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March 12, 1997|LARRY STEWART

A consumer's guide to the best and worst of sports media and merchandise. Ground rules: If it can be read, played, heard, observed, worn, viewed, dialed or downloaded, it's in play here.

What: Debut of Comedy Central's "Town Hall" series.

Topic: "What's Wrong With Sports in America?"

When: First showing tonight at 10.

This one-hour taped show is not to be confused with the live "Town Meeting: Sports in Black and White" special ESPN televised recently, following a powerful special on Jackie Robinson. The excellent ESPN show, with Ted Koppel as the host, was 100% serious.

This show, with Pat O'Brien as host, is neither 100% serious nor as light as something you'd expect to see on an all-comedy channel. The result is a haphazard show that never finds a niche.

Comedian Steve White, the "man in the bleachers" soliciting questions and responses from audience members, sort of sets the tone with this sarcastic quip: "I'll tell you what's wrong with sports in America. Too many black team owners, not enough black players."

The six-person panel includes comedian Jon Stewart and actor Jay Mohr, who played Tom Cruise's rival agent, Bob Sugar, in the movie "Jerry Maguire," so there are some laughs. Also on the panel are former Connecticut basketball star Rebecca Lobo, Green Bay Packer wide receiver Andre Rison, former relief pitcher Tug McGraw, and "The Fabulous Sports Babe" (Nanci Donnellan) of ESPN radio.

Collectively, they have a fairly serious discussion of such topics as:

--Unsportsmanlike conduct and bad behavior by pro athletes.

--Kids, and the problems surrounding young athletes and young fans.

--The Boys' Club--the lack of gender equality in sports.

--Media scrutiny, which Rison calls the biggest problem in sports.

O'Brien, as a "town meeting" host, is no Ted Koppel. And Comedy Central, in a weak attempt to deal with a serious topic, is no ESPN.

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