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Cohn picks an ideal weekend to break away from ESPN desk

THE BALTIMORE SUN

BETHESDA -- Take a poll of an electorate consisting of sports fans and local television sports anchors, and next to a stadium itself, the hands-down favorite place to hang out would be ESPN's "SportsCenter."

But there's a great big world out there outside "SportsCenter," as Linda Cohn, one of its stalwarts, is hoping to find out this week as she covers the U.S. Open from the Congressional Country Club for the network.

"Within the last six months, I've found the keys to unlock the chain to the "SportsCenter" desk," said Cohn. "I hope I'll have time to enjoy it [the time away]."

Don't take Cohn's words to mean that she wants out of Bristol, Conn. To the contrary, she's happy as can be getting the kind of exposure that ESPN can offer on a regular basis.

However, she's interested in testing her journalistic muscles in the field. A successful April assignment of covering the NFL draft from New Orleans has only whetted her appetite for out-of-town reporting projects.

"As a mother of two and having a supportive husband, I still must pick my spots to leave Connecticut," Cohn said. "I mean, I'm not going to Scotland [for the British Open]. I love doing "SportsCenter. It's so satisfying to do, but I want to do something else."

Now that her 16-month old son, who appears in a stroller in those ESPNEWS commercials, is up and about, the golf duty dovetails nicely into Cohn's plan to "get my golf game back in order."

"Golf is the most challenging sport," said Cohn. "Unlike sports like football or baseball or basketball or hockey, where there are teammates who can shoulder some of the load, it's up to you to make something out of it in golf. Why else would Michael Jordan play 36 holes on an off day?"

Cohn played goalie on a coed hockey team when she was 14 and has a picture on her desk of her sipping champagne from the Stanley Cup when her beloved New York Rangers won the title three years ago.

She will be joined at Congressional by Chris Berman; Mike Tirico, who anchors ABC's golf programming; and ESPN golf reporter Jimmy Roberts.

"I'm low man on the totem pole, and that's fine," she said. "I'm not going to get anywhere near Tiger Woods. I mean, I'll probably be interviewing people like Scott Hoch or Lee Janzen or 'Fluff', Tiger's caddy, and that's OK. It's just wonderful to get some air and see some people."

Hole in one coverage

Though NBC will be producing ESPN's morning and afternoon U.S. Open telecasts today and tomorrow at 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. in between their own 3 p.m. shows (Channel 11), the cable guys will have their hands plenty full covering the second of golf's majors.

Already -- from a compound that is so far in the woods surrounding Congressional that a golf cart is a necessity, not a luxury -- ESPN has produced three preview shows. Two of them were live, and there have been numerous cut-ins for "SportsCenter" and ESPNEWS, with highlight shows and more cut-ins on the way.

"This is our second year of this kind of arrangement and we've come a long way in a year. We have great reporters and a great technical crew. We're up for the challenge," said Norby Williamson, the network's senior coordinating producer of studio programs.

The Finals solution

Give people compelling programming to watch, even in the early doldrums of summer television and they'll flock to it. That's the lesson of NBC's NBA championship series ratings, as Games 4, 2, and 3, in that order, were the most watched shows last week in the land.

A few observations about the coverage: Under the circumstances, Marv Albert has been remarkably solid. A lot of other people would not have been able to function given the problems that he has faced. Matt Guokas has been brilliant as an analyst, and Bill Walton's wacky third-man-in shtick has worn thin.

The pictures and replays have been terrific, and a big thumbs-up to NBC for getting rid of that moving camera that gave the coverage a ship-at-sea feel. Hannah Storm has held her own in pinch-hitting for Bob Costas as host. Most everyone else has been nondescript, save for Ahmad Rashad, whose cloying, Jordan-toadying act has long been stale. Rashad has got to go, and the sooner the better.

Just wondering

How is it that Albert has managed to elude the often piercing jokes that tend to populate/pollute late night talk shows, while Frank Gifford has been pilloried by the same yucksters?

One can understand why NBC's hosts, Jay Leno and Conan O'Brien, have taken it easy on Albert, a Peacock employee, but David Letterman, whose caustic wit normally knows no bounds, has also given Albert a free pass.

Of course, Albert shows up regularly on Letterman's show, but Gifford's wife, Kathie Lee, is an occasional guest on "Late Show" as well. Maybe it has something to do with the notion that Albert comes across as more likable than Gifford or, more to the point, Gifford's wife, but the hypocrisy is a bit baffling.

Letterman, Leno and O'Brien would do well either to include Albert in on the jokes, or, better yet, drop them all entirely.

Pub Date: 6/12/97

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