With new kids on NFL block, Fox pre-game in for showdown


NEW YORK -- For the first time in its five-year history, the Fox NFL pre-game show isn't getting all the attention in pre-game show circles.

That's because CBS, back in the football business after four years on the sideline, is re-starting its pre-game show, ABC is starting one from scratch and ESPN is expanding its show to two hours.

Amid all that change, "Fox NFL Sunday" (Channel 45, noon) is looking pretty sedate, and coordinating producer Scott Ackerson happy with that.

"It's kind of weird for us being the old guys," said Ackerson here yesterday at a news briefing. "Fox has never been seen as the old guys. The job for us is keeping things fresh."

The only significant change to the Emmy Award-winning show -- the addition of former NBC analyst Cris Collinsworth -- should take care of that. Collinsworth has never been afraid to express an opinion, and with Terry Bradshaw and Howie Long on the set, the Fox show won't lack for testosterone.

Ackerson's job, along with that of host James Brown, is to make sure the show doesn't go too far over the edge.

"It's a feel," said Ackerson. "There have been times when we've been close, but I'd rather be close to the edge than being accused of not having personality. You can always pull back if you need to, but if you don't have personality, you can't invent it."

As for the competition, Ackerson says he's impressed with the big names -- Marcus Allen and George Seifert -- that CBS has brought in for its show, but thinks the show will have to rise or fall on the basis of its content.

Ackerson, who won two Emmys at ESPN for producing studio shows, saves his most-pointed commentary for his former employer. He thinks its expansion will ultimately help CBS and Fox.

"Whatever the big game is, they have to address it in the first hour, and then what?" said Ackerson. "I understand why they're doing it, but I do think you can get to the point where there's too much. When you're putting on a telethon, you've got a lot of acts to fill."

Plan of attack

Though a number of things have changed on the local NFL viewing landscape, some things have not. For instance, the league sadly has not changed its ridiculous blackout policy, which means that if a local game has not sold out 72 hours before kickoff, the game cannot be shown within a 75-mile radius of the stadium.

While this market is generally entitled to get three games each Sunday afternoon, the rules change when the Ravens are in town. With the exception of Sept. 27, when the Cincinnati Bengals are in town, whenever the Ravens are home -- regardless of whether the game is sold out or not -- only two games will be shown, one on CBS and one on Fox.

And don't forget that Channel 11 is not in the NFL mix anymore. If you tune in Sunday to Channel 11 to watch the Ravens-Pittsburgh game, you'll be in the wrong place. Contingent on how many games make it through the blackout policy, Channel 13 will have up to 13 Ravens games, including Sunday's, while Channel 45 will carry the other two. The broadcast location of the Sept. 27 game has not yet been determined.

Radio waves

Ravens broadcasts return to WJFK (1300 AM) and WLIF (101.9 FM), with Scott Garceau and Tom Matte doing the game call. The pre-game show will be manned by host Tony Harris, with analysis from Bruce Laird and Sun columnist Ken Rosenthal. Laird will return with Stan Charles and Paul Mittermeier for the post-game show.

Meanwhile, WBAL (1090 AM) will offer its own Ravens-related programming, with Gerry Sandusky hosting a pre-game show at noon. During home games, the station also plans a post-game show from the end of the game until about two hours later, hosted by Steve Milewski with Greg Sher and Stan White at the stadium.

Around the dial

You'll really have to look long and hard to find much on the tube that is non-football related this weekend. In fact, the only two real choices are CBS' and USA's coverage of the U.S. Open tennis tournament and the final two rounds of the Greater Milwaukee Open golf tournament on ABC (Channel 2).

CBS will carry action from Flushing Meadow both tomorrow and Monday at 11 a.m., while USA will take over at 7: 30 tonight, tomorrow, Sunday and Monday, with an afternoon session Sunday at noon. The golf airs tomorrow at 1: 30 and Sunday at 4 p.m.

ESPN has managed to grab tonight's Cincinnati-St. Louis game at 8, as well as Monday's Cardinals-Chicago Cubs game at 2 p.m., with Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa going head-to-head. Fox will show Sunday's Reds-Cardinals game to most of the nation at 4 p.m. if McGwire gets his 60th homer, but Baltimore, along with Chicago, Philadelphia and Cincinnati, will be among the NFL cities out of the loop. Because of NFL TV obligations, the network must carry the Arizona-Dallas football game (Channel 45, 4 p.m.) into those markets. The baseball game will be available on Washington's Channel 5.

Otherwise, it's all football, seemingly all the time. The college side heats up this weekend in earnest, with three terrific games. Syracuse plays host to Tennessee tomorrow at noon on ESPN, andDick Enberg and Pat Haden will have the call when Notre Dame plays host to Michigan on NBC (Channel 11, 3: 30 p.m.). Finally, top-ranked Ohio State goes to West Virginia in prime time tomorrow at 8 on CBS (Channel 13).

The Ravens' pre-game shows return this weekend, with "Ravens Report" airing tomorrow at 7 p.m. on Channel 13 with John Buren and Marty Bass in host position. "Ravens Kickoff" will air live at 11: 30 a.m. Sunday, with Bass and Lisa Bercu at the controls. "Kickoff" will be simulcasted on Channel 13 and Home Team Sports.

CBS will present a one-hour, NFL Films-produced look at training camps around the league, "NFL Summer Camp," tonight (Channel 13, 9 o'clock). And, finally, to mark its new two-hour format, ESPN's "Sunday NFL Countdown" pre-game show will welcome Hootie and the Blowfish to the set with lead singer Darius Rucker interviewing Dan Marino.

Pub Date: 9/04/98

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