting on the Olympics of 2020.
The odds are pretty good that the commercial will prove to be dead-solid accurate.
The playoff picture
The Turner networks continue their coverage of the NBA playoffs with doubleheaders of conference quarterfinal series openers tonight on both its channels. TBS' lineup has Detroit-Orlando and Miami-Chicago, starting at 7 p.m., with TNT sending Phoenix-San Antonio and Sacramento-Seattle along, beginning at 8 p.m. TNT will also have a doubleheader of Atlanta-Indiana and Portland-Utah tomorrow at 8 p.m., and a single game, Sacramento-Seattle, Sunday at 9 p.m.
NBC (Channel 11) will have a doubleheader tomorrow and a tripleheader Sunday, all second games, with New-York-Cleveland and Houston-Los Angeles at 1 p.m. tomorrow, and Detroit-Orlando, Phoenix-San Antonio and Miami-Chicago at 12: 30 on Sunday.
On the chilled agua, Home Team Sports will have Game 5 of the Washington-Pittsburgh NHL series tonight at 7: 30. Game 6 of the series will air Sunday (Channel 45, 3 p.m.), as the Caps make their Fox season debut in what might be their last game of the year.
ESPN will offer Game 5 of the Montreal-New York series tonight at 7: 30 and Game 6 of the Philadelphia-Tampa Bay dust-up tomorrow at the same time. ESPN2 will also have a game tomorrow at 7: 30, but will wait until today to announce it.
Turnabout is fair play
Know how the Orioles' radio flagship station always is suggesting that you turn down the television sound to hear Jon Miller's radio call?
Well, you can try the reverse now that WWLG (1360 AM) has picked up the weekly CBS Radio Sunday night baseball package, with games carried by ESPN that are called by Miller. This week's offering is the Atlanta-St. Louis game.
Tuning up for Atlanta
ESPN launches its schedule of 74 hours of telecasts of Olympic trials with tomorrow's boxing competition from Augusta, Ga., at 4 p.m.
Finally, more than 15,000 of the nation's best high school, college and club track performers descend upon Philadelphia this weekend for the 102nd Penn Relays, and CBS (Channel 13) will have a two-hour, taped wrap-up show Sunday at 1 p.m.
Pub Date: 4/26/96