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What's Behind the TV Schedule

Media: ABC Family Channel inherits first round from Fox Family. Fox says baseball set up playoff game times.

October 01, 2002|LARRY STEWART | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A look at baseball's postseason television schedule, which wasn't completed until Sunday night, might prompt one to ask, "What's wrong with this picture?"

What are baseball playoff games doing on the ABC Family Channel? And why are the St. Louis Cardinals and Arizona Diamondbacks on ABC Family tonight at 8? That's 11 p.m. EDT.

Kids in the East will have to stay up until maybe 2 a.m. on a school night to watch the whole game.

But as many as 12 first-round games will be televised by ABC Family, which inherited them from Fox Family. Those are the games that used to be on NBC. Last year, though, you may recall, they were on Fox Family.

Since then, the Walt Disney Co. bought Fox Family, so Fox Family became ABC Family.

Disney got the postseason baseball rights to the divisional playoff games that were carried by Fox Family last season and chose to keep those games on ABC Family, which reaches 84 million homes, as opposed to ESPN, which reaches 87 million.

Such high-profile programming provides a big boost to ABC Family.

Tom Cosgrove, the network's executive vice president, said: "Essentially, the divisional playoffs provide us with good ratings and a good promotional base to bring in new viewers, particularly male viewers."

ESPN, which is also owned by Disney, will produce the telecasts for ABC Family and provide the announcers. So all the bells and whistles ESPN offered during the regular season, such as ESPN K Zone and Player Mic, will be seen on the ABC Family telecasts.

The announcing teams include Jon Miller and Joe Morgan, Chris Berman and Rick Sutcliffe, and Dave O'Brien and Tony Gwynn.

ABC Family's role in the playoffs ends after the first round. The two league championship series will be on Fox--with the exception of Oct. 9, when Fox Sports Net will televise a game at the same time Fox televises one. And the World Series, beginning Oct. 19, will be on Fox.

The first two games of the Angel-New York Yankee series will be televised by Fox, with the network's A team of Joe Buck and Tim McCarver announcing.

Because those teams come from the nation's two largest media markets, one might assume Fox picked them as the featured attraction the first two nights of the playoffs.

Ed Goren, Fox Sports president, said that wasn't the case.

"In sports, it's often suggested we have more control over the scheduling process than we actually do," Goren said. "We can ask for certain things. It doesn't mean we always get what we ask for.

"In this case, this was the best schedule that baseball felt they could put together. Basically, we got a call [Sunday] night telling us what the schedule was."

The schedule is set through Friday, with Game 3 of the Angel-Yankee series at Edison Field Friday at 5 p.m. to be televised on ABC Family, with Miller and Morgan announcing.

On radio, the Angel-Yankees series will be broadcast on KLAC (570) and the rest of the Angels' radio network, with Rory Markas and Terry Smith; on ESPN Radio--KSPN (1110) in Los Angeles--with Dan Shulman and Dave Campbell; and on Spanish-language XPRS (1090), with Ivan Lara and Jose Mota, Dodger coach Manny Mota's son.

The schedule for the four divisional best-of-five series after Friday will be determined by baseball.

If there is a Game 4 in the National League series between Atlanta and the San Francisco Giants, Buck is planning to do double duty in San Francisco Sunday. He'll work the St. Louis Rams and 49ers in the afternoon at 3Com Park, then hustle over the Pac-Bell for the Braves and Giants that night.

As for Fox's coverage of the first two games of the Angel-Yankee series, producer Michael Weisman said, "One of the challenges for us will be introducing the nation to the Angels....

"People don't know that [pitcher] Ramon Ortiz is the team barber, or Tim Salmon is known as Kingfish, a nickname given to him by [analyst] Rex Hudler."

Weisman said Fox has prepared a feature on Manager Mike Scoscia that includes his playing days with the Dodgers, and pitching coach Bud Black will be wearing a microphone tonight.

"One thing I've noticed about the Angels is just how happy they are to be here," Weisman said. "I've been producing baseball off and on for 30 years and I've never been around a team more cooperative."

It figures that the Yankees would be in the featured series.

"They have been the dominant team in baseball in recent years," Goren said.

That's the main reason Fox wanted the Yankees.

"I think sometimes there is a misconception that just because you have big-market teams, it guarantees ratings," Goren said. "Just go back to the most recent NBA Finals, with the Lakers and Nets, in effect a New York team. They didn't generate necessarily high ratings. [There was a 17% drop-off from the season before]. And the 1991 World Series with Atlanta and the Minnesota Twins was very successful."

That World Series averaged a 24 rating. No other Series since 1987 has averaged a higher rating. Last year's seven-game Series between the Yankees and Diamondbacks generated a 15.7 rating.

Goren said of regular-season ratings: "We were going along real well until about four or five weeks ago, where in September we did give back a good margin. We'll end up the season flat."

After this weekend's numbers are figured in, Fox expects to have a season average of 2.6, the same as 2001.

The arrival of football, plus the fact there were title races in only two divisions, contributed to the late-season ratings decline for baseball. As for the playoffs, Goren is hoping for a run similar to last season.

"We were up 25% for the divisional series, 12% for the league championship series and 27% for the World Series," he said. "When you get down to reading the postseason, there are multiple factors, Maybe the biggest are how competitive the games are and length of the series."

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