There's nothing funny about loss of Kilborn to Comedy Central

THE BALTIMORE SUN

It's only been a couple of weeks since Craig Kilborn abruptly left the late night/early morning "SportsCenter" on ESPN, but, for viewers who like their highlights served with a touch of insouciance, his defection to Comedy Central is a profound loss.

Those of us who miss the loving tributes to basketball heroes like Gheorghe Muresan, Arvydas Sabonis and, of course, Jerome "Pooh" Richardson that made Kilborn so funky fresh, are left with the same kind of TV betrayal we felt when, say, McLean Stevenson left "M*A*S*H" for "Hello, Larry."

"A lot of people, since they heard about it, are saying, 'I'm not going to watch ["SportsCenter"] anymore,' " said Kilborn recently. "I'm going to miss ESPN, but I hope to keep a summer home in Bristol," the bucolic Connecticut home of ESPN.

OK, so nobody we know is going to go so far as to pass up "SportsCenter," but Kilborn's departure from the relative safety and security of cable behemoth ESPN for a nightly "news" show on Comedy Central -- mostly known previously as the home of cult favorite "Mystery Science Theater 3000" -- is a head-scratcher.

The fact of the matter, though, is that Kilborn, 30, got the proverbial offer he couldn't refuse: A starring role on his own show, a "whole lot of money," an office, an assistant, a pad on Manhattan's Upper West Side and his nights free.

"You say, 'Release, rotation, splash' for a few years, toss in a 'Jorge' and a 'Pooh-pooh-ca-choo' and you're set. It pays off. We're going to get paid to goof around. There's not much better than that; not that I'm aware of," said Kilborn.

Kilborn, who jokingly claims that he set the Big Sky Conference record for turnovers in a half when he played guard for Montana State in the mid-1980s, said his new show, tentatively called "The Daily Show," will take an off-kilter look at the news of the day, premiering on July 22 at 11: 30 p.m.

"A lot of people are telling me that there's a huge upside to what I'm doing," said Kilborn. "But I want to try to get to bed earlier. I want to get to New York City and work on my game. I want to play the city game. It's a simple thing."

Would that it were that simple, Craig.

Doin' more time at 30 Rock

NBC took its strategy of locking up properties to long-term deals in house by announcing an extension of sports division president Dick Ebersol's contract through the year 2004 at its affiliates meeting in Phoenix on Tuesday.

Ebersol, 48, who has headed NBC Sports since 1989, has received the longest contract ever extended to an executive of either the network or its parent company, General Electric.

"I think this is just an awfully nice way of them saying thank you for a lot of things," said Ebersol, whose original four-year contract was to end after next summer.

Those "things" include Ebersol's strategy to grab the rights to Summer and Winter Olympics telecasts through 2008, save for the 1998 Winter games, which belong to CBS, at a cost of $3.5 billion.

Under Ebersol's rule, NBC has become the leader in big-time televised sports, with a share in pro football, pro basketball, Major League Baseball, two major golf properties -- the U.S. Open and Ryder Cup -- and Notre Dame home football games.

DeLuca's transition game

For many in television, going from an over-the-air gig to cable is the equivalent of trading in a Rolls-Royce for a Yugo, but that doesn't seem to be the case for Len DeLuca, who leaves a key programming job at CBS for a key programming slot at ESPN.

DeLuca, 43, shifts over to the total sports network, where, CBS insiders say, he'll have a broader say in programming than at CBS.

Though his influence at CBS might have been a little over-reported, DeLuca, who was once the attorney for Maryland men's basketball coach Gary Williams, played a significant role in the network's strategy to first acquire exclusive rights to the NCAA men's basketball tournament, then extend them once CBS lost other properties.

DeLuca, who did radio play-by-play for Boston College basketball games for eight years, also helped engineer the Bowl Alliance for college football that should bring about a televised national championship, of which four such games will air on CBS over a six-year span.

DeLuca, who will work in both New York and Bristol, will share programming duties for ESPN and ESPN2 with current vice president John Wildhack. Whether DeLuca will have influence at ABC Sports, especially now that ESPN President and CEO Steve Bornstein is about to take over the day-to-day management there, remains to be seen.

Ratings boom

TNT's coverage of Tuesday's Orlando-Chicago NBA playoff game was seen in more homes than any other pro basketball game in cable history, 5.8 million to be precise, the network announced yesterday.

The game drew an 8.6 cable rating, just missing the record 8.8 rating for Game 5 of the 1988 Detroit-Boston series, but was seen in more homes because the availability of cable has grown significantly in eight years.

Pub Date: 5/23/96

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