When the curtain came down on CBS' U.S. Open coverage Sunday night, Pat O'Brien, to borrow two of his patented phrases, rolled on from a familiar place, bidding the network farewell after 16 years as one of sports television's top studio hosts.
O'Brien, who has become co-anchor of the syndicated entertainment show "Access Hollywood," announced his departure a couple of weeks ago, and has been bewildered by the barrage of criticism from television critics about his career and his move.
"What I've learned from this is that people [critics] sort of help you get to a place, then knock you back," O'Brien said last week. "They've become increasingly petty and 'cheap-shotty.' All I'm doing is giving out scores and maybe smiling for a while. I mean, they said, 'He's too slick,' or, 'His hair's too good.' That stuff sounds like suicide notes the way they're written. Does it bother me? Not much."
Usually, when someone says a criticism doesn't bother him, it probably does. The parting volleys that have been fired at O'Brien, some of which a CBS colleague likened to a drive-by shooting, have almost certainly hit home.
O'Brien, who was a Los Angeles-based news reporter before coming to CBS, was certainly a more styled and polished host than had been seen in the past, but no more so than Bob Costas, Jim Nantz or Brent Musburger, O'Brien's immediate predecessor at CBS.
The difference, however, between those three and O'Brien is that Musburger, Costas and Nantz also do play-by-play and have garnered a measure of respect from that additional work. O'Brien, whose occasional fill-in duties on "Entertainment Tonight" and other entertainment vehicles gave him easy access to Hollywood's beautiful people, wasn't thought of by some fans and critics as a real sports type, whatever that is.
However, O'Brien, who was the engine behind the "At The Half" feature that became a staple of CBS' NBA and college basketball telecasts as well as the host of the network's late-night Winter Olympics shows, was a solid professional who knew how to keep things moving smoothly, which is an important skill in sports television.
O'Brien says he'd "never say never" about coming back to sports, but is looking forward to settling into a familiar routine.
"Right now, my life will be regular. I'll be able to see my kid play basketball. Who knows? Maybe I'll coach," O'Brien said.
And maybe then, he'd become one of the guys.
Man in the middle
Channel 13 has signed Ravens middle linebacker Ray Lewis to a weekly stint on the station's Wednesday 6 p.m. newscast with John Buren. The segment, which kicked off last week, is humbly titled "Rockin' Ray."
There are increasing signs that ABC, which has lagged behind the other networks in terms of doing new things, is getting with the times. Witness the impressive new graphics that adorn all its telecasts and its gambit during Saturday night's Florida State-Southern California game to carry, on delay, conversations between the Seminoles' quarterback and offensive coordinator.
Hey, Channel 11: As you give your sportscasters far less time to work than the other guys in town, do you think they could have the five minutes of local time during NBC's NFL pre-game show each Sunday afternoon for a Ravens piece, instead of an empty and meaningless "news" update?
Truth Squad, Week 2
All the outlets spent considerable time on the season's first overblown and contrived controversy, but ESPN's Chris Mortensen and CNN's Peter King engaged in an unusual controversy within a controversy. It seems that Mortensen went on the air last week with a bit of a toss-away line that Johnson had considered sitting Marino down if his play wasn't up to standard, and the reporter was lauded this week for his daring "scoop."
Trouble is, King, who covers the NFL for Sports Illustrated, led his notes column in the Sept. 1 magazine with that very item, but didn't repeat it on the air. So, who was really first? Who cares?
Mortensen and King got the coach-in-trouble carousel going, as King reported that Seattle's Dennis Erickson could be on his way out, to be replaced by former 49ers coach George Seifert. Both men also said Eagles coach Ray Rhodes wants out of Philadelphia.
NBC's Will McDonough did an interesting verbal tap dance, saying that he didn't know if Buffalo's Bruce Smith had reached an agreement on a new deal with the club, but then saying that a holdup in the deal is a clause that would require Smith to give back signing-bonus money as well as game checks if he is suspended for drug or alcohol abuse.
Speaking of NBC, we now know why its pre-game show isn't called "NFL Live" anymore. Ahmad Rashad introduced McDonough's segment, but instead the viewers heard Greg Gumbel and Cris Collinsworth talking about the Tampa Bay-Detroit game over footage of John Elway. Very strange.
Meanwhile, Fox's big scoop was that the city of Indianapolis and the Colts have come together on a deal that will keep the team there and not send it to Cleveland.
The ratings for the top 10 most-watched sporting events on broadcast television in Baltimore last weekend:
Event ............. Day ... Ch. .. R/S
O's-Yankees ....... Thu. .. 13 ... 19.1/29
O's-Yankees ....... Fri. .. 13 ... 16.4/28
O's-Yankees ....... Sat. .. 45 ... 10.6/25
Oilers-Dolphins ... Sun. .. 11 .... 7.7/18
Packers-Eagles .... Sun. .. 45 .... 7.4/15
U.S. Open ......... Fri. .. 13 .... 5.1/13
NFL pre-game ...... Sun. .. 11 .... 4.4/12
Gymnastics ........ Sun. ... 2 .... 4.4/8
Fla. State-USC .... Sat. ... 2 .... 3.6/6
U.S. Open finals .. Sun. .. 13 .... 3.5/7
Note: Ratings for Sunday's Orioles-Yankees game on HTS were unavailable yesterday.
Pub Date: 9/09/97