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TNT Explodes Over Comeback : Jordan: Cable network turned Friday's Chicago-Orlando game into major production.

March 25, 1995|STEVE ZIPAY | NEWSDAY

In football, it's called flooding a zone.

To outnumber defensive backs, an offense sends all its receivers downfield to one specific area. The mismatch can lead to a big play.

To be sure, Turner Sports flooded the zone for Friday night's "NBA on TNT" telecast--the Michael Jordan homecoming against Shaqille O'Neal and the Orlando Magic--that was shaping up to be one of the highest-rated NBA regular-season cablecasts.

Turner's minions started descending on Chicago's United Center Tuesday night. By Friday, the contingent included 15 to 20 more staffers than usual--including the TNT debut of Viking quarterback Warren Moon for an "NBA on TNT" regular-season telecast.

Executive producer Mike Pearl supplemented the usual array of equipment with two more cameras, two more tape machines, and a super slo-mo camera for isolations. And Turner whipped up a special half-hour pre-game show, hosted by Ernie Johnson Jr., assisted by reporters Moon, Craig Sager and Nicole Watson.

"The major task is to cover live the scene that is going on," Pearl said Thursday. "The number of reporters are there just in case we need them. If it means just looking at the scene and listening to the crowd, or watching Michael warm up, that's what we'll do." The Jordan story, however, is greater than the atmosphere at the United Center.

"The whole mood of the city has changed," said Doug Collins, the former Bulls coach and TNT analyst who will call the game with Bob Neal, "and the whole philosophy of the franchise has changed. Just about two weeks ago, it was: 'The Bulls need to trade Pippen and rebuild for the future.' Now, it's 'Keep Scottie, keep B.J., keep Toni, we got Michael, so go out and sign a guy who can rebound and be a physical presence and we can win three championships in a row."

Although Turner's average cable rating for the NBA this year is a 1.5, Friday night's number undoubtedly will surpass TNT's highest rating for a regular-season NBA game, a 3.3, when the Phoenix Suns met the Bulls on March 30, 1993. And the rating could approach Turner Sports' highest rating, a 4.9, for the Lakers-Boston Celtics on TBS on Dec. 11, 1987.

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