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Fox Is Expecting Its Viewers to Just Play-By-Play Along

TV-RADIO / LARRY STEWART

December 08, 1995|LARRY STEWART

The idea of doing an NFL telecast without a traditional play-by-play announcer isn't something that popped into David Hill's mind last week.

Hill, president of Fox Sports, sent a memo dated July 24 to Terry Bradshaw and Jimmy Johnson saying he wanted to try something different on a Saturday NFL telecast scheduled for Dec. 9.

"I've always felt announcing hasn't advanced since the radio days," Hill said in the memo.

He went on to explain he'd like to have two friends, Bradshaw and Johnson, simply talk about what is unfolding in front of them. The basic information usually provided by a play-by-play announcer would be done graphically.

He picked Saturday's game between the Arizona Cardinals and San Diego Chargers in San Diego because Bradshaw and Johnson could work that game, then get back to L.A. in time for Sunday's pregame show.

Hill ended his brief memo with: "What do you reckon?"

Hill is also the one who came up with the idea to put the score and time remaining on the screen and leave it there.

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After hearing what Fox was planning, veteran NBC play-by-play announcer Charlie Jones, broadcast partner Randy Cross and game producer Mark Wolff last week discussed experimenting with a more conversational style during last Sunday's Denver-Jacksonville telecast.

"The game was going to only 4% to 5% of the country, so we thought, what the heck," Jones said. "I also thought Randy is the perfect guy to try this with.

"We were just going to do it during the third quarter, but it went so well we continued it through the rest of the game."

Jones and Cross plan to use it again on Saturday's 9:30 a.m. NFL game, Cleveland at Minnesota, which precedes the Fox telecast.

"We'll be beating Fox to the punch at their own game," Jones said. "The only thing is our conversational style won't be as full-blown as theirs because they're prepared to do more graphically.

"You have to give a lot of credit to David Hill. He's made us all realize we have to dust off the cobwebs."

Said veteran Verne Lundquist, now with Turner: "It's a novel idea that has generated a lot of interest in a game that otherwise wouldn't generate much interest. I think Terry and Jimmy will do fine, and they'll attract a larger audience than that game would have gotten normally."

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Bradshaw and Johnson have had two rehearsal telecasts the last couple of weeks.

"I'll tell you one thing right now," Bradshaw said. "If Jimmy Johnson ever comes out and says, 'I'm never coaching again, I'm now a TV guy,' Jimmy Johnson would be phenomenal doing games."

Bradshaw also likes the idea of studio guys doing games.

"I think studio guys should get out once or twice a year and get their batteries recharged. You get stagnant in the studio. And I think it's good to get out and go face to face with the people you've been criticizing. We're big boys. We can handle it."

So how does Bradshaw think Saturday's telecast will go?

"I'm nervous about this, really nervous," he said. "I'm worried about how people are going to pick it apart. We're coming out from under our security blanket.

"If I'm too nervous, I'm going to talk too much. I've got to guard against that. I'm sure I'll throw in some play-by-play here and there, it's only natural.

"But I'm damn sure we can do what analysts do--discuss why something works and why it doesn't work. Jimmy's knowledge is incredible, and I'll see things he doesn't see and he'll see things I don't see."

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This is a big weekend for Bradshaw. There's Saturday's game telecast, Sunday's pregame show and then later Sunday he is the host of Sports Illustrated's "Sportsman of the Year" special, which will be on the Fox network at 7 p.m.

The winner of the magazine's annual "Sportsman" award will be announced on the show. (Can it be anyone other than Cal Ripken Jr.?)

Bradshaw said viewers will see another side of him.

"The real me is that crazy guy you see every Sunday morning," he said. "My kids know that. But this gives me a chance to show another side, to do something with class and polish."

TV-Radio Notes

If Terry Donahue accepts CBS' offer to become a college football commentator, it seems unfair to ask him to work such a high-profile game as the Fiesta Bowl right off the bat. Why not put Pat Haden, whom CBS is borrowing from Turner, on the Fiesta Bowl instead of the Orange Bowl? For one thing, it would take some pressure off Donahue, who is anguishing over his decision. For another, the viewers would have the benefit of an experienced, top-notch commentator. Donahue has worked only one game as a commentator, a Holiday Bowl a number of years ago. . . . CBS plans to use Boomer Esiason and Rick Neuheisel as guest commentators on the pregame and halftime shows with Pat O'Brien on Jan. 1 and 2, the nights of the Orange and Fiesta bowls. Neuheisel made quite an impression when he worked with O'Brien during an open week this past season.

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