Night after night, no industry gets as much free TV publicity as sports. That's because TV and sports feed on each other.
Hence, the level of local sports reporting is pretty low, with sportscasters usually relegated to being shills and cheerleaders for home teams. You get taped highlights, maybe a live (why does it have to be live?) stand-up interview with a Dodger or Angel and that's all.
Oh, occasionally someone tries to get tough--usually on the wrong issue for the wrong reason.
After baseball's July 15 All-Star Game, for example, tumultuous Ted Dawson of KABC-TV got tough with Kansas City Royals Manager Dick Howser, who managed the American League all-stars. Reviewing the game on Channel 7, Dawson revealed Howser's hotel telephone number in case "Eyewitness News" viewers wanted to call Howser and protest his underuse of Angels rookie Wally Joyner.
And then that devil Dawson winked.
A couple of days later, Dawson was back on the air, glumly reporting the sad news that Howser had an inoperable brain tumor. Apparently the tumor had caused Howser pain and disorientation during the All-Star Game, a condition that couldn't have been helped by people calling his hotel room to gripe about Joyner.
FOR THE RECORD
Los Angeles Times Thursday August 21, 1986 Home Edition Calendar Part 6 Page 10 Column 6 Television Desk 2 inches; 42 words Type of Material: Correction
In Howard Rosenberg's column Wednesday, Ted Dawson was incorrectly named as the Channel 7 sportscaster who invited viewers to call Kansas City Royals Manager Dick Howser to protest the brief appearance of Wally Joyner in baseball's All-Star Game. In fact, Channel 7's Rick Lozano urged the calls.
Did Dawson apologize for his earlier Howser-hitting sportscast? No. Did he mention a number to call or an address to write so that fans could lift Howser's spirits? No. Is Dawson a real drag? Yes.
He is the city's most grating sportscaster; Jim Hill of KCBS Channel 2 the squishiest, and Fred Roggin of KNBC Channel 4 the most likable.
The funniest, though, is Keith Olbermann, who has been sports director at KTLA Channel 5 for nearly a year. In fact, Olbermann has to be the funniest sportscaster in America. Intentionally, that is. If you're not going give viewers any real scoop beyond headlines, at least give them a show. And no one does that better than Olbermann.
From his shoes to the top of his Groucho brows, Olbermann is a funny man, whipping those usually routine taped highlights into high comedy with a wonderfully caustic and refreshingly smart-alecky and irreverent style.
Monday night, he followed an insightful account of a fight at a soccer match ("Boy, what a surprise. Soccer players fight with their feet") with an edition of his panoramic, yet marvelously tacky "World of Wide Sports," introduced with black and white clips surrounding one of those spinning globes that you can pick up for $4.95.
It was time to get serious, though, as Olbermann provided videotape confirmation "of your worst fears that civilization is about to self-destruct. Yes," America's wisecracker sportscaster added, "it's midget wrestling."
This man is good--almost funny enough to be a weatherman.
So is ESPN's Chris Berman, another sportscaster who elevates highlights to art. Berman, a co-anchor on the cable network's "SportCenter" telecasts, loves to create nicknames for players. Some examples:
Ken "Good Morning Mr." Phelps, Lamarr "Where Does It" Hoyt, Mark "Tossed" Salas, Bob "The Car, Please" James, Barry "U.S." Bonds, Ted "Tower Of" Power, George "Taco" Bell, Steve "Tenor" Sax, Eric "Win, Place And" Show, Glenn "Mother" Hubbard, Bo "Buenos" Diaz, Kevin "Small-Mouth" Bass, and--best of all--Ron "Born In The U.S." Cey.
People like Olbermann and Berman make sportscasts fun, take it from me, Howard "A Rose Is A Rose Is A" Rosenberg.
THIS IS COMEDY? ABC's "Webster is really getting depressing.
Give this little kid a break. He just doesn't have any easy days. He's already had traumas about sexual abuse, cheating, the lottery, chain letters, his shortness and owning a B.B. gun. One of these days, on the way to school, Webster will probably uncover a plot to assassinate the President.
For now, however, we'll have to be satisfied with tonight's special first-run episode of "Webster" (at 8:30 p.m. on Channels 3, 7 and 10). This time Webster (Emmanuel Lewis) is confronted at school by a bully who steals his lunch money.
Some mornings it just doesn't pay to get out of bed.
To the rescue comes McGruff, a police officer dressed as the canine crime buster from the National Crime Prevention Council, who lectures Webster's class on safety. After Webster bravely turns in the bully, this junior Mafiaso--who has been threatening Webster with destruction--then becomes Webster's friend.
If only life were as simple as sitcoms.
It's a nice idea to have "Webster" deliver positive messages to its young viewers. Typically, though, the message is undermined by the execution. Prevailing, as always, is TV comedy's need for swift resolution. No problem is so serious that it can't be solved in a half-hour.
Isn't that a message, too? A false one?
PRAISE PAT--It's been estimated that "The 700 Club" gives TV evangelist and presidential hopeful Pat Robertson exposure to 16.3 million households monthly.
So bravo for a recent episode of Robertson's syndicated weekday show (7 a.m. on Channel 5) that personalized breast cancer awareness.
Danuta Soderman, Robertson's frequent co-host, herself went through the process of getting a mammograph for the camera. Then in came Robertson with the shocking news that a breast X-ray of his wife, Dede, had revealed "a sort of mass" and that she had undergone breast surgery that very morning.
There's no measuring the value of Robertson's candid disclosure, as he and Soderman went on to stress the importance of mammographs.
What a powerful message for "The 700 Club" viewers, especially ironic as Robertson believes in the power of healing through prayer and regularly cites testimony from people claiming that faith delivered them from deadly afflictions.
"This is one time," Robertson said about his wife that morning, "that the good Lord apparently had something else in mind."