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SPORTS WEEKEND | TV-RADIO

After the Lakers, There's Not Much Else

November 22, 1996|LARRY STEWART

These are tough times for sports in Los Angeles.

The USC-UCLA football game Saturday at the Rose Bowl had lost so much luster that ABC was going to pass on it in favor of Arizona State at Arizona until Channel 7 applied some pressure.

The UCLA basketball team lost its coach, then lost its first game before an ESPN audience.

The Clippers are winning, which is nice, but give 'em time.

There's always the NFL, but whom do we root for?

Then there are the Lakers. Thank goodness for the Lakers, even though they lost at home Wednesday. And thank goodness, between Fox Sports West, Channel 9 and NBC, every game is televised. (Take note, Dodgers.)

The Lakers' game against the Golden State Warriors on Channel 9 Tuesday night drew a 9.6 rating. That's not anything to get excited about if you're talking about an NFL game, but for basketball, it's the highest regular-season Laker rating for Channel 9 in 10 years.

Through seven telecasts, Channel 9 is averaging a 7.6 rating, the best average at this juncture in years. Fox Sports West's ratings have doubled from a year ago.

*

OK, there's a new guy in town, Shaquille O'Neal, who has something to do with the Lakers' popularity on television. But there's also a familiarity factor that doesn't hurt. Chick Hearn is in his 37th season with the Lakers. His partner, Stu Lantz, is in his 10th.

And Susan Stratton, the executive producer of sports for Channel 9, has been producing and directing Laker telecasts since 1977.

Back then, there weren't any women sports directors. And the men were mostly hard-living, hot-tempered, cigar-smoking guys who could almost make Howard Cosell look like a nice guy.

Into this business came Stratton, this nice, pleasant woman who grew up in a rural area in Pennsylvania and who at one time wanted to be a lawyer but ended up, unintentionally, being something of an pioneer.

"I just enjoyed directing," she said.

She had played basketball at the tiny 12-grade school she attended in Auburn, Pa., where her father was both the principal and basketball coach. So directing basketball games did have its appeal.

Stratton and her husband, Dick, came to Los Angeles in 1972 from Washington because Dick got a job as executive producer at Channel 11. Both had worked for WMAL in Washington, where Susan, among other things, had been a film editor on the "Sonny Jurgensen Show," Jurgensen being the Washington Redskins' quarterback at the time.

After coming here, Susan Stratton did some freelancing before landing a job at Channel 9, which in 1974 got the Ram exhibition package. The station needed a producer-director, and Stratton volunteered.

"I almost never made it past the first telecast," she said. "Willie Davis [the former Green Bay Packer] was the commentator, and he spilled a soft drink into the replay machine, knocking it out of commission.

"Carroll Rosenbloom [the late Ram owner] kept calling down to the truck asking where the replays were. It's funny now, but it sure wasn't then.

"After the game, Stu Nahan [the play-by-play announcer] said, 'Hang in there, you did a great job.' I'll always love him for that."

After the Lakers moved from Channel 5 to Channel 9 in 1977, Stratton, because of her work on the Ram telecasts, was assigned as producer-director of the Laker telecasts.

Said Hearn, "I complained to [former Laker owner] Jack Kent Cooke that we should have an experienced person doing this job. But then I figured she'd be gone after one telecast anyway. Boy, was I wrong.

"If there is a Hall of Fame for women directors, forget the women part, she belongs in it. She's a perfectionist and her goal is always perfection. She knows what she wants and she gets it done. She always surrounds herself with good people, but maybe the best thing about her is her endless amount of energy.

"She can be tough too. She stands firm, no matter who she is dealing with. If I disagree with her, she'll argue with me until I give in. And it turns out she's right 99% of the time and I'm wrong."

Stratton admits there have been some pretty good arguments over the years--"Life with Chick is never boring," she says--but her admiration and respect for Hearn always shows through.

"The man is a marvel," she said.

*

Speaking of behind-the-scene people, ABC is losing a good one in Terry Jastrow, the network's longtime senior producer of golf. He announced his resignation this week, effective Jan. 1. Jastrow is also the president of Jack Nicklaus Productions, a Santa Monica company he and Nicklaus founded in 1987. That job had limited Jastrow's work at ABC since then, leaving Jack Graham to produce most ABC's golf events. ABC, under new management, wanted a full-time golf producer.

CBS' Frank Chirkinian, who recently stepped down, has gotten a lot of attention over the years, having produced 40 Masters, but Jastrow has directed or produced 58 majors. Jastrow, 48, has been a producer-director for ABC sports since he was 23. He lives in Brentwood with his wife, actress Anne Archer.

TV-Radio Notes

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