New HTS deed-holders should think restoration


An open letter to Comcast chairman Brian Roberts:

Dear Mr. Roberts,

Congratulations on buying Home Team Sports the other day. In case you didn't already know it, you picked up a pretty decent television property, and in this day and age, when people like sludge peddler, er, wrestling chief Vince McMahon, are pushing into the mainstream, there's something to be said for respectable.

The thing is, not so long ago, HTS used to be more than pretty decent. It was something special, the envy of regional sports channels nationwide (and that includes those puffed-up New York stations like Madison Square Garden and Fox Sports New York).

Now, it's no better than Fox Sports Northwest or the New England Sports Network, and we think we deserve better than that, and we hope you think that, too. Otherwise, what was the point of buying HTS?

With that in mind, here are a few ideas for sprucing up the channel we used to cheer for:

Spend a little money on visual stuff.

Frankly, the HTS pictures just don't look as dynamic as they used to and the graphics are a bit cheesy. With dual revenue streams (from subscriber fees and advertising), there ought to be enough coin around to make things look better.

Stop the brain drain.

Once upon a time, some of the industry's most talented producers were the engine that drove HTS. Homegrown talent such as Bill Brown (now the senior producer at Fox Sports), Chris Glass (now the executive producer at the Sunshine Network) and Tim Walbert (now an executive at the WWF) helped stamp HTS as a force in sports broadcasting.

But, thanks to upward mobility and other reasons (which we'll elaborate on later), they've all moved on. It's time to keep the best and the brightest at home.

Hire back Mel Proctor and John Lowenstein for Orioles telecasts.

We have nothing necessarily against Michael Reghi and Mike Flanagan. Reghi has improved steadily as a play-by-play man during his four seasons here, and Flanagan's dry wit is a bonus during these desultory days.

But Proctor and Lowenstein were not only solid announcers, but pretty good entertainers. Lowenstein, in particular, would say just about anything, which made for a lively listen. Proctor is happily ensconced in San Diego, and no one knows exactly where Brother Lo has gone, but it's worth it to the channel's reputation to go get them.

Assert your independence.

Truth be told, Brian, (if we can call you that), the worst thing that has happened at HTS is that its leaders failed to stand up for themselves when the Orioles came crying about what announcers said about the team's performance or about what those announcers wore or what pictures got shown from the ballpark.

From here, it figures that when you go to the supermarket to buy ground beef, you have the right to determine whether to make hamburgers or meatloaf.

Consequently, when you pay more than $15 million annually for rights to show the Orioles, you have the right to have your announcers say what they want and dress the way you want, and show pictures of a guy climbing the foul pole, if those things are appropriate.

So, when the phone rings from the warehouse, kindly remind them who pays the bills.

Oh, and one more thing, Big Guy: Leave the channel name alone. Is there anyone around these parts that doesn't already feel the power of Comcast, especially each month when we pay those astronomical bills? Do we have to be reminded that HTS is one of your properties? Nope, we don't.

Thanks for listening, and keep in touch, huh?

Your subscribers.

New digs for 'NFL Today'

Bryant Gumbel is coming back to an NFL pregame show!

Well, not exactly, but the New York studio from which Gumbel's "Early Show" CBS morning program emanates will double as the new home of the "The NFL Today" this fall.

Gumbel, whose older brother, Greg, will call the Super Bowl this year for CBS, broke into the big time hosting NBC's NFL pregame show in the late 1970s.

"The NFL Today" has originated from CBS' Black Rock headquarters in midtown Manhattan from its inception in the mid-1970s, but the move to the "Early Show" studio in the General Motors Building near Central Park, which looks out on the street, may do something for the ratings, or so CBS Sports officials hope.

Goodness knows the GM spot hasn't done much, ratings-wise, for Gumbel's show, which lags behind "Today" and "Good Morning America."

In other pregame show developments, former Dallas receiver Michael Irvin stepped off the playing field and right into a gig with Fox's cable show, "The NFL This Morning," starting in the fall.

Around the dial

It must be getting close to Olympics time. That's as good an explanation for a prime-time airing of track and field on NBC, namely the U.S. Olympic team trials tomorrow (Channel 11, 8 p.m.). Marion Jones will try for a spot on the team in the women's 100 meters and long jump dash Sunday at 4 p.m. from Sacramento, Calif.

Tonight's Houston-Los Angeles game might be the best meeting on this season's WNBA schedule, as the teams come into the showdown (Lifetime, 9 p.m.) with the best records in the league. And, for its coverage of the league's All-Star Game on Monday at 8 p.m., ESPN will do what all basketball broadcasters should do, which is put the shot clock on the screen constantly.

If he can keep his heart away from Mike Tyson's choppers, Lennox Lewis will meet Frans Botha in a heavyweight title bout from London tomorrow at 9 p.m. on HBO.

The pay channel also will show the third installment of the "When It Was A Game" series of baseball documentaries Monday at 10 p.m. This collection of home movies is set in the 1960' and, in keeping with the tone of the era, is decidedly less poignant than its predecessors, but still hits the mark.

Finally, CBS' 20-year association with NASCAR comes to a quiet close with tomorrow's telecast of the Nazareth 200 truck race (Channel 13, 1:30 p.m.)

Week's ratings

The ratings for the top 10 most watched sporting events on broadcast television in Baltimore, July 6-12. R-Rating; S-Share

Event Day Ch. R/S

All-Star Game Tue. 11 8.2/15

All-Star pre. Tue. 11 6.8/13

Orioles-Phillies Sat. 13 5.1/11

Orioles-Phillies Sun. 13 5.0/13

All-Star post. Tue. 11 4.3/11

Wimbledon Sun. 11 4.1/12

Wimbledon Thu. 11 3.7/13

Wimbledon Sat. 11 3.6/12

O's-Yankees Thu. 54 3.4/12

"Gr. Moments" Sun. 13 3.1/8

Note: Each rating point equals 9,992 homes in the Baltimore area.

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