Fox begins own baseball tradition with a mostly solid performance


If you tuned into Fox on Saturday expecting some whiz-bang, never-before-seen presentation of the national pastime, you probably were disappointed, because with only a couple of newfangled things thrown in, mostly in the area of sound, with miked bases and miked managers, the network's telecasts weren't all that different from what we've come to recognize from baseball telecasts.

That is to say there were no glowing baseballs, no robots after home runs, a la hockey, but rather solid pictures and stellar audio production that made Fox's first day at the ballpark a fairly successful one, critically and in a ratings sense.

It was nice to see the double box format, where a key at-bat with a star player from another game came in alongside the feed of the game we were watching. And the graphic of the baseball diamond with a red dot at a base to indicate a runner is a good touch, though it's baffling that Fox, which created the format that constantly shows the score and clock in football and hockey, would abandon a similar plan in baseball, where viewers drift in and out of play more easily than other sports.

The four regional telecasts pulled in a respectable 3.8/12 in the 33-market Nielsen overnight survey, a slight increase from the 3.6/12 CBS got from a comparable week in its last season of Saturday telecasts in 1993.

With typical cheeky aplomb, Fox immediately addressed the recent flap in which its sports president, David Hill, jokingly threatened to fire any announcer who spoke of "dead guys," with a montage of baseball history at the beginning of its pre-game show.

The half-hour kids show, "In the Zone," immediately proved itself superior to the NBA's show, "Inside Stuff," in its production value and its appeal to the target audience, with interesting pieces and good but not hokey interaction among the four young actors who are the show's hosts.

The first 30-minute pre-game effort, seen here in Baltimore, was solid, if a little light on news. Host Chip Caray was polished and earnest enough but still looked as if he isn't old enough for his first shave, a theme among Fox announcers. Dave Winfield looked a little tentative as a studio analyst, and his cohort, Steve Lyons, gave evidence that he could be a star, with credible opinions delivered forcefully.

The second pre-game, seen in New York, Los Angeles, Boston and Seattle, however, had a big gaffe, as viewers didn't see any footage of Friday's incident in which Cleveland's Albert Belle elbowed Milwaukee second baseman Fernando Vina, which contributed to a bench-clearing fracas.

To make matters worse, two of Fox's game analysts, Bob Brenly and Jeff Torborg, essentially passed off Belle's hit, which drew a five-game suspension, as "part of the game," basically apologizing for his flagrant conduct.

In case you were wondering, save for a couple of early butterflies, which were noticeable on his one stand-up segment, Josh Lewin turned in a fine debut effort on the Boston-Seattle contest, with a nice blend of humor and information. His pairing with former Oriole Ken Singleton may turn out to be inspired, as the two mesh well. You'll get to hear them locally June 22 when the Orioles play host to Kansas City.

HBO's Olympian effort

For all the hassles that can come with subscribing to cable, there occasionally come moments like tonight's HBO documentary, "Spirit of the Games," (10: 15) that make the often-exorbitant prices worth it. Sort of.

"Spirit" is a poignant look back to a time when the Olympic ideals of amateurism and sacrifice were at the core of the hearts of the participants, drawing from the period from 1936 to 1960.

The hourlong film focuses on the home movies and recollections of American athletes who trained and persevered under trying circumstances. During one segment, a sprinter from a rural area says his training often consisted of getting off his tractor and chasing a jack rabbit. Another sprinter tells of how her grandmother sent her off to the Olympics with less than $10 in spending money. Think you'll hear a story like this from the Dream Team this summer?

"Spirit" is produced by the same team that did the wonderful "When It Was a Game" baseball documentaries for HBO a couple of years ago. HBO bills itself as the "Network of Champions," and it has a champion of a program in "Spirit of the Games," which it will repeat through the month.

Studying for Finals

You probably didn't need reminding, but the Stanley Cup Finals open tonight on Fox (Channel 45, 8 o'clock) between two teams, Florida and Colorado, that weren't in their present locations four years ago. Heck, the Panthers didn't even exist four years ago.

Meanwhile, it's Chicago and Seattle for the NBA championship starting tomorrow at 9 p.m. on NBC (Channel 11).

Pub Date: 6/04/96

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