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XFL, NBC Working Out Kinks

Pro football: Officials plan less use of overhead shots and more personality profiles of players and cheerleaders.

February 07, 2001|LARRY STEWART | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The XFL's first weekend was a ratings success but not an artistic one as television critics across the country bashed the fledgling professional football league and its business and broadcast partner, NBC.

Some didn't like the quality of play, some didn't like the camera angles, some didn't like the cheerleaders, some didn't like commentator Jesse Ventura, and many didn't like the crassness of it all.

League founder Vince McMahon and NBC Sports chairman Dick Ebersol were pleased that so many cared enough to comment. They were even more pleased with how many people watched. The national rating for NBC's telecast Saturday night of the game between Las Vegas and New York/New Jersey was a 9.5, down slightly from the 10.3 overnight but more than double the 4.5 NBC guaranteed to sponsors in March.

But they are not ignoring the criticism. There will be some changes this weekend, although, as one NBC spokesperson said, "The entertainment quotient will remain."

NBC's second telecast is scheduled for Saturday from the Coliseum, where the Xtreme plays host to the Chicago Enforcers in a 5 p.m. game that is expected to draw about 40,000.

One change is that the use of Skycam, or Xcam as it now being called, will be reduced. The Xcam system has a camera mounted on a cable runs back and forth behind the offensive team.

"The problem with the Xcam is that we weren't able to establish the line of scrimmage," television consultant Michael Weisman said. "We'll use more conventional shots to give viewers a better perspective and a better sense of what yard line the ball is on."

Skycam is nothing new. Weisman first used it at the 1983 Orange Bowl when he was the executive producer of NBC Sports.

It was well received but, largely because of economics and restrictions regarding its use, Skycam sort of faded away. The Skycam cost is about $30,000 a game.

But because NBC is a joint owner of the XFL with McMahon's World Wrestling Federation, and the two entities are putting up a combined $100 million, $30,000 is considered relatively inexpensive.

And because of the joint ownership, there are few restrictions on television.

"For our first telecast, we had more tools to work with than for any other football telecast in history, including the Super Bowl," Weisman said. "We set all kinds of firsts. More than 20 people on the field wore microphones. The quarterbacks were miked, the officials were miked, the coaches were miked."

NBA was most excited about the audio portion of NBC's telecast on Saturday, as well as UPN's telecast of the Xtreme's first game, a 15-13 loss to the San Francisco Demons at Pacific Bell Park.

But Weisman said there will be changes with that too.

"You're going to hear less football jargon and more conversations between teammates and opponents," he said.

"And we plan to personalize the players more with profile pieces, and we plan to personalize the cheerleaders more as well."

Said Ebersol: "We should have had a few more pieces on tape with little things on the players--stuff that you can drop in to keep a story going when you have a rout like we had."

Las Vegas beat New York/New Jersey, 19-0.

Weisman said the goal is to have a live football reality show.

"XFL telecasts are unlike shows such as 'Temptation Island' and 'Survivor' because those shows are taped and edited, and they choose what you see," he said.

Xtreme Coach Al Luginbill said Tuesday that he had no problems with the television production Sunday, that the cameras and microphones didn't bother him.

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