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Stark's Answer Is Good Work

November 15, 2002|LARRY STEWART

Wonder if Andy Rooney has been paying attention to the job sideline reporter Melissa Stark has been doing this season?

It was a little over a month ago that CBS' Rooney, when he was a guest on Boomer Esiason's New York cable television show, said, "The only thing that really bugs me about television's [football] coverage is those damn women they have down on the sidelines who don't know what the hell they're talking about."

A few female sideline reporters responded at the time. "Obviously, it's silly to lump all women reporters into one group," said ESPN's Suzy Kolber. CBS' Lesley Visser said something similar.

But Stark, in her third season on ABC's "Monday Night Football," chose not to comment.

"It's just one man's opinion," she said Thursday. "I was not going to play into it and give it more life than it deserved."

Stark, instead, has been letting her work do her talking.

Before this week's game between the Oakland Raiders and Denver Broncos, she picked the right guy to interview -- Jerry Rice -- and asked all the right questions.

Rice, who had touchdown receptions Nos. 200 and 201 in the 34-10 Raider victory, laid out exactly what was going to take place. He said that the Raiders were going to start fast and take the crowd out of the game. However, Rice may have chosen a better way to word it than saying, "We're going to come ... out and take this."

On Oct. 14, a few days after Rooney made his comments, Stark was sharp in reporting the Terrell Owens Sharpie incident. She informed viewers that the person who got the ball Owens autographed with the Sharpie pen he had in his sock was the financial advisor for both San Francisco's Owens and Seattle cornerback Shawn Springs.

On Sept. 16, when a police officer at FedEx Field in Landover, Md., sprayed some unruly spectators with pepper spray, Stark was overcome by the fumes when she went over to find out what was going on.

Her report eased everyone's anxiety because it was initially feared that it could be some kind of terrorist attack.

There are two reasons Stark, who turned 29 Monday, is excelling this season. One is that she is now the only sideline reporter, giving her more room. Eric Dickerson was not invited back after two years.

The other reason is the addition of John Madden, who has taken Stark under his wing. One thing he did was suggest she come to Saturday practices with him.

"I used to fly in on Saturday nights," Stark said. "Now I fly in on Friday nights and go to the Saturday practices with John."

Madden, who never really saw a need for sideline reporters, has changed his thinking.

"I am very impressed with Melissa's work ethic," he said. "She is an outstanding reporter with a very inquisitive mind. She also has the ability to elicit great responses from the people she interviews, as we saw this week when she spoke with Jerry Rice."

NFL Ratings

Although Monday night's game was decided by 24 points and the season average is 16 points, ABC's "Monday Night Football" national average rating for the season is up 3%, from an 11.3 at this juncture last year to an 11.6 this year.

The Raiders' lopsided victory, which had been promoted as ABC's 500th Monday night game, got a 12.4 Nielsen rating and drew 19.6 million viewers, the largest audience since the opening game in 2001.

CBS' NFL average national rating is up 4%, 9.0 to 9.4, and Fox's is up 3%, 9.8 to 10.1.

In Los Angeles, "Monday Night Football" is up 2%, 12.6 to 12.8; Fox is up 7%, 8.2 to 8.8, and CBS is even at 7.4.

Sunny Outlook

Keith Jackson learned this week that he and Dan Fouts will be calling the Jan. 3 Fiesta Bowl, this season's bowl championship series national title game.

Jackson, not one to get excited about anything, said, "It just means I drive to Phoenix rather than driving to the Rose Bowl."

Phoenix is a considerably longer drive from Jackson's home in Sherman Oaks.

"Yeah, but it has better golf weather," he said.

Jackson said he's planning to return next season.

Brent Musburger and Gary Danielson were supposed to work the Fiesta Bowl -- it was their turn -- but ABC brass decided those two instead will work the Rose Bowl and then a Jan. 4 NFL wild-card playoff game.

Sunday Ticket Update

Negotiations for the NFL Sunday Ticket are continuing. The consensus is still that DirecTV will end up with an exclusive deal, even though the company and the NFL are far apart on terms.

"Isn't that always the case?" said an NFL insider.

The chances of the package ending up on both DirecTV and digital cable are slim because neither side would be willing to pay enough for a non-exclusive deal to properly compensate Fox and CBS.

Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal reported this week that Rupert Murdoch's News Corp., Fox's parent company, raised about $1.3 billion through a secondary stock offering in its Fox Entertainment Group. The move could be a signal that Murdoch may be laying groundwork for a second run at purchasing DirecTV.

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