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Cable Firms Vie to Win Hoopla Bowl

January 21, 1987|MARK LANDSBAUM | Times Staff Writer

And now, live from the lobby of the Hilton Hotel and Towers in bustling downtown Anaheim, a mere forward pass from the gates of Disneyland, we take you to the makeshift studios of the nation's two largest cable television sports programs.

(Take it away, Kirk . )

"We have been taking the show on the road for the Super Bowl . . . to bring some of the flavor of what happens here all week to the country," said Kirk Varner, news director for ESPN's "Sports Center," which has 12 staffers at the hotel this week to telecast two shows nightly.

"CBS does a real good job on game day," Varner said. "(But) we bring the show out here for the week leading up to the Super Bowl and try to give some idea of where the teams are."

Tuesday's dose of Super news featured posed videotape footage of actual Super Bowl players in their actual uniforms, actually speaking about Sunday's game.

They wore no pads or helmets, just uniforms, in what has come to be known as a "photo opportunity." It also was the only time this week the press will glimpse players in uniform, pads or no pads.

Varner, who prefers to describe the weeklong flurry of pregame activity as "hoopla" rather than "hype," is not the only cable sports news director in town. He's not even the only one on the street.

(Cut to the hotel lobby across the street.)

Among the more than 2,000 print, television and radio journalists who converged on Orange County this week to cover Super Mania was the 11-person staff of Cable News Network's "Sports Tonight" program, which is originating its nightly show and periodic news feeds from the lobby of the Anaheim Marriott Hotel.

From a temporarily roped-off patch of carpet in the lobby, amid gawkers and bell hops, Jim Walton, CNN senior director, can be in instant communication by telephone and microwave with his field staff.

Many news crews, unaccustomed to sprawling Southern California, are faced with logistical problems in covering the favored New York Giants, who are lodged at the Westin South Coast Plaza hotel in Costa Mesa, while also keeping tabs on the underdog Denver Broncos, who bunk at the Newporter Resort in Newport Beach.

"We have reporters at both team hotels," Walton said. "We do our interviews out there with the players. It gives the East Coast and cold places a look at Southern California."

Scoops that are yet to come on CNN include remote hook-ups that will bring opposing players together electronically to discuss their mutual respect, admiration and intention to drub one another into the ground on Super Sunday.

"We give the viewers what they want, that is, to hear from the players every night," said Richard D. Davis, CNN executive producer for sports. "We'll get the players to talk to each other, you don't see that anyplace else.

"CBS covers the game. We cover Super Bowl Week."

On Monday, CNN anchor Terry Chick interviewed Denver Bronco offensive guard Keith Bishop, who at the very same moment was training his own video camera on Chick.

"He (Bishop) is shooting all week for CBS-TV and brought his camera on the set. Live!" Walton said.

So far, according to CNN staffers, this Super Bowl week is distinguished in that for the first time football players carrying video cameras may outnumber television crews carrying video cameras.

(Cut back to the Hilton lobby, where a circuit has overloaded and a flood light goes dark just as anchorman Chris Berman gets under way with his live 3:30 p.m. telecast.)

"Who is that?" a woman passing in the lobby says, leaning toward the roped-off production area where Berman and a guest sit in armchairs on a platform.

"John Robinson," someone answers.

"Oh, I didn't know his name. I just knew he was the Chargers' coach," the woman said.

"The Rams'," someone corrected her.

Robinson predicts that the game will be close.

After 30 minutes of live television, anchor Berman slumps in his chair.

"If it was scripted, it wouldn't be fun," Berman said.

Is the rivalry between the nation's two largest cable sports news shows as intense as it is between the nation's two top football teams?

CNN is quick to point out that its "Sports Tonight" program on Monday won an award, akin to free television's Emmy, for best sports information special or series.

"They do a nice job," allowed ESPN's Berman.

But in Berman's view, "the highest form of compliment" is that the Denver Broncos' general manager watches ESPN. "I think the real sports fans know where to turn," Berman said.

(That's a wrap.)


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