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Fox Sees an Angel-Fish Angle

October 17, 2003|LARRY STEWART

It really didn't matter whether the opponent was the Boston Red Sox or New York Yankees, a World Series with the Chicago Cubs would have been a hit for Fox.

And everything seemed to be falling into place, as the Cubs appeared to be on the verge of going for their first World Series title since 1908. They were attracting record television ratings along the way, and it was all good.

But then ... the Florida Marlins won three consecutive games, two at Wrigley Field, and suddenly Fox found itself in the position of having to put a positive spin on a fish story.

One angle is that maybe the country will adopt the Marlins, as happened with the Angels a year ago.

Fox producer Michael Weisman believes that will be the case, and Weisman knows something about the World Series. This will be the 20th he has worked, dating to 1972, when he was a young production assistant for NBC.

"Much of the country didn't know the Angels last year," Weisman said by cellphone before heading out to produce Thursday night's Red Sox-Yankee telecast. "But there is no doubt in my mind that most of the country fell in love with the Angels and began rooting for them."

It happened even in Southern California.

"I see a lot of similarities between the Angels and Marlins," Weisman said. "Both are wild-card teams that came out of nowhere. The Angels didn't have a big-name superstar like Barry Bonds, nor do the Marlins. The Angels last year had likable players like David Eckstein, the Marlins have likable players like Juan Pierre.

"When Jack McKeon came on board in midseason, some people thought he was too old at 72. He is a good story. He has a very pleasant way about him, sort of like a favorite uncle.

"It is our responsibility to make sure the viewing public, if it hasn't already, gets to know McKeon and his team and all the good stories surrounding it. And then what we have to hope for is that the Marlins play like the Angels did last year and at least take this Series to seven games."

Announcers Fired Up

Joe Buck and Tim McCarver, who will announce the Series as a two-man team, didn't seem to be disappointed about the Cubs' exit.

"In the process of the Cubs' losing after having a three-games-to-one lead, the country saw how good the Marlins can be," McCarver said Thursday.

Said Buck, "The Marlins are as exciting a team as there was in the playoffs, and maybe the most talented. Countless times, they could have packed it in, and didn't. I think, going into the Series, the Marlins have to be the favorite because there are so many ways they can get you.

"Anybody would be lying if they said they didn't want to have the opportunity of announcing a World Series at Wrigley Field. But from a selfish standpoint, what an announcer wants most is an exciting Series that comes down to a seventh game and hopefully down to one pitch or two. You prefer that over the charm of going into a place like Wrigley Field."

Added McCarver, "I think what the Marlins did, going into Chicago, dealing with a partisan crowd like no other and beating the Cubs' two best pitchers is one of the great feats in baseball in my experience."

A Silver Lining

No one at Fox is saying the Marlins will attract the kind of ratings the Cubs would have for the Series. But Ed Goren, Fox Sports president, was keeping his chin up Thursday.

And he did find one positive aspect of the Cubs' collapse.

"The ticket requests have ceased from what it was when the Cubs were up, 3-1," he said. "There was no way we could have taken care of all the requests, had the Cubs made it."

A Sad Story

Longtime Cub announcer Ron Santo, who is battling health problems and is confined to his home in Arizona, had planned to work the radio broadcasts of the Series if the Cubs had made it.

"I was sitting here watching, getting so depressed," he said on WGN after Wednesday night's game.

Ed Sherman of the Chicago Tribune reported that Santo did get some good news earlier Wednesday, when doctors told him his heart was healthy enough for him to have surgery to remove tumors in his bladder.

"But the Cubs found a way to break it again," Sherman wrote.

Ratings Update

The Cubs and Marlins drew a 16.9 national rating with a 27 share Wednesday night, which translates to 26.5 million viewers. That's the most viewers for a league championship series game since Game 7 of Pittsburgh-Atlanta in 1991, which attracted 28.3 million viewers.

The game drew a 47.1/61 in Chicago and a 39.9/54 in Miami.

Before Thursday, Fox was averaging a 10.1/18 for league championship telecasts, an increase of 55% over last year's 6.5/12 at the same juncture.

College Football

Saturday is a big day for USC and UCLA. The Trojans, who are at Notre Dame, will be on NBC at 11:30 a.m. The Bruins play host to California in an important Pacific 10 matchup on ABC at 12:30.

NBC commentator Pat Haden is familiar with the USC-Notre Dame rivalry. He quarterbacked the Trojans to a 2-1 record against the Irish, including the 1974 game in which USC, trailing, 24-0, late in the first half, won, 55-24.

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