Fox, willing to go the distance, puts boxing in ring with Oscars


Ever since the Fox network signed on the air in 1987, it has made its name as much for being different as for its actual shows. After all, any programmers who aren't afraid to present comedies about the survivors of a nuclear explosion and the first female president can't be too worried about public perception.

So, when David Hill, who heads up Fox's sports and entertainment divisions, was thinking about how to counter-program against Monday's Oscars, particularly after last year's slate of four episodes of "Cops" got its Nielsen head handed to it, he thought Oscar -- as in Oscar De La Hoya.

As in a card of boxing that included the WBC welterweight champion. As in a relatively inexpensive night of sports that would challenge the Academy Awards' heavy female appeal with a sport with proven interest to men.

"The accepted rationale when you're going up against a blockbuster program is to lay down," said Hill. "We wanted a viable alternative for guys who don't want to see how many sequins are on the winning gown. What I hope happens is ["Titanic" director] James Cameron scores a convincing win and I hope we do well."

De La Hoya, who's under contract to fight exclusively on HBO, couldn't fight, but Hill and promoter Bob Arum fixed it so that he could host the proceedings.

So, with James Brown calling the action, and Gil Clancy on analysis, with Sean O'Grady as reporter, De La Hoya intends to do battle with Oscar, oddly enough drawing on his appeal to women.

"Boxing has its regular viewer, which is the male viewer. Now, what I'm trying to do is break that barrier. There are more women watching my pay-per-view fights and coming to my press conferences. I believe it's going to create a huge rating for Fox television," said De La Hoya.

The three-fight card, the first on prime-time, over-the-air television in three years, will feature Yory Boy Campas fighting Anthony Stephens in a junior middleweight title bout, Eric "Butterbean" Esch in a super heavyweight fight and a six-round women's match, all from Mashantucket, Conn., at 8 p.m. on Channel 45.

Scatter shots

Note to Sports Illustrated officials: Just a hunch, here, but it's going to be really tough to fend off the new ESPN entry if you keep sending renewal notices that offer Washington Redskins team videos to Baltimore subscribers. There already is an NFL team that plays here. It's called the Ravens. That's R-A-V-E-N-S. Washington's team is the R-E-D-S-K-I-N-S. Despite what you've heard from NFL Central, there really is a difference.

While CNN, CNN/SI and Fox Sports News were carrying the news conference at which the sale of the Los Angeles Dodgers to Rupert Murdoch was announced yesterday, the ESPN family, save for the underseen ESPNEWS, was asleep at the switch. Not a particularly good showing from the "world-wide leader in sports."

University of South Florida men's basketball coach Seth Greenberg is going to make some network a terrific analyst, if he keeps delivering trenchant observations like the ones he made the other night on ESPN Radio's "Game Night."

NBC has extended the contracts of NBA analyst Bill Walton and golf analyst Johnny Miller. Both men stay in Peacock colors through 2002.

Why is CBS forcing tomorrow's West Regional men's final, played in Anaheim, Calif., to start nearly 2 1/2 hours before the East Regional final in Greensboro, N.C.? And why is ESPN forcing all eight women's regional semifinals and all four regional finals to be stacked on Saturday and Monday, respectively, like flights trying to get into O'Hare Airport? Better yet, why is the NCAA going along with it? Can you say the almighty television dollar? Knew that you could.

Around the dial

The sports scene this weekend isn't entirely about basketball, you know. It only seems that way. For the vroom, vroom set, ABC (Channel 2) will have part of the qualifying for the Phoenix 200 IRL race tomorrow at 5: 30, with the race itself coming Sunday at 4 p.m. ESPN, meanwhile, will have this week's 400-mile NASCAR race from Darlington, S.C., Sunday at 12: 30 p.m. And Lifetime will have a one-hour special looking back at the triumph of the United States Olympic women's hockey team at 2 p.m. tomorrow.

If you are a hoops junkie, you'll need a fix by Monday, and ESPN has all four women's regional finals, starting at 5 p.m. The most interesting will likely be the Mideast, where, if the seeds hold up, two-time defending champion Tennessee will put its unbeaten record against its sternest challenge yet, the athletic North Carolina Tar Heels at 9: 30 p.m.

Pub Date: 3/20/98

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