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Prime Ticket Has Time to Report : Cable Network to Introduce a 30-Minute Sports Newscast

October 14, 1990|STEVEN HERBERT | Times Staff Writer

For years, sports reports on Southland television stations have followed a predictable pattern.

The sportscaster gives a clever but brief introduction to a local team's highlights. After narrating over a brief clip, he reports other scores from that sport. Next are highlights of other games, then perhaps a brief news story. The segment takes 3 1/2 to 4 minutes.

Such won't be the case on "Prime Ticket Press Box," a nightly half-hour sports newscast debuting Tuesday at 10 p.m. on Prime Ticket cable.

"Fred (Roggin) may show it to you, but we'll show more of it to you," said "Press Box" executive producer Sol Steinberg, who won two local Emmys as Roggin's producer at KNBC Channel 4.

"We'll be able to show more highlights than anyone in town because I have the time to do it. And I won't have to just show three plays of a Dodger game, but give it what it's worth."

The nightly program, and a 7 p.m. version planned to kick off in January, are the brainchild of Prime Ticket president and chief executive officer John C. Severino.

"From my first couple of months here, I thought this would be a great addition to our programming lineup," said Severino, who joined Prime Ticket Oct. 15, 1988, after spending 23 years at ABC, including four as network president and 10 as general manager of KABC Channel 7.

"It was more of a gut reaction than anything else. I thought there would be an appetite for a half-hour sports news show."

According to Severino, "Prime Ticket Press Box" is already a hit with advertisers.

"Here's a program that doesn't have a rating and hasn't gone on the air yet and for the cost involved in putting the show on the air, we've already recouped 60% of the cost in advertising support," Severino said. He declined to disclose the amount of money spent to launch "Prime Ticket Press Box."

The concept of the daily half-hour sports news show began Sept. 7, 1979, when ESPN's SportsCenter went on the air. Since then, CNN and SportsChannel also have added similar shows. On the weekends, KNBC, KCBS Channel 2 and KABC have extended sportscasts.

"There's a certain flow that you get into on a 30-minute show that's exciting and fun," said Alan Massengale, one of the three anchors for "Prime Ticket Press Box." "When you come from a local sports background, 30 minutes goes like that because you've been frustrated so long by three or 3 1/2 minutes, depending on what the weatherman did. . . . This format is a dream come true."

"Prime Ticket Press Box" will be broadcast from the network's new Century City studios with a 17-person editorial staff. An additional eight employees will be in San Diego, viewing 10 to 12 games nightly via satellite dishes. Because Prime Ticket is also seen by cable subscribers in San Diego, Arizona, Nevada and Hawaii, it will have correspondents in those areas.

The anchormen are all new to Southern California, but two are familiar faces to cable viewers. Massengale and Larry Burnett both worked at ESPN.

"Larry brings us instant credibility," Steinberg said. "He's very recognizable coming from SportsCenter and has a tremendous tie-in with the NBA from hosting 'The NBA Today' on ESPN. Alan has good tie-ins with the auto racing circuits, and he's also very big with golf."

The third anchor, Glen Walker, most recently worked at WIVB in Buffalo.

"Glen is going to surprise everybody," Steinberg said. "I think we have a find there. He's got that boyish charm about him and is a solid journalist."

Randi Hall, who worked at KABC-TV, KHJ-TV (now KCAL) and ESPN and at stations in Houston, Cleveland and Washington, will be a reporter and the only woman television sports reporter in Los Angeles.

"Prime Ticket Press Box" has several hurdles to overcome before achieving acceptance.

By hiring its anchors from outside the L.A. market, viewers may wonder, "Who are these people and what do they know about the local teams?"

"There was some feeling from my bosses about needing local presence and that we should go after some of the local guys," said Steinberg. "My feeling is that this is a new show, so let's bring in new people and have everybody grow together."

There are several ways the anchors will try to overcome their lack of experience in working in Southern California. One is that Steinberg will share the knowledge and contacts gained in four years working at KNBC. A second is relying on the nationwide reputation of many Southland teams.

"People have been talking about USC football their whole lives and seeing them on television, whether they've grown up in New York, Philadelphia or wherever," Steinberg said. "Sports is not just something you learned yesterday. You've been living it your whole life."

Another problem "Prime Ticket Press Box" faces is the ability to objectively and critically report on the many teams that Prime Ticket contracts to broadcast. Those broadcasts serve as the network's advertising and viewership lifeblood.

For example, Steinberg said, "If Mike Dunleavy doesn't work out as Lakers coach, we will definitely go on the air and say it appears Mike Dunleavy is having a problem grasping the Laker system. I'm not going to brush it under a carpet. There's no way we would not say the Lakers are playing poorly if they deserve the criticism."

"Prime Ticket Press Box" airs nightly at 10 on Prime Ticket cable (some Saturday programs may be preempted by coverage of sports events).

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