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Preakness coverage leaves NBA playoffs at starting gate

And you thought Silver Charm just polished off Free House and Captain Bodgit the other day in the Preakness, eh? Well, the colt apparently took down Hakeem Olajuwon, Charles Barkley, Shawn Kemp and Gary Payton, as well, at least in the local ratings.

ABC's 90-minute coverage of the Preakness grabbed an impressive 14.1 rating and 33 share of the audience on Channel 2, according to Tony Petino, that station's research director and this week's sole and official "Media Watch" ratings provider.

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The 14.1/33 shows a 15 percent rise from last year's 11.4/28, as the heightened interest in the battle of the three top Kentucky Derby finishers apparently translated into a higher viewership.

The race trounced the seventh game of the NBA's Western Conference semifinals between Houston and Seattle on Channel 11, which got a 5.7/14.

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The Preakness beat the basketball game in every quarter-hour in which the two went head-to-head, and especially in the 5: 30 segment, when the race took place, where the Preakness did a whopping 20.1/45, meaning nearly half of all television sets that were on in Baltimore were tuned to the race, while the game did a 6.0/13.

Meanwhile, Channel 2's critically impressive day-long pre-race program, "Preakness -- A Day at the Races," got a 3.5/11, a slight drop from last year's 3.8/12, though as Petino points out, the program's afternoon portions were seen by larger audiences than last year.

Nationally, ABC's coverage, from 4: 30 p.m. to 6 p.m., did a 5.3/13 among the country's 37 largest markets in Nielsen's overnight survey, a 20 percent boost from 1996's race. If the numbers hold up when the survey of all the country's markets is released, it should be the highest-rated Preakness in the past five years.

Here's one last national ratings note that ought to speak to the question of whether the public has tired of Tiger Woods. ABC's coverage of Saturday's third round of the Byron Nelson Golf Classic, Woods' first tournament since his Masters win, was seen by a 67 percent larger audience than last year, though not here in Baltimore, because Channel 2 was carrying the pre-Preakness program. Sunday's final-round audience, meanwhile, was more than triple last year's and was larger than the Preakness audience.

Hoops, distaff style

With just over a month to go before the Women's NBA tips off, two of its networks have settled on their on-air teams.

NBC has tapped studio host Hannah Storm to do play-by-play on its package of games, which will air mostly on Saturday afternoons. Storm, who will be teamed with former UCLA legend Ann Meyers, has never done play-by-play, and some insiders said Storm's early practice sessions were subpar, so it will be interesting to see if her performance will be up to snuff.

Meanwhile, ESPN has tapped Robin Roberts, its NCAA tournament host and regular-season game caller, and Connecticut women's coach Geno Auriemma as its announcing team, with former Fox and Sports Network veteran Sandra Neil as a sideline reporter.

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Auriemma, meanwhile, serves ESPN's apparent need to have someone from UConn associated with whatever women's basketball program the Bristol, Conn., network is doing, from its use of two former Husky stars, Rebecca Lobo and Meghan Pattyson, during its tournament coverage.

"He [Auriemma] is the only person we seriously looked at," said Dave Miller, ESPN's coordinating producer of WNBA coverage. "Our criteria was knowledge of the game and a dynamic personality, and Geno fits those."

A modest defense

Sorry, but we couldn't let that rather gratuitous slap at certain sports books in general and the current tome from ESPN's Dan Patrick and Keith Olbermann in particular that appeared in the "Perspective" section of this paper Sunday go unchallenged.

The writer of the piece, Joan Mellen, a creative writing teacher at Temple, dismissed "The Big Show: Inside ESPN's SportsCenter" as not a book at all, but rather a "compendium of one-liners, diary notes, anecdotes and blurbs," lumping it in with "the Dennis Rodman volumes" which have "very big type" and are for "sports fans who need a fix between games."

In the future, before Mellen and her "I'm intellectually superior to you" crowd condemn an entire genre of books simply because they and their subject appeal to a mass audience, they should actually read the books they sniff at.

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Had Mellen, who apparently didn't bother more than a glance at the first chapter, done so, she would have seen, for instance, Olbermann's brilliant essay on the state of race relations in our country.

But then, we sports types are far too stupid to think past our beers and chips, right Ms. Mellen?

Pub Date: 5/20/97



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